Developing Benign Cities | University of Liverpool | Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Tom Dickins invited me to contribute a short presentation about the SSC at this event. Tom is working on a project called Prosocial Place, which has a lot in common with the work being done by DS Wilson in Binghamton (USA), and Daniel Nettle in Newcastle (UK).

It was a very interesting day… more soon.

Ritual Significance | The Collection, Lincoln | 21012014

This interview with Harvey Whitehouse was posted on This View of Life earlier. Very useful.

Today we (Ashley and I – Josh and I met last Tuesday) started to firm up the list of works that we hope to display. We also discussed commisioning new work(s) from Am Nuden Da and Justin Parker, as well as developing a new app with Joff & Ollie, so that our audience can access the research (ALL published in open access journals) that is informing our approach to curating the show.

This is the (draft) statement that we’ll be submitting to the Tate in support of our loan request:

RITUAL SIGNIFICANCE

CONTEMPORARY ART THROUGH THE EVOLUTIONARY LENS

Exhibition Statement

Although an organ may not have been originally formed for some special purpose, if it now serves for this end we are justified in saying that it is specially contrived for it. On the same principle, if a man were to make a machine for some special purpose, but were to use old wheels, springs, and pulleys, only slightly altered, the whole machine, with all its parts, might be said to be specially contrived for that purpose. Thus throughout nature almost every part of each living being has probably served, in a slightly modified condition, for diverse purposes, and has acted in the living machinery of many ancient and distinct specific forms.

(Darwin 1862:348)

The idea that art emerged through sexual selection was fairly common a century ago, and seems to have fallen out of favour through neglect rather than disproof.

(Miller 2000:271)

The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen a resurgence of evolutionarily informed scientific interest in the arts (Boyd 2009, Boyd & Richerson 2005, Dissanayake 2000, 2009… to include all the papers in the reference list not directly cited in the text)

To the best of our knowledge no public arts institution in the UK has yet responded to this dynamic new field through its exhibition programme. Whilst we recognize that it is certainly beyond the scope of any single exhibition to give a comprehensive introduction to such a divergent field of enquiry (there are active research programmes making valuable contributions from disciplines as seemingly unrelated as cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology), it is hoped that by reviewing some of the recently published work of leading researchers, and limiting ourselves primarily to the implications for contemporary practice in public institutions, we might curate an exhibition that goes some way towards expanding both our profession’s, and the public’s, understanding of contemporary practice from an evolutionary perspective.

Curatorial Statement

In our view the arts, including contemporary practice, can be understood as a complex combination of different exapted adaptations; genetic, epigenetic, behavioural and symbolic in origin.

Ritual Significance will explore how many of the questions, contestations, and challenges of contemporary practice fall where these combinations occur.

Furthermore, we also propose to use the same evolutionary toolkit to examine the practices of curating and gallery education in public institutions; as we take seriously the proposition, which is emerging from the research of scholars like Ellen Dissanayake and David Sloan Wilson, that exhibition making, in public, is itself a cultural practice exapted from various group level adaptations, rich with evolutionary and Ritual Significance.

Curatorial Methodology

Our curatorial approach, and practice, will be informed by the ethologist Niko Tinbergen’s four questions.

Ontogeny: How does this behaviour develop over the course of an individual’s life?

When did you start to make art?

Phylogeny: When in the history of that species did the capacity to produce this behaviour evolve? 

When did we start to make art?

Proximate: What are the events preceding the behaviour that contribute to its occurrence?

How do we make art?

Ultimate: What are the effects of performing the behaviour on reproductive success and thus, why has natural selection retained the ability to perform that behaviour?

Why do we make art?

(Nettle 2009: 259)

In addition, we will also be posing questions like:

What can art be?

What may it become?

What is the value of attempting to understand the arts, and life, through an evolutionary lens?

Our plan is to devote each wall of the gallery to one of Tinbergen’s questions, and to have an ‘active’ artist facilitator in residence at the centre of the space; creating, thinking, reading and talking with visitors.

So, from where in our evolutionary history do the ‘old wheels, spring and pulleys’ that we claim are reused in the arts come from? And how, exactly, do those exapted adaptations work?

Ritual Significance | The Collection, Lincoln | 17112013

I bumped into Kate Genever (Poly-Technic) on the High Street in Lincoln on Friday, she asked if I would share with her some of the research that Ashley, Josh and I are using to inform our work.

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2012DiversifyingExperiencesCognitiveFlexibility

I can never say no to Kate!

Ritual Significance | The Collection, Lincoln | 14112013

We now have the budget – modest but sufficient – and the dates – February to April 2015 – for our Ritual Significance | Art through an Evolutionary Lens exhibition.

Today we decided that our curatorial approach will be informed by Niko Tinbergen’s four questions.

Ontogeny: How does this behaviour develop over the course of an individual’s life?

When did you start to make art?

Phylogeny: When in the history of that species did the capacity to produce this behaviour evolve?

When did we start to make art?

Proximate: What are the events preceding the behaviour that contribute to its occurrence?

How do we make art?

Ultimate: What are the effects of performing the behaviour on reproductive success and thus, why has natural selection retained the ability to perform that behaviour.

Why do we make art?

Or, to paraphrase Herbert Spencer;

What is the purpose of art?

We will also be asking questions like:

What can art be?

What may it become?

(With thanks to Daniel Nettle’s Evolution and Genetics for Psychology for the framing of these entry-level ‘questions’)

Our plan is to devote each wall of the gallery to one of Tinbergen’s questions (yes, the gallery has the standard issue number of walls!), and to have an ‘active’ artist facilitator in residence (Joshua Lockwood) in the centre of the space; creating, thinking, reading and talking with visitors about the value of attempting to understand art, and life, through an evolutionary lens.

Present: Joshua Lockwood, Ashley Gallant and David McAleavey.

Location: Angel Coffee House

 

PhD Evolutionary Educational Psychology | Monday, 11 November 2013 | Blog

Sarah (Amsler) and I have been riffing on evolutionary approaches to social science since we met in autumn 2011; I continue to find the process tremendously exciting. During October, we began meeting regularly in The Angel Coffee House to discuss our ideas on one another’s texts/offerings. I will be using this blog to share the research that is informing my contribution to our work/play.

Michael L Anderson’s work on neural reuse, especially his paper on Eroding the Boundaries of Cognition, has often been in play.

As has the work of evolutionary minded theorists like Eva Jablonka…

Ideas about heredity and evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. New findings in molecular biology challenge the gene-centered version of Darwinian theory according to which adaptation occurs only through natural selection of chance DNA variations. In Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb argue that there is more to heredity than genes. They trace four “dimensions” in evolution—four inheritance systems that play a role in evolution: genetic, epigenetic (or non-DNA cellular transmission of traits), behavioral, and symbolic (transmission through language and other forms of symbolic communication). These systems, they argue, can all provide variations on which natural selection can act. Evolution in Four Dimensions offers a richer, more complex view of evolution than the gene-based, one-dimensional view held by many today. The new synthesis advanced by Jablonka and Lamb makes clear that induced and acquired changes also play a role in evolution.

After discussing each of the four inheritance systems in detail, Jablonka and Lamb “put Humpty Dumpty together again” by showing how all of these systems interact. They consider how each may have originated and guided evolutionary history and they discuss the social and philosophical implications of the four-dimensional view of evolution. Each chapter ends with a dialogue in which the authors engage the contrarieties of the fictional (and skeptical) “I.M.,” or Ifcha Mistabra—Aramaic for “the opposite conjecture”—refining their arguments against I.M.’s vigorous counterarguments. The lucid and accessible text is accompanied by artist-physician Anna Zeligowski’s lively drawings, which humorously and effectively illustrate the authors’ points.

(Text: VideoLectures.Net Single Lectures Series – Eva Jablonka)

Our Place, Our Priorities: Photography at The Pathways Centre | Week 21 | 21032013

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(Image: Robert Davies)

Today we finished processing the images from our recent Cathedral shoot, discussed next week’s public lecture, dropped our files off at the minilab (thanks again Dom and Dan!) and then popped into the studio of Graham the artist.

Graham's studio

Graham and Vanessa (a Swiss social work student on placement at The Pathways Centre), had an interesting disagreement about the meaning of life… Vanessa challenged Graham’s assertion that the meaning of life was to procreate… ‘What if one chooses not have children?’

Richerson: Human Co-operation is Complex. In response: SSI Week 19 07032013

Richerson, P.J. (2012) ‘Human cooperation is a complex problem with many possible solutions: perhaps all of them are true! Social Evolutionary Forum, 2 December, available online at http://socialevolutionforum.com/2012/12/02/peter-j-richerson-human-cooperation-is-a-complex-problem-with-many-possible-solutions-perhaps-all-of-them-are-true/.
 

At the end of our session on Thursday, I asked everyone if they had any questions… this is my first offering to Alice, Vernon and Mike.

I also think John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology (188-189) addresses some of Mike’s concerns; I’ll bring my copy along next Thursday.

Respectfully yours,

David