"Consider the way that knowledge is organized at institutions of higher education. My university, like most others, includes a College of Arts and Sciences that is divided into a number of divisions. The Division of Science and Mathematics includes physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and one human-related department-psychology. The Division of Social Sciences includes anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology. These human-related subjects are often considered "softer", or less scientifically rigorous, than a "hard" science such as physics or biology. The Division of Humanities includes art, English, music, philosophy, religion, and theater. These human-related subjects are considered not just "softer" than the social sciences but outside the domain of scientific inquiry altogether.



This organization makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective, however deeply entrenched in academic culture. If evolutionary theory is part of the "hard" science of biology, then it can provide an equally rigorous framework for studying our own species. If anything, the subjects associated the humanities should be easier to study from an evolutionary perspective than most subjects associated with the social sciences. After all, dance, music, and the visual arts have all the earmarks of genetically evolved capacities: they appear early in life, are intrinsically enjoyable, exist in all cultures, are mediated by ancient neuronal mechanisms, and often perform vital social functions, as we have seen. By contrast, the "science" of economics is incomprehensible to a toddler, is painful for even college students to learn, exists only in a few cultures, and is mediated by our most recently evolved neuronal mechanisms. It is true that the act of studying economics is more likely to involve scientific methods than the acts of singing, dancing, and creating visual art, but evolutionary theory and scientific methods are required to understand why the latter activities come so naturally and are so vital to our welfare that life does not seem worth living without them.


Unfortunately, that is not how most people who study the humanities for a living see it. They are more likely to regard science in general and evolution in particular as irrelevant to their concerns or even as a threat to everything that they hold dear.


Science is often thought to rob the arts of their importance and vitality. How ironic that evolutionary theory leads to a conception of the arts as such an important part of our "social physiology" that they can even be regarded as vital organs."


This is an excerpt from the book I'm reading titled, Evolution For Everyone, How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, by David Sloan Wilson.


I'm finding the book very eye-opening and intriguing. This book makes sense and has spoken volumes to me past it's 36 chapters already. This is the first book I have actually read on evolution, and I know I'll be forever grateful that it is. It's definitely given me a lot to think on and sparked my interest in evolution much more than I expected.


The author's web site...
David S. Wilson


EvoS, Binghamton University's campuswide evolutionary studies program....
EvoS

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Tags: Darwin, DavidSWilson, Evolution, books, reading, science

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Comment by Suzanne on July 10, 2008 at 1:19pm
I haven't ready Evolution for Everyone, but I will now. Thanks for the recommendation.
If you want another really good book about evolution, read Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable. It's excellent. Also, for some truly awesome insights into scientific/skeptical thinking in general, read Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, Science As A Candle In The Dark. You'll enjoy both.

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