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Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds? Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Aesthetics, Fiction, and the Arts

From: SubStance
Issue 94/95 (Volume 30, Number 1&2), 2001
pp. 6-27 | 10.1353/sub.2001.0017


Puzzlingly, humans in all cultures engage in a broad variety of aesthetically oriented activities that appear to have no obvious evolutionary utility, including immersion in those falsehoods called fiction. We argue that, despite appearances, aesthetically oriented activities are evolutionarily functional, and are the product of evolved adaptations designed to cause such experiences. These are adaptations whose function is to (1) assist in constructing the adaptations that constitute our species-typical neurocognitive design, and (2) bring those adaptations into a state of effective readiness, individually tailored to deal with the specific adaptive demands that they will confront during that person's life.

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