Table of Contents


Introduction: Why We See Beauty

OK! Let’s get to why you probably picked this book up in the first place.

Why do we see beauty? We see beauty because it is a signal to cooperate.

In the Stone Age environment, the environment in which the human species has lived the most time, two groups need a lot of help: Children and young mothers having their first or second child. If they get it, their community prospers a lot more than if they don’t.

This reality was a challenge for Mother Nature.

(“Mother Nature” is how I anthropomorphize the evolution and natural selection processes. I envision her as a design engineer at a drafting board, with each mutation in an organism being a change in its blueprint.)

She asked herself, “When big, tough, older men and women are hungry themselves, how do I get them to not grab food from babies, kids, and weak young mothers, but give them food and other resources instead? That calls for a radical change in their thinking depending on the situation!”

Fortunately, she had a lot of time to work on the problem of having us contest with members of one group and treat those in another group totally differently. Proto-humans and humans are not the only species that care for their young ones; Mother Nature has been working on this issue through millions of generations.

So she tried hundreds of thousands of experimental changes. (That’s all mutations are, changes.) About 99 percent were dismal failures, a few of the others made no difference, and an even smaller number helped. A collection of those changes added seeing beauty to our thinking process, which helped humans survive.

The root use of seeing beauty is as a signal to cooperate with kids and young women, but that use is as capable of being changed as any other part of being human is, and it has changed. We now see beauty in animals, in things, and in other kinds of people, and we feel like cooperating in some fashion with whatever’s making us see it.

So it’s a very practical solution toward the long-standing challenge of humans living successfully on Earth. Just as many other peculiarities of human thinking turn out to be, when viewed in the right Neolithic contexts. It’s only when they appear in the various more civilized environments that they look like fascinating mysteries.

Now that you’ve seen an example of the kind of insight that this book is about—there’ll be more on this point in Book Two—let’s look at the bigger picture: The whole business of how evolution has shaped human thinking.