How beauty might have evolved for pleasure, not function
Evolutionary biology tells us this story: everything evolved to make us better at reproducing. Everything has a function — and decoration is no exception. The peacock’s elaborate tail seems useless, but actually it tells us how genetically superior the bird must be if it can survive even with that unwieldy mass of feathers.
Wrong, says Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum. In his new book, The Evolution of Beauty, Prum argues instead that natural selection makes sense in a lot of contexts, but when it comes to desire and attraction, many selections are simply arbitrary. It’s not about what makes the animals fly better or run faster, it’s about what the animal itself subjectively enjoys. It’s what makes the animal happy.