Your Place in the B A S E: Biology, Aesthetics, Sex and Ecopsychology

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Lois the turkey. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Photo by Christyl Rivers

Finding a BASE system that influences all of us.

We have a lot of birds where we live. We have dancing birds, singing birds, birds fluttering around blossoms as if they are listening to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. Watching the birds, contemplating about them, is beautiful. Their antics feel like a strong aesthetic pleasure to us, and we are certain it is to them, as well. The birds and bees, of course as we know from earliest childhood, are being all sexy with the plants and flowers, driving their existence with aesthetic detail that is so strong it has suggested a creator — a Maestro of all Arts in the Universe — for most of human history.

Biology, to an ecopsychologist, any naturalist, scientist, artist or poet, is bursting with color, music, movement, fragrance, and other sensory delights. These have much to do with our evolutionary psychology. By us, I mean those beings — including plants — that evolved on Earth.

Two strong, but competing, theories have come forward with biology. One is the adaptive theory of evolution, and the other is the aesthetic theory. When I watch birds, bees and butterflies flirting with our garden, I am convinced that neither view is correct. It appears to us that they both have strong influence. They are both correct, together, much like the dance and music itself.

The adaptive theory of evolution asserts that beauty serves the function of advertising fitness. A strong dancer and singer, to describe many birds, will no doubt provide excellent genes. The second theory, that of aesthetics, was first put forward in Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man. It asserts that females choose based on appeal, display, and finery, in other words, beauty. Darwin wrote to biologist, Asa Gray, in 1861, to illustrate his thoughts that “The sight of a peacock’s tail, whenever I look at it, makes me sick.”

Does this mean Darwin could not appreciate the glittering splendor of the peacock’s tail? No, it meant that he understood all too well that it did not so much serve an adaptive fitness that everyday peacock strutting meant dragging around this rather clumsy, clump of strikingly radiant plumage. Rather, it served to show a female pea-hen. “Look at me, baby, I’m gorgeous, and I can afford this extravagance. Choose me.” Male humans are known to display much the same way when they dress to impress. As aesthetic biologists’ Z Z Top have echoed Darwin’s thoughts: “Every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man.” And then there’s the red sports car of mid-life crisis, but honestly most males don’t flaunt one, and most females don’t want one.

Beauty is an essential factor in biodiversity, because it sells both sex and fitness. Yet, beauty as ever, is in the eye of the beholder.

Unfortunately, for Darwin he was “sick” about the headaches and controversy of his aesthetic insights. His co-discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace, and many other scientists, could not wrap their rather tightly swaddled Victorian minds around the idea that a female could have so much say in the courtship. Today, we know that with many species, females can play very strong roles indeed. It all depends upon what helps that particular species best spread their wings, bling and genetic material.

Ecopsychology adds another dimension to both application and decoration. The forces of natural laws, are seen as aesthetically pleasing because they are both beautiful and true. Strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetic and gravity do, after all, spin all those galaxies in a whirling dance as well as they inspire a brilliant bird of paradise to prance his plumage in a shining, emerald bower. This kind of beauty is in every direction, if we cherish it, protect it, and appreciate it. There is wonder and appeal in all-natural attractions — what can be called Selena Allures for their moon lustrous beauty and power — and we are wise to learn this value if our own species is to thrive.

Science, of course, moves forward by constantly discarding the non-useful, much like evolution itself.

There is nothing to point at that says adaption and aesthetics have to be mutually exclusive. But there is plenty about science that suggests we keep an open mind. Therefore, for my own aesthetic sense and health, I will continue to embrace both beauty and biological adaptation, and continue to preach the gospel that nature is true, because “truth” too, as John Keats so famously said, “is beauty.”

Some people believe nature developed consciousness more than once certainly, and on a quite different, Multiverse size scale. Some call this consciousness God. I tend to think of the creation itself as the creator, although first to admit it is beyond my knowledge to assume certainty.

As sapiens we are astonishingly blessed to have the biodiversity that allows us to live and breathe, but also to understand our need for it. We further have the theory of mind to contemplate the grace of nature that supports our consciousness. Yet, sometimes, caught in traffic, snarled into a fight with our printer, ready to toss our cell phones into the trash, or frustrated by the belch and roar of automated life, we forget what the other aesthetically aware beings live by in their instinctual automation.

That is why the world so needs Ecopsychology. And we need one another; not just our fellow human race, rat racers. So many of us, sadly, are often distracted.

We need to reconnect to the rest of the living world. We can stop and wonder at the waltz of the flowers, the diamond gleam of forest showers, the elegance of bird bowers and the slow sway of creation’s hours. This is not a poem, but a poor attempt at trying to describe the exquisite loveliness of nature, something that is beyond all our human words.


Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts, I appreciate it so much. Christyl Rivers

Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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