Why did the peacock’s tail vex Charles Darwin? Since natural selection could not explain it, he had to formulate a new theory of sexual selection positing that certain astonishingly beautiful traits became preferred even when not exactly useful, simply because they appealed to the opposite sex. Other examples of beauty in nature would also seem to arise for reasons other than sexual selection — the mysterious patterns on seashells, the compounding geometric symmetries of microscopic diatoms, or the patterns pulsating across the bodies of octopus and squid.Humans see such things and find them astonishingly beautiful: Are we wrong to experience nature in such terms? On February 24, David Rothenberg and guests will explore this provocative concept at NJIT. Rothenberg is the author of Survival of the Beautiful, Thousand Mile Song and Why Birds Sing. A recording artist with ECM Records, he is a professor of philosophy and music at NJIT. In 2010, he received the NJIT Overseers Excellence in Research Prize and Medal.
The public is invited to this free panel discussion sponsored by the NJIT Technology and Society Forum. The lecture will take place in NJIT’s Campus Center Atrium from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Rothenberg will be joined by Jaron Lanier, Richard Prum and Anna Lindemann. Virtual-reality pioneer Lanier, one of Time Magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” for 2010, was awarded an honorary doctorate by NJIT and now works for Microsoft on virtual-reality applications such as Xbox Kinect. The recipient of a 2009 MacArthur “Genius Award,” Prum is a professor of evolutionary biology at Yale. Lindemann, a visiting assistant professor at Colgate University, is a multimedia artist and composer. Together, they will seek to advance our understanding of whether nature’s beauty is actual, imaginary, useful, excessive, or perhaps even entirely beside the point.
For more information contact Jay Kappraff, firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-596-3490 or visit the NJIT Technology and Society Forum at http://tsf.njit.edu. Find earlier Forum presentations at http://itunes.njit.edu; search for “Technology and Society Forum.”