25 October 2021

When More Is Less

E.O. Wilson
Consilience
(1998)
The explanation for the rarity of great beauty may be (and I continue to speculate) the behavioral phenomenon known as the supernormal stimulus. Widespread among animal species, it is the preference during communication for signals that exaggerate the norms even if they rarely if ever occur in nature.
e.g. Male butterflies who can be more attracted to mechanical replicas
that have the biggest, brightest, and most rapidly moving wings
than to actual females.
Males [of this species] appear to have evolved to prefer the strongest expression of certain stimuli they encounter, with no upper limit. The phenomenon is widespread in the animal kindgom.
(p. 231)
Maybe this explains the rarity of great beauty. Or maybe it's a warning to all of us in the animal kingdom that we had better hang onto at least the vestiges of medieval asceticism, by way of which certain upper limits are constructively established. Otherwise we'll end up eating and fucking plastic replicas, and thinking we've done well this way.

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