Technology and Society Forum


Survival of the Beautiful: Scientists and Artists Face Off on the Aesthetics of Evolution

Jaron Lanier, Richard Prum, Anna Lindemann, David Rothenberg

NJIT Campus Center Atrium
February 24, 2012,  11:30 am – 1:00 pm

Download the flyer (PDF, 1.3 MB)

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.

Virtual-reality pioneer Jaron 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,” Richard Prum is a professor of evolutionary biology at Yale. Anna 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, kappraff@njit.edu or 973-596-3490
Co-sponsors: NJIT Technology and Society Forum Committee, Albert Dorman Honors College, Department of Humanities, Sigma Xi.
NJIT welcomes attendees from Essex County College, Rutgers-Newark, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Visit the NJIT Technology and Society Forum on the Web at http://tsf.njit.edu.
Previous Forum presentations are available at http://itunes.njit.edu; search for “Technology and Society Forum.”
See the musical side of Jaron Lanier and David Rothenberg at http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnLelandWhiting?feature=mhee