... Via LGM, who do however cheer me up some by reminding me of Louis Menand's takedown of Steven Pinker.
The "intellectuals" in Pinker's book are social scientists, progressive educators, radical feminists, academic Marxists, liberal columnists, avant-garde arts types, government planners, and postmodernist relativists. The good guys are the cognitive scientists and ordinary folks, whose common sense, except when it has been damaged by listening to intellectuals, generally correlates with what cognitive science has discovered. I wish I could say that Pinker's view of the world of ideas is more nuanced than this. * * *His tears being an effect of evolutionary selection, no doubt.
Many impulses are channelled or suppressed, and many talents and feelings are acquired, and have no specific genetic basis or evolutionary logic at all. Music appreciation, for instance, seems to be wired in at about the level of "Hot Cross Buns." But people learn to enjoy Wagner. They even learn to sing Wagner. One suspects that enjoying Wagner, singing Wagner, anything to do with Wagner, is in gross excess of the requirements of natural selection. * * *
In fact, the "universality of basic visual tastes" has been proved, Pinker points out, by the artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who, in 1993, surveyed people's artistic preferences for color, subject matter, style, and so on. They proceeded to make a painting that incorporated all of the top-rated elements: it was a nineteenth-century realist landscape featuring children, deer, and the figure of George Washington. Pinker notes that the painting exemplifies "the kind of landscape that had been characterized as optimal for our species by researchers in evolutionary aesthetics."