Art and Adaptability

Consciousness and Cognitive Culture


Art and Adaptability argues for a co-evolution of theory of mind and material/art culture. The book covers relevant areas from great ape intelligence, hominin evolution, Stone Age tools, Paleolithic culture and art forms, to neurobiology. We use material and art objects, whether painting or sculpture, to modify our own and other people’s thoughts so as to affect behavior. We don’t just make judgments about mental states; we create objects about which we make judgments in which mental states are inherent. Moreover, we make judgments about these objects to facilitate how we explore the minds and feelings of others. The argument is that it’s not so much art because of theory of mind but art as theory of mind.
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Biographical Note

Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D. (1998), New York University, is Professor of English and founder and senior developer of The Evolutionary Studies Collaborative at St. Francis College, N.Y. Recent, relevant books include Evolution and Human Culture (Brill|Rodopi, 2016) and Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness (Rodopi, 2014).

Review Quote

“The text is said to offer a novel hypothesis on the evolutionary roots of art, based on theory of mind. In itself, this proposal is compelling...” – Larissa Mendoza Straffon, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society “The general argument of the book is interesting and sound, and is well developed with different layer of explanation.... The manuscript fits within an upcoming and ongoing tendency to study the origins of art from a cognitive perspective that specifically emphasizes theory of mind...doing so from a similarly interdisciplinary point of view. As such, the contents are both innovative and fitting within actual developments in this field.” – Eveline Seghers, Department of Art, Music and Theatre Studies, Ghent University “Gregory F. Tague approaches two ancient questions, what is art and what does it do, in a new and intriguing way. Drawing on science, specifically evolution through natural selection, he proposes that art, like other forms of social behavior, is in part genetic, creative or imaginative impulse, and part environmental, social interaction. Support for this proposal comes from primate studies and current studies in neurobiology, cognition, intelligence and communication. He proposes, and I agree, that culture is common among great apes with whom we share social and mental abilities. Modern humans, however, unlike other primates, have a more highly degreed theory of mind. This ability to make predictions based on the perceived mental states of others facilitated our ancestors’ ability to competitively cooperate. Culture, which would include art, was, as he explains, “part of a predictive attempt to affect another’s emotional or cognitive outcome, often in subtle ways.” As influence is a critical part of social behavior, art, which has costs that can be quite high, provides social benefits. In sum, the road Tague takes to answering the questions – what is art and what does it do, how might it be connected to health, pleasure, play, sociality, and emotions – is complex; however, art is not a simple thing to explain. While he draws on many variables to build and support his argument, he provides the reader with a provocative and enlightening journey. Art and Adaptability is an excellent book – a fabulous search through many fields for an explanation of the curious behavior we call art.” – Kathryn Coe, Ph.D., Professor and Lilly Scholar in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University. Author, The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art as Adaptation

Table of contents

Acknowledgements Simplified Radiations of Select Primate Species Simplified Radiations of Select Hominin Species The Long Pleistocene Introduction: Setting Boundaries 1 Intelligence: Communication and Theory of Mind  Great Ape Intelligence and Communication  Symbolic Communication and Consciousness  Inter-Subjectivity and Evolution  Great Ape Theory of Mind  Human Theory of Mind  Artificial Intelligence  The Anthropocentric Attitude  Chapter One Dovetail 2 Culture: The Adapted Mind  Human Network: Scope and Scale  Symbolic Culture  Culture and the Adapted Mind  Gene/Culture Co-Evolution  Culture and Social Selection  Culture and Epigenetics  Mind Sharing  Chapter Two Dovetail 3 Adaptive Functions: Selection and the Human Psyche  Adaptation and Natural Selection Defined  Phenomenal Consciousness  Adaptive Problems and Questions  Darwin and Natural Selection  Darwin and Sexual Selection  Selection and Tools  Cognition, Cooperation, and Extended Evolution  Making Special  Pleistocene Landscape Preferences  Can We Define Art?  Neanderthals and Art  Cave Painting and Superstition  Art and Altered States of Consciousness  Cave Art and Images  Art and the Human Psyche  Beauty, the Brain, and the Body  Chapter Three Dovetail 4 Objections: Philosophy and Byproducts  Philosophy and Art  Pinker’s Cheesecake for the Mind  An Art Instinct?  Corrective to Art as Sexual Selection  Humanology  Social Selection Over Sexual Selection?  The Biology of Art as Speculative?  Two Hypotheses  Explanatory Dilemma  Chapter Four Dovetail 5 Neurobiology and Cognition: Consciousness and Representation  Artistic Behavior and the Social Brain  The Subject of Aesthetics  Orienting Creative Cognition  Art, Ambiguity, and Making Meaning  Representation and Metarepresentation  Bodily and Cultural Consciousness  Line or Color?  Seeing Reality Abstractly  Knowledge, Beauty, and Neutrality  From Discontinuity to Essence  Brain Sight and Insight  Beauty and Cognitive Emotions  Ritual Art  Chapter Five Dovetail Conclusion: The Arts and Sciences Bibliography Index


Students and scholars interested in the adaptive function of the arts, the evolution of culture, human evolution and intelligence, and continuities between humans and great apes will find Art and Adaptability insightful.