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Reprinted from:

The Right of 
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

International Periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation
July 27, 1983

The Aesthetics of Evolution
By Arnold Perey, Ph.D.

Charles Darwin saw the continuity and discontinuity of the universe in the living forms he studied—from barnacles and birds, through man. This continuity and discontinuity is a making one of opposites: what Eli Siegel showed is beauty itself. In Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? of 1955, Eli Siegel explains what Darwin described in his 1859 Origin of Species and 1870 Descent of Man. He asks in question 8, "Continuity and Discontinuity": 

Is there to be found in every work of art a certain progression, a certain indissoluble presence of relation, a design which makes for continuity? — and is there to be found, also, the discreteness, the individuality, the brokenness of things: the principle of discontinuity? The theory of evolution is a oneness of continuity and discontinuity in the very terms Eli Siegel uses. Every species on earth — a paramecium, starfish, lizard, wildflower, seaweed, or primate species is distinct, discrete, can produce fertile offspring only among its own kind. Each species can be said to represent "the principle of discontinuity" from other species. Before Darwin's time, species were seen as so far apart they were accounted for by separate acts of divine creation. Darwin saw their continuity, and so it is now known that, arising from complex proteins in the warm seas of earth long ago all present forms of life, in progression: developed or evolved. Writes Darwin, "When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled." 

1. The Eye

Consider the human eye. The eye, as such, Darwin calls one of the "organs of extreme perfection and complication." The human eye is capable of a delicacy in differentiating colors that other beings do not have. Thus it is discrete, individual. But Darwin states that "some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light." We know there are protozoa that are. And he explains the continuity of vision evolving. There are certain creatures with pigment cells sensitive to light and darkness; higher still there are nerves with the pigment cells; and continuing, there are rudimentary eyes: "in certain star-fishes, small depressions in the layer of pigment which surrounds the nerve are filled ... with transparent gelatinous matter, projecting with a convex surface, like the cornea in the higher animals." 

Darwin establishes "a certain progression," a line of continuity between eyeless creatures, swimming dimly in the dark, and man who sees. 

2. Hand, External Ear, Sneer

Look at your own hand; there is nothing quite like it in the rest of creation. Think of any other creature playing the piano, repairing a watch, or hammering a nail. Yet, go to a natural history museum and you will see the front feet of large dinosaurs which also have five digits; and the wings of bats which have four long "fingers" and one short one. 

Darwin writes, "'The feet of lizards and mammals,' as the illustrious von Baer remarks, 'the wings and feet of birds, no less than the hands and feet of man all arise from the same fundamental form.'"On many people's ears, we have what is now called Darwin's Point. Where the outer curve of our ear rolls a little inward, there is a small, inward directed point. Some millions of years ago, the ear was not rolled inward at all, and this point is a vestige of our hairy ancestor's "formerly erect and pointed ears." 

We also have small, pointed, canine teeth — a remnant of our ancestor's long, sharp canines. Darwin wrote that he who sneers at evolution, as he lifts his lip over his own canine tooth, unconsciously retracting his "snarling muscles," will "probably reveal, by sneering, the line of his descent." We have here the "indissoluble presence of relation" Eli Siegel writes of. 

3. Aesthetics in the Embryo

Before birth we literally recapitulate how man came from earlier forms of life — and also, man goes further. Here too the theory of evolution shows what Eli Siegel writes that art shows: "a certain progression, ... a design which makes for continuity" and at the same time "the discreteness, the individuality, the brokenness of things." 

In its early stages the human embryo has gill slits in common with the embryo of fish; they later disappear from men, while in fish they develop into working gills. The early human embryo has a tail in common with the embryo of a domestic doggie. This later becomes the interior "tail bone," the coccyx, in man and apes, while in the dog this tail develops and will wag. At one time the human embryo has a "grasping" large toe, set at an angle, as the embryo of a great ape does; and later this toe rotates to the forward position of man, needed for upright walking. Once the unborn human to be is covered in a fine down, which disappears and leaves him naked, while the down becomes the hair or fur of a furry mammal. In the unborn child the skull expands and the brain attains a great size, capable of speech, thought, and feeling of a kind new in the world. 

4. The Mental Powers of Man

Man's moral and ethical sense is so important, so different from that in other forms of life, it is seen as God-given. In keeping with this long-standing feeling, Eli Siegel saw ethics and beauty as in reality itself. They came into our minds through the forms of life that came from reality before we did. Mr. Siegel pointed out that Darwin writes about an aesthetic sense in birds, and a moral or ethical feeling in life before man. When a cat carries carries its kittens across a street in traffic, Mr. Siegel once said, we see ethics arising from earth. 

The continuity of ethics, from reality itself, through earth and geology, and through animals to man, is Eli Siegel's observation alone. But in Darwin there is the presence of instinctive, untutored ethics in animals, such as, "Social animals perform many little services for each other: horses nibble, and cows lick each other, on any spot which itches." 

A beginning aesthetic sense is described in birds — like certain hummingbirds which "decorate ... their nests 'with the utmost taste.'" And Darwin explains how generations of females select the most beautiful plumage in males they would accept as mates; this gradually gave birds the beauty we see now. Remarkably, what the birds see as beautiful, we do too. Writes Darwin, "I know of no fact in natural history more wonderful than that the female Argus pheasant should appreciate the exquisite shading of the ball and socket ornaments and the elegant patterns on the wing-feathers of the male." Then there are the drab looking birds. They do not have beauty of plumage, but many have beauty of song. The skylark Percy Bysshe Shelley heard, had a song the beauty of which other skylarks appreciated too, in their way. 

The theory of evolution by Charles Darwin changed the way we see the past and our place in nature. This theory, powerful in its ability to organize the history of all life forms, is explained by a more inclusive theory, the Siegel Theory of Opposites, which shows the organization of reality itself as aesthetic in this single sentence: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." 

Reprinted from The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, No. 538 
Copyright 1983 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation

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