Through Study of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetics of Evolution
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":
1. The Eye
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
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
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
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
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