As early as The Descent of Man, Darwin recognized how human cultural evolution seemed to suppress the effects of natural selection. Indeed, as human evolution developed, it progressively freed itself from the pressures of natural selection, creating its own unnatural world to inhabit, with its own artificial selective constraints: the technosphere. But this raises an interesting conundrum. For, in nature, wherever the pressures of natural selection get more lax, evolution is poised to produce more variety as extravagant mutations are passed through the sieve of selection. An oft-cited example of this are the birds of paradise, who evolved their great variety of evolutionarily-expensive extravagances in contexts of relative freedom from natural selective constraints (islands with few mammalian predators, abundant resources, etc.). In particular, they developed an explosion of non-survival related erotic kinks, which sexually-selected for features like colourful plumage and complex precoital performances, in turn leading to reproductive isolation between different groups: speciation. So it is interesting to observe that when humans, with their technosphere, suppressed the effects of natural selection to a degree greater than any other animal in the history of life on earth, the very opposite happened: we stopped speciating. Why have we Modern Humans, ever since we lived among Neanderthals and Denisovans, not spontaneously speciated again into unimaginable biological forms and posthuman monsters? In this seminar, Alexander Wilson guides us through a speculative account of aesthetics and culture in terms of evolutionary dynamics, and attempts to answer the question (a nod to N. Katherine Hayles): How did we not become posthuman?
*** Given the topic’s relevance to the circumstances we face with COVID-19, we will also look at the relation between “hominization” as a branch of the “tree of life” of cellular biological evolution, and the evolutionary dynamics of VIRUSES, which are sometimes considered to inhabit the negative spaces between the branches of this putative tree.
Facilitator: Alexander Wilson is a Canadian researcher in philosophy of science, technology, and aesthetics conversing with cultural studies, environmental humanities, and media theory. He is author of Aesthesis and Perceptronium: On the Entanglement of Sensation, Cognition, and Matter (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). He has held a postdoctoral research position in communication and culture at Aarhus University, Denmark, as well as an assistant professorship in intermedia at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and is currently affiliated to Institute of Research and Innovation, Paris, France. Also an accomplished artist, he has created installations, films, music, and works for the stage. He lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Visit his personal website.