Sublime evolution

I think that many people have an aesthetic experience of nature: an overwhelming sense that our species has persisted despite the constant threat of extinction os any of our parent species and our precarious early history in the African grasslands. From the essay about my research program:

Taking a macroscopic perspective, what difference does it make for our view of ourselves and our place in the universe, if the importance of chance events and processes is highlighted? My tentative answer to this question is that our experience of nature and our evolution starting with the earliest forms of life is an aesthetic experience: the sublime. There is a variety of accounts of the sublime; consider a gloss on Kant’s view. According to Kant, we experience the sublime in the presence of the vast scales we can only experience in nature, for instance, thunderclaps and lightning strikes; mountains, or the view of a valley far below and violent storms and surf. The experience is connected with the recognition that human reason has a kind of integrity that cannot be affected by nature. Human beings can rise above their animal nature, because they have the power to reason, which is universal, and applies across any natural phenomena. My view is that it is not human reason that generates the sublime experience of the idea and fact of our evolution. Rather, what generates the sublime experience is the recognition that, despite the odds, humanity has persisted, due just as much to chance as to any deliberate contrivance on our part or any adaptation on the part of our ancestors.

More of what I have to say about this can be found by watching the presentation I gave on the topic at SUNY New Paltz or looking at the PDF beamer presentation I gave along with the talk.

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