Snakes, Sunrises, And Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves And Fears

Paperback | April 27, 2015

byGordon H. Orians

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Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary past—we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of the sunrise as the predatory dangers of the dark night disappear. Many of our aesthetic preferences—from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seek—are the lingering result of natural selection.

In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.  During this time our likes and dislikes became wired in our brains, as the appropriate responses to the environment meant the difference between survival or death. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to nature’s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species.  We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.

By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.

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Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary past—we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of...

Gordon H. Orians lives in Seattle, where he is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington. He is the author or editor of several books, including, most recently, Red-Winged Blackbirds: Decision-making and Reproductive Success and Life:  The Science of Biology.

other books by Gordon H. Orians

North Pacific Temperate Rainforests: Ecology and Conservation
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Kobo ebook|Dec 1 2016

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:232 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.5 inPublished:April 27, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022627182X

ISBN - 13:9780226271828

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Whistling for Honey
Chapter 2.Ghosts of the African Savanna
Chapter 3. The High Cost of Learning
Chapter 4. Reading the Landscape
Chapter 5. The Snake in the Grass ( . . . and Other Hazards)
Chapter 6. Settling Down and Settling In
Chapter 7. A Ransom in Pepper
Chapter 8.The Musical Ape
Chapter 9. The First Sniff
Chapter 10. Ordering Nature
Chapter 11. The Honeyguide and the Snake: Embracing Our Ecological Minds
Acknowledgments
Notes
Illustration Credits
Index

Editorial Reviews

“By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.”