Public Lecture Series with Richard O. Prum
What can explain the incredible diversity of beauty in nature? A celebrated Yale ornithologist turns to a neglected idea of Darwin’s for answers and transforms the way we understand sex, pleasure, and evolution itself.
In The Evolution of Beauty, Richard O. Prum’s award-winning career as an ornithologist and his lifelong passion for bird watching come together in a thrilling intellectual adventure. Scientific dogma holds that every detail of an animal’s mating displays– every spot on the peacock’s tail– is an advertisement of its genetic or material superiority to potential mates. But 30 years of research and fieldwork around the world led Prum to question this idea. Deep in tropical jungles are birds with a dizzying array of plumages, songs, and mating displays: Club-winged Manakins who sing with their wings, Great Argus pheasants who dazzle prospective mates with a four-foot-wide cone of feathers covered in golden 3D spheres, Red-capped Manakins who moonwalk. Many such traits struck Prum as outlandishly unlikely to provide practical information. His search for answers led him to a little-acclaimed theory of Darwin’s, aesthetic mate choice, or “the taste for the beautiful.” Darwin proposed that choosing a mate for the mere pleasure of it creates an independent engine of evolutionary change.
With warmth, wit, and a charming virtuosity, Prum explores how Darwin’s idea was sidelined by squeamish Victorians and what it means for our understanding of evolution to revive it 150 years later. Prum not only looks at birds differently—finding surprising and uplifting discoveries in the violent world of duck sex –he connects the same evolutionary dynamics to the origins and diversity of human sexuality. He offers riveting new thinking about the evolution of human beauty, the female orgasm, and same-sex sexual behavior. And in the book’s intellectual climax, he proposes an essential role for female mate choice in shaping human maleness, transforming our ancestors from typical infanticidal primates into socially intelligent, pair bonding caregivers.
The Evolution of Beauty is an exhilarating tour de force that begins in the trees and ends by fundamentally challenging how we understand human evolution and ourselves.
RICHARD O. PRUM is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is a winner of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships and helped discover dinosaur feathers and their colors.
Date: Monday, November 18
Time: 6:00 pm Check-in, 7:00 pm Program
Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021
Member Ticket Price: $15
Guest Ticket Price: $30
Student Ticket Price: $5 with a valid academic ID on arrival
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