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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

Survival of the Beautiful: Scientists and Artists Face Off on Aesthetics of Evolution

Why did the peacock’s tail vex Charles Darwin? Since natural selection could not explain it, he had to formulate a new theory of sexual selection positing that certain astonishingly beautiful traits became preferred even when not exactly useful, simply because they appealed to the opposite sex. Other examples of beauty in nature would also seem to arise for reasons other than sexual selection — the mysterious patterns on seashells, the compounding geometric symmetries of microscopic diatoms, or the patterns pulsating across the bodies of octopus and squid.

Humans see such things and find them astonishingly beautiful: Are we wrong to experience nature in such terms? On February 24, David Rothenberg and guests will explore this provocative concept at NJIT. Rothenberg is the author of Survival of the Beautiful, Thousand Mile Song and Why Birds Sing. A recording artist with ECM Records, he is a professor of philosophy and music at NJIT. In 2010, he received the NJIT Overseers Excellence in Research Prize and Medal.

The public is invited to this free panel discussion sponsored by the NJIT Technology and Society Forum. The lecture will take place in NJIT’s Campus Center Atrium from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

Rothenberg will be joined by Jaron Lanier, Richard Prum and Anna Lindemann. Virtual-reality pioneer Lanier, one of Time Magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” for 2010, was awarded an honorary doctorate by NJIT and now works for Microsoft on virtual-reality applications such as Xbox Kinect. The recipient of a 2009 MacArthur “Genius Award,” Prum is a professor of evolutionary biology at Yale. Lindemann, a visiting assistant professor at Colgate University, is a multimedia artist and composer. Together, they will seek to advance our understanding of whether nature’s beauty is actual, imaginary, useful, excessive, or perhaps even entirely beside the point. 

For more information contact Jay Kappraff, kappraff@adm.njit.edu or 973-596-3490 or visit the NJIT Technology and Society Forum at http://tsf.njit.edu.  Find earlier Forum presentations at http://itunes.njit.edu; search for “Technology and Society Forum.”

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.