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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.”

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com.