Yale Peabody Museum Science Café

The Evolution of Beauty

With Richard Prum

Tuesday, October 9 at 7:00pm

LOCATION: BAR, 254 Crown Street, New Haven


Why are the sexual ornaments of animals so beautiful? From the song of the Wood Thrush to plumage of a hummingbird, beauty is fundamental to biodiversity. Darwin proposed the still radical idea that beauty in nature evolves because the organisms themselves perceive these ornamental features as beautiful. Today, most work on the evolution of ornament favors an alternative hypothesis that mate choice is an entirely practical process in which ornament encodes information about quality and condition that mates need to know. Is mate choice entirely utilitarian? Or is there something ineffable about the unique beauty of each species?


Yale Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Richard Prum will argue for a return to Darwin's aesthetic view of mate choice. The evolution of beauty in nature is a self organizing process with each species evolving toward its own solution to the question of what is attractive. Consequently, sexual ornament in nature is frequently “merely beautiful,” for its own sake, and truly aesthetic. Humans are not the only species with aesthetic agency, or the capacity for aesthetic choice.


Science Café is a lively event where members of the public can learn about current research from a scientist over pizza and beer. Join us for craft brews, laughs, and a spirited discussion! Admission is free, you buy the food and drink. Must be 21 or older to attend.