Well, first I lost, or rather British Airways lost, my luggage, so I am living in the same clothes I spent 36 hours on planes in. Unpleasant.
But, Jenny and I went to the Accademia Galeria and saw enormous numbers of Medieval and Renaissance paintings. Then to the Piazza San Marco, where I saw the famous “spandrels” in the Basilica San Marco, and then into the Doge’s palace, where we saw several Bosch paintings. Wonderful stuff.
What most interested me was the extent to which the Basilica was decorated. While on their own, the pendentives do indeed look like they were decorated after the fact, and were not there in order to support pictures of the Evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), when you look at the interior of the Basilica itself, it is clearly there for one major reason: to support the decoration in the domes, the pendentives, in the spandrels, walls and alcoves. The whole place is there for the task of supporting these extensive and costly status-declaring decorations. When I get home I will scan some of the images I acquired (you can’t take photos, or there’d be one of me pointing at the famous “spandrels”).
This is interesting, I think, in the context of Gould’s and Lewontin’s paper. It shows that claims of things being adaptive or not depend crucially on what one counts as the “task” of a structure. Since I think that everything is subjected to selection pressure at all times (sometimes not enough to overcome the noise of statistical properties), counting what is, and what isn’t, adaptive is a bit of a personal call, in the absence of access to the historical processes of particular traits. I am becoming more of an adaptationist these days.
A final note. Don’t use the waterbuses in Venice late on a Sunday. Everybody else wants to, as well. And I can strongly recommend Barababao B&B – really helpful guys in a lovely place. My luggage is supposedly on its way as I type. I hope so. It’s got my power supplies and meds.