The Echoes of the Mind (74) The Biology of Beauty

The Biology of Beauty

Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them, and each mind perceives a different beauty. ~ David Hume

As each individual has their own sense of sensation, every experience is necessarily subjective. Preference for particular perceptions is an individual matter of taste.

The subjective nature of experience withstanding, each species has its set of senses generally attuned in a certain way: there are biological norms in range of sensation.

We cannot refer to the quality of a flower by its reflection of ultraviolet light, as we have no UV reception. In contrast, bees see UV. Hence, flowers appear quite differently to bees than they do to us. From this alone one could easily conclude that bees sense of beauty in flowers differs from that of people.

Similarly, birds hear sounds at a rate of 1/200th of a second, while humans detect sound at only 1/20th of a second. A human hears a slight fluttering of a musical note that a bird distinguishes into 10 different notes. The qualities of songs are altogether different in the ears of birds compared to humans.

From a statistical view, there is average receptivity to patterns of sensory media. What is considered beautiful can be expressed as a bell curve, with a bulge that corresponds to popular taste, and statistical outliers on either side for those respectively preferring something rather more rote or avant-garde. Such diversity is common in traits of all sorts: a product of Nature’s preference for variety.

The biological average of sensation provides a basis to assess the aesthetic of an object. Which is to say there is an objective baseline to beauty, and thereby the quality of an artwork is subject to critical evaluation. It is possible to declare a work of art superior to another via factor analysis of relevant qualities based upon metrics. However unspoken, talented artists do that all the time.