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Neuroaesthetics and the Trouble with Beauty

  • Bevil R. Conway mail,

    bconway@wellesley.edu

    Affiliations: Program in Neuroscience, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, United States of America, Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Alexander Rehding

    Affiliation: Department of Music, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

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  • Published: March 19, 2013
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001504

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The trounle with beauty and art

Posted by monzop on 08 Aug 2013 at 14:41 GMT

Very interesting article.
I have been thinking a little about some of the issues developed by Conway and Rehding, and I would like to expose some ideas.

In order to understand human response to beauty (of which art can be considered a sub-class), it would make sense, in my opinion, to start with 'natural beauties', i.e. those that are the least controversial, since everyone recognize them, and that were likely present since the early times of human evolution. We are all sensitive to views of natural panoramas, sunset, the gentle sound of trickling water, songs of birds, shape and colors of flowers, and some of their perfumes.
These instances are just about universal, and stimulates some of our primary senses.

It is quite possible that natural beauties correspond to sights or views in which we developed. Human beings are, in ecological terms, dwellers of 'transition niches', between forest and open space, between river, lakes, sea and land etc. This is easily explained by the availability of procuring food, shelter, and other life necessities. Even today, we like to have a loan, but also some trees, and we consider it a great pleasure to have some water, swimming pool or a fountain, in our courtyards (for those who can afford it). The rest of us may limit themselves at hanging images of nature in their living rooms.

In this view, our sense of beauty (pleasure of one or other sense), could be considered our crave to find places and conditions in which our (primordial) life is best guaranteed.

For this reason, I think might be easier to explore human response to beauty using examples that, unlike art, are more general and not influenced by cultural development, which varies in different places.
The exploration of neurological correlates for artistic appreciation, might become more clear after those for plain beauty have been understood.

I also think that the idea of considering the appreciation of female facial features as correlated to reproductive fitness is possibly wrong: if female (or male?) beauty was to be associated with reproductive fitness only, it would be expected that individuals with a direct interest would be more sensitive to it. Women should not be able to appreciate female beauty, and old people, beyond reproductive age, should lose interest in it, which is not the case.

Similar reasoning could be made for odours: Smells could be associated with food. It is interesting, however, that we perceive as good or bad a specific food odour, accordingly to the emptiness or fullness of our stomach. And why should we like the smell of flowers, that are typically not edible?


In my opinion, it seems that most natural beauties inspire a sense of quietness, harmony, peace of mind that may have a direct physiological effect (heart beat, breath rhythm, blood pressure...); in this case, there would be a specific system that connects the body/brain axis through hormones and/or other physiological clues.
I would be very interested in reading studies on this aspect of neuroaesthetics.

With best regards,
Monica


mzoppe@ifc.cnr.it

No competing interests declared.