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Are We Wired for Beauty?

The science community is busy investigating the mechanisms and processes by which people are able to perceive the world around them and make visual sense of it. There are many basic questions still to be answered. For example, a six-year-old possesses the mundane ability to distinguish things that are out-of-place at a glance-something the most powerful computers can’t do. How does the brain interpret a vast amount of seemingly unrelated visual stimuli and cohere a picture of the world from it? Is it just in the immense amount of neuronal (yep, it’s a word) connections or their interrelated connectivity, the sum of all individual specialized functions adding up to a greater whole?

Current research points to the possibility that the latter is the case. Simply wiring up an immense network of computers won’t do the job. It is how the information gathering and processing parts relate to each other and at the same time to the whole system that gives us our unique ability to be sentient. No computer can do this now nor likely will be able to in the near future. Scientists are pursuing a parallel track of visual investigations to those that many artists are. Science wants to understand the general mechanism of human perception, while artists are more interested in expressing the essence of those perceptions about the world. More often than not, artists are inspired to express beauty in their work.

A child is also able to perceive beauty, something that may never be possible with a computer brain. After all, what is beauty? Would it ever be possible to take a massive poll and have a supercomputer distill the data down to a definition of beauty with which everyone would agree? If we could define it then would it, like Art, cease to be?

Each one of us has a slightly different, personal “beauty register,” yet, generally speaking, people are able to recognize an artist’s personal expression of beauty in art, and be moved by it. But try to describe a beautiful painting, event, piece of music or sunset with language, and the magic is easily lost in a laundry list of individual parts.

Apparently, the use of language must itself be beautiful to communicate beauty effectively. Poetry and some exceptionally inspired and sensitively written prose are able to achieve that quality. So it would seem that the perception of beauty is created by the interrelationship of all the parts of something, be it a painting, dance, concerto, or poem, to each other, as well as to the whole. In order to create a beautiful work of art, the organizational structure of all the parts must be as beautiful as the work itself.