Beauty and its relationship to survival

This morning I went for a walk through a nature reserve which includes some lovely scenery along the Yarra river. The light of the sun filtered through the surrounding trees where lorikeets, rosellas, and cockatoos completed the scene with their lively chatter.

As I passed through this beautiful moment in time I was aware that this entire scene was being collected by my senses and collated into what I consider a cohesive image in my brain.

But was it real? If we consider that our brain’s ability to recognise and classify objects is based on our previous experiences we will have to acknowledge that how we classify objects may give rise to error. So I may have seen things which I was unable to recognise, or more specifically, was unable to classify and therefore I may have misidentified them. Or I may have seen things which someone else would not notice.

A question that follows, and which has likely been posed since before the time of Plato and Lao Tsu is whether things exist in and of themselves or if things only exist because we think they do. My instinctive response is that of course things exist even if I don’t exist. To think that things only exist because of me is a little too egocentric for my liking. It also seems illogical. However if we want to be scientific about this we can’t actually prove to ourselves that anything exists without us being present to witness it. This concept is also featured in eastern philosophy. Existence consists of three components. The observer, the observed, and the act of observing.

This is something which I find to be one of the most incredible and profound mysteries. Observing. It indicates that there exists a special program in every life form on Earth. A conditional program. The act of observing indicates an ability to sense data, record data, and classify it in some way. The most important criterion must certainly be whether or not the information affects the observer positively or negatively, or in any way at all.

This must certainly be why some things simply are uninteresting to us. Our instinctive need to ensure our own continued existence causes us to prioritise the classification of any information which either threatens us or assists us in any way. If information we encounter doesn’t fall within either category and is deemed non essential to our survival then we will often completely disregard it or we may consider it for a little while and then relegate it to a remote part of our memory before eventually allowing its memory to decay. So if important information relates to our survival why do we notice beauty? Why is beauty so arresting?

I just finished reading a 3rd century philosophical treatise which included a very long segment on trying to understand beauty. Now I could lie to you and say that I followed along with everything the author, Plotinus, was saying. Parts of it did remind me a little of another book I have read, Quantum Physics –  A Beginner’s Guide. Both of these works contain parts which can make the reader quickly jump from ah, very interesting to wait, back up a little, what?

But it did get me thinking. There are certain forms that are almost universally thought of as beautiful. Certain geometric forms arrest our attention and though we may not all use the same word to describe their beauty, there seems to be a preponderance of certain formulae within the items the human sense categorises as beautiful. I don’t think I am the first to suggest that there is a mathematical formula found within these things of beauty which is derived from natural mathematics. What I mean by natural mathematics is that some shapes are formed naturally or are the consequence of perfect intersection. A circle is just that and will always be just that. The perfect circle can then be transformed into additional shapes through its multiplication and superimposition. If two circles of equal size overlap they create a universal form which is the beginning of natural geometry, or what I am calling natural mathematics. A third circle of equal size overlapping the other two can then have a triangle derived from it by joining the intersecting lines. And so on. this is what is widely referred to as sacred geometry. And it is sacred as it is unchangeable. It truly is the soul of perfection. The tenets of all existence are written in forms made up of sacred geometry. Shapes which follow as a consequence of natural progression then form more and more complex shapes.

If we agree with the idea that all life is running this conditional program, then beauty must have a role to play in our survival. I know that this is not a proper syllogism, so let me try to rework it into something a little more logical.

A syllogism is , according to Merriam-Webster dictionary: a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion. So if I were to summarise all of the above in a syllogism it would be as follows:

For survival we take notice of important information

Beauty is taken notice of

Therefore beauty is important for survival

I believe it’s safe to say if we are honest then we will find that there are countless instances where we choose the symmetrical over the asymmetrical, the evenly shaped over the misshapen, the tidy over the messed up, the beautiful over the ugly.

Of course as intelligent beings we can override such instincts. We can reprogram our propensity to select within any confines. By choosing to look at something differently or maybe trying to understand some given input from alternative angles we may choose to interact with a subject that may not exhibit the properties of textbook beauty. As is often the case, appearance could have very little to do with what benefits can be derived from a particular data set.

In short, we can choose not to judge a book by its cover. But our instinct is to do just that.

And yet I wonder if recognising and consequently analysing this tendency to be attracted toward beauty may lead us in some way toward understanding what conditional rules were programmed into our DNA for the building and propagation of life itself.