Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-9

Enso (

 Continued from Part-8

25.    Aesthetics

Being a creator of the structure, the Mind has an affinity for structure, organization, elegance and meaningfulness, all these being indicators of low entropy. Whenever it recognizes a highly organized formation, it is pleased, it effluxes pleasure and agreement. We perceive this reaction of the Mind as Beauty. Mind is instantly attracted towards beauty, which it attributes as a quality of the internal or external contents. The object invoking beauty is perceived as beautiful, a quality now externalized and projected onto the object itself. It seems that the appreciation of beauty is purely an internal act, unconnected to the contents, more to do with how the Mind recognizes the structure. There can be degrees of beauty, from a mildly attractive object to a mesmerizing one. Interestingly, and it should be no surprise, the degree of beauty goes into negative scale as well and something that is highly disorganized or lacking any harmony is perceived as Ugly, a feeling resulting in a repulsive action. Clearly we are dealing in duality here, like most other aspects of the Mind.


A lot can be found in literature about what constitutes beauty and how the Mind decides which content is beautiful and which is not. There are clear variations among individuals/groups/cultures etc regarding what is perceived as beautiful or ugly. Thus the matter of aesthetics is highly subjective and any attempts to make conclusive comments about it are futile. I will briefly summarize it here, as beauty influences our choices and thus actions. Attractiveness of an object/person plays a major role in our lives. Beauty is also an aspect of happiness, where it is seen as a contributor to happiness. A thing of beauty is indeed very pleasurable. Similarly, ugliness influences us, perhaps much more than beauty, as we would rather get rid of ugliness sooner compared to the urgency with which we may pursue beauty. We simply don’t want ugliness around us. Aesthetics influences our likes and dislikes and sometimes affects our judgement about certain things. It is recommended that a seeker should go deeper into the study of aesthetics in order to free himself from its illusions. Yes, beauty is an illusion, things are what they are, the Mind makes them beautiful or ugly.
I would warn you that I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused.
- Baruch (Benedict de) Spinoza
By Karen A Mesaros
As we have seen, contents with high amount of organization are perceived as beautiful. So we naturally find structures with nice patterns, repetitiveness, symmetry, self-similarity, meaningful complexity etc, as beautiful. The sense of sight is a major provider of such contents to the Mind, but the perception of the beauty is not limited to it. Some sounds (music), tastes, smells, touches, thoughts (ideas, mathematics), texts (poetry or prose) etc can also be perceived as beautiful, with their disorderly or meaningless opposites perceived as ugly. Things that convey meaning, are simple and elegant, are efficient and minimal but useful, are novel and fresh are also perceived as beautiful. Contrasts, color combinations, surroundings (nature, greenery) that evoke peace and happiness are also perceived as beautiful. Sometimes things that are obviously dangerous (e.g. fire, steep mountains, wild animals) and should actually cause repulsion are seen as beautiful due to their strength, mysteriousness and their ability to evoke wonder and respect. Pure geometrical figures/buildings/sculptures and mathematical equations – elegant, simple or complex also suggest a refined sense of beauty. More abstract the idea is, more beautiful it appears, provided it fulfils some of the above criteria. Beauty lies in the heart of Perfection, where anything if added or taken away reduces the beauty. With perfection, one can say that an optimal beauty is achieved, which points to the optimal underlying structure. One can easily understand that the principle behind the beauty is the high amount of organization and low entropy. I’m going to call such contents as having Pure Beauty. Purely beautiful things are universally beautiful, as subjective variations in degrees of their perceived beauty are minimal [1].

I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to make something beautiful, and that all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful.
- Oscar Wilde

So is there some kind of impure beauty too? Contents are coloured as beautiful or ugly by the Mind, however, the process is far from “perfect” and it itself is coloured by certain factors. Evolutionary biases, conditioning and beliefs are among such factors. Certain substances, hormones, moods and emotions also modulate the perceived beauty. We also see a high variance in the subjective evaluation of such kind of beauty. No doubt, this causes much debate and confusion regarding what people perceive as beautiful, with dramatic situations where one person calls a thing extremely beautiful while another is repulsed by it. Or much rarely, the same person can perceive a thing as beautiful at one point in their life and it becomes ugly later on when coloured by negative experiences involving that thing. Since the pleasure of beauty is the same in any case as that of a purely beautiful thing, I’d hesitate to call it impure beauty, so I’ll settle at a term Subjective Beauty for such perceptions. Its somewhat confusing, so lets illustrate it with some examples.

Human body is symmetric, complex, mysterious, useful and evokes respect – all great ingredients for beauty here and it is surely a popular subject for artists, who painstakingly try to capture its beauty on their canvases
[4]. However, the perception of beauty in human form is highly subjective, it has been coloured by millions of years of evolution. Struggle for survival has forced the Mind to distort human form’s pure beauty to a large extent. Certain proportions, sizes and looks are favoured purely because these parameters helped in survival. For example a juvenile and delicate female form is more conducive for mating rather than an old, big and strong form, the latter would make it difficult to impress upon that female and can also cost an arm and a leg literally. The result is that a selective process is started and a certain female form is favoured and seen as beautiful, causing attraction towards that form and repulsion from other forms. The individuals of the favoured form breed more and so the population of such forms increase gradually. The process repeats and gets refined. Similarly, an athletic, muscular, strong and tall male body is perceived as more beautiful, as such a man would indeed be able to provide more food and security to both the mother and their children, ensuring their survival amongst cut throat competition. Because of the subjective variability, there are exceptions, if I recall correctly, in certain tribes a fat woman would be seen as more beautiful compared to a skinny one, as more fat would mean more children and better chances of their survival. A skinny female wouldn’t be able to bear more children or breastfeed them well. The Mind here has taken the side of survival and twisted its perception of beauty to deviate from the purity. An extremely logical step – survival first.

Human infantile features and proportions are far from perfect but they are surely seen as attractive (or cute, as they prefer to call it). Infants and toddlers immediately evoke a protective, loving and caring attitude in all of us, and especially mothers. This is a fine example of colouration of beauty via evolutionary pressures, as those species who found their offspring too repulsive are no longer here, they did not survive for obvious reasons. Interestingly this bias extends to the infants of other animals, especially mammals, and so we perceive all those puppies, kittens and cubs as pretty and charming and they evoke the same caring emotions as human infants. This provides no survival advantage at all, so one would wonder why this peculiarity exists. It has to do with the very ancient structures in the Mind, the genetic similarities between us and animals and in part the pure beauty of animal form. This also suggests that evolutionary biasing of beauty started very early and the underlying mechanisms are similar in all mammals. One can infer that animals (esp. mammals) are well equipped to perceive beauty, although I suspect that a dog’s appreciation of pure beauty lacks the sophistication of that of a human, especially in areas like arts, music and highly decorated pillars on the street.

In some cultures a pale skinned fat man/woman with cherry cheeks is perceived as beautiful, these being from the rich class, become such due to a comfortable life devoid of struggles and evolutionary pressures. Such cultures are conditioned by eons of poverty, which twists the sense of beauty towards those who are affluent and therefore have higher chances of survival, and survival while enjoying all the comforts. A dark and rough skin with muscular body is now a sign of extreme poverty or slavery and is repulsive. As these cultures progress into prosperity, the perception of beauty shifts towards purity. A study of paintings depicting female form through the ages will provide you with interesting details

Social conditioning is the reason for liking certain kind of music or literature, and certain kind of clothing (fashions or fads). A lot of our likes are affected by what we perceive as beauty as a result of social conditioning. Certain foods are preferred and seen as having a beautiful taste only because of a particular conditioning happening in early childhood. Lastly, some things are beautiful just because one believes it to be so, such as your lover, who is just ordinary, but your deep love makes her appear extremely beautiful, including not only looks, but voice, scent and behaviour too. Influence of bodily hormones and moods is also responsible for such perceptions. Similarly, a person with whom you had a bad encounter will appear disgustingly ugly even if he is considered very beautiful by others. An ordinary painting stamped with a famous name automatically becomes a masterpiece, the bias of belief distorts the perception of art completely. A product that is expensive, decorative and shiny appears more beautiful and is preferred over a minimalist one, no care is given to the fact that it is useless and obscene. The choices of an ordinary person are heavily influenced by what he believes to be beautiful or attractive. Advertisers take advantage of such beliefs and show their cars, soaps, potato chips or such right next to a beautiful barely clothed model. It works!, I must say, as it makes you run to the shop and buy it for an impressive sum, while you feel a rise in your social status, just because you got a useless thing in an amount others would love to get as their whole month's salary. Unfortunately, the promised model never appears, the beauty of the stuff fades fast, and you move on to the next advertisement. We can see that a mechanism similar to P2P is active here.

Remember if you marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance, will neither last nor please thee one year: and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all.
- Sir Walter Raleigh

The colouring or flavouring of the contents by the Mind produces certain undesirable effects too. For example, someone who is not so good looking is often ignored by others even if that person is beautiful inside. Someone who is beautiful is held in high esteem, even if he is a mean fellow. A combination of beliefs, evolutionary biases and conditioning is at work here. Evolution favour beauty as a sign of good health and fitness, and therefore a good indicator of high chances of survival of the offspring. This strategy works nicely for animals, as it is working since billions of years, but for humans, the case is a bit tricky, as we have a well developed Mind that overwhelms the outer form. Beauty is favoured over other qualities such as intelligence or character, especially by ordinary ignorants, because thats what they can see and have no clue about the mental aberrations they suffer from. Social conditioning paints a good person as being beautiful and bright whereas the evil and demons are often depicted as ugly, deformed, scary and disgusting creatures. This conditions people into beliefs that beautiful is good, ugly is bad. A good looking person wastes no time in exploiting such beliefs, in many cases, subconsciously acting so. On the other hand, an ugly person is seen as untrustworthy even though he never did anything wrong even once. An average person would rather bow to a beautiful tyrant instead of an ugly saint [2]. The undesirable effects are not limited to people, they extend to animals and objects too. So an animal perceived as beautiful gets favour and is treated with love and care (often more than a human would get) and the “ugly animals” are worthy of torture and killing and usually end up as food. An object, even if it is useless gets more value if it is beautiful (diamonds?), while simple/minimalist objects are seen as an indicator of low social status. So beauty has an ugly face too.
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.
- Count Leo Tolstoy

By Fukuda Heihachiro

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, so why did I recommend being free from it? As a seeker your task is to perceive things as they are, not as coloured by various processes of the Mind. This knowledge is liberating, makes one take unbiased decisions and stabilizes the Mind, which is now not at the mercy of random pushes and pulls of ugliness and beauty. Does that mean that one should stay away from beautiful things as well as ugly things? It doesn’t mean that. One has to merely see the mechanisms behind the perception of beauty and ugliness and be not swayed by it, especially when a choice is offered and a decision has to be made. One need not kill the perception and joy of beauty and the usefulness of seeing something as ugly, these do add flavour to our day-to-day life, however, one must be fully aware of this mechanism that is operational perpetually, especially when taking decisions that lead to important actions. An action based on the simple criteria of beauty may have unintended consequences. If that action does not lead you towards more freedom, it must not be taken, however beautiful the result or the concerned object/person is. A lot of introspection needs to be done here, sometimes a beautiful action is the one that one must take. The beauty of that action pops out. What is a beautiful action? Clearly, the Mind perceives such an action as aligned squarely with your path. 

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
- Confucius

What is beautiful? Nothing is and everything is. Well, we are now in mystical la-la land. All experiences are being created by the Fundamental Process, which is by definition a perfect process, there cannot be a better process than that, because none other exists, none other can exist, it is the only possibility, a necessity. Therefore all experiences are perfect. A perfect thing is obviously most beautiful, and so everything is so. Since all beauty is a product of Mind and its processes, there is no beauty when there is no Mind, hence nothing is beautiful (nor it is ugly). Are you confused yet?

Presence is there when there is no Mind, and hence it is the only thing beyond beauty and ugliness. It is neither, however those who dwell there, call it the most beautiful and perfect thing ever. Beauty and perfection is attributed to the Presence (and to the Self also) since ancient times [3]. What Mind perceives in its limited capacity is nothing but a faint and blurry image of this attribute of the Presence. This, by the way, provides the answer to an age old question – Why is there beauty? Because that is all there is…



[1] You can find various studies that provide evidence for it, I’m writing from memory here and of course my own experience supports this. Why is nature so beautiful notwithstanding its irregular appearance? It can be because there is underlying mathematical and algorithmic regularities in natural formations, vegetation, even animals and humans, and math is beautiful. It is the highest kind of structure man has access to. Somehow the Mind can understand the underlying order in seemingly chaotic nature. There are interesting studies about this subject, especially it gets really interesting, exotic and beautiful at the border of chaos and order.

[2] There are experiments that show that people would happily take commands from a cruel but beautiful person and those commands even if degrading or harmful are perceived as “good”. I’m on the mercy of memory here, so a Google search with right keywords is your better alternative, if you need more evidence or wish to study this mental aberration more.

[3] The verse Satyam Shivam Sundaram (Yajurveda) is interpreted in various ways, and one of the meanings is: Truth-Consciousness-Beauty, the three attributes of all that is. Yet another meaning is Existence-Self-Perfection, which is essentially the same meaning as the first one. Even though Presence has no attributes (Nirgun), it is seen by the limited Mind as the only truth there is, having the property of consciousness and is perfect/beautiful beyond description.

[4] It is not so simple. The human Mind creates beauty out of things such as faces using complicated algorithms, a result of a blend between what is optimal structure and evolutionary pressures. There are many studies on what makes a face beautiful. One example is here: . This is a simple study showing that symmetry is not the only parameter required for beauty, the placement of feature also matters among other parameters. What is the ideal placement? There is none, so the Mind relies on its experience to generate an ideal face, it is the mathematical average of all the faces it has seen till now. You will find that conclusion on the web somewhere. How would other Minds, say an AI, prefer to generate beauty?

No comments:

Post a Comment