The Eyes Have It

Humanity is heavily put upon by the problems inherent in our eyesight. Not only can the eyes be fooled, seeing hallucinations, trees that look like monsters, outlines that look like people and generally mistaking things that seem to be there but are not; but also we bring a heavy weight of aesthetics into play.

The lemurs of Madagascar are a case in point. There is a very beautiful looking creature called the Golden Lemur with a main of golden hair. As you may expect the locals think this lemur is special, they love it. There is another that is not as pretty, black with, if I recall, a white line on it and this the locals think is kith to the devil.

The stupidity of giving credence to what is beautiful to look at over what is not, rolls out into all we do. It even infects art where we have been arguing over the standards of beauty of most of the last century. But beauty is just a pattern among many and no indication of merit, inherent value or ethical worth. Not in a person or an object.

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

I am told we are wired up in our brains to be attracted to a particular kind of look which we will find ‘beautiful’. They have done a lot of work with symmetry and facial features to try to pin down what all the elements of beauty actually are but basically sex is facilitated by beauty.

And what, I have to ask myself, is the purpose of that? Does beauty outrun the predator faster, enable people to get more food to feed their family, have a higher survival rate than any other physical features? It is absurd to suppose that a beautiful person’s instincts and abilities by virtue of beauty lead to greater survival except when you consider that the human brain is made to discern patterns, and the way it works is what determines what it considers beautiful and in history the attraction of a beautiful person for a powerful human being has indeed been, though a two-edged sword, nonetheless an advantage.

Beauty is one of those by-products of our minds and yet you would think it fundamental to our survival the way we enslave ourselves to it. I am beginning to realise that habit has far more to do with how society works than common-sense or intellect.

Ruining Imperfection

My mother is a perfectionist when it comes to her work. She will edit a poem in her head for days before writing it down and once written it is never altered, it doesn’t have to be all the editing has been done. She is like that with everything she does, the depth of thought that goes into her actions so that the actions are fluid – and her house is always spotless. Me I am hopeless, my desk alone shows my state of mind and the pile of papers has everything I need for my work . . . somewhere.

Human beings strive to make pretty patterns out of the world but there is a huge principle of imperfection in nature so much so that nature has perfected imperfection. The variety of lumps and bumps makes for different inhabitable regions; the lack of perfect balance in physiognomy makes for beauty, shades of clarity in the atmosphere (greatly admired by painters) add character; dis-chord in music has immense value.

There is a certain amount of chaos in imperfection, a certain amount of inbuilt struggle, because, after all, patterns are easier to understand when they cohere. But we live in all those cracks created by imperfection and it make sense to accept them and to stop seeking perfection in our societies. Straight roads are unnatural, city blocks are easy to navigate and  ultimately depressing,  endless sand might seem like a perfect beach but it is actually a desert by the sea.

Neither perfection nor imperfection should rule the other. Both are vital.

What Is Beauty?

We are not obsessed by beauty but we are very attracted to what we perceive as beautiful. I first realised this forceably when watching a programme about Madagascar and the lemurs and the different status of lemurs amongst the local population. There came on screen a black lemur that was a little ugly in the face and my mothers aid ‘ I bet they don’t like that one’, and sure enough the narrator explained that this lemur was seen as bad luck.

This natural antipathy towards things that we perceive as ugly is not wholly irrational as some things we are attracted too – most notably plants – are actually dangerous so instinct sometimes has to play a part in our survival even now. But the transference of this instinct to cover everything that is not beautiful to our eyes gives handsome people unfair advantages and ugly people unnecessary pain.

I suppose it is too much to hope that the aura of beauty and wealth vanish from the human psyche and people use their reason, just as I suppose peoples could treat all nature with respect and not just the fluffy, licky bits. Sadly though I think our instincts are too strong for us and in as far as we are today in the West, prone to listening to Hollywood stars more than philosophers and going for the telegenic more than the wise, we do ourselves a disservice.

Beauty though was a lovely little pony mum named on the moors nearh ere two years ago. See, even I succumb!

Mysteries Are Happiness

We have a burning need to know, which has produced in large measure our minds – given the interplay between our ability to make connections in our brains and the number of connections that have to be made in order to understand even basic things like how to walk properly in a dense crowd of people.

And of course we have developed that most significant and brilliant of tools for understanding, namely mathematics.

However there are some places the understanding will come against that even to science are mysteries. That even when we know how a flower grows, how colour and photosynthesis work, how to graft one tree onto another, how to cross-pollinate, how to cure diseases and how the botany all connects, we still have no description of the beauty of the flower.

Aesthetics we are told, has something to do with pattern making and something to do with balance, and something to do with natural empathies in the way the light shines and our eyes work, but we do not know. And we do not know for a very good reason.

Most knowledge we garner from the Universe and Earth is based on finding concepts that work in such a way everyone can understand them. That 2+2 equals 4 is the same for everyone. But beauty is not the same for everyone. Individuality makes the mystery and everyone one has their own explanation.

Billions of explanations for the same thing. Isn’t that fun?

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December 2018
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