Wednesday, August 22, 2012


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Here's a question that relates to the whole "consciousness" discussion...  What about... beauty!?

I was talking to my deep thinking friend, Monica, the other day and she brought this up.  Her question was, do animals have an aesthetic sense?  Do they stop and gasp in wonder at a starry sky or soaring vista??  Is the concept and experience of "beauty" something unique to conscious thinking... or not?

There is a fundamental level at which, I'd actually say NO.  It is not unique to humans, or particular to conscious thought.  Much of what we recognise as beauty has to do with attraction, or with patterns and symmetry...  aspects of the universe that are fundamental to life.

In the sense that our idea of "beauty" is linked to "attractiveness" - it's probably quite biological.  We are "attracted" to things that we associate with status, with comfort, with satisfaction.  No mystery there.

I suspect patterns and symmetry are also very much a part of our makeup - just as they are an integral part of the order of the universe.  This is something that fascinates me... and would make a blog post (or perhaps that brewing novel..) in itself!  I find the deep order within things, and our affinity with, and recognition of it, absolutely enthralling!  Yet this is not something that necessarily transcends biology.

Whether other animals are conscious of "the experience of beauty" is something I can't answer.  In most cases, the answer is probably no.  But perhaps some of the "higher" mammals do experience this.  In any case, once again, we are poking at the conundrum of consciousness.  Is there a point, at which our experience of the beauty and vastness of this universe, and our place within it, is more than "mere biology"?  I know that many of my atheist friends still consider the experience of wonder at the universe, our own existence and the connectedness of all things, to be a "spiritual" experience.

There is certainly an experience of beauty that seems to take us beyond our selves, and connect us with a wider, deeper reality.  Another example of our "internal worlds" being infinitely vast, and our capacity to "live beyond" our own biology in some sense.  It can include pain, savagery, injustice, tragedy... but nonetheless, life is... beautiful!


  1. Good subject. Here are a few loose thoughts.

    I think appreciation of BEAUTY is an acquired / leant sense not innate. It also cultural - what beauty or art in one culture is shocking to another.

    Not that animals don’t find the world around them attractive & interesting but rather that interest is usually driven by more primal urges eg food, sex, comfort, competition, etc. I like to see straight / plain CURIOSITY in animals. Its usually a sign of the first step to a higher form of intelligence as we know it. Intelligence and appreciation of an animals world is linked to there survival. Perhaps ours is too. Perhaps appreciation of art, beauty & meaning in nature is a wonder just we can express.


  2. Beauty pleases the aesthetic in us. Can animals have a sense of aesthetic? I suspect not although the beautiful movements of animals eg of a horse, would suggest they present them for a purpose eg to impress, arouse, to create fear, etc

    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -- that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

    "...The Greeks believed there to be three 'ingredients' to beauty: symmetry, proportion and harmony. This triad of principles infused their life.

    They were very much attuned to BEAUTY AS AN OBJECT OF LOVE and something that was to be imitated and reproduced in their lives, architecture, education and politics. They judged life by this mentality..."

    Here is a good read on the nature of beauty. Can animals perceive this as we do? Most cannot I suggest. BUT I could be wrong. Please convince me!


  3. NO Comments? Maybe everyones asleep! Oh well. Here is a quote from above last ref.

    Modern philosophy shifted the study of beauty from ontology to the sphere of HUMAN faculties.

    Suggesting that this apprecaition is a human attribute. Some would say God givem, others may say and evolutionary result . manifestation.

    Winderful subject worthy of much debate and exchange of views.

    What do others think? Eugene

  4. Hey, Eugene! Welcome aboard - you've certainly jumped in boots and all!!

    The subject of the Golden Mean, as well as fibonacci numbers etc, (which are related) fascinates me... I guess that's what I was alluding to with the bit about the inherent order in the universe. If it is in our DNA and all around us, it kind of figures we should resonate with it, somewhat - and perhaps the animals too, although it may not be in such a conscious way. Of course, I'm only guessing. And while I agree with you that much of what we consider beatiful is culturally learned, perhaps that basic appreciation for pattern, order and symmetry is universal.

    Do you think there is a qualitative difference between "beauty" as attractiveness, and "beauty" as a sense of the eternal? I wonder if they are the same thing at all... although our language doesn't really have separate words (that I can think of, anyway)

    Thanks for your thoughts! (& I'm sure some of my other deep thinking cyber-friends will be along soon to challenge both your and my thinking! :)

    1. Thanks for your warm welcome Kerry. I think animals do resonate (prpbably unconciously) with the world around them. Its how they fit and belong and survive. Its probably intuitive. Unlike some I belive this is a product of our evolution (ie growth as a species) growing to perfection ... perhaps God! In hisd likeness?

      Not sure about how universal some beauty is (eg patterens order symmetry), havent thought about that as a similarity between cultures.

      Beauty as a "sense of the eternal" .. wow, that's a deep statement. maybe worth exploring separately. What does it mean to you? Its a pleasing concept but can manifest itself in different ways eg erotic beauty may cause arousal to one, offense to another.

      Some langauges DO have refined expresions for words like beauty & love.

      Enjoy your views. Lets hope we hear from others.


    2. I REALLY like much of the stuff in this link. Stuff like MORAL beauty and how the modern view of beauty differs from the classical concept. I urge all to read it.



  5. Kerry, I listened to this and thought it might be of some interest to you to better grasp (not the right word) what is meant by 'biology' and why it is of overwhelming importance to understand ourselves.

    As far as beauty goes, I think it is one of those nebulous terms that covers a range of aesthetic meanings difficult to pin down and doubly so to translate into being revealed by animal behaviour.

  6. Eugene and Tildeb, Sorry for the slow response (have not had time to blog the last few days) Thank you both for the links!

    Eugene, yes, the history of the philosophical concept of "beauty" was quite enlightening - I should have clarified, and said that our ENGLISH language does not have words for different kinds of beauty - but would love to hear what words/concepts exist in other languages. I know Greek contains a number of different words for love - what about beauty? (do you speak Greek, at all?)

    Mr T - The podcast does sound interesting! (hey, I notice the presenter is an Aussie!!! She sounds just like me!) In the middle of a bunch of noisy kids right now - so might have to listen more carefully later on when the house is quiet - thanks for sharing it!

    1. Hi - I'm the creator of that podcast (hello from a fellow Australian) - if you'd like to not only listen but read one of the interviews, it's also featured here:

      Token Skeptic Podcast.

  7. WOW!! Thank you, Kylie!! I will check it out!


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