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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!