Questions about Beauty – what it is, where it came from, how we think of it, and where it might be hiding – have somehow bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness this week through some rather divergent social interactions. Not sure if the congruence means anything more than that my mind has somehow connected different experiences – but I want to share some of them with you anyway! I hope these samples below lead you to make your own connections.
Let’s start with an old argument: the question of what is beauty and whether science diminishes our appreciation of it by analyzing it too much. The poet Wordsworth worded it thus a couple hundred years ago:
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.
But do we really just murder beauty to study it? Must we?
My favorite response to this not uncommon charge, that science robs us of beauty, comes from physicist Richard Feynman, in this excerpt from “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out“:
How about that?
Meanwhile, as this book review suggests, the tables have turned yet again, and we biologists have also come back full circle (kinda) to Wordsworth’s plea against reducing the essential beauty of nature whole by analyzing its dissected parts – but with a much deeper understanding acquired over the scientific journey of the intervening 200 years. A journey entailing lots of dissections. A journey during which we have also acquired a beautiful theoretical framework upon which to hang some of our notions of beauty, and begin to understand how and why we find beauty in the things we find beautiful. That beautiful theory was developed, of course, by Charles Darwin! In this week’s TED talk, philosophy professor Denis Dutton elaborates upon Darwin’s evolutionary framework to explain why we are so hard-wired to seek beauty: