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Is recognizing beauty a chemical process?

  1. May 7, 2012 #1
    Why do we recognize a stream of sunlight going through the clouds causing a river to glitter as beautiful. Is it a chemical process? Why would we recognize something like that outside of ourselves that has no use as beautiful? And how would that fit into the theory of evolution and biology if it does at all? The same with a starry night. I do not know anyone who would recognize it as neutral or ugly.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2012 #2


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    All precepts are complicated signaling process, involving chemical signaling as well as electrical signaling and, encoded as a single experience, requires synchronization of several signals (the so-called "binding problem").

    It doesn't matter if it has a use or not, evolutionarily. As long as it doesn't threaten our ability to live long enough to reproduce, then the only force on it is drift from mutation. It could also be that beauty is a side effect of proper goal-oriented behavior which IS significant to evolution, so it won't go away as a side-effect if the main effect is evolutionarily important.

    Remember that evolution is slow though, and humans progress fast with technology and social change. What you find beautiful or comfortable could just be a matter of what you're familiar with and how you were raised. Some things that were an advantage to humans long ago are causing problems for us now (i.e. some obesity cases may be a result of our "chemotaxis" towards sweet things and, which would have served us well back when there were no twinkies, but evolution hasn't caught up to the invention of twinkies).

    As a side, there's actually an epigenetic theory about how starvation during the great depression caused grand children of today to be more efficient at absorbing and storing fat. The above was just an example of how selective pressure may have pushed humans one way, but changes in environment (such as society provides) have made that genetic tendency a bad strategy for survival.
  4. May 10, 2012 #3


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    So is epigenetic theory a rehash of what Lamarck proposed around 1809, that environment plays a part in change in species from generation to generation. The classic example was the long neck of the girafe. For many students that outlook was deemed incorrect and the Darwin 'survical of the fittest' was used to expalin it all. Lamarck should come back and smack a few people for doubting his proposl, especially the early dogmatic evolutionists.
    I would rename epigenetic theory back to Lamarck's theory to give the guy credit.
  5. May 10, 2012 #4


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    It is a cultural process - an attitude towards nature that is learnt.

    In the good old days, people thought of mountains as cold and dreadful places. Ugly rather than beautiful. Then along came the Romantics who celebrated them in poems and paintings.

    And don't forget that it is just as useful to have notions about what is ugly as what is beautiful. One does not make sense without the other.

    Plus, it is a huge advantage to be able to classify our thoughts in the first place - think about how this particular event or object is an example of that general category of experience.

    So the evolutionary utility of admiring some particular rainbow of whatever may seem a little opaque. But it is the fact that we can organise our thinking, categorise our experiences - not just for ourselves personally, but as a package of ideas that spans a culture, organises and co-ordinates the thinking of many - which is the human advantage.
  6. May 11, 2012 #5


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    The resemblance to Larmarck's theory is superficial, there is no need to complicate matters by renaming epigenetics. Furthermore just because at a latter date something similar to what someone once claimed is discovered it by no means makes that person right, especially if their reasoning was faulty to begin with.
  7. May 11, 2012 #6
    I agree. All these small things do not have any particular advantage or disadvantage in themselves but are effects of the culture and tradition that we have developed, which is the eal adaptation over here. You'd be surprised to find how differently people perceive different things in different cultures; so that is not something universal.
  8. May 11, 2012 #7
    Humans convert cholesterol into Vitamin D3 via an enzyme that's activated by UV light from the sun. We need D3 as a hormone to signal Ca2+ uptake in the intestines, and calcium isn't used only to make bone but also as a signalling molecule which initiates and accelerates a lot of metabolic processes. Maybe this is why humans evolved an attachment to the sun and sunlight.

    I dunno; lots of scary movies take place at night.
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