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Biological basis of aesthetics

Jay Nelson jay at nyssa.coyote.trw.com
Thu Oct 3 19:18:02 EST 1991

In article <1991Oct1.215050.17999 at esd.dl.nec.com> multer at esd.dl.nec.com (Kent Multer) writes:
>From article <1991Sep30.011017.9280 at acsu.buffalo.edu>, by lammens at acsu.buffalo.edu (Joe Lammens):
>> I have the idea that aesthetics must have a biological basis, in the sense
>> that something aesthetically pleasing evokes different neural activation
>> patterns than something which is not. Is anything known about that?
>Note that one person's "aesthetically pleasing" is another person's
>"Turn off that crap!"  Given this wildly unpredictable response to a stimulus,
> |  Kent Multer     multer at esd.dl.nec.com        alias:  Maruta Ken  |

There are some things that are fairly universal.  Look at the book
_Drawing on the Creativity Within_ by Betty Edwards (the sequel to
_Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain_).  She has different people
attempt to draw emotions or concepts using only abstract lines.  Some
of the results are: peaceful = horizon lines, femininity = curved
lines, anger and power = strong dark lines, energy = zigzag lightning
lines.  I think there is something more strongly associated with the
environment that we live in.  A sunset is very peaceful (horizon
lines).  Lightning has an exciting energy (or scary to some).

My own view on aesthetics has to do with consistency.  We are used to
viewing natural scenes.  Trees grow in a consistent manner that
balances directional sunlight against gravity and water sources.
Light and shadow details are consistent with one or two light sources.
Abstract art can be aesthetically pleasing if the image is
self-consistent.  The artist may make up a new physics to define
shapes, but if he is consistent in applying the laws the result has a
certain appeal.  If he is inconsistent it generally confuses me.  I
think the brain searches for patterns and attempts to extrapolate and
fill in missing information which makes all the patterns consistent
with expectations.  If it cannot fill the gap, it is not aesthetically
Jay Nelson  (TRW)  jay at wilbur.coyote.trw.com

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