Biological basis of aesthetics

Tom Holroyd tomh at BAMBI.CCS.FAU.EDU
Mon Sep 30 12:29:22 EST 1991

>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?

There's a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that mentions
Manfred Clynes, who has studied this.  He maintains that human
emotions have 'shapes' that can be measured.  For the technically
minded, he has a particular one dimensional measure (finger pressure)
which acts as a collective variable, representing the internal stuff.
The article says he has measured people thinking about hate, lust, joy,
anger, etc., and that the shapes are the same for people all over the

My comments: one dimensional measures of collective variables CAN tell
you something about a complex system as it goes from one dynamical state
to another, like before and after a phase transition.  Also, work has
been done on recognition of emotion from facial expression.  Most folks
can readily tell the emotion being expressed, from a cartoon drawing.
A cartoon drawing is not a one-dimensional measure, but you could
probably form one..

The facial stuff might be learned, some of it..  Laughter and crying
seem to be inate, and the associated neural states might manifest them-
selves in other ways, like finger pressure..

The point is that it seems to be possible to objectively measure
emotional states, at least some of the time.  There is something
in common between people experiencing the same emotional state.
How this is reflected in the brain is an interesting question,
but one that we might be able to address with PET or MEG or EEG.
Probably some EEG studies have been done, but you'd have to analyze
the data right...

Tom Holroyd
Center for Complex Systems
Florida Atlantic University
tomh at bambi.ccs.fau.edu

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