"When we use the phrase, what we seem to be trying to say is that there should be a lot of room for intelligent disagreement around aesthetics – and that we don’t feel comfortable about asserting the superiority of any one style or approach over any other. It implies an acute sensitivity to conflict and a fear of being rude or mean to others. However, by resorting to the phrase, what we actually do is unleash a stranger and more reckless situation: what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else. This suggestion then has a way of implying that the whole subject is essentially trivial. After all, we’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only. We know that big things are at stake here – and over time, we’ve come to positions about the right and wrong way of approaching these topics, and are ready to discuss and defend our ideas. We wouldn’t ever say that ‘the treatment of the poor is just a subject best left entirely to the eyes of beholders’ or ‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’ or ‘the future of the environment is in the eyes of beholders.’ We accept that there are dangers to arguing in aggressive and unfruitful ways; but we are confident that there are sensible and polite ways to advance through these tricky yet vital debates. The same should feel true around beauty."
Think You Know Ugly? Think Again
You might feel revolted by an object, but if you try to objectively explain why it is ugly, it’s harder than you think. Most people are influenced by the dominant tastes and fashion sensibilities of their generation, class, and ethnic group, and when you remove those factors from the equation, an exact, universal definition of “ugliness” becomes almost impossible to pin down.[more inside]
In a new exhibition titled Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight, the British Library pays homage to the important role data visualization plays in the scientific process. The exhibition can be visited from 20 February until 26 May 2014, and contains works ranging from John Snow's plotting of the 1854 London cholera infections on a map to colourful depictions of the Tree of Life. In a Nature Video, curator Johanna Kieniewicz explores some of the beautiful examples of visualizations that are exhibited.[more inside]
The emotional experience of mathematical elegance. A new study by the perceptual neurobiologist Semir Zeki and the great mathematician (& Fields Medalist) Sir Michael Atiyah examines fMRI scans of mathematicians viewing formulae which they'd previously rated as beautiful or ugly, and reports that mathematical beauty elicits activity in the same brain regions as great art or music.
La bella vita: True beauty pleases the eye and the mind – but can it help us to become better people? "In 1795, the German dramatist and poet Friedrich Schiller published a book with a fearsome title – On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters. It has never become well-known, which is a pity, because it contains some of our most useful insights into the nature and value of beauty. Schiller’s starting point is an analysis of the human condition. He wants to understand our delight in what we find beautiful. Instead of asking which things are beautiful, Schiller is curious about what is going on in us when we respond with this distinctive, intimate thrill and enthusiasm that leads us to say ‘that’s beautiful’. Different things might provoke this response in different people. But why do we have it at all?" [Via]
Gilded Birds: A Snapshot of Contemporary Ideals of Beauty. Writers, artists, and philosophers are prompted to select a piece that they consider beautiful, and then interviewed about their reasons for choosing it.
Rational reductionist approaches to the neural basis for beauty run a similar risk of pushing the round block of beauty into the square hole of science and may well distill out the very thing one wants to understand.An essay by Bevil Conway and Alexander Rehding in PLoS Biology. (via)
The New York Times reports that anime-style "Circle" (or "Big Eye") lenses are currently gaining in popularity, thanks to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance video. [more inside]
Hidden World of Girls: Girls and the Women they Become is NPR's collaborative year-long, ongoing series between The Kitchen Sisters, NPR and listener submissions. The series explores "stories of coming of age, rituals and rites of passage, secet identities—of women who crossed a line, blazed a trail, changed the tide." [more inside]
The New York Times covers a 'new celebrity trend', Unshaven Women, Free Spirits or Unkempt?
He Saw, She Saw. According to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beauty may affect men's and women's brains in different ways.
Mathematical proofs in sanus, with some visualization from Martin Wattenberg's The Shape of Song. "The music here...is a raw and unadorned representation of the mathematics itself, involving few human preconceptions beyond a basic mapping needed to accommodate the Western tonal scale."