A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

Aesthetic pleasure encourages us to contemplate its object. But why is this good, from an evolutionary point of view? Why is it valuable to be absorbed in contemplation, with all the attendant dangers of reduced vigilance? Wasting time and energy puts organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage. For large animals such as us, unnecessary activity is particularly expensive.The answer might lie in our modes of perception. Our perceptual receptors receive a ‘booming, buzzing confusion’ of stimulation. Vision gives us two slightly differing two-dimensional images; hearing gives us two sound images, each a summation of sonic emissions from many different sources. These images change from moment to moment, as the perceiver’s position as well as external circumstances change. Yet, perception delivers to our consciousness a remarkably clear and coherent presentation of discrete objects arrayed in three-dimensional space. This happens even in bad conditions, such as darkness or fog, or in chaotic soundscapes such as parties and concerts. In a huge range of conditions, many inimical to receiving information, perceivers have an extraordinary ability to construct a stable and coherent image of the world.

Why did we evolve to appreciate beauty? – Mohan Matthen – Aeon

The specificity of pleasure might seem obvious, but some writers on aesthetic pleasure miss this point. Aesthetic pleasure is pleasure in contemplating something. This pleasure could be sensory, like the enjoyment one derives from looking at a painting or listening to music. Or it could be intellectual, like the pleasure of reading the latest Robert Harris. In both cases, pleasure in contemplation has to be distinguished from wanting an object for other uses. Immanuel Kant in the 18th century was among the first to understand this. His example was that of a palace. You might long to live in it, or you might hate it for its extravagance and want to destroy it. But both of these responses are distinct from the pleasure or displeasure derived from merely looking at it. Only the latter pleasure counts as aesthetic.

Why did we evolve to appreciate beauty? – Mohan Matthen – Aeon

at first sight it might be thought that knowledge might be defined as belief which is in agreement with the facts. The trouble is that no one knows what a belief is, no one knows what a fact is, and no one knows what sort of agreement between them would make a belief true.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) summarizes the problem with defining knowledge in his ‘Theory of Knowledge’ (1913):

via Philosophy Now (subscription)

In a contemporary, and often unacknowledged, rebooting of Freud, many psychologists have concluded from such findings that unconscious associations and attitudes hold powerful sway over our lives—and that conscious choice is largely superfluous. “It is not clear,” the Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman writes, “how much the conscious you—as opposed to the genetic and neural you—gets to do any deciding at all.” The New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests we should reject the notion that we are in control of our decisions and instead think of the conscious self as a lawyer who, when called upon to defend the actions of a client, mainly provides after-the-fact justifications for decisions that have already been made.

The War on Reason - Paul Bloom - The Atlantic

In physiological terms everything ugly weakens and saddens man. It reminds him of decay, danger, powerlessness: it actually makes him lose strength. You can measure the effect of ugly things with a dynamometer. Whenever man gets depressed, he senses something ‘ugly’ is nearby. His feeling of power, his will to power, his courage, his pride – all are diminished by ugliness and increased by beauty … Ugly things are understood as signs and symptoms of degenerescence … Any sign of exhaustion, of heaviness, … the whiff, the colour, the form of dissolution … all produce the same reaction, the value judgement ‘ugly’. A hatred springs up here: who is man hating here? But there is no doubt: the decline of his type.

(Twilight of the Idols (1889) by Friedrich Nietzsche)
Are ugly people oppressed? – Jonny Thakkar – Aeon