Photo credit: Pixabay; kangbch

“Is the world really beautified by the fact that man thinks it beautiful? He has humanized it, that is all.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

The experience of beauty can cause a mix of emotions, from exaltation, subjugation, fear, humility, to liberation. Whatever sensations – it is about an exchange of energy. The scientific interest to this enigmatic phenomenon stretches from Plato to modern neuroscience.

German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten a long time ago has found a buzzword for this – aesthetics. That is when a person, an object, or an event gives us happiness or pleasure, it is aesthetic appreciation. It can be related to beauty, style, taste, expressions, appearance, grace, behaviours, actions, and lots more.

From evolutionary perspective – aesthetic pleasure is an automatic, intuitive response that has evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success. Psychologists call it also an ‘Aesthetic Aha‘ – a moment between the anxiety when facing something new and the appeasing effect of understanding it. Whatever the reference, aesthetics is closely linked to beauty.

Since the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, hence aesthetic appreciation is a solely subjective experience. This beggs the question: is aesthetics scientifically testable through rigorous empirical research?

Is aesthetics scientifically testable through rigorous empirical research?

Psychologist Gustav Fechner (1876) believed that aesthetics, like any other psychological phenomenon, should be studied from ‘below’ (empirical observation), rather then from ‘above’ (philosophical supposition). That is, via testing individual behavior, observe patters, and to infer brain processes – the basic method, still used today.

Another opinion (Daniel Berlyne) – aesthetic pleasure is directly related to complexity and other physical properties of the percieved object, such as symmetry and has an inverted-U-shaped relationship. While other believe that deliberate deviations or assymetrical features can hold a special appeal, too.

Modern psychology considers several distinct approaches in aesthetic appreciation – as a ‘cognitive mastery’, ‘fluency of processing’, or as a complex process including sensory and knowledge-meaning systems, and emphasizes the importance of emotion and motivation.

The advent of neuroaesthetics caused a powerfull shift in research towards searching a brain mechanism underlying the aesthetic experience across all stimuli. Although this has added a very little consensus among scientists, they identified brain regions involved in the judgments and experiences of pleasant signals (measured as liked, beautiful, or attractive).

The world can be beautiful and imperfect at the same time. Beauty exists only in the mind contemplating surrounding us things. Important is building a healthy relationship with these aesthetic insecurities.