“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” – Plato.
Perhaps nothing has been more enigmatic in history than beauty. It has created and destroyed empires. Its charm allured scientists to explore new vistas. Art has crowned it as the goal to strive for and philosophy cringes if it loses this. Yet, we hardly know why a particular array of lines, shapes, colours or abstract ideas is more appealing to us than others. Why an ugly face suddenly becomes divine to us? For of most human history, these questions have been answered with logic and speculation, but in the last few decades, science steadily advanced to provide us with a better understanding; even a new branch called neuroaesthetics has emerged. It has paved the way to appreciate the underpinnings of beauty.
Most people never stop to think about why they find something beautiful. Because it is something, they just know. Maybe we find beauty in the same places, but do we process beauty in the same way even if we disagree? These things are pretty intuitive. But scientists have been working to see if there’s a universal way that humans minds analyse beauty. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but researchers have discovered that our brains all behave similarly when beholding. They found a pattern in certain parts of the brain that become more active when perceiving something beautiful. Having said this, we must admit that perceiving beauty is an intricate affair. Scientists may claim to have deciphered the mystery, but it hardly can explain the whole of it. While studying the response and the stimulus, we completely miss out on our mind, which tinges on an everyday experience. Sometimes a grotesque figure excites us; again, sometimes, we find an otherwise beautiful face insipid. This is quite bizarre. We know, there is more to the subject than breaking emotions into neurochemical signals or simply studying encephalograms.
What is the attraction? Why does an ugly face look charming, an old shabby street alluring, or the smell of grandpa’s books – torn and shattered, other-worldly? We who appreciate the beauty in some apparently outlandish things take, as it were, the idea of beauty, which is in our minds, and project it on those; and what we see and worship is not those objects but our ideals. These objects are only suggestions, and on that, we throw our ideals and cover it, and it becomes deified.
As Swami Vivekananda, points out, “All that we see, we project out of our own minds. A grain of sand gets washed into the shell of an oyster and irritates it. The irritation produces a secretion in the oyster, which covers the grain of sand and the beautiful pearl is the result…. The wicked see this world as a perfect hell, and the good as a perfect heaven. Lovers see this world as full of love, and haters as full of hatred; fighters see nothing but strife, and the peaceful nothing but peace.”
Appreciation of beauty is a journey. We grow with our experiences and finally reach the source from where all beauty springs.