The debate around beauty has been stagnant through the history and the world at large. However, the beauty our brain is - it has an entire centre dedicated to percieving what is beauiful for each individual. How does the brain react when it percieves something beautiful? Actually how does the brain percieve if something is beautiful?
We are surrounded by beauty. Be it in the aesthetics of the mundane, or specifically curated art pieces. There is no common consensus on what exactly constitutes beauty. In a recent study, scientists delved into how exactly the brain processes a thing of beauty.
The spirit and idea of beauty has always been in discussion, even though the term and the reference may have been dynamic, but beauty trends along the ages have grabbed the much-deserved attention. While serving attention, philosophers, poets and artists have all garnered the concept alike.
The Idea of Beauty Through the Years
The attempt to give a tangible definition to the idea of beauty can be traced back to 1846. Philosopher George Sanyantana, in his book ‘The Sense of Beauty’ talks about our tendency to latch our attention onto things of beauty. He puts it in a certain way that defined it as “a very radical and wide-spread tendency to observe beauty, and to value it.”
It started with writers and poets wanting to put into words their expression of the joy received by it. In Endymion, Keats talked about how a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Even though, he was referring to plants and nature as God’s creation of beauty, it contributed to the narrative.
Beauty Through the Lens of Science
The scope of art, creation and beauty have overlapped, and yet there is no common ground or judging parameter to serve as the thumb rule of being beautiful. Throughout the years, artists kept recording reactions to their encounter with magnifique beauty of all shapes and forms. Philosopher’s have taken out all this time to understand beauty, and maybe now is the time for scientists to take over.
On a more factual basis, there is an abundance of notions about what makes an object more aesthetically pleasing. It can relate to the symmetry, viewing angle, colour scheme, proportion etc. In a recent study though, cognitive neuroscientists have sought to elucidate the common neural basis of the experience of beauty. Even though evidence shows that it isn’t conclusive.
Does Our Brain Actually Has A “Beauty Centre”?
Some Brain scientists side with the idea that there is a ‘beauty center’, which is speculated to live into the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex or the insula. However, in case this is true, the reaction to beauty can be pointed out to one particular region of the brain. This region would get activated when we experience ANY sort of beauty. Be it a Pink Floyd song, see a Van Gogh painting, or even stand beneath the Northern Lights. In case found to be true, it would serve as a substantial discovery for the theory of functional localization.
While some form of this hypothesis is probably true, it’s positively not the situation that any sort of mental state that a human mind you can feel or depict is neatly confined into one particular area of the cerebrum.
Research shows that when subjected to same pictures to different set of people, on analysing how their brains responded to things of beauty; no particular part of the brain came to forefront. The scattered result is the evidence of the fact that there is a scattered definition of beauty. No common consensus can be drawn on what is, and isn’t beautiful. The research was undertaken via the technique of activation likelihood estimation [ALE].
During the analysis, it is also observed that visual confrontation with beautiful things don’t really point towards one specific place, but well-defined brain region. The regions were almost completely nonoverlapping, however, which challenged the idea that a common beauty center was activated. If we take this at face value, then the beauty of a painting isn’t the same as that of the stars in a night sky, but are equally as beautiful.
The neuroscience of aesthetics is a stream that is yet to grow. Its currently in a very nascent stage, as even the most basic questions like whether there is one part of the brain or more parts, that go into what it takes to process a visual stimulus.
Come what may, in the words of John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, and our brain shall continue to cherish it worthwhile.