On Beauty

“What is the biological basis for perceiving nature as beautiful?”

I asked this question of Jim, my daughter’s S.O.. He’s a biologist, soon to receive his PhD in the subject. Our group pondered this for a while as we continued our hike, but didn’t come up with a great answer. We posited that, perhaps, there’s no inherent survival advantage to perceiving beauty but that perceptive humans are more inclined to explore, inquire and seek answers to questions. Perhaps it’s not that perceiving beauty makes us better mating partners but that perceptiveness makes us better problem solvers and more likely to follow the path to the next valley or the end of the rainbow. There we find the better farmland, the richer game or the girl next door.

I’m typing this, sitting outside in 40 degree weather, watching a rainstorm wash away snow from my backyard. On my deck speakers, Pachabel’s Canon is unfolding its overlapping melody and I can’t help but tear up, overwhelmed with the sense that it’s all so beautiful.

As I often do when bored, I surf the web and read posts where children receive puppies for Christmas or brothers reunite or deaf people receive cochlear implants. Their joy, too, is beautiful and, again, I cry.

It’s all so human. Perhaps dogs or horses or even chickens feel something similar but I can’t imagine anything more primally human than the intensity of emotions and how these emotions can inspire us to act.

I’m, at heart, a scientist, but I think cognition and Reason (intentional caps) are overrated. In this age of alternate facts and polarized belief systems, I’ve begun to argue that Reason and Truth are “fungible”. Relying on them, exclusively, to make decisions and to guide our lives is a fools errand.

Pursue beauty. Find things that make you cry tears of joy and do things to make others feel the same way. Surround yourself with people that your heart knows are good. Avoid things and people that feel wrong. Explore the valley next door. You won’t regret it.

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