Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Ugly Truth about Beauty?

A recent Seed essay contained comments that we are hardwired with several natural instincts for knowing truth - referring to beauty as one of these to illustrate that a sense of truth seems inherent in our very make-up.

My comment in turn is that statements like this are fanciful at best.  A sense of beauty is less than reliable as an indicator of truth, as the appearance of beauty is often used to conceal truth or to mimic it. Beauty offers an incentive to approach with the expectation of finding desirable qualities within the object that projects it. It is not a quality in and of itself, but an illusory representation of those qualities.

Yet in studying nature, we can't seem to help but apply our "understanding" of the way life projects beauty to natural objects in general - as if their beauty was also created for a purpose and as a signal that these too were objects of desire.

We are wired to make accurate predictions, but in my view it's not a sense of truth that is inherent in our make-up, but a sense of the most probable - about which we are of course frequently mistaken.

We almost certainly have "premises" built into our calculating mechanisms that make truth less than obvious from the outset.  Before we acquired some facility in the use of abstractions, our more primitive mechanisms would have included the built-in equivalent of these concepts if and when they added to our chances of survival.  And these mechanistic "assumptions" will have had a margin of error - which guaranteed then and now that any resulting predictions will be less than absolute where "truth" is concerned.

One important example seems clear - that there is a presumption built or wired into our calculating mechanisms that all cause and effect stems from an initial purpose, so that any accurate or reliable conclusions will need to have first taken an element of purposefulness into account. We evolved by the necessary "assumptions" that other life had a strategy similar to ours, and that nature was the fountain of this life and therefor of its purposefulness as well. And while our more rational mechanisms have since been able to see in the abstract that this purposefulness may have begun with life rather than preceded it, our hardwired mechanisms still operate from an opposite presumption.

But as assumptions go, there is at least a third possibility, if not a probability, that purposefulness does exist elsewhere in the universe wherever there are other life forms, and that somewhere some of these forms have or had the propensity to interfere with whatever other such forms are out there. But whether or not they are responsible for any of the beauty we observe in the universe - representative or not of some universal truth - is for the moment highly uncertain.

And as a corollary to the above commentary, my feeling has been that If there is some conceivable purpose behind, or involved with, the evolution of the universe, it is nevertheless unlikely to be one that's immediately responsive or amenable to human persuasion. And thus its "beauty" would likely be indifferent to any demonstrations of our adulation.

On the other hand we clearly have good reason not to trust in nature's beneficence. It's the effort to earn that beneficence through an appeal to its proverbial "good nature" that will be essentially unproductive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rather useful idea