Friday, June 10, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

By any physical standard that our society uses, Natalie Portman is beautiful.

Similarly, by the standards that our society uses, this woman (selected at random from the Internet) is not physically beautiful. If we are to be honest with ourselves, she is not even remotely attractive:

We obviously care about such things. Natalie Portman is a tremendously talented actress, but if she had the same talent but looked like the second woman, would she have the opportunity to pursue an acting career? Unlikely.

But while we care about such things, would an advanced, non-human intelligence care?

What if, for example, such an intelligence was extraterrestrial in nature, and looked like this:

For such a creature, all humans would probably look more or less the same, just as all sperm whales look more or less the same to us.

But we can go even further, and posit that an advanced non-human intelligence is non-corporeal. Perhaps it exists as thought, in a way that we can't imagine (no pun intended)? Perhaps it exists in the physical realm, but not in a way that we can really touch, like a "ball of light".

For such a being, our physical attributes - our conception of what is beautiful, and what is not - wouldn't matter at all.

We would all be "beasts" to them, and if there was a beauty in us for them to find, it would be found elsewhere - in our compassion, perhaps, or our intellect, or our imagination, or our humility.

Until we understand that principle, "contact" will elude us as a society, even as it occurs to those individuals who can see past the superficial notion of beauty that we have created, and find the deeper beauty that exists hidden underneath.

Paul Kimball


cda said...

How did man come to choose what or who looked beautiful and what looked ugly. The two women you display are obvious choices but - and this is the hub of the question - how (i.e. in the distant past) did we come to decide what constitutes beauty (human or otherwise) in our world? And what was definitely not beauty?

At some point in our evolution we must have formed a mental picture in our mind of what was 'desirable' to look at, or to feel and touch, and what was not. Similar to what is 'dirty' and what is 'clean'. Question: What is pleasant to the eye and why? To a lesser extent, certain sounds are pleasant, others not. Again why? Certain smells are pleasant, others not. Etc.

Part of the evolution of man's senses, perhaps? But that is hardly a full answer.

Paul Kimball said...


Good questions, but not pertinent to the overall point, which is not why we chose (or choose) certain physical characteristics over others. Rather, the question should be why we chose (or choose) / focus on the physical at all, and ignore to such a great extent the "interior".


Red Pill Junkie said...

Certainly scientists have tried to tackle the 'formula' of beauty, and some have concluded that we instinctively tend to favor faces and shapes that are more bilaterally symmetrical, possibly because all living species in the planet follow the same bilateral building principles.

Likewise with the plastic arts, you will find more people prefer paintings where symmetry and chromatic order are used, that others where the artist abandons all sorts of figurative conventions. The same is why probably there are more Mozart fans than John Coltrane fans out there.

As humans we are drawn to Order. We are thankful for the effort put forth by our ancestors in trying to put some sense out of the 'chaos' of Nature. I do think however that the more intelligent the person, the more easily bored with simple laws of order you get, and are probably more eager to experiment with different rules, that might seem too 'chaotic' to simple-minded folk.

Even great writers like Arthur C Clarke tended to believe intelligent non-human beings would still have a deep respect for order. That's why he decided to portray the emissaries of these beings as 'plain' rectangular shapes, instead of, say, Tridimensional sentient Pollock paintings. Maybe he was wrong, we can't say.

All this reminded me of this wonderful short by the demigod of animation, Chuck Jones: