Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

As the old adage goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but have you ever stopped to wonder how or why you can appreciate beauty in the first place?

Don't say Evolution.

Evolution is a theory based off of a law of functionality - the Law of Natural Selection, which states:

  1. Variation exists within a species.
  2. Certain variations are more beneficial for survival in certain environments.
  3. The individual with better variations is more likely to survive and thus pas on the variations.
  4. The population will shift over time to the more favorable variation.
Now, I must ask, how does beauty or appreciation of beauty fit into evolution?

For clarity's sake, by beauty, I mean characteristics that serve to make an individual attractive to the opposite sex of the same species. this can take the form of physical expression (decoration, colors, symmetry, etc), vocal expression, or another sort of expression with the sole intent to attract a mate. Pheromones, however, do not precisely qualify, but can also be addressed*.

Well, if one of those traits is already pre-existing, then it is quite evident that the opposite trait would increase the individual's chances of mating and passing on of the trait in question.

This assumption, however, if scrutinized thoroughly under an evolutionary perception, is flawed. After all, for the theory of evolution to fully satisfy the question, we must start from a null point, not from halfway. Therefore, we must start with a theoretical organism that has no beauty or appreciation thereof and one that neither exudes nor receives pheromones. 

Let's start with beauty. From a null point, beauty is relative, therefore a "beautiful" organism in the midst of unappreciative organisms has no advantage save any practical ones possibly lent by the beautiful modification (say, an aid to hunting, swimming, etc). As beauty appreciation is relative, were an organism to achieve a cognitive sense of beauty, that sense would be forced to comply with the immediately surrounding organism, also leaving no true advantage unless the perception of beauty were ascribed to the ability to function.

So, we may concede that functional beauty (beauty derived from a superior functional variation) could possibly have arisen via evolution, but how, then do we explain non-functional adaptations like music, bird plumage, the pleasant arrangement of the natural world? Well, these must be drab, utilitarian constructs we ave come to perceive as beautiful. 

Explain to me, then, a peacock's feather. 

The peacock's feather possesses color due to iridescence, that is, due to the light scattering off of the way the barbs and barbules are arrayed, creating a shimmering hue, not due to dye.
So?

The peacock is color blind. To a peacock, the feather appears as shades of gray.

The question to be asked, then, is what is the point of this beauty? What is its purpose? A fan of feathers whose ornate detail cannot be fully appreciated by its own species seems fairly pointless, no?

Then was the peacock's fan evolved for some other organism?

Hah! Evolution scoffs at this naive idea. There is no purpose to such development, therefore it would not have existed. The only thing it has served to do is attract the attention of humans as objects of beauty who then keep it as pets. 

Then shouldn't ornate peacocks not exist in the wild? Oh, wait.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I beg you to consider that the peacock feather did come about for man's appreciation of beauty; and not only did that feather and the appreciation thereof develop randomly, but that there was explicit design given into the feather and an appreciation for such beauty put in man (after all, this beauty serves no purpose to man other than pleasure, which is not necessary to survival).

While we are on the topic of design, the concept of panspermia only delays the inevitable question of "Whodunnit?"

So, some superior designer created beauty for the sake of beauty in this one instance. 

No, not really. Consider man's whole perception of beauty: we find many traits of organisms outside of our species beautiful. Flower petals, for example, serve to attract bees for pollination, therefore, by evolution, we should have no appreciation of their beauty, yet we do. 
Shall I carry on?

So multiple instances of beauty occur and are designed simply for our appreciation?

Well, yes. 

And no.

The universe wasn't created for our pleasure, but for that of the one who designed it. It just so happens that we, being created sentient, are able to appreciate it. Where I'm going with this is fairly simple: There is a God. He created the universe for His glory, including us. Because we were created in His image, we are able to appreciate the beauty of this creation with the original intent of bringing yet more glory to God.

Does this make sense? I don't want to ramble on, yet I just ask you to consider a piece of art, made by an artist. We look at it and say, "whomever created this is talented." Were we to say that the art brought itself together by pure chance would be an insult.

So, consider the beauty of the world around you. Did that beauty and your appreciation of it really come by chance through a variation? Is it really critical to your survival? I don't think so, and neither, I think, would Darwin.

*Pheromones are chemical hormones that induce a chemical change in the brain, which is a different process and concept from beauty (hence it not being included), but the development thereof could be followed using the same logic.