The Perception of Beauty

By Anthony Gold

We all know beauty when we see it. Breathtaking scenery, a spectacular work of art, an idyllic setting, an infant’s smile – beauty can move us.

But is it real?

When researchers study what occurs in the brain during the perception of beauty, what they find is that a large area behind the eyes known as the orbito-frontal cortex is “lit up” with neural activity eliciting a dopamine reward.

As a matter of fact, when “artificial” stimuli such as chemical compounds are used to trigger this same part of the brain, the “experience of beauty” is identical.

It stands to reason that beauty is relative and perceptual by nature. Consider how various societies have defined beauty and how that has continually changed over time. Whether it is certain architectural styles, artistic movements, or even body images – it is our perception of the stimuli combined with the relative societal value that determine which parts of the brain are triggered.

Our interpretation of beauty lights up the orbito-frontal cortex, whereas our definition of ugly triggers the motor cortex instead.

At one point in time, my original 2007 iPhone was a thing of beauty. It was a work of art, both technologically as well as aesthetically. A few years later, it was considered a brick – an obsolete relic suitable, at best, as a paper weight.

The phone didn’t change, but our perceptions of it certainly did.

Various cultures define human physical beauty by one standard, while others a completely different convention. Is one better or more “correct” than another? Of course not. Yet within each culture, those “definitions” determine which part of each inhabitant’s brains will “light up” based on external stimuli.

Thus is the perceptual nature of beauty and what we call “beautiful”. A societal “interpretation” based on mutually agreed upon norms that are tenuous and fleeting. And look how much weight we ascribe to such limiting perceptions!

Yet there is a beauty that transcends all societal standards and relative norms – one that is independent of culture, country, and context. And that is the beauty of seeing our brothers through the eyes of true vision – seeing beyond the body and into the shared connectedness that unites us all.

Can you imagine how beautiful those you [see truly] will look to you? In no fantasy have you ever seen anything so lovely. Nothing you see [through your current perception], sleeping or waking, comes near to such loveliness. (T-17.II.1)

This experience of beauty is available to all of us, at any moment. It requires neither long-distance travel nor external stimulation. Simply an awareness of truth by choosing to see the perfection and oneness in everything. Join us in Monday’s class where we will explore the differences between societal beauty and the blissful experience of seeing through the eyes of spirit. I look forward to seeing you then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *