Jul 23, 2011

Our Brain's Obsession with Beauty and Patterns

I read a very interesting article today from Wired: Frontal Cortex blog by John Lehrer.  My take on this is that our brains are obsessed with recognizing patterns and solving problems so that's why we fall in love with complex/sophisticated/mysterious people instead of shallow ones.  So to me, beauty is more about a picture that's almost complete/perfect with hidden or confusing characteristic that tickles our brains to find it out and understand it.  Once, figured out and understood though the obsession goes away.  This concept also applies to how people get obsessed with the stock market or gambling.  Both mechanisms function randomly but give the impression or illusion that there are patterns or trends to be discovered by our brains.  The closer we feel like we are to understanding/recognizing patterns the more intense our feelings (dopamine produced in the brain) anticipating the reward of finding out the pattern (reward being feel good chemicals - opiates released in our brains).  

"I see beauty as a form of curiosity that exists in response to sensation, and not just information. It’s what happens when we see something and, even though we can’t explain why, want to see more. But here’s the interesting bit: the hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness. It’s what happens when we sense something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap, when a pattern is almost there, but not quite. I’m thinking here of that wise Leonard Cohen line: “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” Well, a beautiful thing has been cracked in just the right way."

  • Beauty is a particularly potent and intense form of curiosity. It’s a learning signal urging us to keep on paying attention, an emotional reminder that there’s something here worth figuring out.
  • Beauty is a motivational force that helps modulate conscious awareness. The problem beauty solves is the problem of trying to figure out which sensations are worth making sense of and which ones can be easily ignored.
  • Our desire for more information – the cause of curiosity – begins as a dopaminergic craving, rooted in the same primal pathway that responds to sex, drugs and rock and roll.

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