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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Scientific Beauty

Beatrice lucaciu

In order to really examine beauty from a scientific perspective, I must build on what I already know. Aside from what I have learned in the past few weeks about physics and chemistry, I have never been very familiar with the "hard sciences." I have always preferred the social scientific perspective; and I have learned to appreciate the way in which it utilizes the knowledge of the other sciences.

I have loved the field of psychology for as long as I can remember. I have always strived for a better understanding of the way the human mind works. I believe this field of study is beautiful because it allows us to have a deeper knowledge of each other, shedding light on the origins of emotions, motives behind actions, and personal preferences. I am aware that other forms of science like to explain the physical world around us. Psychology, however, seeks to explain the invisible. We have never seen one another's mind; it is not physically tangible. Of course, there are biological processes taking place in the physical brain, but I do not consider that to be the same thing as one's mind.

Psychology can be though of as a sort of bridge between philosophy and physical sciences. Historically, early psychology actually grew out of philosophy. However, these days, many experiments are conducted following the scientific method. Empirical data has come to hold great importance when presenting new findings and theories. Therefore, this field incorporates both scientific and humanistic ideas.

This combination of approaches seems to have created conflicting ideas within my own mind. For example, when our class conducted those brief chemistry experiments, I realized that I hated having them explained to me at the end. I did not want to know why two clear liquids turned blue when combined, or why the flame turned different colors when burning up certain chemicals that coated a piece of wire. Such knowledge seemed to taint the "magic." Perhaps this is because I am not familiar or comfortable with this particular type of science. I considered each experiment to be an experience. Learning all the details made me feel as though I had to retain the information I was given, or otherwise I would not be appreciating the experiment as I was supposed to. I had suddenly felt disappointed. The illusion was gone. The liquids, the metals, and the reactions had all been identified, and I was left wondering how to process all of the information.

On the other hand, when it comes to understanding the way people think and act, I want to know everything I possibly can. I feel that the human mind and the intricate thought processes that usually go unnoticed are remarkable. There are so many branches of psychology and so many theories that it feels as though I am constantly searching for the most accurate explanation. The magic never really dies because no single approach, be it behavior analytic or cognitive, holds all the answers.

Our class discussions have shown us that we each find different things to be beautiful. It seems that understanding beauty has become a goal. A recurring idea in our scientific readings is that of the beauty of symmetry. This immediately struck a chord with me, as I had remembered reading of psychological studies that had sought to verify what determines physical beauty in people. Many of these studies found that one's bilateral facial symmetry played a huge part in how attractive others considered him/her. The studies revealed that facial symmetry is attractive to individuals of varying cultures and ethnicities.

In addition to the symmetry factor, another trait that is most often appealing (although possibly not on a conscious level for most people) is the waist-to-hip ratio. It is most attractive when women have a ratio of 0.7, and 0.9 for men. Again, this has all been found through empirical studies. An explanation that has been offered for the attractiveness of these ratios is rooted in evolutionary theory. Other physical traits that people find striking were also appealing to our ancestors. Evolutionarily speaking, an individual would want to procreate with someone who has a good complexion, for example, because it is thought to be indicative of good health. Such beliefs have been passed down to us, though we may not even be aware of their presence in our lives.

These are just a few of the findings that have come about through experimentation and analysis. Such information gives us a different scientific insight into the understanding of beauty. Furthermore, chemistry can explain why we see colors the way we do, but some psychological studies would prefer to explain how viewing certain colors may affect a person. This example shows how psychology tends to build upon scientific fact.

A physicist's opinion about the beauty of symmetry is perfectly understandable. Personally, I think symmetry is beautiful because of its balance, its evenness. When symmetry is present, there seems to be a lack of chaos. It is difficult for me to fully understand and identify with a physicist's perception of beauty otherwise. In most sciences, people work toward a final result. Eventually, a hypothesis may become a theory; a theory may then become a scientific law. However, in my chosen field of study, such laws are not established. I can understand how certainty and truth can be beautiful, but I believe that a sense of uncertainty that will keep an individual striving for a greater insight and knowledge that has no definite end is also a beautiful thing. So yet again, I find myself thinking conflicting thoughts. In "hard sciences", I find it almost comforting to know that there are definite reasons why certain reactions happen although I may not want to know the details. Yet, as I have just explained, I find it intriguing that there are never any absolute truths or answers.

My interest in understanding the workings of the human mind have grown out of a seemingly intrinsic need that I have had to better comprehend the emotions of those around me. Clearly, there are medical explanations for certain mental illnesses and such, but I have always cared more about how individuals with such illnesses feel and how they cope. People and their emotions and dysfunctions cannot all fit into a specific set of criteria for diagnoses. Much information needs to be gathered in order to give as accurate a diagnosis as possible. There are methods for such information gathering; and it is this systematic process of deduction that I find so amazing. One little difference between the similar symptoms of two people can result in a different diagnosis for each. None of this methodology in the diagnosing of patients would exist if it were not for other forms of science and their methods.

Social sciences question and attempt to explain, though it is clear that they will never reach a universally accepted answer. Alternatively, other sciences are able to say with confidence that x and y cause z. Although these two fields of study have their similarities and differences, I believe that they almost balance each other out. And that balance is beautiful.

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