The Aesthetic Brain | Anjan Chatterjee

Summary of: The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art
By: Anjan Chatterjee


Embark on a captivating journey through the fascinating world of the human brain and its extensive connection to beauty and art in Anjan Chatterjee’s ‘The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art’. This book summary delves into how our brains are wired to automatically respond to beautiful faces and bodies, and why we find specific people and landscapes attractive. Moreover, it explores our obsession with youthfulness and the influence of society on our understanding of beauty. Also, get ready to ponder the essence of art and its contribution to the human experience, as well as understanding how the brain processes art and the theories behind the origin of our artistic inclinations.

The Science of Beauty

Our brains are wired to perceive and appreciate beauty automatically and unconsciously. Studies have shown that we tend to hold good-looking individuals in high regard, which can lead to social and economic advantages. Scientists have identified three key factors that contribute to the perception of a face as attractive: averageness, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism. The preference for average facial features, symmetrical faces, and gender-specific physical features reflects a desire for health, good genes, and fertility. While defining beauty may be challenging, understanding its underlying principles provides insight into universal standards of attractiveness.

The Evolution of Beauty

The human brain has developed certain regions that maintain specific functions, just like other parts of the body. We tend to find beautiful things that have survival benefits, like symmetrical faces that indicate a healthy immune system and open savannas that provide easy detection of predators. Our attraction to beauty is rooted in evolution, as it means mating with healthy partners and producing healthier offspring. So, the survival benefit in finding something beautiful is clear.

The Art of Beauty

Our sense of beauty is influenced by society and culture. Centuries-old paintings show curvy women were considered more beautiful. Men’s preference for body types is affected by the food supply of the community. Fat reserves allow a woman to bear and nurture children safely during food scarcity. Cultures overemphasize the features they naturally find beautiful, such as hypermasculine features for male comic book characters and big eyes for animated characters. Society’s obsession with youthfulness led to the rise of an industry built around personal care products. Supermodels’ facial dimensions are quite similar to those of a ten-year-old girl.

Art and its Boundless Boundaries

Art is an essential aspect of human nature, expressed by various forms of creativity dating back to pre-historic times. Beauty isn’t the sole criteria, and art can move us in ways that are overwhelming and even painful. While art remains indefinable, that’s precisely its unique quality. Its tendency to disregard norms, rules, and cliches has pushed boundaries, such as transforming an ordinary urinal into a work of art, proving that art knows no limits.

The Neuroscience of Art

Art engages the senses, triggers emotions, and challenges cognition, activating different neural networks at once. The golden ratio is a mathematical proportion that appears in many beautiful works of art. Emotions triggered by artwork are universal, but associations vary from person to person. Deciphering the meaning of a piece of art can be as gratifying as solving a complex puzzle.

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