• Eye candy

    Article by Mohan Matthen

    The pleasure we take in beauty must have been shaped by evolution — but what adaptive advantage did it give us?

    In every culture on Earth, people decorate their possessions and themselves, and enjoy visual art. They stare in awe at vast landscapes and the starry sky, and they sing and dance, and make instrumental music. Why? The answer seems obvious: it gives them pleasure. But why should it? What benefit does the capacity for aesthetic pleasure bestow on the human organism?

    We know that aesthetic pleasure isn’t just a drive, like hunger or sexual desire. Hunger is prospective: it urges us to eat. Pleasure, on the other hand, accompanies eating. It tells us ‘Keep eating this!’ But eating should not continue indefinitely, and so once the body is sated, pleasure fades. The fuller you are, the less pleasant it is to eat, no matter how delicious the food.

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