Why does beauty matter to us? What role does it play in our lives? For many years now, I’ve been wondering about the role of beauty in human experience. How does it shape our lives and our work, whether for good or ill?
These questions have haunted me for years. They've either directly or indirectly driven much of my recent work. For instance, I recently completed the largest study to ever examine the aesthetic dimensions of science, looking at the role of beauty, awe, and wonder among scientists in several countries.
When we think about beauty, we usually think about art or fashion. But I want to examine beauty beyond just these realms. I want to look at its relevance to things like science, justice, morality, food, faith, work, and so on.
This project will examine how beauty shapes our personal and social lives in ways that may both contribute to and impede our flourishing. This exploration will include a combination of short posts, longer essays, podcasts, and videos.
We'll examine questions such as:
- What do we even mean by beauty? Why is it so hard to define?
- What does encountering beauty do to us? How does it shape our brains, our desires, our behavior?
- Why do we find beauty in some things and not others? What is the role of institutions and culture and history and biology in shaping our tastes?
- Is beauty merely subjective, in the eye of the beholder? Or does it have an objective dimension?
- Is beauty just about sensory pleasure? Or can it also be a source of meaning, or point us to goods like truth or justice?
- What role does beauty play in our work environments and in the practices that constitute our work?
- When is beauty good for us–for our well-being or mental health?
- When is beauty bad for us? Can beauty betray us? Can it be a source of prejudice or cognitive bias or injustice?
- Can beauty even be damaging? How and when is it used to oppress, dominate, distort, and manipulate?
I would be grateful to learn from you along the way: How do you answer these questions? What questions does this work raise for you? What resonates with your experience?
It would be beautiful to learn something together.