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PHD-DESIGN  September 2018

PHD-DESIGN September 2018

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Subject:

Re: A Scientist Speaks on Beauty

From:

Susan Hagan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 11 Sep 2018 17:15:11 +0000

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Dear Jerry and all, 
 
I like to get a meta view. Therefore, for what it’s worth, Ken’s question was, 
<snip> 
It seems odd to suggest that scientists do not understand beauty. 
Beauty and elegance have long been criteria for scientific theory. 
 
Other criteria are also important if our statements about the world 
are to be both true and meaningful. Nevertheless, it seems to me 
mistaken to say that scientists fail to understand beauty. 
<snip> 
 
The bottom line in Ken’s question for me is for me, whether or not a philosophy of beauty can expand. Why is that so hard? 
 
The replies have been: 
1. Threats to invention could be one reason for the claim, “scientists fail to understand beauty" (Hagan) 
 
2. "natural science is not very well equipped to deal with the subjective phenomenon of beauty.” (Richard Herriott) 
The notion of subjective vs objective seems critical here. If the underlying philosophy can’t expand to include the objective, embracing Ken’s argument will be difficult. 
 
3. "I have heard about the beauty of this or that theory or solution or representation many, many times. For example, the beauty of this theory is in …”  (Lubomir Savov Popov) 
While I’m being reductive, elegance linked to or as a synonym for beauty seems critical here. If theoretical elegance is not part of the philosophy of beauty, it will be difficult for both sides to embrace. 
 
4. The idea that scientists understand beauty needs no language. They show us (Meredith Davis) 
If we embrace Meredith’s argument that to see is to know, we might have common ground. But... 
 
5. In responding to Meredith, "I think as an artist Felice Frankel is only adding to the number of phenomena we might find beautiful. 
She is acting as an artist in making things of beauty. I don´t think she is addressing beauty. 
The phenomenon of beauty is something of an uncrackable nut for science of any sort.  It doesn´t mean we can´t discuss it from loads of angles. It is not reducible to anything else and can only be translated into other terms:” (Richard Herriott) 
Richard suggests that the beautiful should not be conflated with a philosophy of beauty, of which Meredith shows one example. The angles are good for discussion, but not the same. As long as science cannot explain the subjective, they will not understand beauty. 
 
6. "If anyone is interested in at least one plausible attempt to crack the nut of beauty, they might look into Denis Dutton, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (2009), in which he proposes a "Darwinian aesthetics" linking art activities to biological fitness….in discussions of this kind it is important to distinguish between "art" and "beauty," because much contemporary art bears little relation to beauty -- it has other concerns.” (Heidi Overhill) 
Our philosophy of beauty needs to embrace our evolutionary past. Only science is equipped to give us this information, which we seem reluctant to delve into, making shared understanding more difficult (and we need to study more completely) 
 
7. David Gray adds to Heidi’s offerings, making additional knowledge the opportunity to solve the problem Ken identifies. 
 
8. I’ll go with the  simple elegance of the Aquinas conception of beauty:  “…pulchrum dicuntur quae visa placent.” “Let that be called beauty, the very perception of which pleases.” (Summa Theologica I-a IIae, q.27) 
The response, full of affect, is not however shut out to reason and runs “from raw emotion to intellectual delight.” (Jerry) 
 
Jerry suggests the synthesis of the other responses that Ken might like  one that asks for an expanded definition that embraces subjective, objective, and the elegant, as visual, textual, and symbolic? 
 
The remaining question is, would this synthesis result in a concept that embraces so much, it no longer has value. Should there be philosophies of beauty 1 (subjective) and 2 (objective), or is the larger metaview more fruitful? 
 
Best, 
 
Susan (back to work) 
 
 
 
On Sep 11, 2018, at 11:30 AM, diethelm <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote: 
 
Dear All, 
 
I’ll go with the  simple elegance of the Aquinas conception of beauty:  “…pulchrum dicuntur quae visa placent.” “Let that be called beauty, the very perception of which pleases.” (Summa Theologica I-a IIae, q.27) 
 
The response, full of affect, is not however shut out to reason and runs “from raw emotion to intellectual delight.” 
 
And isn’t it elegantly and beautifully put? 
 
Jerry 
 
On Sep 11, 2018, at 5:34 AM, Susan Hagan <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote: 
 
Dear Ken, 
 
I’m sure I’ve missed part of a thread. My apologies if I have. 
 
I agree with you. Feynman’s right. And at the same time, it made me wonder.  I think that Feynman’s statement implies that what’s at stake isn’t the nature of beauty, but the nature of invention and how it is linked to perspectives on beauty. Invention is powerful, but human limitations linked to imagination can make individuals feel under attack when science offers a perspective on beauty that is not shared, for example, by a subset of poets. In other words, the scientist threatens the inventive core. 
 
In coming to that conclusion, I’m remembering back to a course I took in grad school on the philosophy of art. It’s been a long time, and my understanding is sophomoric at best, but perspectives offered by the art critcs/historians/philosopers Gombrich and Greenberg stand out for me. 
 
Gombrinch, while an insightful art historian, was left unable to see the beauty/art when the plane of the canvas became more important than breaking it. His philosophy had boundaries. It took Greenberg to see the value in Abstract Expressionism. 
 
As I see it, we move forward, but always within our limited boundaries, not wanting others to change the locks on our keys to invention. 
 
Offered a bit sheepishly, knowing that I have to jump back out because of work deadlines. 
 
All the best, 
 
Susan 
 
 
On Sep 10, 2018, at 10:31 PM, Ken Friedman <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> <mailto:[log in to unmask]><mailto:[log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>>> wrote: 
 
Dear All, 
 
It seems odd to suggest that scientists do not understand beauty. 
Beauty and elegance have long been criteria for scientific theory. 
 
Other criteria are also important if our statements about the world 
are to be both true and meaningful. Nevertheless, it seems to me 
mistaken to say that scientists fail to understand beauty. 
 
I’ll end here, and finish this note by letting a scientist speak 
on beauty. Richard Feynman’s comments appear below. 
 
Ken Friedman 
 
“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere 
globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night and 
feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens 
stretches my imagination — stuck on this little carousel, my little 
eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which 
I am part... What is the pattern. or the meaning, or the why? It does 
not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more 
marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. 
Why do poets of the present not speak of it? What men arc poets 
who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense 
spinning sphere of methane must be silent?” 
 
— Richard Feynman 
 
Quoted in: Gleick, James. 1993. Genius: Richard P. Feynman and 
Modern Physics. London: Abacus, p. 373. 
 
-- 
 
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Jerry Diethelm 
Architect  Landscape Architect 
Planning & Urban Design Consultant 
 
  Prof. Emeritus of Landscape Architecture 
  and Community Service • University of Oregon 
 
  2652 Agate St., Eugene, OR 97403 
 
  •   e-mail: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> 
  •   e-mail  [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> 
  •   web: http://pages.uoregon.edu/diethelm/https://oregon.academia.edu/JerryDiethelm 
 
  •   541-686-0585 home/work 
  •   541-346-1441 UO 
  •   541-206-2947 work/cell 
 
 
 
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