When I was an undergraduate at the State University of New York (SUNY), Albany in the 1990s, I took a writing-intensive "Introduction to Philosophy" class as one of my general prerequisites. The class examined most of the philosophical problems – such as Truth, Freedom, Ethics and Values – and I was a bit surprised to discover that Beauty was on that list.
Unfortunately, the semester ended before the class could write about Beauty. So I never gave the subject much deeper, further thought. Then in 2002 I saw a BBC documentary called "The Human Face". As it turns out, Beauty isn't just a philosophical subject. It's a mathematical one, too..
The Golden Ratio
Beauty – both in humans and in nature – is based upon a ratio. Plants, animals and humans grow according to precise mathematical laws. Flowers don't unfold in "beautiful" patterns by chance. Rather, their development is based upon a geometrical ratio - 1:1.618.
This "Golden Ratio" is based on the Fibonacci sequence, where every number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers. Eventually, the Fibonacci series will produce the ratio of 1:1.618, also known as Phi. This ratio appears constantly – in architecture, nature, and human beings. This is the only mathematical relationship that is consistently present in beautiful things.
Dr. Stephen Marquardt, a facial surgeon from California, has constructed a mask based upon this Golden Ratio. The proportion is seen everywhere on the beautiful face – the length of the nose, the positioning of the eyes, even in the teeth. And not only does this mask conform to beautiful faces (regardless of race) of today's standards, but also in pre-Modern paintings, Greek statues and old-time movie stars. So contrary to popular belief, the standard of facial beauty remains the same over time and across cultures. "Beautiful" body types come in and out of vogue, but the beautiful face always remains the same.
So this starts us down a rather slippery slope to the idea that since beauty can now be quantified by a mathematical ratio, is it any less remarkable to be beautiful or a waste of time to philosophize on what it means to be beautiful? In our beauty-obsessed and image-driven culture, beauty has indeed saturated the market, thus making it less remarkable. However, beauty is indeed only skin deep – and there is more to the philosophical idea of beauty than one's appearance. Beauty is not only how you look, but also how you act. What do you think?
Resources
http://www.bloggers.it/paolog/fibonacci-numbers-nature.htm
http://www.beautyanalysis.com/index2_mba.htm
http://www.intmath.com/Numbers/mathOfBeauty.php
http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/blinded-by-science
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Human_Face
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