Nancy Etcoff is part of a new vanguard of cognitive researchers asking: What makes us happy? Why do we like beautiful things? And how on earth did we evolve that way?
Why you should listen to her:
In her book Survival of the Prettiest, Nancy Etcoff refutes the social origins of beauty, in favor of far more prosaic and evolutionary explanations. Looking for a partner with clear skin? You're actually checking for parasites.
Etcoff begins by confronting our intellectual apologism for the cult of beauty:
"Many intellectuals would have us believe that beauty is inconsequential. Since it explains nothing, solves nothing, and teaches us nothing, it should not have a place in intellectual discourse. And we are supposed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. After all, the concept of beauty has become an embarrassment.
But there is something wrong with this picture. Outside the realm of ideas, beauty rules. Nobody has stopped looking at it, and no one has stopped enjoying the sight. Turning a cold eye to beauty is as easy as quelling physical desire or responding with indifference to a baby’s cry. We can say that beauty is dead, but all that does is widen the chasm between the real world and our understanding of it. "
We are complex creatures and Etcoff explores our sense of and interest in beauty from many angles, loving Ezra Pound's poem
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
reading about how he came to write it adds to my enjoyment.
" Ezra Pound had a moment of recognition that inspired him to write a two-line poem “In a station at the Métro,” which comprised these brief sentences: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals on a wet, black bough” Later, Pound described how he came to write it. “Three years ago in Paris I got out of a Métro train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy or as lovely as that sudden emotion.… In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself or darts into a thing inward and subjective. "
I tried and failed to upload her TED talk but it is well worth a watch . Love that people like Nancy Etcoff are doing such great work.