Evolutionary neurobiology and aesthetics

C. U M Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    If aesthetics is a human universal, it should have a neurobiological basis. Although use of all the senses is, as Aristotle noted, pleasurable, the distance senses are primarily involved in aesthetics. The aesthetic response emerges from the central processing of sensory input. This occurs very rapidly, beneath the level of consciousness, and only the feeling of pleasure emerges into the conscious mind. This is exemplified by landscape appreciation, where it is suggested that a computation built into the nervous system during Paleolithic hunter-gathering is at work. Another inbuilt computation leading to an aesthetic response is the part-whole relationship. This, it is argued, may be traced to the predator-prey "arms races" of evolutionary history. Mate selection also may be responsible for part of our response to landscape and visual art. Aesthetics lies at the core of human mentality, and its study is consequently of importance not only to philosophers and art critics but also to neurobiologists.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-30
    Number of pages14
    JournalPerspectives in Biology and Medicine
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005


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