As I write these words I’m riding a late night train, listening to some beautiful music and noticing a beautiful woman in the aisle opposite. And I can feel with unusual vividness my complete vulnerability to a beauty bias. The careful analytical thoughts I had hours before now seem, no matter what their care or basis, trivial and small by comparison.
I guess that explains why most of the comments on Julia Galef's Youtube videos are not about rationality ;-)
"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk."Jack Handey
On Beauty on Being Just by Elainne Scarry (Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard) addresses this topic quite well.
Also in fantasy books and films the bad guys (trolls/orcs/trollocs etc.) are always butt ugly and the good guys (elves/warriors etc.) are always really handsome and elegant. This ensures that the audience always thoroughly approves as the handsome heroes swing their swords and take off the heads of all the generic butt-uglies, no matter how indiscriminately or brutally the heros kill.
Can't you segregate your susceptibility to the influence of beauty from your formation of beliefs? It's fine to want to experience beauty. (Strictly speaking, you want to experience what is *agreeable to you*; this won't count as "beautiful" if you are atypical, in that the great majority of people do not find it agreeable.) But why can't you train yourself not to let that desire produce epistemic corruption, by training yourself to notice the difference between experiential and epistemic value?
Susan Boyle's singing is beautiful, so she is beautiful in a key respect. When we say "beautiful" the default interpretation is "visually beautiful", but the principle being described probably applies to beauty in the other senses as well. Robin specifically mentions music in his post.
What is your model of unbiased reasoning? If beauty is a "bias", then that can be easily extended to every human motivation. But without motivation, we have no reason to seek truth, or any knowledge for that matter.
The goal isn't to be "unbiased" - whatever that means. It's to be motivated in favor of the truth because you find it beautiful.
A woman with a pretty face is very alluring. Why do I desire the pretty-faced woman? Strange. I figure it's no difference than my desire for women over men, related to fertility, but it seems rather irrational, that someone's nose influences my interest in them.
There's the 'halo effect', where people think that people good at something demonstrable are good at many things, which is why we like our newsreaders attractive, and think a celebrity's opinion is interesting.
I tend to think lyrics are generally really stupid poetry ('Sometimes when we touch?) on the themes let's party, let's make love. Music has a strange way of manipulating our emotions to make us sad or happy, but it seems more base, like a drug, than an art, as even young children respond to music.
Of course evolutionary psychology should account for some of our perception of beauty, but there are a number of puzzling unexplained features. It fails to account for 'platonic' perceptions of beauty (for instance mathematicians claiming that mathematical proofs are beautiful in areas totally divorced from anything existing the historical environment) - inventing just-so 'evolutionary' explanations doesn't cut-it. It also fails to account for the universal nature of certain propeties associated with beauty (symmetry) for instance, indeed the very fact there's a universal ooncept which can be communicated is highly puzzling. Finally, the close tie-in with quality of conscious experience and complexity of our own internal cognitive processes is also highly significant and not explained by 'evolutionary psychology'i.e., 'make up any old plausible-sounding stuff psychology'.
I'm pretty sure that evolutionary psychology would "explain" this by pointing out that the standards for beauty in women (or handsomeness or even status in men) correspond reasonably well to the likelihood of that person being able to contribute towards the successful propagation of one's genes. To the extent this is true, we are in a sense "slaves" to our genes - so go ahead and prefer beauty, even if "irrationally": the survival of the species depends upon a sufficient number of people doing just that, and what would all your rationally-thought-out ideas accomplish if the species went extinct?
Ah, but is your definition of 'beauty' is too restricted?... generalize man!
Use Jürgen Schmidhuber's 'minimal complexity' criteria of beauty as a starting point:http://www.idsia.ch/~juerge...
With a suitably generalized definition, many other things you value ('truth' etc.) could easily turn out to fall into the 'beauty' category as well.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know." - Keats
Not all bias is bad. In fact, useful 'Bayesian priors' and 'bias' are arguably one and the same, the right biases to start with are what enable intelligence to operate in 'real-time', no? Biases (priors) warp the mind in certain directions, with certain pre-defined categories optimized for given environments, enabling faster real-time decision making. Are there neccessery 'universal biases' that ALL real-time intelligences require for operating in our particular region of the multiverse?
Beauty/creativitely seems to closely related to our own internal cognitive processes, specifically the ones associated with making decisions about modifications to our goal systems. The perception of beauty seems to be kind of positive feed-back loop whereby our own internal cognitive processes are functioning 'smoothly' (least action principle?) Here 'probability' and 'utlity' are simply the wrong metrics for understanding these things...'similarity' and 'complexity' seem to be much more relevant...
I have come to think that to what extent we find another person *entertaining* or *amusing* or *interesting* is largely reflected by their physical appearance (if they are female) or maybe status (if they are male).
I don't think this is actually true, think Susan Boyle, but we do give attractive people, whether physically or socially, much more of a chance.
Well, did you ask for her number?
I have come to think that to what extent we find another person *entertaining* or *amusing* or *interesting* is largely reflected by their physical appearance (if they are female) or maybe status (if they are male). (I am only writing from male perspective.) In fact, I think these feelings -- feelings that someone is funny or interesting -- these feelings are simply the way our subconscious mind expresses the impulse to become closer to someone, either to open opportunities for mating or for status gaining. I presume status-gaining is for security (when resources become tight) or back again to increase opportunities for mating.
I don't think this would be too hard to test. The same words coming from the mouths of beautiful or unattractive people could be rated by some test sample. It's only important to make sure the beauty and the "beast" are equally good at communication (etc), for which it might help to have a sample of them as well.
... a symptom of nature's prime-directive, rather than an abstract bias:
Survive & Reproduce
Relax. Think of supply and demand, supply and demand, supply and demand..something's happening.. it's not working.. oh my gooooddd !!!!
..was that positive utility for you or just me?