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Beauty and the Brain

Updated on May 25, 2011
The tragic beauty of Audrey Munson is immoralized in New York's hallmark statues.
The tragic beauty of Audrey Munson is immoralized in New York's hallmark statues.
The Golden Mean Mask: The Mask has been placed over famous celebrities. It is a universal measure of  perfect proportion that applies to all races.
The Golden Mean Mask: The Mask has been placed over famous celebrities. It is a universal measure of perfect proportion that applies to all races.

How beauty can make us all a little bit dumb.

It was just another day inside the 6 train in Manhattan. The diverse faces of tired New Yorkers of various shapes, colors and sizes were lined up in front of me. I was allowing myself to go in alpha state when a tall, blonde woman entered the train and stood a few meters in front of me. Her perfectly swept hair and flawless dewy skin made me stare reluctantly. A man beside her was taken aback at the sight of her and kept on stealing long sweeping gazes at her entire form. She was wearing a black a-line dress that framed her slender body elegantly. Her large blue eyes darted a curious look at me. I looked away and pretended to stare behind her. I started looking at other directions to convince her. What I saw were other eyes that kept on darting at her direction. On one of the stops, she exits the train gracefully in her beige stilettos as she swung her vintage Prada bag on her sun-tanned arm. I couldn't help but feel a little sad at the sight that was left around me. It was then that I realized that I had actually missed my stop.

The popular saying "beauty is only skin deep" is one of the ways we try to over-ride beauty's hold over us. But the line is an impotent antidote to its mesmerizing power. We all instinctively know that beauty is not skin deep. It goes deep inside of us. It seems to be a physical manifestation of a mathematical phenomenon. It is a conceptual truth that acquired form.

Nicholas Cage delivers one the best lines I have ever heard about beauty in his 2007 movie, titled "Next": "There's an Italian painter, named Carlotti, and he ... defined beauty. He said it was the summation of the parts working together in such a way that nothing needed to be added, taken away or altered."

Beauty is when all aspects work together to create a captivating experience of order and harmony. Our minds rest when we behold beauty. Beauty is a visual externalization of an internal peace we all seek. When all elements within us become balanced and set right, an experience of beauty overcomes us.

In recent studies using the fMRI, it has been found that when we look at something or someone beautiful, the orbito-frontal cortex lights up. This part of the pre-frontal cortex is also associated with dopamine. In other studies, this part of the brain lights up during Zen meditation showing the possible correlation of beauty with feelings of harmony and peace that we experience during meditative states. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and motivation. When your dopamine levels are low, you are prone to depression and anxiety as well as obesity and stress.

This is why men sometimes squander their fortunes on beautiful women. It's really not "just a pretty face". One look at beauty is a shot of happiness and that can get addictive. This is also why some men change their lives for the better when they fall in love with someone beautiful. They are more motivated to accomplish what they need to. It is also the same reason why teenagers line up for hours just to catch a glimpse of pretty boys like Zac Efron and Robert Pattinson. These men's faces may be express trains to dopamine trips.

On occasion, in our desire to constantly gaze at the beautiful, we do really stupid things. Sometimes some people do it by handing their newborn baby to Robert Pattinson so he can pretend to bite his head. Sometimes, they do incredibly stupid things like kill their spouses. Such a case happened to Audrey Munson's lover. When Audrey was in her teens, a photographer approached her when he saw her walking in Manhattan in the 1900s. She later became the face of most of the prominent statues in New York. When she got to her thirties, her lover, desperate to gaze upon that face everyday, murdered his wife to be free to be with her. He was of course caught and the rest of Audrey Munson's life was spent inside a mental institution.

There are a few times when I would be drawn to photograph certain people myself in the exact way Munson's photographer experienced. Recently, they happen to be both actors. I volunteered to photograph them because they are truly wonderful to watch. Their faces conjures stories in my head. Out of curiosity, I borrowed Dr. Stephen Marquardt's Golden Mean mask (supposedly the template of a perfect face based on Phi) and placed them over two of them. Their faces were almost exact fits. The Golden Mean mask makes use of the proportion ratio long been used by Da Vinci on his artworks as well as the architects of the Parthenon and the Pyramids. It is based on Phi, which stands for the number 1.618. This number depicts the underlying organization of all patterns in the natural world. Now studied as Fractal geometry, Phi is found to be the most efficient way nature's energy flows. This mathematical pattern associated with beauty can be observed in the spirals of the cosmos, the pattern of petals on a flower and the shape of shells. Even the human body and body parts obey the laws of Phi proportions. Perhaps because it follows this pattern, we consider it beautiful. We recognize it as a mirror of the forces within us. It calms us down because it is something inexplicably familiar. It is the habit of energy as it recreates the proportions of Phi over and over in eternity.

When we gaze upon beauty, we are actually looking at the creative forces that are at work inside us. It reminds us of the universal direction we are headed to and that gives us purpose and a renewed desire to live. That or, we become too obsessed with gazing at beauty and the promise of joy that it holds that we end up missing our stop... or worse. Much much worse.

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    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 6 years ago from home

      CB,

      Interesting hub, good take on the beauty factor in life-I have seen the research and studies on facial shape and conformityas it relates to beauty and our perceptions there in-there has to be something "inate to our perceptions"....

      maybe i should write something on this... maybe -not- great job though...

      TH

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Hi Tom,

      You are always too generous with me and not at all with yourself. The recognition of beauty means you have it in you. So whatever you appreciate you have as well. I have no doubt it will be a great job! Thank you for dropping by once again.

    • DjBryle profile image

      DjBryle 6 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

      So undeniably true that physical beauty is the first thing that attracts us... and of course, our body will always enjoy the release of the feel good hormone Dopamine. lol! I love your last lines,"When we gaze upon beauty, we are actually looking at the creative forces that are at work inside us. It reminds us of the universal direction we are headed to and that gives us purpose and a renewed desire to live. That or, we become too obsessed with gazing at beauty and the promise of joy that it holds that we end up missing our stop... or worse. Much much worse." At first instinct physical beauty may give us a sudden release of Dopamine, but if we may think of spending a life time with someone, we may also take into consideration the significance of "skin- deep" beauty. Spending time with absolutely gorgeous woman with a heartless and thoughtless soul may give us a release of Cortisol for a lifetime. lol! Two thumbs up for this awesome and very amusing hub! Stay beautiful and thanks for sharing!

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      I have not laughed so hard as I did in a looong time. You are a hoot and true true. Cortisol does takes its toll. You are funny!

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Beauty IS mesmerising..no doubt about it. When it appears in humans it can also be disturbing and intimidating, as it has a tendency to throw our own physical inadequacies into relief. So..lol, it doesn't always leave me feeling a 'new desire to live'. An interesting thought though, that beauty connects with the creative forces inside us. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"...

      Anyway this hub was pretty beautiful...a great read.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Hi,

      I used to feel that way after a long day's work with models in my twenties. When I didn't look at the mirror, I thought I was as beautiful as them only to have a rude awakening at the end of the day. But after I discovered the golden mean, I realized that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. What makes it interesting to look at is the proportions. My most beautiful memories are those that I have seen silently walking from my mother's house to school. They are the unbelievable beauty of nature and that made me a photographer. They are phi at work. You too are a product of Phi, of beauty. You must learn to see past established notions of beauty (tall, blonde, blue eyed and slender) and realize that proportions know no size, height nor race. A fat woman with a 1:1.618 proportion will still invite attention more than a slender model who is stick thin.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is another great writing about the interconnection of things, from the physiological aspect of peace and harmony to its physical manifestation of beauty. My perception of human beauty has always been a little off according to the Greek standards of perfect proportions and harmony. Perfect symmetry gives me the impression of static, lifeless, finished “product” and I can admire such beauty only for so long until I get bored of it. I guess I am more intrigue by the dynamics of less than perfect in their quest for establishing an interior balance which translates into a different form of beauty.

      I do believe in your statement about the ability of recognizing beauty as proof of having a built in dimension of harmony and I also believe in your statement about becoming your surroundings and the results of your thought and perceptions; “The picture of Dorian Gray” comes to mind.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Wow, that is an interesting thought. It is equally interesting that you mention that you are bored with perfect symmetry. There is another set of studies that challenges Marquardt's theory which show that just a little off perfect proportion is actually more attractive. You gotta understand that Phi is an irrational number like Pi. It's decimal point never ends and never repeats in sequence, which means that the basis for beauty is in fact, always will be "somewhere there" and not an exact point. This is such the nature of the "divine".

      Thanks Petra, you add more value to my hub with your interesting insights.

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines

      What a beautiful hub! I love the way you integrated everything.

      Yes, when we see something beautiful we just momentarily stop and forget about everything (including your stop in your case). Hahaha. I would have loved to get photos of the expression of people in that train.

      I also talked about the golden ratio in my patterns hub.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Really, I would love to check that out, It is such a cool thing this fibonacci business, isn't it?

    • kai777 profile image

      kai777 6 years ago from Chicago

      "Our minds rest when we behold beauty." - I find that to be so peaceful and soothing... There is beauty in this world all around us. It is in nature, in the faces of others, and it lies within. On the flip side, some of the most beautiful people to look at have nothing to offer from within. This was a great post!

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Kai777. Your name is so mystical, it's interesting.

    • DjBryle profile image

      DjBryle 6 years ago from Somewhere in the LINES of your MIND, and HOPEFULLY at the RIPPLES of your HEART. =)

      lol! So glad to know that I made you laugh my friend! Somehow, I realized that beauty is not the only thing that instantly encourage the release of my Dopamine! lol! See you around! =)

    • Ipeoney profile image

      Ipeoney 6 years ago from USA

      I agree to your statements about beauty. Can I ask a question? Why should some beautiful women still feel insecure when they don't have to be?

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Beautiful women are insecure because they grew up relying so much the external appearance to get any attention at all. The task of a beautiful woman is to match the beauty on the outside with equal beauty on the inside. But to have beauty on the inside, you need to embrace what you consider ugly about you and see that as beautiful too. It's very difficult when you are not ugly. Or when you're imperfections are so easy to fix. You fail to see the point of spiritual growth. "This too is beautiful." is the main message of all the myths out there because it is key to self love that transcends the external.

      That is why Aphrodite is married to Hephaestos, the ugliest most distorted god. Maker of wine and the armors of all the gods of Olympus. What this means is this: Beauty is related to the ugly and distorted. For they make beauty strong.

      It is also said the Aphrodite has an affair with Ares, for beauty hates the ugly and is fierce in its betrayal of that which gives her strength.

    • profile image

      hubpageswriter 6 years ago

      Hi there. I came across this hub and I must say that I like the facial expression analogy. It is indeed, that beauty is subjective and sometimes I used to wonder what could make so and so be with this person whom is considered beautiful. Hub up.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Hi, I am confused by your comment. Which part do you mean? I actually making a claim that beauty has objective parameters.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 6 years ago from Philippines

      "Beauty is all in the eyes of the beholder". Yes, you are right! We can do stupid things such as calling your partner "beautiful or handsome", when others don't see them that way. It takes this deep interpretation involving how our brain works to convince them, anyway.

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 6 years ago from West Coast

      One of our prime purposes is to not only see and appreciate beauty for beauties sake alone, but also to see deeper to core of all things and perceive the beauty which sometimes tends to escape our perception. This is a nice job on a subject that is usually colored by non objective perceptions. Kudos

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 6 years ago from New York

      Thanks Druid, I see you spent a while reading my hubs. I am honored and hope you enjoyed it.

    • pennyofheaven profile image

      pennyofheaven 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Perhaps that is why beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Harmony differs from person to person. If the harmony is out of balance beauty can be skin deep.

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 6 years ago from The Great White North

      Milan Kundera wrote about beauty too. I will paraphrase here. He said a real beauty always has a flaw, maybe imperfect teeth or a scar. He said the manufactured beauty of modern media and the fashion industry is too forced and superficial to really compare to the depth of a truly beautiful person.

    • TPSicotte profile image

      TPSicotte 6 years ago from The Great White North

      Milan Kundera wrote about beauty too. I will paraphrase here. He said a real beauty always has a flaw, maybe imperfect teeth or a scar. He said the manufactured beauty of modern media and the fashion industry is too forced and superficial to really compare to the depth of a truly beautiful person.

    • Disappearinghead profile image

      Disappearinghead 5 years ago from Wales, UK

      Rather bizarrely, mathematically the sine of the angle 666 degrees is exactly the value of phi divided by minus two.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image
      Author

      Cecilia 5 years ago from New York

      Disappearinghead,

      That is interesting. You got my motor running, I wish it would stop because I got other things to do, but there it is, its running again. :lol:

    • MariaFocke profile image

      MariaFocke 5 years ago

      I agree with you Statement

    • profile image

      Deb 4 years ago

      In my early years I was teased for the way I looked..In my adult years was told.I was beautiful & questioned as to why I.couldn't recognise it!. I knew on a surface level they were right but it didn't mean anything. I never developed a thing called self esteem!! It IS all relative & we can all be superficial at times.

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