Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
Meanwhile on Twitter
Loading latest tweet...
Ben Nadel at cf.Objective() 2009 (Minneapolis, MN) with:

The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Six

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Lisp

Week six of Philosophy Works at the School of Practical Philosophy was all about beauty. We started the class off by asking the question: what is beautiful? At first, I wasn't sure what to say. I could easily tell someone about the specific things that I find beautiful; but, it was not immediately apparent what kind of underlying theme might tie all of these specifics together. After a bit of reflection, I think I figured it out: Potential.

 
 
 
 
 
 
If there were no beauty in the observer then he would not find beauty outside. The mere fact that beauty is seen proves that there is beauty already present in the being of the observer. - Shantanand Saraswati. 
 
 
 

The things that I find beautiful are those that evoke feelings of potential within me. When I see something that reminds me of the person that I could be, it resonantes as beautiful. Of course, the precursor of potential is a feeling of self-worth. You need to feel worthy of something in order for you to feel like you can have it. I believe that this is what the above quote is alluding to:

If there were no beauty in the observer then he would not find beauty outside.

Ultimately, if you don't love yourself - if you don't find yourself worthwhile - you won't be able to see the beauty in the world around you; you won't be inspired because you don't think that you are deserving of inspiration.

But what about things that don't necessarily seem to relate to potential? Many people in class brought up Nature as something that was typically seen as beautiful. Three years ago, I myself said that staring up into the star-lit sky filled me with what I could only described as feelings of lust. I think that if we accept Potential as a unifying theme, connecting nature to potential is not all that difficult.

Nature is, without a doubt, amazing. You might even say that much of it is perfect. When you look at everything from the individual cell up to the ecosystem and out to the edges of the universe, the way that things function and co-exist is simply breathtaking. But are we not also part of nature? Is the perfection that exists in the sunset and the flower not the same as the perfection that exists in every cell of our body and courses through our veins? Is the magic of nature not exceptionally well represented in the billions of neurons that we have in our brains - the billions of neurons that process hundreds of billions of bits of data every second?

At an existential level, we are one with nature. That which makes nature beautiful also makes us beautiful; and, I believe that when we see that beauty, it serves to remind us of our own potential - it serves to remind us of that which we can be.

This week's exercise is to find the beauty in the things around us. And, if we can't see the beauty, to look again ... and again. As I go through this week and try to be conscious of beauty, I want to also be conscious of how it makes me feel. My above exploration of Potential is only a theory - but it is one that I think strikes a chord within me. I want to see if my reactions to beauty are directed outward or inward.




Reader Comments

I thought I'd add to your statement about Nature. One of the latest books I've been reading about Leonardo da Vinci talked about nature and how perfect it is. He actually came up with some of his most famous ideas from looking at nature. Like his flying machine and how he looked at the flight of a bird, then tried to imitate it. Though it never flew, it shows how innovation can come from nature.

Just a little side effect of looking at the beauty of things. I actually found that they named this process, its called Biomimicry.

@Robb,

I'm sorry but the phrase, Biomimicry, just sounds cool! I think there's actually big science these days in finding technological solutions based on existing natural processes. It's exciting times.

Well said, Ben. Interesting timing too. I just ran my web students through mock client interviews and I discovered that almost all of them were lacking in confidence and self worth. They seemed more than happy to allow the "client" to set their value for them. Needless to say we had some discussion on that point.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eye_of_the_Beholder

I can agree about the "potential" theory. If you see someone with less than you, you don't envy them. If you know/see someone who has (in your mind) more than you, and you would like to be in their shoes, your envy causes you to warm up to them and find them attractive.

But I think you also have to mix in respect. So potential + R E S P E C T (find out what it means to me) = more beauty. If you don't respect someone, they could be King of the World and you wouldn't find them beautiful.

@Brian,

What kind of class are you running? A business class or something?

When Clark and I started our business (Epicenter Consulting), we always talked about making a book called "The Magic of Thinking Big" by Dr. David Schwartz, mandatory reading for all new employees. We never actually did that, but the book is just filled with so much goodness.

Sorry, that was kind of random :)

@Randall,

It's funny you say Respect because I was thinking about that also; but, I still think that boils down to the same underlying concept. The image I had in my mind, regarding respect, was something like Sherlock Holmes. Holmes strikes me as someone who would have a lot of respect for brilliant, albeit evil, arch-villain. While the evil part is bad, I think he [holmes] would respect the challenge and intelligence presented by the villain.

But, I think that also comes back to potential - when someone does something that you respect, I think you respect it because it stands as a testimony to what can be accomplished; and, that works to motivate??

@Ben,

You have a Lust for Life? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lust_for_Life_(song)

Okay, we're talking about a few things now. Lust, Respect, Potential, and Beauty.

I attended a few meetings today that excited my brain and gave me (potential) ideas, but I didn't want to thrust my pelvis at them (lust). And I can't imagine that Sherlock was thinking lustful thoughts about his nemisis either (not that there's anything wrong with that, and maybe he had a thing for Watson). I digress.

According to Dictionary.com, lust = "teh secksy secks," more than your definition (but it is listed). Thus, that's what I think of when I think of lust.

Dictionary defines beauty as (edited):

1. the quality ... that gives intense pleasure ... to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations ..., a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
5. an individually pleasing or beautiful quality; grace; charm: ....

I recall an Indian (feathers, not dots) friend of mine being described by another friend as "beautiful." She was a healthy size (Marilyn Monroe-like build), long flowing, wavy raven hair, and, yes, "red" skin. And yet to describe her as "hot" would've been degrading. "Pretty" connotates a smaller woman. Anyway, getting off track, but she was also someone I respected and never wanted to let down.

The photo of the woman on the beach -- is she beautiful to you? What kind of "potential" is there with her? "Respect?"

In regards to your exercise, I think you need to try to find beauty in ABC-gum-found-under-a-seat, puke on a sidewalk, and carjackers. Go! :-)

-Randall
"My posts are a thing of beauty"

@Ben,

In answer to your question, I teach web design and development at Southern Arkansas University Tech.

I'm going to take a look at that book. If it has the kind of guidance its name suggests then I might make it a text book in my career prep class. Thanks!

@Brian - as a part of my "writing for engineers" class I took in college, we were required to read "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People". I found that book touching, interesting, informative, invaluable, and a very important asset to me both personally and professionally. I felt while reading it that it would make a very good career prep book, actually. You may already have heard of it, but just thought I would throw that out there, just in case. :-)

@Ben - I can totally and completely relate to you about the night sky. I feel the same way while looking at any water. I'm not talking about a water bottle or cup of water sitting on my desk that I am going to drink. (although if asked to, I could probably stretch myself and come to feel that way about that water, as well). I am talking about bodies of water...the ocean, lakes, rivers, and sometimes even creeks (if they are large enough and offer enough). I can only really classify the feeling as lust, because I do feel excitement, but it goes far beyond that.

When I look up to night sky filled with stars, I am filled with wonder and amazement, and even excitement, especially while stopped at a stop sign out of in the country with my top down on my convertible, and you can see every single star. It excites me so much, in fact, that I bought a dress that I call my "night sky" dress, because it is dark blue like the night sky with twinkles of little stars all over it. However, the feeling I get when I look there is still distinguishable to the feeling when I see a body of water. And with the water, I don't even have to stare...I can merely pass by a body of water and be filled with excitement and pleasure. And for me, with the water, I think it is partly a memory...and a feeling for what has been and what will be. The summer days when the water cooled me, the fun I have had in the water with my friends. I don't consciously think these thing when looking at the water, but I think on a subconscious level, that may be what goes on.

To your point about potential...when I think about the night sky (or the water, for example), I can get this romantic idea of what could be. A night filled with excitement and love while lying in the bed of a truck with someone important underneath the night sky out in the country comes to mind. :-)

I think with the water, another reason why I find it beautiful has to do with purity. I find things that are pure beautiful. Like...Roses, for example. Don't get me wrong, I find them all to be beautiful, red, pink, yellow, muliticolored, etc. But for me, there is something about the white ones. And part of it is the purity they represent and the feeling of purity I get when looking at them. I guess I just find purity beautiful. Sometimes, I guess I come to think flawless = untouched. :-)

I appreciate the quote you posted. I have a high level of happiness with my life and with myself, and some could even say I am confident. Some have actually accused me of arrogance. I don't think I am so much, because I don't think I get carried away with it, but I could definitely understand why they say that and admit I am more on the arrogant side than on the side of having a low self-esteem. The reason I don't classify it as arrogance is because, although I am happy and think a lot of myself, I also want others to be happy and think a whole lot of other people. And sometimes, even more than I think of myself! So it's good when people acknowledge that confidence can be a good thing.

Since it is your assignment to find things beautiful, I could attach a pic and demand you find me beautiful. :-) haha...just kidding...that might push me into the "narcisist" column.

One last thought on beauty: Plato, I believe it was, postulated that beauty was found in things that were symetrical and in proportion. This was also the standard of beauty for awhile with many cultures. In our society, not so much anymore. Those women that people of today find beautiful are not really proportionate. When women go and have platic surgery so that their boobs are HUGE and hyper extend their tiny waists, just so that they can feel beautiful and have men find them to be beautiful, it's a sign that proportionality doesn't have much to do with people's perceptions of beauty any more.

The symetry thing has to do with balance and mathematics, I think. I think balance makes people feel comfortable, and I think some things were made to be mathematically beautiful.