It is always a great quest how to define beauty. How could we know the beauty of things like a movie, a person, a song, a dance? There is no one piece of art that holds the same meaning for everyone. There is no movie which everyone likes, and there is no song that everyone hates. And how could one compare a movie to a car, or a building to a song, even though they all could be considered beautiful. There could be beauty in almost everything; in the cooperation of people, in machinery making a product, or even in the clumsiness of a child. But how could this work because they are all essentially very different things? Well, I think I have found how beauty works, at least, how it works for me. In this blog, I will attempt to explain my concept of beauty, and how I could find in everything, even in the ugly things.
When things are true
One thing is quite clear in our mind; we like things which are true, while we dislike the things which are false. I think this is the direction to start the quest to understand beauty. According to the dictionary; true is being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact. While false is the something that is not true (really). In my view, there are two layers here; one layer is the reality, and the other layer is the judgement. So when there is a rock in reality (base layer), and people say it’s a rock (layer 1), it is true. That’s easy, but here it becomes interesting. Because, I believe there could be more than two layers of truth. So according to me, some things could be more true than the other. This distinction is something we don’t use that often in our language (only when someone shouts; that’s very true!). Imagine you see a guy juggling. He juggles with one cone, that is not that special, but he is doing it right (true), and does not make mistakes (false). He adds a second cone (layer 2), a third (layer 3), and a fourth cone (layer 4). This guy is juggling with four cones, most people might consider this beautiful. The juggler keeps all the layers in his system tightly balanced. With every new cone, the chances of mistakes get higher and higher, so the juggling gets more “true”. With every cone added to the stack, you become more aware that this guy is doing it right, it’s not just a coincidence. The complexity between the balancing of the layers increases the beauty of the process. If you don’t like juggling, you could compare this concept of beauty (as being several levels tightly balanced) to a captain who makes all the right decisions over the multiple levels of his ship. Or to a woman’s body where all her body parts (layers) are in the right proportions. Or a dancer who keeps her balance, dances on the rhythm, moves her body parts, while showing facial expressions in accordance to the music. Somehow there is coherence between the layers of something which we consider to be beautiful. And secondly, the more layers are coherent with each other, the more we appreciate it.
How does the coherence work?
According to the Cambridge dictionary, coherence is a situation when the parts of something fit together in a natural or reasonable way. But that doesn’t tell much more, in the physics definition of coherence, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a single wave, or between physical quantities of a single, or between several waves or wave packers. Two wave sources are perfectly coherent if they have a constant phase difference and same frequency and same waveform. There is temporal coherence, spatial coherence, and developmental coherence (source). I created the concept of developmental coherence myself. Developmental coherence would be coherence within one single pattern, while temporal coherence would be coherence between multiple patterns over time. Spatial coherence would be the coherence of multiple waves at one point of time. Below I will explain more about these types of coherence and give some examples.
So temporal coherence is coherence between multiple patterns over time. In temporal coherence, there are multiple sources which all show patterns that are similar to each other; aka, they show coherence. Processes like juggling, dancing, or cooperation’s are good examples. During these processes there are different layers which all have their own pattern. During dancing, there are different layers like music, body movement. If there is coherence between the rhythms of the music, and body we call this beautiful. We don’t like it when people dance off-rhythm. In temporal coherence, there is synchronization between different layers. For example, when you receive your package right when you need it, when you message your crush right when she messages you, when you invest in something exactly at the right moment.
Spatial coherence is the coherence of multiple waves at one point of time. So instead of talking about processes, we talk about products. Because we can also find coherence in paintings, buildings, products, or bodies. In spatial coherence, different parts show self-similar shapes or patterns at one moment of time. When you see a Mondriaan painting, the colour red is exactly balanced with the colour yellow, these two colors show coherence, they fit. You could also see temporal coherence when you see a sculpture, where the level of details in each part of the sculpture is similar. Or when you buy an Iphone, and the clean design of the box matches the clean design of the phone, which match the clean design of the interface. The more layers there are involved within a design, the more we can recognize the pattern and the purpose of the creator. Once there are several layers involved we could deduce some pattern within the product. Also, with spatial coherence, higher complexity indicates more beauty.
Developmental coherence is a classic movie trick we adore. Developmental coherence is when something that grows shows coherence in its patterns over time (so one source that is changing over time). For example; a main character is dedicated to achieve something even though (s)he has slim chances, like a dancer rising from the Bronx, rises to the top, but still keeps his “hood” character with him. At different stages in the movie, the character shows self-similar behavior at different levels. Like a poor singer/cleaner who uses his broom as a microphone and does a cool trick with it, and at the end of the movie, he does the same trick but then with a real microphone in a giant theater. The character developed him/herself but remains the same character even though the environment is changing. In this case, development does not really mean change, it’s exactly the opposite, there is coherence in the patterns while developing. Deviations from the pattern be developmental incoherence.
Beauty is related to the self
Even though there might be temporal, spatial, and developmental coherence, it is no beauty when no one is perceives it. More importantly, things could be perfectly coherent, but if one does not appreciate the act or doesn’t understand the complexity, he perceives no beauty. You could see yourself as the extra layer that needs to be coherent with the processes to achieve beauty. I believe that once you show self-similarity (identify) towards a certain pattern, you often experience the beauty. For example, when your body starts to cohere with a music piece (you start to dance), you experience beauty. When you feel self-similar emotions as the main character of the movie, you experience beauty. When you find the exact jacket that fits with your personality, you experience beauty. This underlines the fact that beauty is very personal because personal coherence is necessary to experience beauty. Moreover, coherence can be quite arbitrary. One person might perceive that the music-tune at the movie is coherent with a certain scene (like the rap music and tough slaves in Jango Unchained). While other people might find no connection between these patterns, and less beauty is experienced.
How to achieve a sense of beauty in everything
So we love the things which cohere with us. But what does this exactly mean? Do we have a choice to experience beauty? If patterns are coherent, but you still don’t appreciate the sound of a Hardcore-tune, you don’t experience beauty. In this moment, there is a distance between you and the external pattern, and you do not cohere with it. Two things could be changed, it is either the external pattern, or you could change. Environmental patterns are often hard to change. So when the environment is impossible to change, you could change. You could try to find a way to cohere with the pattern. You have to be aware that you aren’t a fixed personality and you could be adaptive. Personally, when I don’t really like the things I see, I try to focus on developmental coherence. I love to focus on how things developed this way, and think about all the coherent processes that made the thing I have to deal with at that exact moment. Because somehow, this pattern emerged anyway. When I see a horrible dancer on a large stage with a huge audience, I love it because there was developmental coherence that made this event possible. I then like to think about all the coherent processes which happened that made this (ugly) event possible, making it beautiful to me. Secondly, you can also focus on the temporal or spatial coherence itself. I don’t really appreciate the view of a Mondriaan painting, but I appreciate the exact spatial coherence he managed to create in his painting. I don’t really like the sighting of a juggler with cones, but I do really appreciate the temporal coherence and the complexity of the cones flying through the air. I don’t really like people who drive Hummers, but I do appreciate the spatial coherence of a Hummer, it’s tough driver and his fittingly dressed wife. Here, I do not identify with the actual coherence in the things I see, but I do appreciate what is going on.
I believe that beauty is the coherence between several layers, in time, in space, or over time (temporal, spatial, and developmental coherence). But to experience beauty, personal coherence with the external pattern needs to be established. One could change himself to experience beauty by adapting to the pattern, or one could change the pattern itself. However, one could also experience beauty by just acknowledging the coherence between the layers of time and space. But this might need some training. Anyway, I hope you could some find at least some beauty in your life and within your environment. You could search, you could change yourself, but I am sure you could find coherence somewhere.
As a treat; an oddly satisfying video compilation. In this video you can see exactly how much we love temporal and spatial coherence. With temporal coherence processes come together, while with spatial coherence objects perfectly fit together. Developmental coherence is probably too long-term for this video.