Scholarship And Awards

Just the other day I had a younger student ask me if I’d look at his research paper.  Convinced he was onto something big, he wanted to run his ideas by someone he respects and trusts.  I told him I would meet him Saturday (yesterday), and he brought his research paper.  He was working on a mathematical research paper related to pressure in gases and came across an equation which he felt was particularly significant, and he wanted me to help him relate it to other areas of statistical mechanics.

I’m not really writing this to discuss his ideas or what I thought of them.  What really stuck out to me was this intense desire in him to win an award.  As we sat in the library, he went on and on about great physicists like Dirac, Feynman, and others, and the stories behind how they won the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal for their work.  That seemed to be his dream.  He wants to win a big prize, be famous, respected, accepted, admired.  It made me think of this video.

He specifically told me, “If this paper is as big as I think it is, we can publish this together and get into any university.”  I sort of nodded my head and listened, not really saying much.

I’m very fascinated with physics and am always trying to learn more about the universe.  But honestly, I don’t care about awards, prestigious schools, fame, recognition, or any of that.  I’m actually the opposite.  I wouldn’t want the attention that goes along with all of that.  As time goes on, most of the best lectures from the top universities are being posted online on Youtube, so I have access to all of it nowadays anyways.  I can buy the books and teach myself.

Like Mike Tyson in the video above, I care about my family, my friends, and the people I love.  I want them to have happy lives, to experience good things, and for us all to share a good life, together.

All of this reminds me of one of the classes I’m in this semester.  Being near graduation, I’ve taken all my main classes, but I have stupid classes I’ve been putting off left.  They really depress me even having to discuss them, but we’ll make this quick.  One of them is an English course.  The professor, a younger woman, went on and on during a lecture, telling us all how we’re all future scholars, and we have to learn how to write like scholars, publish papers, and learn about that world.  Entire class lectures have been dedicated to the citation system, finding the most influential papers, and when we decide to to publish a paper on our own, we’re to look at the current conversation going on and hop in.

I had no interest in it whatsoever.  I don’t want to jump into the current conversation just because other people find it interesting or worthwhile.  It comes down to whether or not I find it worthwhile and interesting.  I could care less about what others are doing.  What’s the point of advancing in some field you’re not even interested in?  Just so you can be “successful”?

I just thought, well, I have little to no interest in publishing papers, and definitely not like this.  If I find out something worthwhile in something I’m interested in, sure, I don’t mind sharing it.  I’ll post it on this site here, I’ll post it on other free internet sites, or other scientists can print it in some journal if they want.  But I don’t care about this academic world all that much.  Publish or perish.  Make sure to publish lots and lots of papers so you can say, “I’ve published hundreds of papers in my field.  I’m an expert!”  Well, good for you.  Sounds like a lot of busywork if you ask me.  I wonder how many people read most of these papers that are being cranked out?

As for me, I just want to better understand the universe and my place in it.  Physics is one of my ways of going about that.  That’s it.  If other people work on the same problems that interest me, great, but otherwise, I don’t see a point to it.

People always seem to be chasing things that mean nothing.  To me, I’m happy to receive an award with others if it’s a celebration of of all our hard work together, a way of remembering our journey together, but if it’s an award for just me, it’s ok, I’ll pass.  I didn’t attend my high school graduation.  I won’t be attending my college graduation.  Most every award I’ve ever won, I’ve turned down.  I’d probably turn down the Nobel Prize if I were to win it, though I worry that’d draw even more attention to me, so I don’t know what I’d do.  I’m just not interested in that stuff anymore.  As Mike Tyson said, “It’s garbage.”

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

What Do Muslims Believe?

You know what?  I’m completely buried in snow, unable to do anything.  That being the case, I guess I’ll write a post about what Muslims believe.  There are frequently discussions about terrorism, women’s rights, gay rights, and a host of other things and their relationship to Muslims, and very few people are actually informed with actual facts and statistics.  So, let’s look into this.

A few years ago (April 2013) the Pew Research Center did an extensive survey of over 38,000 Muslims in 39 countries, with each country having over 10 million Muslims.  If you want to view the report for yourself, it is here.  Let’s ask the politically incorrect questions shall we?  How many of them supported the shootings in Paris and 9/11?  Do they want to impose Sharia law on the world?  What do they think about women’s rights?  How many of them believe in stoning women who commit adultery?  How many of them would kill you if you left their religion?  How many of them support homosexuals?


We’ll start with the biggest question, terrorism.  How many of them would kill you for doing something like drawing a cartoon of the Prophet?  The majority of them would not, but it’s pretty scary the number who would.


Considering that each of these countries have 10 million or more Muslims, even if only a minority of 7% want to commit such acts, that’s over 700,000 people.  There are millions of radicals roaming around.  That terrifies me.  Muslims know they have crazies extremist groups and it worries them, as is indicated in this next poll.  Radical Christian crazies scare them too.


So how many Muslims want to institute Sharia law?  The answer?  A lot of them.

shariaIt’s important to note that not all of them want to impose Sharia law on non-Muslims.  Depends on who you ask.  Still, the numbers aren’t very fun to look at.


How about women’s rights?  Basically they think women should be submissive and let men run society.


And how many of them would stone a woman for committing adultery?  Well, have a look.


You’ve probably heard that Muslims won’t let you leave their religion.  They strongly believe in freedom of religion.  They’ll let you practice your faith in peace.  However, if you convert to their faith and try to leave, a very large number of them will hunt you down and kill you.


As I mentioned, they are firm believers in religious freedom.


Do they support homosexuals?  Hah, are you kidding me?  No, they do not.


If you want to learn more read the full report in the link I provided in the beginning.

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Earthly Utopias

What happens when you create a utopia on Earth?  We can’t do this for humans, but we have the power to do this for a small subset of animals.  What will happens when we do?

Dr. Calhoun (see video below), and American ethologist in the 1950s, built a perfect utopia for mice.  It was a huge cage filled with food dishes, water containers, and lots of nesting spaces.  These food containers were always refilled, as was the water.  A hundred of so perfectly healthy mice were placed in the utopia.  They had tons of space and more food and water than they’d ever need.  Sounds like an interesting experiment.  What happened?

I’ll give you a very short synopsis.  In the beginning males competed for space and established harems of females.  There was an initial drop in the population due to this infighting but afterwards there was a population explosion, all the way up to the cage’s maximum capacity, which was roughly 3000 mice.  Things got more and more crowded until in order to get anything in society, there was a huge fight involved.  Each mouse had to compete for water, they had to fight and compete for food, they had to fight and compete for a mate, and so on.

At first this competition just bred violence but it eventually lead the mice to insanity.  They were getting chewed up just to get food and water and males had to go extreme lengths to get a female mate.  More and more of the mice began to “opt out” of society altogether.  They would no longer socialize at all.  They would sneak to the food and water dishes, eat, drink, and groom themselves, but that’s it.  They stopped having sex, and the males and females quit breeding altogether.  Dr. Calhoun called these mice “the beautiful ones” because they were the only ones not all chewed up from battle.  More and more mice began to opt out, and after a generation or two of these “opt out” mice, their entire population died out.  The mouse population quickly dropped off until there were none left at all.

Toward the end, the mice had no social structure at all.  The males no longer knew how to interact with the females, and vice versa.  Others became pansexuals and the mother rats lost interest in raising their children.  Everything quickly became too complicated and laden with conflict.  They were all terrified of one another, so much so that they just stayed isolated, in their own little area of the cage until they all died off.

This experiment obviously has profound implications for human society.  The more our planet becomes overpopulated, where we all have to fight for jobs and resources and our social structure continues to make relationships more difficult and conflict-ridden, filled with mind games, the more humans will “opt out” of society, interacting with it as little as possible, trying to avoid getting psychologically “chewed up”.  I’m sure the same thing could easily happen to humans.  It seems to already be happening to Japan.

In Japan, over 60% of men in their 20s and 42% of those 23 to 34 are uninterested in women altogether.  Read that statistic again.  Six out of every ten men are uninterested in relationships of any kind.  That is not natural.  That is not normal.  You can’t explain it away as if they’ve all had some mass “realization” that they’re all asexuals; it’s a complete and utter breakdown of their society.  These people are opting out.  They’re scared, terrified, and quitting.  They’re uninterested in money or competition.  They want to live simple lives.  They see everyone around them getting chewed up and have quit.  They go for walks and take photographs of Buddhist temples.  They play video games and get their emotional fulfillment from dating simulations on the computer.  These men are called herbivores or “grass eating men”.

“Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. “We don’t care at all what people think about how we live,” he says.

Many of Hosho’s friends spend so much time playing computer games that they prefer the company of cyber women to the real thing. And the Internet, he says, has helped make alternative lifestyles more acceptable. Hosho believes that the lines between men and women in his generation have blurred. He points to the popularity of “boys love,” a genre of manga and novels written for women about romantic relationships between men that has spawned its own line of videos, computer games, magazines, and cafes where women dress as men.”

This is what happens when there’s no opportunity for people.  The social roles between men and women breakdown.  There is so much competition for mates, the rituals and demands to attract one another become more and more complicated and extreme.  The competition is so fierce, everyone’s expectations get higher and higher.  To meet those expectations becomes more and more of a challenge, and people drop out under the pressure.

It seems that when this happens in human beings, relationships get so screwed up that people lose sight of their genders and have no idea who they even are.  Nobody knows what they’re supposed to do or how to interact anymore.  Everyone’s forced to work so much to get anything, they start to go crazy.  People give up.  It’s not worth the effort.  It’s all so difficult and crazy, people don’t want anymore of it.  Like the rats in the cage who spent their lives in isolation, grooming themselves, humans are starting to do the same.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Psychology | 5 Comments

Insanity Within The Left And Universities

Over the past several years, I’ve watched several cancers grow within the left and it’s strange to watch.  I don’t even know where to begin.  Let’s just jump right in.

How many of us have seen intellectuals criticizing different forms of bigotry, misogyny, and intolerance within mainstream religions and then a mob of regressive leftists turn back on them and claim that no, THEY are the bigots.  People stand up for women’s rights, gay rights, and free speech and are told they are racist and intolerant of others beliefs.  It’s so bizarre.

Or how about the language police?  Turn on MSNBC and you’ll see this clown, Melissa Harris-Perry.  Apparently, if you claim someone is a hard worker you’re now racist, offensive, and “problematic”.  The only real hard workers are the poor single mothers struggling to provide for their children, or the black slaves way back when picking cotton in the fields.  They knew hard work!  The rest of us?  We haven’t a clue and we can’t even use that word anymore.  She also feels Star-Wars is racist.  Why is Darth Vader, the evil villain, black huh?  Was George Lucas trying to imply that blacks are evil? Watch it for yourself.  Her sort of ilk live to stir up racism and want to pick fights.  They’re vile.

Over half of young people within the left don’t believe in free speech anymore.  You might say something that offends somebody.  It’s all about safe spaces, coddling everyone, and making them feel at home.  Many of you probably don’t follow this stuff, but it’s festering everywhere these days.  If you watch this next video from Yale’s campus you see a mob of young people surrounding their chancellor, swearing at him, yelling at him, and telling him to resign.  And what for?  It’s hard to believe, but if you look into it, this was due to Halloween costumes.  These students thought their chancellor should prohibit certain costumes because they thought they weren’t culturally respectful or whatever, and the chancellor basically said everyone should chill out and enjoy the holiday.  This next video is what ensued.

I can hear you guys thinking, yeah Jason, those are just a cooky minority, and we always have those.  They’re just a loud, vocal minority, nothing more.  We can safely ignore them.  Really?  Let’s look at what these young people are watching on MTV.

To my generation, when Halloween comes around, you just try to be creative and have a good time.  Whatever your costume, it’s not a big deal.  If girls want to put on a sexy Halloween costume, hey, lucky us right? However, the left is becoming just like the prudish religious people I remember seeing growing up.  As many of you know, my father is a pastor, and growing up he was an evangelist.  We would travel to all these different churches and I remember one country church in particular where the women weren’t allowed to wear make-up and they all had to wear long dresses down to the floor.  You wouldn’t want to give in to lust and sexual temptation!  It amuses me to see that feminists are now bringing that sexual repression in a new form; dressing sexy is degrading and women can’t let themselves be sexually objectified.  They’re so controlling and judgmental.

Listen to Laci go on about racist costumes, culturally insensitive costumes, sexual objectification, and on and on.  She blows it all out of proportion, thinking way too much about it all.  With these young people, just going out on Halloween night with your friends has become a social landmine field.  You can’t wear that sombrero, it might offend Mexican immigrants.  You can’t wear that sexy nurse costume, don’t you respect yourself?  You can’t wear that samurai armor, don’t you understand there’s an entire culture and ideology behind that?  This is the sort of petty drivel they work themselves up over.  They suck the fun and life out of everything.

You’ve probably heard about how comedians will no longer come on college campuses because young people today are too politically correct.  You can’t even make jokes.  They get offended by almost everything.  It’s not about your intent, or anything you’ve actually done.  These leftists don’t care about that.  It’s all about adhering to all of their social taboos.  Certain words are just bad because they’re bad.  A black comedian like Chris Rock can’t even make jokes about the culture he grew up in or the things he’s experienced because of uptight, entitled brats with no sense of humor.  These campuses could never handle a stand up routine like this video below.

If you want to see how insane it’s getting within universities, check out this one.  A transgender woman who was attending an all women’s university changed her sex to a man.  Note that it’s very important that we get her sexual orientation right!  He now identifies himself as “masculine of center gender queer.”    My gosh, what a mouthful.  I mean honestly, come on, is sexual identity THAT complicated?  He was apparently running for some position as a diversity president of some organization on campus.  This caused outrage and all the women screamed out that they wouldn’t tolerate a MAN as their president.  Men are the very symbol of the patriarchy and oppression!  So they tried appointing several black women for the position, but they didn’t want it and dropped out of the race.  So this erupted into protests all over campus and all these women were telling the other students not to vote at all.

Speaking of which, I’ve never understood the left’s obsession with sexual orientation.  Pansexual, demisexual, asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, they’re obsessed with sexual orientation.  If you go on a leftist sight like Huffington Post, almost everyday you’ll see some celebrity coming out as some sexual orientation.  Miley Cyrus comes out as pansexual!  Really?  Great!  Why is this mainstream news?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very live and let live.  I’m not going to interfere with your sex life and frankly, I could care less about it.  There’s way more important things to be thinking about.

But the left doesn’t think so.  Sexual identity is their big thing.  They even try to create a new language around it all.  Someone has decided that all these different sexual orientations need their own pronouns now, and those who aren’t using them are insensitive and disrespectful.  I don’t agree with everything said in this next video, but take note of all this diversity and inclusion language stuff.

Honestly, I don’t know how these weaklings will ever function in reality.  A debate took place at Brown university between a feminist and a libertarian.  The feminist women were terrified that this speaker would “invalidate people’s experiences” and so they went to set up a safe space, a special room filled with coloring books, cookies, Play-Doh, calming music, puppies, and blankets.  I’m not joking.  That’s how infantile and pathetic this is all getting. Any of these poor women who might be troubled or triggered during the debate were to run off into this special room, their safe space, where they’d be hugged and coddled and told it’ll all be ok.  I have way too much respect for women to believe that any of you ladies are that weak and can’t even handle a dissenting opinion.  This is all because a speaker came in arguing a different position from theirs.

All of this is absolute lunacy.  I can’t help but wonder where all this madness came from.  The world wasn’t this crazy just a five or ten years ago.  This stupidity just exploded onto the scene and now it’s everywhere.  My friends and I have talked about this and think that this stuff existed in the past, but these vocal minorities have been very effective with social media, and their madness is seeping into the mainstream, like toxic sludge.  Most people are not as crazy as those in the videos above, but you can see young people taking in these ideas and it’s sad.

I don’t really know how all of this happened, but I heard one young woman on Youtube talk about her experience.  She started off on Tumbler, sharing her art with friends.  Then someone sent her information about the gender pay-gap and some inspiring empowerment quotes from Beyonce.  That got her subscribed to these feminist feeds and then she started absorbing all of these sorts of ideas.  She started to become a full on social justice warrior until she found some Youtube channels of skeptics pointing out the flaws in all these ideas.  Then she thought, my god, what was I being sucked into?  That’s my best guess as to how these sorts of people are born and why so many young people are drawn to this garbage.  They’re young, idealistic, and naive.  This indoctrination of stupidity is happening everyday, as young teenagers sit in their rooms, alone on their tablets and computers, reading Tumblr and Facebook.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Neuroaesthetics and Neurological Theories Of Beauty

This is a paper I wrote for my neuroscience class and I thought it’s worth sharing on my blog.  I’ve been studying beauty for a while now and I tried to do a quick overview of a lot of the research which is taking place today, placing it in all in a larger context.  However, I really struggled writing this.  I only had ten pages (double spaced) to work with.  I could barely even scratch the surface with that.  I will be on Christmas break here soon, so I plan to write some more posts on beauty and why the subject has been of interest to me lately.  I’ll be able to get into more depth and detail then.


Throughout the tradition of western thought, truth, goodness, and beauty are three terms which are always discussed together. The world is delineated into the polarities of true and false, good and evil, and the beautiful and ugly. Truth finds itself in the spheres of thought and logic, goodness resides in actions and morals, and we are to enjoy beauty in aesthetic works. That is not to say these regimes are isolated from one another. Moral treatises discuss the spiritual beauty of a noble man with a virtuous character, scientists find an ineffable beauty in the structure and order of the universe, and poets attempt to crystallize beauty in a scene, in a face, or in a deed. There is certainly an overlap in these ideas, and they are difficult to untangle; beauty in particular is a very difficult concept to pin down. If beauty is entirely subjective, if it is simply adherence to the arbitrary customs of a particular time and place, then it is not something that can be defined. On the other hand, if it is objective, if it is something immediately apparent to any observer like other simple sensible qualities, then why is so much discussion required to sharpen our perception of it? The truth seems to lie somewhere inbetween, and whatever beauty is, it always seems to escape rigid definition. Despite these difficulties, modern science is attempting to shed new light on very old questions in the relatively new and rapidly growing field of neuroaesthetics. This discipline uses neuroscience to explain and understand aesthetic experiences at the neurological level. Using cognitive models, sophisticated brain scanners, and evolutionary theory, these neuroscientists are finally making some headway in the formerly intractable domain of the philosophy of beauty, though their progress is limited and there is a long way to go.

If one carefully looks through the literature, a reader will see that aesthetic judgments rely on a vast interplay of many different factors. Most research relates to the visual aesthetics of images, such as paintings or computer graphics, but there is also significant work dealing with music as well. The field has slowly been developing and adhering to an aesthetic model (Leder 2004) which captures the key processes of aesthetic experience, and while it mostly pertains to visual imagery, it can also be applied to other areas as well. This model (Figure 1) is useful in providing a general framework by which to organize the discussion in this text, though it must be noted that many important works in this field pay no mind to this model. This text will highlight a handful of studies which fit within the model and then move to some which do not.


Figure 1 – Information processing model by Leder, Belke, Oeberst & Augustin (2004)

Looking at the top of the model, the reader will see that every aesthetic experience happens within a certain context. If a person is told they are looking at a work of art, this will put the brain in a certain aesthetic orientation, and research has shown (Cupchik, Vartanian, Crawley, and Mikulis 2009) that his brain will process the information differently than it would have otherwise. When in an aesthetic orientation, brain scans reveal a much higher activation in anterior prefrontal regions. When not in this frame of mind, the brain processes the image almost entirely in occipital regions, related to perceptual processing. An aesthetic attitude primes the mind, creating an expectation of pleasure which heavily influences the intensity of pleasure experienced by the viewer (Kirk, Skov, Hulme, Christensen, and Zeki 2009). This effect can be very powerful. For example, if you present images of a beautiful city to people, yet tell them that the area of town is known for its terrible crime rate, they will rate the images and the people they see in them with a much lower beauty score than if you tell them it is a peaceful place which is wonderful to raise children (Leder et al. 2010).

Many aesthetic theories try to explain the various aspects of aesthetic perception by carefully analyzing the different stages of the perceptual process, and this is illustrated in the beginning stages of Leder’s model. For example, you can place colored shapes onto different colored backgrounds and ask people to rate the appearance. Research has shown that a strong contrast between the shape and the background is preferred (Reber, Winkielman, and Schwarz 1998). Why? These researchers say it is due to an idea called processing fluency. Basically, the brain is a lazy instrument and the more easily it can process an object, the more it will reward the person. They claim this also explains why we humans like things to be symmetric; symmetric objects are easier to process. It sounds plausible, but other research indicates that it cannot be the entire picture. If you show a person complex nature images but meddle with the contrast, you can change the image’s beauty rating without changing its processing fluency (Tinio and Leder 2009); contrast was found to have no impact on how quickly participants could identify the displayed images’ contents. Also, if the brain preferred to experience the same thing over and over, boredom would not exist. So this gets rather complicated. The brain seems to like things it is comfortable and familiar with, but it also craves new information and experiences. This has led researchers (Biederman and Vessel 2006) to propose models as to why people crave new experiences and grow tired of familiar experiences with repeated exposure. It is claimed this is due to the distribution of mu-opioid receptors in the brain and competitive learning. The density of opioid receptors increases as you reach deeper levels in cortical processing and repetition weakens the amount of positive stimulation. Their hypothesis proposes that the rate of endomorphin release in parahippocampal cortex determines, at least partially, our human preference for experiences that are both novel (because they are yet to undergo competitive learning) as well as those open to many interpretations (because such patterns would initially activate, through associations, many dense regions of mu-opioid receptors). There is evidence to support this point of view as well. For example, many music listeners report experiencing “chills” while listening to certain stirring pieces of music. If you give them the drug naloxone (Goldstein 1980), a mu-opiod antagonist that prevents endorphins from binding to these receptors, the chills disappear. There is a lot of debate in this area.

Other researchers are avoiding the use of complicated models to explain beauty. One experiment (Ishizu, T. & Zeki, S. 2011) had subjects look at pictures of paintings and listen to musical excerpts and then rate them on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the most beautiful. Three sets of stimuli were created from these ratings – beautiful, indifferent, and ugly – and the subjects viewed and listened to these stimuli while being scanned by an fMRI machine. The results showed that while several areas were active during this process, only one cortical area, located in medial orbito-frontal cortex (mOFC), was active during the experience of both musical and visual beauty. They found that the more activation present in the mOFC, the stronger the reported intensity of the experience of beauty. Studies judging human sexual attraction report similar results (Ishai, A. 2007). Herero- and homosexual men and women were asked to evaluate the attractiveness of human faces. In heterosexual women and homosexual men, attractive male faces elicited stronger activation in their mOFCs than attractive female faces, whereas in heterosexual men and homosexual women, attractive female faces evoked stronger activation than attractive male faces. These approaches are valuable in that they tell us which area of the brain is responsible for our subjective sense of beauty, but they do not bring us closer to understanding what beauty is or why some things are judged beautiful and other things are not.

It is also possible to explain some aspects of our sense of beauty using evolutionary explanations, though it is difficult to find a clear evolutionary purpose for our aesthetic appreciation of art and music. If we want to argue that that an aesthetic appreciation is biologically ingrained in all human beings, these claims must be proven to be independent of any particular culture. This is difficult to achieve, however, there are studies which have demonstrated cross cultural aesthetic stimuli which are appreciated regardless of culture. Research has shown (Orians and Heerwagen, 1992) that nearly all children, regardless of their race, gender, or culture, are drawn to nature images which resemble the East African landscapes in which our species evolved. These images feature savannahs with a variety of open wooded spaces (for living and hiding), a body of water (for drinking), and trees with low hanging branches (for gathering fruit and escaping). This preference seems to be ingrained in most of us, and these preferred landscapes are found all over in calendars, screensavers, and murals worldwide (Dutton 2003). As a person grows older, they may think of all the mosquitoes, the crocodiles, and other dangers in that landscape, and all of these sorts of things may change their subjective preferences for a particular environment over another; but humans seem to be born with a default appreciation for East African landscapes. However, it is important to keep in mind that while this idea is plausible, these sorts of explanations fall victim to the same difficulties all evolutionary explanations do. No matter what theory you have, you can always make up an evolutionary reason why such and such must be the case. Why do people cooperate? That supposedly helps contribute to gene perpetuation. Why do people fight? It means their genes perpetuate and not somebody else’s. So do we like savannahs because they are where we evolved? Maybe, but it could be something else entirely.

There are also neuroscientists attempting to explain our appreciation for abstract art using evolutionary ideas (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999). The authors introduce eight laws of aesthetic experience, a set of heuristics artists either consciously or unconsciously use to optimally stimulate the visual areas of the brain. One such law is called the peak shift phenomenon, a neuroaesthetic principle which states that if an organism is instinctually or conditionally trained to respond to a stimulus, it will respond even more intensely to extreme versions of the stimulus. For example, it is well known that if a rat is taught to discriminate a square from a rectangle then rewarded for the rectangle, it will respond even more intensely if it is shown a longer and skinner rectangle. But what does this have to do with aesthetics? Take the highly sexualized cartoon character Jessica Rabbit from the popular movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. What is it about how she is drawn that makes her so sexual? Jessica is a caricature of the female form which has been highly amplified. To make a figure like hers, you start with a normal woman’s body and then subtract away the average of all human bodies. This leaves you with an essence of the female form, the perceptual differences that make a female’s body female. Then you take this essence and amplify it into a distorted caricature. If a person is attracted to females, their mind will respond to this caricature in the same way the rat does to longer, skinnier rectangles. These ideas are informed speculation and it would be interesting to investigate whether the mOFCs of those attracted to women would be highly stimulated by Jessica Rabbit animations, even more so than realistic female forms.

Figure 2 - Jessica Rabbit

Figure 2 – Jessica Rabbit

This text only briefly highlights a few studies in a very new and exciting field. Neuroscientists are slowly building a model of the aesthetic process, but considering the infancy of neuroaesthetics, research is still all over the place. Most ongoing research deals with visual imagery and music. Many different plausible ideas are being proposed to explain different aesthetic experiences, but in general, there are disagreements, even when it comes to simple things like why we like one colored shape as opposed to another. Some researchers, like Zeki, choose to define beauty not in terms of a complicated model, but in the strength of activation within the medial orbito-frontal cortex (mOFC). While this may be the best we can do for now, overall it is unsatisfactory. What we want are general principles of aesthetic perception, similar to Ramachandran’s eight laws of aesthetics. Even so, we are a long way from arriving at a complete list of these principles and we have not even begun to tackle tougher issues, such as moral beauty or why a physicist finds a mathematical equation beautiful. Still, it is refreshing any progress is being made at all. Questions of beauty are as old civilization itself and little progress has been made since the ancient Greeks. As technology allows us to probe the minute details of the brain, we’re sure to uncover what the mOFC and other brain areas are doing along with the general aesthetic principles behind how they operates.


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