We define things based on the way they appear to our senses. For Aristotle the earth was standing still in the middle of the Universe, with the sun and the planets turning around us. It may seem to our senses to be like that, but now we know it isn't. The Universe hasn't changed, it's us who changed our view. Yet, even though our mind has surpassed the perceptive ability of our senses and today we are able to handle concepts that are fundamentally unreachable by them - like infinity, time dilation, or the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics - we still define things based on the coherent appearance of an appropriate mathematical model. Appearance is not a property of the subject matter, but a property applied to it by its observer.
There are limits to our perception. We are not able to fully perceive what is essentially mind-independent, free of form, shape and definition. We address a mental version of reality, limited within the confines of our understanding. It is partially possible to acknowledge the limits of our perception, since we are able to apply our intellect to the material world and even study the mechanisms of our own intelligence, but approach only with the confidence of the heart the nature of things that lie beyond. In Cosmology there is a theory claiming that time and space are created by our senses and exist only in our own perception. They are the tools our mind uses to organize the information and give shape to a perceptual model for the outside reality. It may feel as if we have just entered the obscured realms of Metaphysics, but it's good to remember that a lot of our science today is taking place in this realm as well. The empirical successes of subatomic particle physics have not reduced - and may never fully resolve - the philosophical controversies about the inner constitution of matter. The world, the way we know it, exists only in our own mind.
Beauty can be applied both to the visible and the intelligible world, without losing its perceptible attributes. Yet even if we are able to instinctively sense beauty and efficiently describe it, we are not able to fundamentally explain it. This continuity of beauty, that exceeds our understanding but in the same time it's present throughout its limits, is the element that binds everything together, from the quest for harmony and knowledge to the birth and perseverance of life. It is not a concept meant to fit into the narrow frames of a society's ideals, or an academic rule derived from indisputable principles. The sense of beauty can certainly be developed and refined within a specific cultural environment, but its primary function remains instinctive. For pragmatists, the acknowledgement of beauty is linked to our survival. It is enchanting to think that our survival depends on beauty. There is a broader sense of beauty that exceeds our aesthetic ideals and our social icons.
If beauty is instinctual, then it can only be primordial and it can only come from within.
If beauty is only attached to the aspects of form and content - or any other aspect, for that matter - it should be mostly considered mind-dependent and therefore it couldn't be instinctive. These are the Metaphysics of beauty. It can be sensed through an aesthetic experience or a physical reaction, but this empirical approach has not resolved - and may never fully resolve - the philosophical controversies about the Nature of beauty.
"Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the infinite" said once the American historian George Bancroft. Plato saw love as motivated by a longing for the highest Form of beauty - The Beautiful Itself, and love as the motivational power through which the highest of achievements are possible.
There is a Cosmological aspect to the nature of beauty. Cosmos, the word that refers to the universal order, is a Greek word that shares the same origin with the word kosmima, that stands for jewel, as they both originate from the word kosmein, which means "to arrange, to set, to decorate, to make something beautiful".
I find that to be accurate, for it embraces us all.
all images by petroskoublis.com