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The neurobiology of beauty

Semir Zeki | TEDxUCL

Professor Semir Zeki is Professor of Neuroesthetics at UCL. He pioneered the study of the higher visual areas of the brain, and discovered the specialization of different visual areas for different visual attributes such as colour, form and motion, and hence the functional specialization within the visual brain. He has recently expanded his work to enquire into the neural correlates of aesthetic and artistic experience. He has exhibited his own art in Milan, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a recipient of the Aristotle Medal (2011) among others.

Talk: The Neurobiology of Beauty
Have you ever wondered, as you gaze at something beautiful, exactly what it is that makes it beautiful? Do all things which you experience as beautiful have a single defining characteristic? Indeed, could you even write a definition of beauty itself?

The great Irish polymath, Edmund Burke, described beauty as “for the greater part, some quality in bodies acting mechanically upon the human mind through the intervention of the senses”. I will explore Burke’s definition from a neurobiological perspective and show that there is a single fundamental characteristic to the experience of beauty, one which is independent of culture, education and ethnic background. Moreover, a neurobiological interpretation of Burke’s “intervention of the senses” also gives a brain-based explanation for why the search for the nature of beauty has been so elusive.