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Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, sociology, social psychology, and culture. An “ideal beauty” is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection. Beauty begins as an organic entity which can be thus altered by new means. The experience of “beauty” often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this is a subjective experience, it is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one’s own existence. A subject of beauty is anything that resonates with personal meaning.

There is evidence that a preference for beautiful faces emerges early in child development, and that the standards of attractiveness are similar across different genders and cultures. Symmetry is also important because it suggests the absence of genetic or acquired defects. Although style and fashion vary widely, cross-cultural research has found a variety of commonalities in people’s perception of beauty. The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. Plato considered beauty to be the Idea above all other Ideas.Aristotle saw a relationship between the beautiful and virtue, arguing that “Virtue aims at the beautiful.”

The characterization of a person as “beautiful�, whether on an individual basis or by community consensus, is often based on some combination of inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, grace, politeness, charisma, integrity, congruence and elegance, and outer beauty (i.e. physical attractiveness) which includes physical attributes which are valued on a subjective basis. Standards of beauty have changed over time, based on changing cultural values. Historically, paintings show a wide range of different standards for beauty. However, humans who are relatively young, with smooth skin, well-proportioned bodies, and regular features, have traditionally been considered the most beautiful throughout history.

Define beauty? One may as well dissect a soap bubble. We know it when we see it—or so we think. Philosophers frame it as a moral equation. What is beautiful is good, said Plato. Poets reach for the lofty. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” wrote John Keats, although Anatole France thought beauty “more profound than truth itself.” Others are more concrete. “People come to me and say: ‘Doctor, make me beautiful,’” a plastic surgeon reveals. “What they are asking for is high cheekbones and a stronger jaw.”

A basic philosophical definition of wisdom is to make the best use of knowledge. The opposite of wisdom is folly. The ancient Greeks considered wisdom to be an important virtue, personified as the goddesses Metis and Athena. To Socrates and Plato, philosophy was literally the love of Wisdom. This permeates Plato’s dialogues, especially The Republic, in which the leaders of his proposed utopia are to be philosopher kings: rulers who understand the Form of the Good and possess the courage to act accordingly. Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, defined wisdom as the understanding of causes, i.e. knowing why things are a certain way, which is deeper than merely knowing that things are a certain way.

I am standing behind a one-way mirror watching a six-month-old baby make a choice. The baby is shown a series of photographs of faces that have been rated for attractiveness by a panel of college students. A slide is flashed; a clock ticks as the baby stares at the picture. The baby looks away; the clock stops. Then it’s on to the next slide. After more than a decade of studies like these, Judith Langlois, professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, is convinced that this baby, like others she has tested, will spend more time looking at the attractive faces than the unattractive ones. What’s an attractive face? It’s a symmetrical face. Some faces are more pleasing to look at than others. It’s a question of harmony and the placement of features. The pictures of the young girl with wide-set eyes and a small nose is easier on the eye that the one of the young girl with close-set eyes and a broad nose. Extremes are off-putting and generally not attractive, Langlois says. “Beauty is not whimsical. Beauty has meaning.”

Beauty Never Fades  
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