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The Program

Beauty is a program.

It is not in the eye of the beholder. It is not a cultural phenomenon. It is a program within the mind/biome... it is arbitrary and wonderful and utterly useful. The trick with uncovering the apparent and (surprise) unremarkableness of beauty is to transcend one's own thought and see an entirely more breathtaking panorama of existence. We are not seeing beauty, we are seeing the genome speaking to our genome.

There is a survival benefit to be found in optimizing gene combinations through sexual selection. Those sexual participants who make the best gross genome selections produce the most survivable offspring. Scientifically speaking no one knows how to assay "best gross genome selection". Yet without such a mechanism, offspring would quickly degrade genetically toward chaotic noise (degradation and death of the whole race). So, inductive reasoning and empirical observation (and a smattering of evidence) has lead me to the conclusion that:

1) There is a genetic program (instinct) that provides RECOGNITION, pleasure feedback and preference for symmetrical arrangements of facial features and gross body plans that are experienced by beholders as "pleasingly beautiful".

2) This program is biased toward the mathematical AVERAGE such that if you morph 10,000 random faces you will get a strikingly beautiful face - not what you might intuitively expect, a bland boring face.

2a) The bias toward the average prevents the gradual "copy degradation" exemplified by being unable to read a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a document successively reproduced on a copier (descent to chaotic noise) - instead, the bias to the average causes beautiful people to select beautiful counterparts - and UGLY people to select UGLY counterparts - both of which given sufficient gene pool depth can and over time WILL preserve the aggregate race genome toward an optimal center point (GENOMIC CENTERLINE) while securing the advantages of variety and novelty in a bell shaped curve. This program and its drives is the basis of all economics.

2b) The fascination with extreme averageness (beauty) occurs due to a subprogram that has as its goal the discovery of FLAWS which itself is a subprogram of a continual search for pattern and predictability - this is related to why we stare at fires in fireplaces and enjoying the near random motion in aquariums. The search for pattern and meaning in the chaotic and random patterns of the fire is "hypnotizing". A similar pattern search can be found in those who continually try to divine the "winning plays" in stock markets and casinos. I'm not saying there isn't one...I'm saying that the drive is to FIND the pattern and meaning in the perceived noise. The continual scanning process (scoping out :-) is designed to actually slightly PREFER minor flaws such as Cindy Crawford's mole in that they satisfy the search for pattern and meaning. If there is no such flaw, then the beauty is by definition - hypnotic - an endless loop of observation searching for the pattern that is not there. This explains why males do not get tired of looking at pictures of beautiful women for extensive periods of time.

3) The program is deliberately designed to be perceived as the will of the host organism (the guy who's looking) playing out - rather than a preprogrammed directive. This deliberately stealthy program takes over most of the identity and action of the host during puberty and - at least until reproduction succeeds - and in all truth, continues without any letup until the hormones and other agents driving the program are reduced in effect by the ravages of aging. By way of example, a dog probably perceives that when it chases a stick it is "choosing to chase the stick" - yet, a human would say "well, dog's are IMPELLED to chase the stick by influence of instinct"...in just such a fashion, humans believe they CHOOSE to follow the siren song of beauty (a babelicious one) - yet, the very belief of such choice prevents them from ever knowing that they are NOT in control of their actions (and thus - lives). The program is a multistage sensory/payback/feedback phenomenon analogous to a sharks attack profile...whereby a shark will first smell blood and enjoy it, seek to intensify the pleasure by homing in on higher concentrations (toward the wounded source) of blood which increases the intensity and anticipation of pleasure followed by lock on and final targeting when the bleeding creature enters the bioelectric sensory apparatus of the shark inducing frenzy followed by the intense pleasure of eating and removal of hunger pangs.

4) When an individual (whether married or un) enters a target rich environment such as a restaurant or bar a rigorously mathematical searching, sorting, filtering, selecting, "settling", memory embedding and pursuit program is initiated. As the male scans the room, other males are rendered invisible for all practical purposes - the vast majority of females are also invisible as the searching and sorting subroutine scans the candidate faces/bodies where preliminary candidates that satisfy the filtering program are passed to the selecting program. The selecting program takes the two or three potential candidates and then either immediately embeds the best genetic candidate in short term memory or passes the candidates to an economic subroutine which asks "of these potential candidates which ones do I (the male doing the scanning) in particular have the best chance of succeeding with - in other words the male may deliberately choose to put in short term memory a female less beautiful than the most beautiful female in view so as to achieve a higher potential of pursuit success - the less attractive the male perceives himself to be to females (power, handsomeness, maturity), the lower on the beauty scale the male will aspire to. Once the settlement is made, the image of the candidate is preserved and called upon multiple times due to the pleasant rewards that the program issues whenever the beauty program is provisionally satisfied - or "I can't get this person out of my mind". If conditions are such that natural and cultural inhibitors are surmounted - either naturally or artificially by drugs and alcohol, then the pursuit program will be invoked and the game's afoot.

4a)The beauty searching program's math is sensitive to conditions. It will not require a perfect 10 be available in every social encounter - it will take the population currently in view and will take what's there and sort them into a conditionally based range of 0's to 10's based on only what's in the view/room. The program is domain/situationally calibrated - not absolute...until the question of pursuit arises. Then, the choice to pursue may be dampened "if they're all dogs", meaning very unlikely to produce a fit offspring in the context of the males future options and aspirations.

5) Males would be totally happy to let this program run away to the point of economic possibility - i.e. in the absence of countervailing forces they would be delighted to mate with all females that reach the "embedded in memory" stage. This is what leads to the phenomenon of "harems" of females in some cultures which are the ultimate expression of male dominance.

5a) The primary inhibitor of 5) is the female program. This program is identical in gross feature to the male program and (within the grasp and necessarily non-experiential learning of the author who is male) is modified in the following fashion. Baby humans are unable to survive on their own for very extensive time periods - many years. The female program must select for genomic fitness AND optimal offspring survival and is thus equipped with biological strategies that allow her to "secure" a male for extensive periods of time. The human female is unique in that she has a frequent monthly menstrual cycle that is optimized to prevent infection and disease yet allow very frequent mating - far in excess of that needed or exhibited in other mammalian creatures who typically mate once or twice a season (there are notable exceptions). This frequent mating without contracting bacterial or viral diseases provides an attractive "economic" counterpart to the male's never ending search/pursuit program - offering a potential never ending mating resource through pair bonding.

5b) This frequent "scouring" of the uterus allows the female to offer an attractive economic value to the male - the potential for on-demand mating.

5c) The female program is optimized to select: First - genetic fitness - this is the same as the male program in principal, but is modified to look for superb maleness as defined by genomic fitness;

Second - competitive fitness - the female in the "encounter" mode will unlike the male pay close attention to the quality of any male's current female partner (as defined by situational closeness and intimacy behaviors) the quality of the female partner will assist the observing female to evaluate the desirability of the male based on the perceived evaluation of a competing female. While Males usually have great difficulty in identifying "handsome" males, and in fact often find even the thought of such an examination repugnant, females are very easily able to evaluate and experience to some degree the prettiness of other females. Thus, females programs are more sophisticated than male programs.

Third - nurturing fitness - The female seeks biological and totemic (rolex/ferrari/porsche) evidence which show that the male will be sufficiently economically powerful to generate a probabilistic prediction of likelihood that the male will be ABLE to provide for any resulting offspring.

The sexual pain of males is satisfied in copulation and is experienced as resolution of a muggy afternoon followed by a thunderstorm and clear peaceful skies. The sexual pain of females has of course never been experienced by the author - but it is reported by female friends of the author that when a female sees a baby (or other related triggers) it often results in the same sexual pain (sexual desire) that males experience, thus, when a female says by word, action or implication "I want a baby, it is very likely that she HURTS - is in physical pain (and psychological pain as well - the image of the potential baby remaining in her mind and now generating a female pursuit (of pregnancy) subroutine...and it is this PAIN that she is trying to make go away by satisfying the program - to complete the goal of the program - preserve and maintain the race/genome. Fourth - loyalty fitness - the female will more highly value men who exhibit altruistic characteristics and who are willing and able to sufficiently fight off/suspend their selection and pursuit programs in favor of the examining female. This is the underlying strata of courtesy and manners.

6) Both male and female engage in camouflage and deceit exercises in order to game the couterparty's selection apparatus. Such items as makeup, liposuction, hair pieces, shoulder pads, push up bras, jewelry etc are all used to increase the probability of selection by appealing intuitively to the program. Females are FAR more aware of the existence of the male program and are expert at its manipulation - which explains why the preponderance of beauty enhancement efforts are performed by females. Males on the other hand become aware that females are susceptible to power totems such as musculature, money and power totems (head waiter knows you by name and takes you to "your" table. Thus, the program brought into existence symbols of power and claims on future survival assets are pursued and ultimately grown in quantity and kind. Wealth - defined as acquiring and maintaining possession of the best child producing "face/body" and its pursuit - come into existence

7) The male's biological program - fulfilled in copulation mainly - never ends. The female program continues as from puberty UNTIL childbirth. Then, the character of the female program changes utterly. It is no longer biased to reduce the pain of not being pregnant and thus there is significantly less drive to copulate. Other factors sustain the relationship (if successful) such as need to maintain the loyalty of and provisioning and protection by the male. As societies of humans become more and more "civilized", the powerful males and all females engage in efforts to coerce loyalty through law and culture. The more successful such laws the higher the culture that results until unsustainable end points begin to be reached wherein females no longer feel a need to copulate in order to preserve male loyalty and protection - such services being coerced or provided by the law and instruments of society. At this point the male(s) will become pathologically depressed and seek to satisfy the imperatives of the program by virtual means (fantasy and pornography) or actual means (defection - adultery, and abandonment).

This is the program that exemplifies and creates the "curve of idolatry (or curve of concentration of attention, wealth, resources, control etc) and is absolutely a form of inflation and wealth concentration (early capitalism).

There is much more to say on this, but keep in mind that the main point is the stealthiest of the program and the fact that - it is NEVER turned off! The fact that it never gets turned off creates more pain, suffering, novelty, war, delight, despair, longings, loneliness, euphoria than anything else there is. It is THE basis of economies. The primary purpose of LAW is to provisionally defeat this program's ongoing imperatives. Yet, at bottom, the program is merely ensuring that the genetic health of the race is preserved and prospered. What does all of the above have to do with simulflation? It is of course sex and human consciousness that gave rise to SPECIES DEFLATION. No more Dodo birds, Tanzanian tigers, passenger pigeons and oh so many other species that bit the dust due to human over hunting, over farming, wars, development etc etc. Here's the list of bird species just on Hawaii that have gone extinct in the just the last two hundred years http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/endangered/ext-birds.html I'm NOT judging that this is bad or good. I simply say it happens and is a form of deflation. The species deflation gives room for the novelty of the next paradigm. What is inflated is the multiplicity of new things that consciousness brought about. Language, Law, property, farming, war, religion, symbology, physics, Mad Magazine and yes, money.

UPDATE from Phil

FuturePundit wrote on a somewhat similar topic not long ago. Virginia Postrel has some related thoughts on her blog and in The Atlantic.


Fascinating stuff.

Of course, there's more to "beauty" than the variety that drives our urge to reproduce -- there's the notion that beauty is truth, the idea that there is something profound about the aesthetic experience of beauty as found in nature or in art (as well as a pretty face.) Such a concept of beauty is not necessarily tied to an idea of symmetry.

I like your linking of all civilization to this one fundamental program, but I wonder whether wars and economies might also derive from some other basic urges -- such as the urge to eat?

Yeah, beauty is great...but if you think about many of the things we think are beautiful, such as flowers, fruit, plumage...well, they're primary or secondary sex organs aren't they? I think Ben's point is that it's better to understand that instinct driven behavior masquerading as free will is a bad way to run your life...and it's better to know why/how to drive to avoid those "slings and arrows". The experience of beauty doesn't disappear, but perhaps the control over the instinct improves w/such awareness.

I think the really new speculation/hypothesis in the post is the mathematical beauty of The Program that convinces us that the outward expressions of the genome (faces) which are in fact, plain dull math averages are templated to feel beautiful - thus preventing copy degradation. Of course math isn't as beautiful as Charlize Theron - even I'm not that far gone :-)

Beauty - at least the beauty of the opposite sex - is all about reproduction. The "program" is simple and elegant:

For evolution to work, three things have to be true:

1. Each generation of a species must consist of some individuals that successfully reproduce and some that don't.

This is not a problem. Life is risky and there is
always a period of time between birth and reproduction, so there will always be individuals that
do not survive the interim or fail for some other
reason to reproduce.

2. All individuals must differ from one another in small ways.

This is the experiment. If new things aren't tried,
change for the better is not possible.

3. Offspring must tend to carry the traits of their
successfully reproducing parents.

This is the reward of successful experimentation.
Those successful experimental models pass their genes to a new generation.

If you have children that live to reproduce themselves then you are, from the evolutionary point of view, a successful experimental model.

If this describes you, don't get too puffed up. The bar is pretty low. All it means is that in spite of your many flaws you were born free enough of defects to survive childhood, stable enough mentally to withstand the onslaught of adolescence, neither such a jerk nor so ugly that you scared away all potential mates, that you were disinclined to a 100% celebate or a 100% homosexual lifestyle, you were fertile, and that you were attracted to a person of the opposite sex who also passed these minimum reproductive requirements.

That last part - being attracted to a person of the opposite sex - is where beauty comes in.

Since men and women have different biological clocks and different needs from the opposite sex, it's no surprise that there is a great deal of difference between what a man finds beautiful in a woman and what a woman finds beautiful in a man.

Unlike a woman, a man is fertile most of his life. Therefore, a woman is not as hung up on having a youthful looking partner as a man.

But, generally, men are attracted to youthful-looking partners. I'd say that most of the female beauty industry - makeup, hair color, slim figure, etc. is about helping women look youthful.

Men often complain that women can remember every fault or insensitive word that they ever spoke. The typical man, cannot. This is also part of the program.

A man can successfully reproduce without having to worry too much about the personality of their partner. From a reproductive point of view it pays for the man to bolt right after conception. But a woman benefits reproductively by a man who will stick around to protect and provide for she and the kids. Therefore, a woman benefits by being a good judge of character and to be able to remember all those hurtful words.

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