Goethe feared that already in his epoch the world was becoming “a barren place for the human affections to dwell in.” He fought a lifelong battle to fuse scientific investigations with poetry. For as he put it: “Beauty is the manifestation of secret laws of nature which, were it not for their being revealed through beauty, would have remained unknown for ever.” In other words, the development of knowledge is inseparable from the intuitive apprehension of beauty. Symmetry, not by any means identical to beauty but clearly related, has been instrumental in atomic discoveries. And it has perhaps been the unconscious spur to the quest for further knowledge in both the sciences and the arts in Francis Bacon`s idea of beauty as an image of infinity.
Concepts of beauty vary, of course, in diverse cultures and are ever-changing. Beauty can most usually be defined in the way that gravity locates a new star. It is to be posited in an oblique context, what Goethe called Darstellung “the demonstration or representation of an object, brought into relation with others in such a way that its significance is revealed.” Beauty, in other words, hardly exists as an absolute. In-your-face strategies, so to speak, will not work. There may be some intimation of perfection in an individual`s sense of the beauty of another human. It may be that initially this may be illusory, an eidolon. Benedetto Croce gives a vibrant appraisal of such beauty in his comments on Goethe`s Helena – “It is Beauty, enchantment, intoxication, perdition; Beauty, the very presence of which causes a trembling, a desire for joy, a desire for death, innocently guilty in this effect which it produces, yet seized by the sense of guilt of which it is not guilty, and awaiting it knows not what punishment, which will put an end to its tempestuous, devastating career.” But the appreciation of such beauty is only a start! The work is only just beginning. It may be chasing a will-o-the-wisp, but one is led into attempting to put conceptual life on this glimpsed perfection.
Bertrand Russell proposed that “mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.” Goethe came to understand the beauty of the Gothic Strasbourg Cathedral as a fusion of character and symmetry. His was a slow process of appreciation, also taking in the cathedrals at Cologne and Freiburg. As he says in Poetry and Truth:
"We see that each and every ornament is in complete harmony with every part that it decorates, is subordinated thereto, and appears to have been generated thereby…I know that I myself, although enraptured by this great work on first sight, needed much time in order to become intimately acquainted with its merit." So the percolation of some forms of beauty is gradual, takes time and, as it were, steals upon the viewer. Less clearly `out there` is the beauty of language and its ramifications. Language, when fully comprehended, offers a warmer truth than architecture or sculpture since language is so intimate to human experience. What has not been clearly defined previously is the specific way humans through the ages have unconsciously created the clues in language and art to understand their nature more fully. As in the genetic lottery that gave rise to the human species, these clues are apparently randomly thrown out in early language. The great theoretician of beauty, Benedetto Croce - had sensed this. He wrote that “the much-sought-for science of language, general Linguistic, in so far as what it contains is reducible to philosophy, is nothing but Aesthetic...Philosophy of language and philosophy of art are (sic) the same thing.”
A soon-to-be published book of mine will hopefully reveal the most significant symmetries of language, and at the same time reveal their metaphors in nature where they translate as natural beauty. This is not a mere sleight of mind and logic, but a genuine historical actuality, and one of great importance for an interpretation of human nature. It owes a great deal to the pioneering thinking of Norman O. Brown, the author of Life against Death and Love`s Body. (more…)