Taste as Beauty

February 27, 2011

“…Copernicus’ aesthetic objections to [equants] provided one essential motive for his rejection of the Ptolemaic system….”
– Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution

In, “Taste for Makers”, Paul Graham explores the notion that “taste” is not about a personal preference that is created a priori like the color of our hair. Taste, for Graham, may be more like a catalyst for progress: taste is the ability to see solutions in a problem. Taste is the ability to find what is beautiful in ugliness. And that ability for “taste” arises out of the cultivation of skill sets and a history of exploration.

Mathematicians call good work “beautiful,” and so, either now or in the past, have scientists, engineers, musicians, architects, designers, writers, and painters. Is it just a coincidence that they used the same word, or is there some overlap in what they meant? If there is an overlap, can we use one field’s discoveries about beauty to help us in another?..

If you mention taste nowadays, a lot of people will tell you that “taste is subjective.” They believe this because it really feels that way to them. When they like something, they have no idea why. It could be because it’s beautiful, or because their mother had one, or because they saw a movie star with one in a magazine, or because they know it’s expensive. Their thoughts are a tangle of unexamined impulses.

Read the full article, here: www.paulgraham.com


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