True Beauty

Early in my study of beauty through experience I came to realize that to truly see the beauty of an object, a vista, a piece of music or a person, I had to value it enough to come into a depth state of resonance with it. I felt that same resonance when a comment, a decision or an action “rang true”. To express this another way, when an experience or a vista and I were congruent with each other, it was as though we were tuned into the same wave length. Imagine driving a long distance and trying to time into a classical music station. You have picked up the station, but there is too much static. You recognize the composition, but it is not beautiful, you’re not tuned in yet. At the point that you are tuned in, you hear the beauty. Imagine my delight in finding that Abraham Maslow, Albert Hofmann and Rupert Sheldrake had fully developed theories that intersected with my observations. Maslow on the Value of Beauty Abraham Maslow (1993b) is known for his studies of self-actualized people, those who are spontaneous, natural and concerned with ethical and human values. He theorized that human motivations fall into a natural hierarchy. First, people try to fulfill basic biological needs such as hunger and thirst. Only after these needs are met can they explore stimulation needs such as sex, sensory contact and exploration. When these are met, the focus shifts to higher needs such as safety, love, self-esteem and self-understanding after the lower needs are satisified can the higher needs be fulfilled.

 

This fulfillment culminates in self-actualization, the fullest realization of human potential. Such a person, grounded in love, security, and respect from earlier experiences in life, is able to be relatively independent and free of these needs in the self-actualized state and thereby able to take greater creative risks in life. In discussing the motivations of self-actualized people, Maslow (1993b) indicated that each one has a cause, a vocation, a calling. When such a person is asked, “Why did you go into it?” “What are the great moments for you?”, Maslow found that their work was not a means to an end, it was intrinsically valuable in itself. The specific answers boiled down to statements about ultimate values. He called these values of self-actualized people, “values of being”. The list includes: truth, justice, perfection, beauty, goodness, virtue, oneness, comprehensiveness, integrativeness and a kind of mystic’s humor. Each time Maslow recites the list in his lectures it is slightly different, as if to reinforce his point that the list is just a human construction and that all of these values are facets of the same thing. In fact, he says they can all be defined in terms of each other. In his theory of basic needs Maslow noted that with the absence of food, or salt, or love, an illness will result in the person. He asked, “Would you get sick if deprived of the truth? Yes. You may get paranoid” (1993b). To live among cruel, intolerant people will make you sick with spiritual illness. “If you get to the point of feeling that human beings are intrinsically evil, then of course you’re sick. You can’t be friends with anyone really, You’ve got one of the value pathologies” (1993b). Maslow (1993b) discussed his own study into whether the deprivation of beauty is pathogenic. Taking a set of pictures of faces first into a beautiful room and then into an unattractive room, he and others observed how*

 

41 pictures that looked good in the beautiful room looked semi-psychotic in the other room. He noted that a person’s reactions in this experiment ranged from “mildly to very sickening”, depending on how sensitive they were and how good their defense mechanisms were. In an unpublished doctoral dissertation, Thomas Gilmore (1966) described a number of behavioristic experiments designed to identify the characteristics of aesthetic responding. He characterized four of his 42 subjects as “genuinely aesthetic responders”. These four became the focus of further study. Gilmore’s observations directly support those of Maslow. As Gilmore described the aesthetic responders: The individuals who most attracted the experimenter’s attention tended to show a relatively high amount of both motor and verbal activity. These people were constantly making fine visual and other sensory discriminations to environmental stimuli which were not apparent to the experimenter before his attention was called to them by the individual’s response. In general, these people seemed to possess the skills to respond directly to their environment, and it was obvious that they received considerable reinforcement for doing so.

 

The behaviors of some young children might serve as a paradigm example of the kinds of behaviors the experimenter is attempting to describe. Children often appear to be under much more direct control of the immediate external environment than adults, responding sensually and verbally to a much greater variety of things than the average adult. If it would be possible to teach (or perhaps re-teach) an adult human being the necessary skills to respond in this manner, the experimenter would not hesitate to say that such an individual was responding aesthetically, (p. 216) Maslow (1993b) pointed out that some individuals are more sensitive to the deprivation of one value of being than to others, one much more sensitive to truth, another more sensitive to justice. In these cases, Maslow would say one person enters the realm of general values through the portal of truth, the other through the portal of justice. Each may love the general values, but concentrates on the one he loves the most and for which he is most suitable.

 

In defining the values of being in terms of each other, Maslow (1993b) implied that, at their source, they are one. For an encompassing definition of beauty, I would submit that the perception of truth, justice, perfection, goodness, virtue, and oneness are included in what I have described previously as perspectives on beauty. Maslow (1993b) asked, “Where is truth and justice, anyhow?” It is obviously all over the place, wherever you find it. If justice is part of my being, I feel that you have attacked me when you are unfair to someone else, at least if that person is within sight. Pause, for a moment, to consider the impact of television news in developing immediate concerns for justice in far away places. The values of being are what people will die for, and considering Viet Nam, what they might also stop a war for. Maslow (1993a) called the diseases that result from the absence of values of being, meta-pathologies.

 

These are diseases of the higher life or the spiritual life. He said they have an instinctual character in that they will produce illness in the same sense that sickness will result if you deprive a person of basic needs. Maslow then concluded that the higher life is therefore rooted in our animal nature and not opposed to it. This is a crucial distinction, for all too often the animal life and spiritual life have been dichotomized with resulting denial of the sensual beauty of the animal life as a pre-condition for the spiritual life. “In my observation, people leading the higher life were people whose basic needs were satisified” (Maslow, 1993a). These people seem to enjoy the basic need gratifications in a greater sense than others because they can sacralize them. For example, “The people I know who live among the values of being seem to be more lusty people generally. Sex for these people becomes a sacred ritual. The spiritual life is not mutually exclusive with the bodily life” (Maslow (1993a) has defined psychological health as flowing from the satisfaction of basic biological and stimulation needs. These provide the grounding for self-esteem and set the potential for self-actualization. He has set these need gratifications as a precondition for resonance with the beautiful. He described at the poles of a continuum people who see the beauty of the values of being and those who don’t in this way: You have the serious people, the earnest ones, the seeking, the questioning, the probing ones, the ones who are not sure, the ones with a tragic sense of life, the explorers of the depths, and of the heights, the saving remnant of all cultures who understand this, and then, you have the other party, who are made up of all the superficial people, the moment bound, the here bound at this moment, those who are totally absorbed with the trivial, those who are ‘plated with piety, rather than alloyed with it’, those who are reduced to the concrete and the momentary, and to the immediately selfish. We wind up with adults on one hand and human children on the other. (Maslow 1993a)


February 21, 2018

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