Musings About Beauty


should be sent to Walter Kintsch, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309. E-mail:


In this essay, I explore how cognitive science could illuminate the concept of beauty. Two results from the extensive literature on aesthetics guide my discussion. As the term “beauty” is overextended in general usage, I choose as my starting point the notion of “perfect form.” Aesthetic theorists are in reasonable agreement about the criteria for perfect form. What do these criteria imply for mental representations that are experienced as beautiful? Complexity theory can be used to specify constraints on mental representations abstractly formulated as vectors in a high-dimensional space. A central feature of the proposed model is that perfect form depends both on features of the objects or events perceived and on the nature of the encoding strategies or model of the observer. A simple example illustrates the proposed calculations. A number of interesting implications that arise as a consequence of reformulating beauty in this way are noted.