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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/75

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THE PHYSIOLOGICAL BASIS OF ESTHETICS

To the writer these facts and reflections seem very strong evidence that the principles of esthetics, like those of the psychology from which they spring, are fundamentally an outgrowth of physiological and anatomical factors and phenomena. The belief seems to prevail among psychologists that the general states of pleasure and pain are referable to functional nutritive metabolisms of the sensory apparatus which, on the one hand, tend to restore and, on the other, to destroy it.

There is experimental evidence that the emotion of fear and the sensations of pain, at least the sensations resulting from trauma, have a physical basis, manifested by histological alterations in the nerve cells of the brain.[1] It might be plausibly argued that the scheme of usefulness which is the basis of organic evolution accounts for the origin and development of an esthetic sense.

But the peculiar mechanical substratum of the esthetic faculty as far as it is related to the visual apparatus seems to be seated in idiosyncrasies of the sense organ which have, at first view, no important relation to its usefulness as a physical instrument; which, on the contrary, would seem to be impediments to the perfection of its main function. This is suggestive of the thought of Herbert Spencer that the distinguishing mark of esthetic sentiments is their separableness from life-serving functions.

Curious it is, and still stranger if a matter of chance, that where the utility of a sense organ ends its glory may begin.

  1. Geo. W. Crile, "Phylogenetic Association in Relation to Certain Medical Problems," Ether Day address, Mass. Genl. Hosp., October 15, 1910.