The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

ISBN : 9780199811809

Anjan Chatterjee
248 Pages
148 x 221 mm
Pub date
Nov 2013
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The Aesthetic Brain takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey through the world of beauty, pleasure, and art. Chatterjee uses neuroscience to probe how an aesthetic sense is etched in our minds and evolutionary psychology to explain why aesthetic concerns feature centrally in our lives. Along the way, Chatterjee addresses fundamental questions: What is beauty? Is beauty universal? How is beauty related to pleasure? What is art? Should art be beautiful? Do we have an instinct for art? Chatterjee starts by probing the reasons that we find people, places, and even numbers beautiful. At the root of beauty, he finds, is pleasure. He then examines our pleasures by dissecting why we want and why we like food, sex, and money and how these rewards relate to aesthetic encounters. His ruminations on beauty and pleasure prepare him and the reader to face art. He wanders through the problems of defining art, understanding contemporary art, and interpreting ancient art. He explores why art, something that seems so useless, also feels fundamental to our humanity. Replete with facts, anecdotes, and analogies, this empirical guide to aesthetics offers scientific answers without deflating the wonders of beauty and art.


1. What is this thing called beauty?
2. Captivating faces
3. The measure of facial beauty
4. The body beautiful
5. How the brain works
6. Brains behind beauty
7. Evolving beauty
8. Landscapes
9. Numbering beauty
10. The illogic of beauty
1. What is this thing called pleasure?
2. Food
3. Sex
4. Money
5. Liking, wanting, learning
6. The logic of pleasure
1. What is this thing called art?
2. Art: Biology and culture
3. Descriptive science of the arts
4. Experimental science of the arts
5. Conceptual art
6. The inception of art
7. Messy minds
8. Evolving art
9. Art: A tail or a song?
10. The serendipity of art

About the author: 

Anjan Chatterjee, MD, is a Professor of Neurology, and a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2002, he was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology. He is the President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics and the President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. His neurology practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research focuses on spatial cognition, language, ethics, and aesthetics.

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