Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Finding Beauty in a Flaming Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

To begin I think it is important to state my own definition of an aesthetic experience. I believe that an aesthetic experience can be positive or negative, lasts for a limited amount of time, and is markedly different from everyday experiences. There are three criteria for an experience to be aesthetic, the first being an emotional connection to the experience. If an experience is able to elicit strong emotions associated with pleasure or disgust and a feeling of personal connection within someone, I believe it becomes vivid and aesthetic. Secondly, a high degree of mindfulness is necessary during the experience. I agree with the definition of mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” The final criterion is a sense of novelty or rarity surrounding the experience, more specifically, an experience that is either new, or familiar but rare. When an experience is new there is a higher level of concentration associated with it and you are more in the moment. When an experience is familiar but rare there is a strong emotion and connection but it still requires concentration.

In terms of how aesthetics fits with other areas of philosophy, I believe it fits very well with both metaphysics and epistemology, especially the inquiries that I chose to pursue for these topics. In metaphysics I looked into the self and concluded that the self is a product of our life experiences, in epistemology I looked into memories and how they are created and become knowledge. I believe that the aesthetic experience is a major contributor to our memories which in turn contribute to our knowledge which makes us who we are and builds up the self. The more diverse a range of aesthetic experiences we collect, the more complex and intricate the self becomes.

My aesthetic experiences over the holidays led me to develop my third piece of criteria, that an aesthetic experience should have a sense of novelty or rarity. A few examples of new aesthetic experiences I had include meeting my baby cousin for the first time, watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and taking a foam rolling class. Although this collection is very diverse, each experience required a state of mindfulness, provoked emotions or sensations, and was pleasing. In each case, I feel as though I gained new knowledge and made connections to previous knowledge resulting in a contribution to the bundle of my “self”.

In terms of familiar but rare experiences, I found that all of mine were either traditions or culturally specific. This led me to believe that our culture plays a significant role in shaping our perception of aesthetics. Our opinions regarding fashion, food, music and even physical attractiveness can be influenced by our culture and upbringing. For example, my family has many German Christmas traditions including getting a scraggly uncultured Christmas tree, putting real candles on it and lighting them. While some people might not find beauty in a flaming Charlie Brown Christmas tree, it is aesthetically appealing to me because of the connections to my family and culture and past happy memories that it represents.

I also took part in celebrating Hogmanay or Scottish New Year by playing Auld Lang Syne on the pipes at 4:00pm on December 31st for a crowd of already inebriated people at the local legion. Bagpipes are a very polarizing instrument, you either love them or hate them, but I have found that the reasons people appreciate them are far deeper than the sound they produce. Bagpipes represent Scottish culture, are played at funerals and weddings, have strong ties to the military. When the pipes are played they rouse feelings of patriotism, grief, and joy. The majority of people who dislike them are judging them on their sound alone, they haven’t had experiences that led them to connect with the music on a personal level.

On a basic level aesthetics is about keeping us alive, as a species there are somethings that we all find pleasurable or disgusting and these instincts are linked directly to survival and procreation. However, these instincts constitute only a basic level of aesthetics. When it comes to an individual finding something aesthetically pleasing or revolting, I believe it comes down to a combination of nature and nurture or biology and experience. Beyond basic survival, aesthetics becomes very individualized and personal, the specifics of what people find attractive or repulsive depends on the thousands of prior experiences they have collected in their life up to that point.

When it comes to the opinions of other scholars of aesthetics, I agree with Leath and his point that the only universal defining characteristic of aesthetic experiences is concentration. My criteria of mindfulness is very similar to concentration in the sense that it requires being consciously present in the moment and aware of your own feelings and sensations. I also agree with Fromm when he says “if one is concentrated, it matters little what one is doing; the important, as well as the unimportant things assume a new dimension of reality, because they have one’s full attention.” I believe that by practicing mindfulness it is possible to begin to find beauty or aesthetic value in everyday objects and routines and gain more pleasure from life.

I don’t agree with Bullough on his point that emotional detachment and distance are essential for an aesthetic experience or with Kant’s idea that art should be judged autonomously. I think that the emotions provoked by a piece of art, poem, or play make it more vivid and profound for the person experiencing it, they create a personal connection with the viewer and cause them to leave with a deeper understanding of the piece as well as themselves. Art is meant to be provocative or communicate a deeper message, in many cases it is meant to be perceived and interpreted differently by different people.

I agree with Descartes ideas that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beauty pleases. I think that the reasons for a person to regard an experience or piece of art as aesthetic or beautiful are as complex as the person themselves and depend greatly on said person’s previous experiences. For this reason, I think it is narrow-minded of Hume to believe that taste is universal, especially when he was the one to develop the bundle theory with premise that the self is a unique and constantly evolving collection of impressions and sensations.

In conclusion, seeking out a diverse range of aesthetic experiences especially new ones is key to building one’s “self” and having an enjoyable, full life. I believe that this can refer to the external stimuli of the experience itself or to the way in which we perceive it, for example approaching everyday experiences with mindfulness.

 

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Attention: Millennials May Not Be Self-Obsessed Robots – Katie Crompton

We’ve all heard the stereotypes of millennials. That we are vain slaves for social media who only find joy in amounts of followers we have or likes we get, but guess what, we are humans too! I know, crazy right? It’s these stereotypes that sparked the idea for this project. For my aesthetic experience, I decided to explore how my generation defines beauty and how the presence of social media has changed that definition. I have always been fascinated by beauty standards and how different people define beauty and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to explore this concept while also using my creative side and taking a series of portraits that attempt to portray that idea.

The Process

The first step to this project was getting people on board. By doing this I made this survey (feel free to fill it out if you feel like it and have some time to kill) and sent it to multiple Facebook groups (mainly to theatre kids because we don’t shy away from opportunities to be in front of a camera) and asked people to fill it out. The most important question on the survey was “what is the first word that comes to mind when someone says the word, ‘beauty?” The word they chose would ultimately be painted on their face for the photos. I ended up getting 25 responses to the survey and 12 people split between 2 days who were available to take part in a photo shoot. I had a backdrop and lights set up and an array of baked goods I used as payment and bribery. I’m very proud of the finished product. The photos have not been retouched as I feel like it would create a barrier and defeat the purpose of this project. Anyway, here is a slide show of the finished photos!!

(There’s no sound because I’m boring and didn’t have time…yay)

The Outcome

From doing this project, I have come to the conclusion that my generation generally views beauty as something completely unrelated to someone’s physical appearance. Words like individual, compassion, internal, unique, and kindness were extremely prevalent. These are the words of some people who chose to give some additional comments regarding beauty at the end of the survey:

“Learning to believe you are beautiful is more important than getting told you are beautiful.” – Hira Lalani

“I am a firm believer that beauty begins at the heart, for traits such as compassion and kindness truly reveal one’s beauty and take precedence over physical appearance.” – Waleed Hakeem

“Beauty isn’t something you can necessarily see through the means of Instagram or Snapchat; beauty defines a person as a whole – not just their appearance.” – Claire Lundin

Though there was the common theme of beauty not solely being a physical thing, physical beauty still seems to be something of great importance. When asked “on a scale of 1-10, how important is physical appearance to you?”, 28% of people said 6 and another 28% said 7. Though physical beauty may not be the most important thing to our generation, it still has a fairly large impact on our daily lives. Then social media comes into the picture. One of the questions on the survey was, “on a scale of 1-10, how much do you care about how many likes you get/followers you have?” If we go with the stereotypes, the average answers would expectedly be anywhere from an 8 to a 10. In actuality, the majority of people (24%) said 4, hence the introduction. Social media has become a gigantic part of every day life, but that doesn’t mean it has made us more narcissistic. It has changed society a great deal, but not necessarily in the terrible, revolutionary way that older generations may see it.

Okay, how the heck does this relate to philosophy?

Because I am dealing with a large group of people, it’s impossible to say my whole generation’s view is just like *insert philosophers name here*, and the majority of the answers that I got on the survey don’t really connect to any particular philosopher we have talked about anyway. If we’re to generalize how this generation sees beauty from my findings, we could say that we believe that internal beauty is much more valuable than physical beauty, but this isn’t really what the philosophers we have studied talk about. They mainly talk about art and beauty in the physical sense. There is one particular question that creates a connection to a couple of the philosophers we have talked about. As i stated before, the most important question in the survey is “what is the first word that comes to mind when someone says the word, “beauty?”, which is why this is the one that I wanted to have a visual representation of. Even though 25 people filled out this survey, there was only one word that was repeated. The vast majority of people all had a different answer. This supports Descartes ideas of beauty being in the eye of the beholder and this quote from Hume found on this page on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.” (Hume 1757, 136)

All in all, this project showed me how beauty is subjective and that it comes from the heart (I know, super cheesy, but it’s my truth). If you have kind and welcoming personality, you will be seen as beautiful by many. Also, millennials are 100% not robots.

Worldle representing all the words people said came to their mind when they thought of beauty

 
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