Pretty Ugly: Why We Like Some Songs, Faces, Foods, Plays, Pictures, Poems, Etc., and Dislike Others
People are chemical machines, yet we (and some other animals) develop a sense of beauty. Why and how did it evolve? How is it formed?
This book answers these questions from the perspective of scientists with deep knowledge of the arts. It interweaves experimental sciences with the histories of art, architecture, music, dance, speech, literature, and food.
Although we perceive each of our senses to be dramatically different, the authors show them all to be similar under the hood—similar in how they function and in how they shape our aesthetic experience.
The authors cover many fields, and do not assume the reader has any special knowledge or expertise. They avoid jargon, equations and formulae, and begin every discussion at an introductory level.
However, introductory does not mean elementary. This is a broad knife that cuts deep.
Charles Maurer is a free-lance writer who specializes in science and technology. He reads academic literature in many areas, and has professional skills in graphic design and commercial photography.
Daphne Maurer is an experimental psychologist who studies the development of vision. She is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University, Canada, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Their previous book, The World of the Newborn, won the Book Award of the American Psychological Association.
“Why do we find some things attractive and others not? In this fascinating book, the authors take the reader on a vast intellectual journey to offer a comprehensive approach to answering this age-old question.”
Janet F. Werker, PhD, FRSC
Canada Research Chair, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia
“One of the most enlightening books I have ever read.”
Timothy McGee, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Department of Music, University of Toronto
“Imagine that you are an early human walking through the jungle and a tiger is lurking nearby. To survive, you would need an ear that could distinguish the sound waves released by the tiger’s footfall from all the other noises around you. Or an eye that could catch sight of the slightest spot of orange among the many green leaves. You would have to recognize patterns and be alert to changes in them. Today, you may be using those same abilities to enjoy harmonies in music or admire visual effects in art. That is the conclusion of McMaster University psychologist Daphne Maurer and Toronto writer Charles Maurer, who have spent three decades establishing a scientific basis for aesthetics. Their recent book, Pretty Ugly: Why we like some songs, faces, foods, plays, pictures, poems, etc. and dislike others, begins with evolutionary biology and goes on to use neuroscience, developmental psychology, physics, mathematics, anthropology, musicology and art history to establish the mechanisms behind our cultural tastes. The tastes are subjective, to be sure, but the way they are established is not.”
The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2020
“This book is much richer than these few paragraphs can depict. Literate readers will be impressed by the range of erudition and international exposure of the authors, and will probably derive pleasure from the metaphors and similes that ornate the text.”
Gregory Hanlon, PhD
Munro Professor of History, Dalhousie University; Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 2020
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