The neurobiology of beauty — Semir Zeki

Accord­ing to the Irish poly­math Edmund Burke (1730 – 1797), beauty is “for the great­er part, some qual­ity in bod­ies act­ing mech­an­ic­ally upon the human mind through the inter­ven­tion of the senses”.


Semir Zeki explores Burke’s fam­ous defin­i­tion of beauty from a neuro­bi­o­lo­gic­al per­spect­ive and argues that there is a single fun­da­ment­al char­ac­ter­ist­ic to the exper­i­ence of beauty, one which is ‘inde­pend­ent of cul­ture, edu­ca­tion and eth­nic back­ground.’ ‘Moreover, a neuro­bi­o­lo­gic­al inter­pret­a­tion of Burke’s “inter­ven­tion of the senses” also gives a brain-based explan­a­tion for why the search for the nature of beauty has been so elusive.’


Pro­fess­or Semir Zeki is Pro­fess­or of Neur­oes­thet­ics at UCL. He pion­eered the study of the high­er visu­al areas of the brain, and dis­covered the spe­cial­iz­a­tion of dif­fer­ent visu­al areas for dif­fer­ent visu­al attrib­utes such as col­our, form and motion, and hence the func­tion­al spe­cial­iz­a­tion with­in the visu­al brain. He has recently expan­ded his work to enquire into the neur­al cor­rel­ates of aes­thet­ic and artist­ic exper­i­ence. He has exhib­ited his own art in Mil­an, is a Fel­low of the Roy­al Soci­ety, and a recip­i­ent of the Aris­totle Medal (2011) among others.