Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Science of Beauty (Part 1 of 2)

While beauty may be skin deep, 'pretty' is still a very compelling argument.

What is beauty? How do we know when someone is beautiful? Is beauty really in the eyes of the beholder? Is it specific to individual preference? Is beauty something culturally indigenous? Is one race naturally more beautiful than another? Are beautiful people better than the rest of us? Are beautiful people naturally shallow? Is there a scientific basis for determining beauty?

These are all valid questions that most people tend to make incorrect assumptions about. The answers may surprise you (as they did me). As actually it turns out, a lot of the things that are commonly associated with beauty are largely based on bias and a lack of understanding of the factors that can make someone beautiful. In this post, I explore all of these in great detail. So whether you are beautiful or aesthetically challenged, you may find this post of great interest.


The Importance of being Beautiful

Being physically attractive seems to make or break your case in life whether or not you choose to admit it. In fact, your face is really your primary ambassador and your body is the key to all your success — in every conceivable way. Beautiful people have an effect on other people that is so profound and unprecedented, that even if you were an intolerably rotten individual, most people would treat you like royalty anyway — just because you happen to be nice to look at.

Even before all races were treated with equality, beautiful people from all ethnic groups were savoring that opportunity. The rules, whatever they were, did not apply to them. They could break the law and get away with it. They could even publicly embarrass themselves and most people would worship them anyway. They could cheat on their spouses and it would change nothing. Being beautiful means that you are loved by default and the world is your footstool.

Survival of the Prettiest

Priyanka Chopra - Miss India 2000
Priyanka Chopra: Miss India 2000
Why does the world instinctively revere beautiful people? It is because of our DNA. Every individual is instinctively hard wired to prefer beautiful people. There is a very good reason for this. The human brain is wired to recognize beauty as a key sign of genetic perfection. It's nature's way of biologically representing a healthy and genetically viable mate.

It indicates to men that the woman being viewed is a perfect candidate for housing his children. It also indicates to women that the man being viewed as a perfect source of Y chromosomes that will maximize the chance of her child's survival outside her womb.

There is no practical way for humans to look inside each other to determine who has a higher level of genetic perfection than another. This is why exactly physical beauty becomes necessary. It is a succinct reflection of the genetic perfection on the inside of the biological machines we call our body. Therefore beauty is not quite as "skin deep" as stipulated by the popular expression. It serves a useful purpose.

Of course, nobody actually thinks about any of these things when they view a beautiful person. We just feel it in our instinct. We are compelled to want beautiful people around us because our DNA naturally impels us to. Beauty is nature's way of maximizing the probability that the best genes in the pool have the best chances of survival while minimizing the probability that imperfect DNA will ever be passed on to offspring. This natural genetic "cleansing" process in turn ensures that humanity on a whole has the best chance of continued survival. All of this is manifested through the relatively inextricable correlation between beauty and genetic health.

This is why models like Priyanka Chopra who had no previous training as an actress could go on to become a famous Bollywood star shortly after winning the Miss World pageant in 2000. The same can be said of many other models who turned to acting after achieving a plateau in their modeling career. Women like Ali Larter, Milla Jovovich, Carmen Diaz and Charlize Theron are now reaping great success as actresses, largely in part because they're beautiful. They never had to go through the same kind of challenges that many other successful actors did.

Preferential Treatment

Being beautiful also makes life considerably easier and more fulfilling. A recent study that was conducted by ABC's 20/20 shows that people literally react more warmly to someone who is in trouble if they are beautiful. It's not that these people are prejudiced. They are just reacting to their own genetic instinct. So in case your car breaks down, it helps to look smashing hot.

People also tend to subconsciously associate physical attractiveness with "trustworthiness". So a relatively unattractive person that is trying to hitch hike on a lonely highway will have a considerably harder time getting a ride into town than someone who is beautiful. Humans are subconsciously shallow like that. That's why, you should never leave the hose looking drab.

Life is a DNA Gambit

Gestation - rolling of the DNA dice
The external representation of genetic perfection is critical to survival because of how easy it is for the cell division process in the womb to go terribly wrong. Genetic splicing during pregnancy has several billion ways of going awry. The process is as complex as it is prone to failure. It is like trying to build a machine with over 140 billion parts from a schematic of 30 million instructions. Multiply those numbers and you have the ultimate permutation of Murphy's law on steroids. This is exactly why pregnant woman are always heavily cautioned about keeping in the best of health, to avoid smoking, alcohol and certain other drugs. All of these factors can severely impair this extremely delicate process.

Because of the inherent complexity involved during DNA splicing (as well as that of population dispersion), in most cases, people are born with an average of 30% of their DNA being bad — hence giving them an "average" appearance (which is really a misnomer, as I'll discuss in a bit). Beautiful people are those who have less than 30% of their DNA being bad, thus giving them a better chance at advertising their genetic perfection (and reproductive suitability) than others.

Either way, everyone is hard wired to recognize symmetry as being beautiful - even the people who have 30% bad DNA. So it doesn't matter what the politically correct will say. While beauty may be skin deep, 'pretty' is still a very compelling argument. Just ask all the people who have dated a beautiful person: whether they turned out to be great or not was initially irrelevant.

The Definition of Beauty

Scientists describe beauty as being a summation of genetic averages. Geometrically, it is a configuration of symmetrical lines. Mathematically, beauty is expressed as a ratio of 1.618. Some of this may seem like high minded science to you, but it is all pre-programmed into everyone's brain. You don't need to understand how it works because it's already a part of your genetic wiring. This is what allows us to recognise beauty instantly and automatically.

Because of this, we can instantly tell when an artist's rendering of the human form is realistic or unrealistic as in the case of artwork or animation. This is what also allows us to tell when someone's appearance seems "off", when we can't quite place what it is. It's just that part of the brain that interprets visual information matching it against nature's hard coded standard.

Understanding 'Race'

Race is a genetic phenotype which has a permutation that produces beauty.
Race is nothing more than a phenotypic manifestation of DNA.
Before we can adequately define what beauty is, we need to truly understand the implications associated with the genetic phenomenon we commonly call "race". DNA (or Dioxyribo-Nucleic Acid) is a binary system of switches, which represent a set of instructions for producing all life. The on or off position of these switches in particular sequences will produce various genetic permutations - very much like how computer programs only differ by sequences of 1's and 0's.

Genetically speaking, what we call race is nothing more than the perception of homogenous congruity among ethnic groups resulting from a consistent replication of specific DNA patterns.

By DNA pattern, we are actually referring to a phenotype of the human species. A phenotype (in layman's terms) is a particular physiological configuration, such as blue eyes, dark skin, long hair and so on. When humans migrated out of Africa, various groups clustered together in specific regions on earth. After several generations of reproduction, a set of DNA patterns became more commonplace in each group. This created the consistent replication of a rather particular DNA sequence in each group, thus leading to the phenomenon we call "Race" today.

The human genotype has over 30,000-factorial of possible phenotypic permutations. That number is equivalent to 30,000 x 29,999 x 29,998 x ...... 3 x 2 x 1. That's how many possible variations of the human genotype can be produced from our DNA. Don't try to work that out on your calculator. It will simply overload. In fact, that number is too large to be represented inside any computing machine that exists today without using a cluster based computing farm like those used to build the super computers that model earth's weather system complexities.

That's how incredibly complex Human DNA is.

Only 3% of our DNA produces the phenotypes we usually associate with race. Any particular phenotyptic permutation is just one of several hundred million possible variations of that same 3%. So our appearance is just one of many millions of possible "shades" or "flavours" of the same DNA. If the earth was much bigger, (or more livable land mass) we would have many more distinct races, instead of variations of the three most populous ones on earth today.

Technically speaking, the phenomenon we call "race" doesn't really exist. In fact, the word "race" is really a misnomer. We use the word race in the same way we describe separate species of animals in the same genus (such as Butterflies and Moths). However, there is only one surviving species of man: Homo Sapiens. Everything else is a phenotypic manifestation.

We invented words such as Caucasian, Asian, Negro and so on largely in our ignorance before we discovered DNA and before we fully understood biological taxonomy. So whenever we look at someone and observe their racial ethnicity, all that we are seeing is the representation of less variety in human DNA - and that is the major problem with race when it comes to beauty.

The Scientific Definition of Beauty

Beautiful people rarely display the phenotypic qualities commonly associated with their ethnic origin, as seen here: Aishwarya Rai - Miss India / World 1994.
The original "race" of human beings had every DNA switch turned on. However, as groups migrated, some of these switches were "turned off", largely by interbreeding in particular environments. The DNA "switches" that did not maximize chances of survival in particular environments were "turned off" after several generations. So each race represents a DNA permutation in which some switches have been turned off. The more switches are turned off, the more "hyper specific" the genetic representation of the appearance of a person in that race. When it comes to beauty, hyper specificity is bad. The more hyper specific a phenotype, the fewer "switches" are turned on, and thus, the less attractive that person appears to be.

Hyper specificity is the opposite of a genetic average. People with more of their 'appearance switches' turned on, are said to be more "genetically average" than others. People who are more genetically average tend to be more beautiful. So whenever we say that someone is "average" looking, the word 'average' in this context is a misnomer. The word "average" in gene science insinuates total inclusiveness of all genetic components to some degree - not the frequency of the recurrence of specific components (which produces what we call 'race').

Therefore scientifically speaking, the more genetically average the components of someone's appearance, the more beautiful they are perceived to be. The less genetically average the components of a person's appearance, the more hyper specific they appear, and thus the less beautiful they are perceived to be. Beauty in humans can therefore be scientifically defined as:

Any phenotypic configuration that represents the most average genetic permutation of human DNA.
People who are more distinctively Negro, Caucasian or Asian than their counterparts in the same ethnicity are notably less attractive than people who are more genetically average in each race. People who are more beautiful tend to rarely display any of the known phenotypic qualities commonly associated with their ethnic origin. A classic example is women who have won the Miss World pageant. Women from Asian territories who have won the pageant have been noted to be distinctively less "Asian" in appearance than their kin. The same can be said of women from other ethnic groups. The most beautiful people look the least like their own.

This is why people who are of mixed ethnicity are generally regarded as being more beautiful than individuals from each of their parents' contributing race. The hyper specificity of each race is eliminated in offspring when the DNA from parents of differing races is spliced. In every embryo, nature is so programmed that it only takes the very best genes from each parent.

This maximizes the chances of that embryo surviving birth and living a healthy life. This is also why offspring of mixed races tend to have the best qualities of both races and none of the typical hereditary illnesses common to either. For example, a black person wouldn't need to query their mate if they are a sickle cell carrier if they simply married outside their race. The sickle cell trait would be automatically eliminated if they married someone white, for example.

Cultural Implications

The automatic recognition of this law of averages is why Caucasian females sometimes seek elective surgery to give them more pronounced physical appearances such as face lifts, botox treatment, or even tanning their skin for that golden-brown appearance. This is also why some black women living in western cultures seek chemical options for the treatment of the hair (often with the use of implanted hair in women) to give themselves that appearance. It is also why preference is shown within black communities for the fairer skinned among them.

The law of averages explains both scenarios succinctly since the average of all genetic extremities (of any particular race) is generally preferred by all races and cultures. This average represents what the original race of humanity once looked like. This is one of the key reasons why less distinct races like Latinos, East Indians, and multi-ethnic Caribbean descendants have been top picks at international beauty pageants. Each of these ethnic groups contain the average of all the qualities that are universally recognized by our DNA as being beautiful. They are not hyper specific to any genetic extremity we would call a "race".

The Geometric & Mathematical Beauty of the Body

Shemar Moore is Geometrically Beautiful - a function automatically recognized by the female brain.
The female brain latches on to the
geometric symmetry in the upper
body of a male (face to stomache)
A person who is considered to be beautiful also possesses perfect symmetry in the physical shape of their bodies. By this we mean that whatever curves are represented on one side of the body are perfectly mirrored on the other.

Symmetry also refers to the curvaceous shape around the muscles of the limbs and the cheeks of the face. Symmetry covers the shape of the eye sockets, the concave curvature of the nose bridge relative to the arch of the eyebrows which should be mirrored in the lips by a mathematical ratio of approximately 1.618 — also known as the Golden Ratio.

Symmetry is what allows the female brain to recognise the size of the biceps in a man's arm relative to the muscles in his lower arm. It allows her to recognize the breadth of the shoulder which is at a ratio of 1.618 with his stomache, which is at the same ratio with his thighs, which are the same ratio with the width of his knees and ankles. The very same ratio also exists in the length of the thighs in comparison to the length of the shin bone.

Women automatically fixate on a male's upper body because it is a good representation of a strong, healthy specimen. This ratio of all physical elements of the body are hardwired into a woman's brain. She doesn't know it, but it's how she would subconsciously and automatically determine which male is more handsome and thus, more suitable than another for breeding.

The male brain automatically fixates on the geometric symmetry in the mid and lower sections of a female's body.

Symmetry is what allows the male brain to recognise the size of a woman's buttocks relative to her breasts as a ratio of 1.618 . It allows him to recognize the width of her chest as being the same ratio with her hips with her waist being the complete inverse in ratio with both her breasts and hips. This sends a signal to a man that the woman has a well formed birth canal and hips perfect for having children. The sight of such a woman is pleasurable for this reason.

The same ratio applies to her relative height to his. Even if a woman is short or plus sized, so long as the ratios on her body adhere to the Golden Ratio of 1.618, she will still be regarded as being symmetrically perfect specimen. This ratio is genetically hardwired into a man's brain. He doesn't know it, but it's how he determines which woman is more appealing than another.

Now I should mention that no person actually goes out with a ruler and a calculator to make these measurements and do the calculations to determine beauty. All of these mathematical and geometric quantities are hard wired into every human's brain. So we tend to make these recognitions automatically. However, in the case of people who are considered to be beautiful, measurements were taken by scientists and the magic numeric ratio of 1.618 always turns up.

Where humans were found to be physically imperfect (thus indicating that they are a fairly less desirable phenotype from a genetic standpoint), the ratio disappeared. So beauty is not just the recognition of an appearance. It's really the recognition of the mathematical and geometric quantity of this Golden Ratio of 1.618 that is literally programmed into our psyche by our DNA.


Beauty is not really as subjective as most people are inclined to think. That is a misconception based on the disparate standards that exist across the world in various cultures. While each culture inescapably defines its own standards of beauty, there is a universal standard that is defined by nature, not nurture. But that is not the only lingering misconception about beauty.

Up Next: Part 2Misconceptions about beauty.

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  1. "The same can be said of women from other ethnic groups. The most beautiful people look the least like their own.

    This is why people who are of mixed ethnicity are generally regarded as being more beautiful than individuals from each of their parents' contributing race. The hyper specificity of each race is eliminated in offspring when the DNA from parents of differing races is spliced. In every embryo, nature is so programmed that it only takes the very best genes from each parent."

    huh?! this doesn't make any sense to me...mixed race people are not inherently better looking, I've seen plenty of funny looking/unattractive mixed people and I've seen non-mixed people who are attractive.

    1. Sweety, anecdotal evidence doesn't trump a generally observed principle.