Walking past Washington Square Park this morning, I was struck by the incredibly beauty of the trees this time of year, in their autumn colors of flaming red and golden yellow.
And it occurred to me, not for the first time, to wonder why seeing something like this provokes such a powerful aesthetic response. I understand why we perceive the face of a lover or of a baby as beautiful. If we didn’t see beauty in such things, the human race would probably have died out long ago.
But why do we see beauty when looking at trees — big plants made of cellulose? Is there some evolutionary advantage to finding beauty when we gaze upon foliage? One possibility is that this response prevented our early ancestors from cutting down the forests. But that general direction of thought doesn’t explain why we find sunsets beautiful, or starry skies, or clouds, or rainbows — all things over which our ancestors had no control.
I realize that some reading this might have a handy metaphysical answer — because God made us that way. But I’m curious whether anyone has a compelling non-metaphysical answer.