Why do We Find Things Beautiful?

I understand why we find other people beautiful (or not), it’s a rudimentary method of picking a suitable mate, or at least cutting the numbers down significantly. This obviously has survival implications reproduction implications. I also understand why we find babies (and other animals with similar traits) cute, it increases the likelihood we will nurture and protect the child while it is vulnerable, to allow us to form bonds which increase the chances of it making it to breeding age. I’m realise I’m boiling things down, possibly a little too far, but there you go.

So, I can see a reason for that, but does it extend to other things? I often look up at the sky and see a sight that makes me think “wow, that’s beautiful/stunning/amazing.’ Is that a useful function too? Why do we find sunrises and sunsets beautiful? Maybe we just like fair skies and that it indicates good weather, easier living (when you’re outside all the time rain is not a nice thing) or maybe just a sign that the sun will hit us today and help us produce vitamin D. Likewise when you look at a beautiful landscape, maybe the trigger is identifying fertile land or a plentiful food source, maybe not. Explaining why we find certain combinations of colours, art, shapes and objects beautiful is perhaps harder to explain, maybe they are all do filter back to some primeval recognition system that helped us survive.
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Hunting Poachers

Trust me, folks, if you think some of my previous posts come from some random direction, you’re in for a surprise, because I think I may have surpassed myself.

Let me take you back to what you were doing on 7th August 2003. I honestly haven’t got a clue what I was doing, but in the frozen expanse of the Southern Ocean Australia’s fisheries patrol ship, Southern Supporter, started chasing a Uruguayan ship suspected of poaching protected Patagonian toothfish. They chased the boat across 7,000 km over 21 days, enlisting help from South African and British governments. They caught them and returned them to Australia for prosecution.
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Shark Spotting

Tagging a Great White Shark

And you think your job’s bad. These guys are trying to put a tag on a great white shark.

Recently they discovered a great white migrated from the southern tip of South Africa all the way to the west coast of Australia, a distance greater than any other fish has migrated. They think it might have been for mating purposes, possibly showing that the populations of great whites are in closer contact than previously thought. The route also seems to show that the shark could navigate there and wasn’t some random course.

The reason for tagging the sharks was to try and find our more about them in an effort to further protect what is already an indangered species.

A cracking idea to be sure, but you still won’t see me volunteering to be the bloke in the water trying to explain to the tons worth of shark that I’m doing this for their benefit and that they need to hold still and fight the urge to sink their teeth into what looks like a happy meal on legs with a purple jacket on.

Angry Squid

Angry Squid

You may have heard about the historic photographing of a Giant Squid in action at nearly a kilometre below the surface by a couple of Japanese researchers recently. Well, one thing they managed to do was break off a length of tentacle about 5.5m in length (it got caught on their squid trap thing and the Giant Squid lost it while trying for 4 hours to free itself, poor thing).

Anyway, Mike Monteiro posted the above image (and a few other varients) on flickr and I think that rocks. You can also grab yourself a copy in t-shirt form.

Memory Macro

One of the things I remember reading in one of Cory Doctorow’s short stories was about a ‘bugout’ (that’s an alien) who has a motorised exoskeleton that has macros for doing common tasks, things like opening the car door, starting the engine, that sort thing, rather than telling the motors step-by-step each time. I remember the US Marine Drill Team referring to it as muscle memory; you do something over and over until the muscles remember how to do it on their own. I’m not sure if it’s muscles or some unconscious subroutine in the brain, but I think I’ve got a couple.
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Spider Bites

You can blame one of my work colleagues for this post. She sent round an email with photos of a bite from a Brown Recluse spider. A rare affect of the spider’s venom is called Necrotic Arachnidism, which basically means the infected skins dies. It only happens in about 10% of bite cases apparently, and the affect depends greatly on the individual and the amount of venom, as well as the speed of treatment (the faster the better).
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Big Bucks

Kottke has a link to another interesting article. This one concerns the difference in earnings related to height, weight and beauty (which goes some way to explaining why I earn so little). There are some big charted differences. I would like to point out, however, that the conclusions that Kristie Engemann and Michael Owyang (I’ve removed their middle initials, what is it with using your middle initial, either all initials or none) draw lack an obvious one as far as I can see.
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