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One thing that's surprising about beauty is that there are limits to it. That sounds like a bad thing, but actually it's good. If, say, a woman's skin is smooth enough, and fine enough, a limit is reached … the output of the subsystem that recognizes skin gets pinned at its maximum, and the exact details no longer matter. So, even if two women differ in some particular aspect, I can't always compare them, because they might both still be perfectly beautiful.

When I consider more than one aspect at a time, I run into a different complication, which is that there's no natural order in a multi-dimensional space … or, rather, that the natural order is only partial. As a practical example, one woman might have lovely smooth skin, another a pretty face, and I wouldn't want to say that either is more beautiful.

That's true, sort of, but I want to have it both ways. Sometimes a small difference in one aspect will be overwhelmed by a large difference in another, so that I can compare, even though I shouldn't be able to. What that means, I think, is that I'm simultaneously aware both of the individual aspects and of the weighted sum that defines how pleasant the experience is.

As a final complication, let me point out that the “individual aspects” are actually composite, so that the last three paragraphs apply internally as well as externally.



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@ August (2003)