Another retelling: The metaphysics of light

I would like to resummarize what I’ve been saying, again, by talking about the nature of light.

When I see a beautiful flower, I do not see the flower: I see the light reflecting from that flower into my eyes. When I look at a picture of a flower it can also be beautiful by causing similar pattern of light to strike the retina.

What I see as beautiful is the light, reconfigured in a form I appreciate. This light can also show me ugliness, or a host of other qualities. I will only talk about beauty right now.

The light comes from the sun, so in a way I am looking at a watered down version of the potential beauty of the sun. I can’t look at the sun directly because I wouldn’t see it anyway; it would just blind me. And without an object to reflect the light I wouldn’t see it either. Space is black, but it is filled with the light of our sun. It’s black because that light is not reflecting off anything. When it does, we can see it, as with the moon.

So I only experience glimpses of the sun by looking at objects, and then I see not the full sun or even pure light, but an aspect of its potentiality as filtered down by the nature of the object itself. The better the object, the greater the beauty my eyes will see; likewise with the worse.

Nor is beauty “in” the light. Beauty is the name I give to a partial experience of the light. No matter how much beauty I see, there is always something more beautiful possible. You could say that light bears the potential to be absolutely beautiful, but still the concept of “beauty” is a limitation of the light in respect to my qualities as a perceiver.

This means that there is a three-way relationship between the object, the subject and the light that permits the existence of “beauty” to become known. If one of these three did not exist, there would be no “beauty”. Beauty is not an attribute of the light, then, but of the nature of this relationship of perception.

I cannot say beauty exists in my perception of it. I cannot say it exists in the object I perceive. I am neither responsible for it, nor can I possess it by owning the object. It does not even exist, as the quality “beauty”, in the light itself! You cannot find it resting anywhere, ascribable to anything. This is because beauty is not an attribute, but an experience. Our reference to it as an attribute refers to the faithfulness of a certain object, in the presence of certain perceivers, under the right conditions to light, to offer the same experience again and again. The “beauty” is there only at the time it is being experienced. It is not “in” any of the three parts.

Our goal is not to reach the sun. We cannot. If our eyes are open, the goal – in terms of this analogy – is to seek out beauty. When we find it, we sit in rapt admiration, simply looking on and enjoying something that it is so wonderful. It is its own justification. Beauty is because it is beautiful. No one can invent beauty and say, “Ok, there is now such a concept as beauty and here is where to find it.” Beauty has been with man since the beginning, yet has ever remained inexplicable. Men know it by experiencing it. If someone cannot, such as a blind person, you cannot explain it to him. He may be able to grasp shape, but never beauty. Fortunately for him, he can find the same quality in sound or other media. It’s presence may be found via many roads; in respect to light, it’s called beauty.