Was where you are once stunningly beautiful?

August 8, 2016 by Joshua
in Nature, Perception

How far do you have to travel to see stunningly beautiful nature? Not necessarily Grand Canyon or Yosemite level grandeur, but at least something you can’t help but pause to take in?

Now consider this: imagine where you are now before humans arrived, or even after we arrived but before roads, gas stations, and landfills.

How beautiful was it then?

Artist renditions of pre-human Manhattan based on archaeological data look beautiful to me. Across the Hudson are stunning cliffs. In the harbor are picturesque islands. Wildlife ran, flew, and swam free. When people arrived, they’d catch their food right out of the water. Even for a long time after they arrived the place was basically similar. I’m not saying life was easy or better. It’s easy to read beyond what I’m writing and misunderstand me, but I’m only thinking about what it looked like.

I’ve started asking people how beautiful where they are was pre-human and I’m starting to conclude nearly every place was. I grew up thinking stunning natural beauty was something you traveled to, like the natural parks, which we saved for being special. They probably stand out, but I’m starting to think every other place was stunning too. The parks near my parents’ places are gorgeous. You can lose yourself in them.

Did were you live look like a dump before people arrived? I’m sure there were some dumps, but no one I have asked have been in such a place. I’m inclined to believe that people settled in picturesque places, not dumps or hell-holes. Now we’ve them paved over—ironically, I’m inclined to conclude, the most beautiful places. Still, it would have made sense for our ancestors to settle the most beautiful, abundant places.

Lookout points on scenic highways are rare, but I’m starting to think their rarity isn’t because of the rarity of the natural beauty but that the roads get in the way of it.

Please correct me if I’m wrong or missing something, but I think most places were beautiful, maybe stunningly so by today’s standards. Now I think almost no place is.

Similarly with food. Fresh fruits and vegetables in season are becoming more delicious to me than prepared foods the more my taste buds acclimatize to them and de-acclimatize to Doritos. Before refrigeration and shipping, all we had were fresh fruits and vegetables at the height of freshness. It’s easy to say that in August when the local farmers’ markets are at their peaks of unbelievable deliciousness and nutrition, but even in the cold of winter, the turnips, beets, and other root vegetables are delicious.

What got in the way of both of those things—arguably the most beautiful, delicious, and healthy things around—was population growth. I’m not denying the benefits that came with it, like science, antibiotics, fine art, music, and so on. For now I’m just treating two things: that we used to be surrounded by beauty and that we used to be surrounded by delicious, nutritious food. At least our ancestors were.

What have we done?

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2 responses on “Was where you are once stunningly beautiful?

  1. I am not sure the concept of beauty or taste is as simple as “old is gold”. I moved from a developing country to US. My home town was much closer to nature than is a modern US city like NY. When I moved here, I was amazed by the clean lines on the roads, the clean lines on the buildings, how neat everything was..and in general found everything amazing. Having lived her for a number of years, I guess I have gotten used to everything and am not as amazed by everything around me.

    I have always loved nature, backpacking. When I got into it seriously, i went to probably 15 top national parks/monuments and countless state parks etc within a 2 years or so, and was very enthusiastic about it. I was and probably still am in somewhat awe of nature. But to me, the same national parks have become less beautiful and gorgeous.

    Another example of what people consider beautiful is very apparent in fashion and male/female figures. In olden days, when there was a lack of food, people used to consider plump people beautiful, now that we have abundance of food, we consider thin/fit people beautiful. Capes, almost obnoxious clothing was considered fashion forward and beautiful at one point. Now, wearing something like Victorian age would probably get you kicked out of a gathering.

    I think I am pretty visual, and have wondered for a while why I consider something beautiful and why I dont. I am sure there are a lot of psychological research studies done to figure out what people consider beautiful, but anecdotally one explanation of what I consider beautiful is its rarity. There are also a lot of other drivers determined by social conditioning, but the “rarity” factor probably explains a huge portion of what I consider beautiful. Theres also the fact that humans have multiple sensors, and some people tend to be more atuned to auditory cues, or the sense of taste or motion, and what they consider beautiful will be very different from mine.

    So I dont think there is a universal standard of what is beautiful. Even if there is in smaller contexts (fashion/music), it changes with time.


    • I wanted to take care not to imply that I thought older was better or more beautiful just for being older. I only wanted to comment on my observation that everywhere probably used to be beautiful.

      My post wasn’t about cultural differences, but since you mentioned it, I’ll share a few thoughts on it. While there are cultural differences to beauty, it’s hard for me not to believe that everyone prefers a bubbling brook by some trees with a light breeze and low humidity to, say, freezing to death. Or eating fresh fruit compared to eating sand. I think we evolved to prefer some things, which is why more people probably visit national parks to relax than, say, landfills filled with toxic chemicals. I’m sure there are people who prefer landfills, but their number, if negligibly small as I suspect, would reinforce the universality of some preferences subject to edge cases that exist among nearly all patterns.

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