The Personal Aesthetic
I propose that we enter a new term into our vocabularies: “the personal aesthetic.”
Observations on human behavior have lead me to the conclusion that every human being has a built-in aesthetic evaluation system. This system is applied to nearly everything in life, creating non-random personal preferences from this seemingly random base. The components of the personal aesthetic are neither directly under the individual’s control, not completely out of their control, but somewhere in between. I postulate that one can change one’s personal aesthetic with a great personal effort, but that is the only (conscious) means by which it can be affected.
The source of the personal aesthetic is difficult (likely impossible) to pinpoint. Like most human attributes, the source is probably part nature and part nurture. I speculate that our aesthetic preferences are mostly environmental, though they likely contain some innate, genetic preference.
Our personal aesthetics affect our lives in profoundly important ways. They influence how we believe we must act in the world, which things bring us pleasure, how we define justice and how we should treat others, the importance of the quest for knowledge in our lives, etc. The personal aesthetic imparts an irrational element into our minds because we hold deep-rooted tendencies towards arbitrary behaviors.
The personal aesthetic probably affects us more that we would consciously choose (were we given a choice), but perhaps we would be hasty in such a dismissal.
Indeed, it is often the personal aesthetic which gives our lives meaning. These core attributes give us something we innately "know" we should work towards. They are the axioms of life. The feelings for which we need no stimulus.
Albert Einstein spent most of his life searching for a Theory of Everything; a single formula less than an inch in length which could describe all physical phenomena. Why? Because his personal aesthetic drove him towards it. It drove him to search for it. We don’t even know if such a thing exists, but many of us can identify with his obsession.
How is the personal aesthetic different from simply saying that people have preferences? Well, the personal aesthetic can be thought of as the root level of preferences. Preference at the highest level, or alternately as a kind of meta-preference. That is to say that preferences spawn from personal aesthetics. Which definition you use is largely a matter of semantics, separate from the key idea I am presenting.
Should the personal aesthetic be taken seriously? My answer is certainly “yes,” yours may differ. I find that embracing the personal aesthetic is a bit like eating the food you like: you can’t change the taste of brussel sprouts simply by telling yourself that have decided you like the item. Seek to identify the commonalities in things you appreciate. Isolate the root causes to know your own personal aesthetics. Some are obvious—others are not.
In short, I am proposing not simply a new term, but also a philosophy of life. I am suggesting that we possess innate, largely immutable dispositions. These dispositions compose, either partially or completely, the set of things which bring fulfillment to our lives. We will seek them, either consciously or unconsciously, and the former approach will likely be more effective. We should characterize and embrace our personal aesthetics.