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The Evolution of the Golden Ratio

Apr 14, 2011   [permalink]

Random musing of the day... one of those weird thoughts that runs through my mind in the shower kind of thing.

I was thinking about the Golden Ratio, φ, AKA 1.618ish to 1, and why it's so prevalent in art, why it's so commonly called "aesthetically pleasing."

So I have a theory. (Yes, this is the sort of stuff I think about in the shower.) :)

My hunch is that it relates to the way the eye's sensing of visual data and the brain's processing of visual input has evolved: That it would be an evolutionary advantage to be aware of threats -- and dinner -- that are to your sides. Peripheral vision, in other words.

Early humans might face threats from a saber tooth tiger, say, or a charging rhino, which are going to come at you laterally. If you want to munch on that antelope out there, you'll look for it laterally. There aren't that many threats (or dinner) that come from above. Early man couldn't fly. (What with airline fees, small seats, and the TSA groping these days, I'm not sure modern man can either.) :) Ahem. Anyway, we wouldn't have faced threats from being carried away by large birds, or having to watch for meteorites falling on us. Threats or dinner below us -- sure, yes, but only below in front, not below to the sides: You want to avoid falling in a hole walking forward, but that's in front. No need for extra side vision that scans up/down also.

I'm just thinking about my field of view as I sit here. It _feels_ to me like a rectangle that's a fair bit wider than it is tall. Perhaps, say, 61.8% wider than it is tall. :)

I could see evolution's random hand shaping our brains that way as a survival trait. Those who had a certain amount of peripheral vision survived better. (Too much peripheral vision may not have added anything, or perhaps even been a detriment? Too distracting?)

Thus it makes sense we'd do things like create TV and computer displays that wider than they are tall. The 4:3 ratio of standard TV and 16:9 of HD are both wider than tall, and crude approxmiations of φ — indeed, they're on both sides of it: 4:3 is 1.333, φ is 1.618, 16:9 is 1.778.

I haven't seen any other theories that assert this is why we find the Golden Ratio so pleasing. E.g., nothing mentioned about this origin concept in the Wikipedia. (Thus, for example, if it isn't well know why we like it, it's understandable that we wouldn't be using it to actively guide our shapes of displays and such, but we just randomly tend toward that same shape.)

Dunno. Random shower musing. Maybe I'm all wet. :)

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