Why Do People Like the Golden Ratio?

The mystery of a perplexing, ubiquitous, and beautiful proportion

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There's a whole cottage industry of books, DVDs, and television specials devoted to the mystery of the golden ratio--an irrational number thought to be manifest in such beautiful things as nautilus shells, da Vinci paintings, and rose petal arrangements. Sitting as it does at the intersection of art and science, this lovely proportion has inspired many theories of why it strikes humans as beautiful. Now, as the Guardian reports, a scientist at Duke University thinks he has solved it. The reason we love the golden ratio, he argues, is that it's easy to grasp:

According to Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, the human eye is capable of interpreting an image featuring the golden ratio faster than any other....Whether intentional or not, the ratio represents the best proportions to transfer to the brain. "This is the best flowing configuration for images from plane to brain and it manifests itself frequently in human-made shapes that give the impression they were 'designed' according to the golden ratio," said Bejan.

Is the "beauty" of the golden ratio simply the sensation of quick visual processing?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.