One of the most interesting scientific papers I’ve read is
“Driven by Compression Progress: A Simple Principle Explains Essential Aspects of Subjective Beauty, Novelty, Surprise, Interestingness, Attention, Curiosity, Creativity, Art, Science, Music, Jokes” by Jürgen Schmidhuber. Link to PDF.
The paper looks at humans as information processing machines that compress complex experiences into simpler concepts that help us understand and remember aspects of the world.
Compressing lots of information into concepts like “exercise improves my health” or “E=mc^2” helps us be more efficient.
Jürgen tries to use this “compression” principle to understand concepts such as beauty, curiosity, jokes, etc., in a computational sense, arguing for tons of mouthwatering concepts such as:
Beauty is Compression
From the paper:
“The subjective beauty B(D, O(t)) of a new observation D [with respect to the observer O at time t is] proportional to the number of bits required to encode D, given the observer’s limited previous knowledge embodied by the current state of its adaptive compressor.”
Basically, from the perspective of some observer, the more compressed something is, the more beautiful it is.
An easy example to illustrate this concept is faces. Studies have shown that our brains store a representative model of a human face, and then perceive a new face by looking at only the differences between it and this model.
This immediately explains why many human observers prefer faces similar to their own. What they see every day in the mirror will influence their subjective prototype face, for simple reasons of coding efficiency. Similarly, faces that are symmetrical are more easily compressed, and thus appear to us as more beautiful.
Another example is that mathematicians find beauty in compressing lots of information into a simple proof or equation, like E=mc^2 or: