What’s so good about beautiful stuff?

Here’s a question that might help:

Imagine that a new planet has been discovered in a remote corner of the galaxy. Not only is it very far away, it is also surrounded by a massive, but nearly invisible, radioactive cloud emanating from the planet’s core. There is, then, no hope that we will ever be able to visit this planet. No one will, and no life exists there.

We can tell, though, from the refractions of the atmosphere that this planet is even more beautiful than it is inaccessible. We can tell (though we can’t see the planet ourselves) from the light bouncing off its atmosphere, that, because of its odd location, the landscape must be marked by waterfalls, canyons, planes of ice, and diamond, and mountains that make any of earths features pale by comparison. We can tell, with certainty, that this world is one of the most beautiful places imaginable. But, we will never see it. We can only imagine it from the energy it radiates. And no one else will ever see it either.

As it happens though, because of its odd physical makeup, if we were to fire a high-energy lazer into its atmosphere, it would heat the atmosphere along with the odd elements in the planets core to the point that it would explode into a gigantic glowing nebula. This nebula would be so volatile and energetic that it would appear to us as a constant, evolving cloud of brilliant colors in the nights sky for thousands of years, like a huge, silent undulating show of fireworks. Since this planet is in such a remote, lifeless area of the galaxy, no one would ever be harmed by it, and because the light in our sky would be softer than the full moon, it would have no effect on our planet other than providing us with new, exquisite beauty. But this, at the cost of destroying a planet that is even more beautiful, but which will never be seen.

You alone have been given the choice to destroy the planet, and thus provide the world with great (though lesser) beauty, or to not fire, and allow a place of perfect, but invisible, beauty to persist.

What would you choose?

  1. #1 by James on 2.22.10 - 3.30 pm

    If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Does beauty exist if there is no one able to see it?

    If I accept your axiom that we will never be able to experience this beauty, then I would argue that for us it only really exists in our imagination. In that case we can blow it up, experience the lesser beauty, and the greater will still exist in our minds.

    Alternatively, you could use the Pritchard scale of beauty. If we plot the total beauty on the y-axis and the number of people able to experience that beauty on the x-axis, the option encompassing the greatest total area is the one you should choose. In this case, that also leads to…blow it up.

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