In a process of somatic evolution, the brain semi-randomly generates initially-unstable neural circuits that are selectively stabilized if they succeed in making sense out of raw sensory input. The human aesthetic response serves the function of stabilizing the circuits that successfully mediate perception and interpretation, making those faculties more agile, conferring selective advantage. It is triggered by structures in art and nature that provoke the making of sense. Art is deliberate human action aimed at triggering the aesthetic response in others; thus, if successful, it serves the same function of making perception and interpretation more agile. These few principles initiate a cascade of emergent phenomena which account for many observed qualities of aesthetics, including universality and idiosyncrasy of taste, the relevance of artists’ intentions, the virtues of openness and resonance, the dysfunction of formulaic art, and the fact that methods of art correspond to modes of perceptual transformation.