Why do we like to watch koi in an aquarium?

At the hotel downtown there is a large public transparent fish tank. It is a source of endless fascination, for the old and the young. What is fascinating about watching koi?

Lots of reasons present themselves:

  • This is a rare sight.
  • Koi are rare.
  • Koi are beautiful. {This calls for another list.]
  • Fish float through water. [ We cannot float through air. ]
  • Nor can we cannot breath underwater.
  • They seem indifferent to humans.
  • A child get excited by the koi and smiles at me. I smile back.
  • The scene is restful.
  • We are safe. [For unknown reasons] it is a stress-reliever.
  • The colors are patterned, regular and dappled.
  • We can eat fish. We can safely hunt them.
  • Koi are placid, barely noticing each other, placidly seeking food. [We are not usually placid.]
  • The fish are graceful as they glide through the water. We like glides, although we do not know why?
  • We think we can understand what they are doing. We can certainly speculate in what they are doing.
  • Maybe you want to be a marine-biologist.
  • The tank has bubbles. Bubbles are also soothing, and again we do not know why.
  • The reflections on the sides of the tank are lovely.
  • Watching fish does not trigger any kind of 'inappropriate' or 'danger' warnings.
  • They do not mind being watched by humans.
  • This beats watching nothing.
  • The un-natural 'rare' colors
  • The water itself. (Water is magic → another list)
  • The kind of fish they are. A tank of sharks or spiders would be a different experience.
  • Here is a little bit of nature. (We do not fully know why we like nature?)
  • They remind us of the lovely depths of Japanese culture as we know it.
  • It's an animal. Animals is a basic category of manimality.

I could think of many more reasons. We do not need an answer, especially a correct answer, to be fascinated by watching koi.

Any or all of these reasons could be true at the same time. We do not have to choose only ONE reason to be the true reason.

But we don't have to answer this question. The answers to these questions are irrelevant; they are more in the nature of an aesthetic exercise. We don't like these things because of 'reasons,' although we can, sometimes, give reasons for the things we like.

At some point we just like this, and in this we are joined by a huge amount of fellow humans.

But most likely not everyone. And in most cases we do not know or care why this is the case.


  • Are there things we can answer why we like?
  • Are there things we like because of 'reasons'?
  • Why do we like anything?
  • How do we use the word 'like'?
  • Why do we like watching football?

There are many things we call 'like'. It can indicate comparative preference, or simply an immediate attraction. We also say that someone likes something when they do it frequently without being coerced, as John likes to play video games.

But there are many things we could like. Just like watching a football game. Some of these are unconscious and are barely augmented by being put into words. We might call them cerebral tingles.

Some of our cerebral processes must communicate some kind of happiness, even though many remain below conscious awareness. (Our media and advertising have made a science of using these appeals.)

We are very affected by things we hardly understand. Surely, reason would tell us, it would be better for us to be interested in a good non-fiction book, than to watch a group of tame over-bred fish swim mindlessly in a tank.

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