Abstraction- Engines of Art

The update at this blog had been intermittent for a while due to my personal circumstances, with moving to a new apartment, and the need to write up bunch of papers happening all at once. Now that I am a bit more settled I should be able to write here regularly. At least I hope that is the case… I do not think I can handle as much workload for a while.

I have always been interested in writing things. Writing is something that comes natural to me, in that while I am certainly not good at it, I can always pick up a pen or sit in front of a keyboard and scribble/type away as I drift away to a state of reverie. It is the same as with reading a good book. There is no need to force myself to concentrate. The process is quick and natural like playing an old instrument while intoxicated by its melody, a sort of self-reinforcing phenomena.

As such, it was only natural that I would try to fulfill my predilection toward the ever vague idea of beauty. I have always been puzzled by the nature of beauty since young age. I can tell for sure when something is beautiful to me or not, yet it is quite impossible to pinpoint the specific quality of the thing/person/situation that makes it appear/smell/feel beautiful in my senses. There is no consistency in the things that are capable of displaying the traits of beauty, as a garbage can and a work by Michelangelo might display the similar sense of sublime, that strange trait that we can only refer to with the vague term called beauty. And this *beauty* appears quite immaterial. I do not believe there is a single thing in this universe capable of appearing beautiful to all observers for all lengths of time. The trait of beauty can be highly subjective, and is bound to fade away after a period of time (when in view of a single observer) regardless of the hardiness of the physical material that radiates the feeling of beauty in its observers.

Would such traits suggest that the beauty literally is in the eyes of the beholder? There is no evidence to think that inorganic objects in this world is capable of reacting to certain objects in a way that an organic, conscious object would react to a thing of beauty. So it would be possible to assume that the ability to perceive beauty and react toward it in this world is limited to complex life-like systems (this is an assumption based only on what we know about complex systems and the physical relationships within the universe at the moment, of course). Yet the problem does not quite end at that point. Prokaryotes are complex life-like systems, yet can we possibly assume that such microbiotic systems are capable of feeling the thing we conscious human beings refer to as beauty? I have never talked to a prokaryote culture before, so I would not know. Let us re-examine the trait of beauty and beautiful things in this world for a moment. From what I can tell, beauty requires significant amount of neuronal resources in terms of sensory organs and processing units, aka the CNS. Would that mean that the ability to perceive beauty must be limited by the capacity of the senses? That external catalysis of sorts is always required in order to perceive/imagine beauty? It might be tempting to say yes to such an assumption, but I think we must remember that there are plenty of things in this world that are considered beautiful despite having no physical counterpart. Beautiful ideas. Beautiful future. Such are more or less information based constructs that might be represented by certain physical objects and situations in this world but not tied to the specific characteristics of the material. If beauty is intimately tied to its nature as a construct of information, then it is possible that the ability to perceive and react to beauty is intimately tied to the information processing capability, like the brain, which is in itself a vast complex adaptive system.

I think we might be onto something here. If the things I have outlined above have even a modicum of truth in it, the illusive nature of beauty might in fact be tied to the informational structure of the brain and its interaction with the external world, within which learning and memory themselves might act as catalyst between the world and the brain in perceiving and reacting to beauty…

Here is a million dollar question. If the immateriality of the concept of beauty and its acting in concert with innate mechanisms of brain and memories are true, would it be possible to write a finite-length work capable of giving persistent impression of beauty by conjuring up any and all images and ideas that can be felt/perceived by the readers mind? Would it be possible to write a piece that can simulate almost infinite gradient of human ideas and feelings within the readers mind by the virtue of ever changing yet persistent nature of human memory and innate information processing capacity of the human brain itself, using only limited number of imageries and terms that can be utilized in a single work of writing? The idea behind such a writing would be similar to the idea behind the evolution of natural language, of how limited number of alphabets are capable of composing rich vocabulary and astronomical variety of written, spoken works and ideas born from those works. Instead of alphabets, however, the work would have to discover and utilize certain archetypes of ideas, patterns and imageries as to make it possible for the reader to create something entirely new every time he/she reads it, the only characteristic shared between the infinite variety of reconstructions being the persistent presence of the indescribable beauty.

The ideas of artscience and artificial life takes on an entirely different perspective when viewed in such light. Artificial life would no longer be static art, but rather an *engine of beauty* in a persistent yet ever changing universe. Just as Kurzweil proposed the universe of meaningful information, artificial life might as well be the first step in a whole universe of sublime beauty.

Beauty, memory, brain, all jumbled together.

Nature of nostalgia suggests a few profound things about the true nature of human recognition and memories. For example, sometimes I feel an almost irresistible nostalgia to the days I can objectively say as one of the worst humanely possible conditions one can encounter. The horror, the anxiety, the sadness and the utter feeling of powerlessness. All is subdued within certain lights and certain strange winds, the quiet swaying of trees and the touch of cool twilight wind which turns the whole horrible experience into a perverted romance, making me long for the day even for a single moment. As such, the nature of memory and nostalgia is quite peculiar. I think except under very limited circumstances the nature of memory might as well have only a superficial resemblance to the conventional ‘copy of reality’ sense we get from the analogies comparing human brain and its functions to that of computers. In fact, first hand experience with a human brain (I have one in here, I assure you) makes me think what we consider to be specific and clear-cut functions of brain might not be as clear cut as usually believed, although I do not quite believe that the structure and function of the brain is entirely holistic as some proponents of the theory seem to suggest. It is more like one function complementing each other in a sort of linked reaction, one thing always verging on the territory of the other, physical and mental reaction accompanying the other (physical pain and memory?) for no sound physiological reason. In such perspective, it is not that memories and processing capabilities come together to build a conscious system, but the conscious system forms aspects of memory and processing ability as the original system gradually becomes specialized with time/evolution.
If certain quality of emotion and reaction can be expected regardless of actual physical situation being experienced, such as an aesthetic thrill or a dramatic flair in situations of distress or sadness, then what does that tell us about the nature of human experience on the more profound and general level? Would that mean human perception and reaction is entirely separate from the physical circumstances we subject ourselves to? Wouldn’t that mean that the sense of beauty exists separate from the ‘beautiful thing’ being observed at the moment, and that while certain quality for evoking a response may be present in objects, there is no staying power in such evoked responses since the response have nothing to do with the quality of the physical object, its ‘being’ in the first place? If that is the case, then it is impossible for things in this world to remain beautiful forever, in the eyes of everyone, of everything. It would basically limit the quality of this strange thing called ‘beauty’ strictly within the realms of cognisant system, biological or not.
However, even if that is the truth, what can I make of it in connection to certain philosophies behind the beauty of photography and abstract expressionistic art, where certain moments or (rather hazy) units of human response in front of the object-world are sought out as sort of atoms of human experience and thought? And even human brains and manifesting trait we refer to as consciousness is basically a physical system. As a would-be physicist, how should I understand certain strange quality that is receptive only to a special type of system, despite having originated from same materials? Would this be a sign of a nonergodic universe?

It is a relatively simple matter to debate the nature of beauty on purely artistic or even physiological level because we lack a profound understanding of it. Humanity had been practicing the things of beauty for as long as anyone can remember, but no one seem to be able to tell what exactly we are practicing to what end, and each debate have boiled down into arguments decided on the merit of logical infallibility rather than physical evidence, which is quite distressing to me on so many levels. This complex switching between the realms of the physical and the not-as-physical in the sense that it cannot yet be explained from the traits of its original component, is the quality of beauty that I cannot help but to compare to the ever illusive nature of life, how it began and how it is to be replicated.

So many questions questions… And no answer, not even a clear distinction between all the tangled knots of the questions, all seemingly tied together to some strange end.