Saturday, April 1, 2006

Old Nonsense: Excerpts from "Aesthetic Part I: Origin and Interpretation"

Unscientific Dinosaur

The following text is reposted here from issue one of the Scientific Dinosaur art and literary zine, circa 2001. I'm reposting per a facebook discussion that occurred this past weekend. The reposting of this article should not be interpreted as an endorsement of its literary or scientific merit. I was a decade younger when I wrote it (nor have I edited it in anyway since it's initial printing). Take it as it is.

Excerpts from

Aesthetic, Part I: Origin and Interpretation

M. G. Sivak


In the human context there is a notion of a divergence between the functionality and the aesthetic quality of structured systems.

To assess of the excellence of functionality of any system that possesses structure does not necessarily entail the acceptance of a notion that prescribes purpose. If a system or composition continues to exist for a measurable amount of time, that is to say, if its specific idiosyncratic homeostasis remains set within the confines of another system in which it is contained (i.e. its environment) then that lesser system may be said to be functionally excellent in that its form physically relates to its surrounding environment in a such a manner as to allow said system to continue to be. Conversely, if a system does not fundamentally interact with its milieu in such a manner that both itself and its surrounding order may remain stable than that system is fundamentally functionally deficient. In order for a system to exist it must maintain stability. Stability can only be achieved through a balanced interaction with its environment; a good example of these flawed systems would be the unstable elements of the periodic table.

Since perfectly equalized interaction between interconnected systems is a natural impossibility, homeostasis between said systems will eventually be lost causing at least one of the component systems to spiral off into nonexistence. Accepting this concept as a natural characteristic of all perceivable interwoven systems (i.e. the universe) allows for the idea that a system need not be eternal to be considered functionally excellent. If a system continues to maintain homeostasis within a low-entropy environment for a relatively lengthy amount of time (or if said system develops a more appropriate structure) then that system may be said to be, at its core, functionally excellent.

However, beyond this rudimentary level, and as the interactions between increasingly complex systems become greater in quantity and convolution, each system may take on new functional roles. As these roles become more abundant/specific, their actuality becomes more debatable. Except, that is, in respect to the landscape of the human.

If humans devise or recognize a system or object for specialized human purposes (i.e. a hammer to drive nails, nail to hold boards together) then the functional excellence of that system may be unequivocally determined, relative to humanity.

Still, there are human systems that, though well defined, the excellence of functionality remains difficult to determine, specifically, those things whose chief function falls in the realm of the aesthetic.

Aesthetic can be viewed as an entirely human notion. That is to say, that in order for something to exist aesthetically it must first be observed, and then determined (consciously or otherwise) to be aesthetic in nature. Aesthetic seems to be, to some degree, subjective. If this were the case then the excellence of functionality of any aesthetic system should be impossible to classify indubitably.

However, it appears that there are certain observational biases hardwired into the human psyche, specifically in the area of aesthetic discrimination. The most common of these prejudices are probably derivative of the process of natural selection and have as much to do with biology as they do with psychology. If this is the case, then in these instances, individual taste is removed somewhat from the equation. If the organic basis for a widespread aesthetic bias can be determined, and the basis continues to be relevant, then that congenital predisposition continues to be functionally excellent. And so, the system which posses said aesthetic attribute may be considered to be functionally excellent if it is determined that the system profits by being viewed as being aesthetic in nature.


Humans have bred dogs, genetic duplicates of wolves, into physically convoluted beasts. This undertaking, however, was not performed strictly to achieve an aesthetic end. Most breeds of dogs were produced to fulfill a specific utilitarian objective. A Newfoundland, for example, was bred to rescue drowning people. I have heard that dogs of this breed even have the instinctual tendency to drag folks out of the water and on to shore, drowning or not, the way a retriever has the inherent inclination to retrieve.

Normally, this type of biological behavioral encoding evolves over a great deal of time, but within the highly controlled super-low entropy environment of human construction (if not design) these specific or sub-specific indoctrinations can occur over a relatively short amount of time. With the reduction of entropy of an enclosing system, a system contained within may be altered in a controlled manner with a higher degree of success. This reality surely contributed to the evolvement of the human preconceptions of aesthetic as well [see golden spiral/asyptosis].

The origins of human concepts of aesthetic must lie in the natural world, that is to say the universe prior to human involvement. The root of aesthetic opinions of those characteristics that are perceived to be aesthetically enticing biologically (i.e. succulence), as well as that of those materializing as aesthetically revolting (i.e. goriness), appears to lie within the context of the relationship systems possessing these aesthetic characteristics stereotypically possess. Through evolution, those possessing a natural attraction/repulsion to these aesthetic characteristics may have either profited or became deficient due to their inclination.

But what of those aesthetic systems whose practical functional purpose is more dubious? Fashion may not be such a notion, as its roots seem to lie in the realm of sexual attraction. The application original function has been, to some degree, distorted, but at its base the goal of fashion remains attraction, as natural to humans as plumes are to a peacock.


Mammary glands have become useless in the capacity that they are often not be used for their original purpose of nursing. However, the aesthetic role of human female breasts has taken a position of primacy. Symbolically, breasts can be said to represent fecundity in a woman, the ultimate subliminal core of libido. But also, it has been said that in humans the form of the female breasts have come to imitate the shape of the female buttocks. In lesser mammals, that is to say those from which humans had evolved, the buttocks frame the vulva and thusly acted as a focal point to draw the attention of a male toward the female’s sex organs. Human stature is upright, and so the rump is no longer at eye-level. Some scientists have speculated that the breasts took on a form similar to that of the buttocks, a shape already ingrained, through millennia of encoding, to be attractive as a way of enticing a heterosexual male toward sex.


Art may be described as being the expression of a concept through means of aesthetic. If this is so, then each piece of art is merely a symbol. So then, the function of art is to effectively convey an idea symbolically. But that means, by nature art is dubious. Where a thing such as language hopes to convey concepts through specific explanation and clarification until an acceptable amount of ambiguity has been diminished, art thrives upon its own ambiguity. Where language is explicit, art is coy, and so more attention can be paid to the messenger than the message.

It is odd that something so removed from the natural functionality of life would perform in such a similar manner. In the case of sexual attraction, the main function is to lure individuals to copulate and thereby reproduce. The emphasis, however, is placed on that which is attractive until it takes precedence in the mind of the individual being attracted. Or rather, it inherently takes precedence. Such is art. The symbolic message of art is arguably less important than the idea of the work of art itself. Art is art because it exists as art. Its function is not to convey an idea, but rather it conveys an idea in order to fulfill it requirements to become a successful and functional work of art.


Symbols have been with man since prehistory. The concept of symbolism is not necessarily one of cognizant thought. It is even believed that Neanderthals possessed knowledge of symbols. Symbols a greatly ingrained in the human subconscious. It may be this ability or inclination to conceive symbolism that has allowed human beings to develop as they have. The very notion of verbal written and even gesticulated communication relies on an intrinsic ability to recognize that something can represent an entirely unrelated concept or thing. Any concept is itself symbolic. The world as perceived by humans is highly conceptual and without the inclination

However, for humans the meaning of a symbol is not always obvious, nor is it static. A symbol will, most likely, and in any case be recognized as being a symbol, even if it’s meaning isn’t immediately clear. Its function as a symbol is easily detectible in that it posses an aesthetic value that is consistent with those naturally applied to symbols in the human mind.

This may actually be where notions of portents and omens are derived. When events in the natural world mirror the aesthetics inherent to those things which function as symbols, the human mind will attribute the qualities of a symbol to these quite meaningless occurrences.

Likewise, when a pattern appears to emerge within an otherwise seemingly random set of events, those apparently analogous events are prescribed the status of symbols. Which may be why certain stigmas are attached to some naturally recurring events, the seasons for example. To say that seasons exist at all is a bit of a fallacy in that the four seasons are merely a set of connected biological and astronomical events. The events always intrinsically relate to one another, but it is the four points where these events most diametrically interact annually that are given the most significance. This is merely because it is at these points where their convergences are most apparent. In the universe, nothing is static. There are not four seasons, but many gradients based on the evens of a year on earth.