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    Beauty Is A Restless Entity
    Exploring Posthuman Aesthetics

    “Thus a simple physical feeling is one feeling which feels another feeling.
    But the feeling felt has a subject diverse from the subject of the feeling which feels it.”

    Alfred North Whitehead (Process and Reality, p.362)





    To begin with, I need say that to my eyes any philosophy necessitates a double disclaimer: the first, that it is never final and forever a work in progress, and the second that by implication the fluidity of the state of affairs of the world does not allow for absolutes.
    How much more so, when the work in question deals with the future, particularly with the aesthetics of the future human, the posthuman.
    The following if so is both a work in progress and an amalgam of my thought process until now concerning the concepts of beauty, pleasure, intelligence and the manner in which these interrelate in what I take to be a cohesive and consistent manner.

    Step 1.
    Beauty is not the subject matter of aesthetics:

    I realize that for many, it is almost a given that aesthetics is the science of beauty, yet I beg to differ on this point especially with regard to the concept beauty as it is conceived at present.
    Just as I do not conceive of intelligence as a capability of the human mind but an inter-subjective property of complex interactions, so is my take on beauty. Beauty I understand to be not a property of objects, nor a natural essentiality, in fact beauty is not in the eyes of the beholder and neither is beauty a substantive reality.
    What if so is beauty?
    Beauty I understand to be a fluid and emergent sense oriented perceptive realization occurring in the mind as a form of knowledge.
    As a form of knowledge beauty is transformative by nature and has the propensity to bypass our reasoning mechanism without initially implying judgments. In this respect beauty is a terminology that is infinitely useful especially when the goal is not the status quo of our historical heritage but the expansion of our minds into new horizons.
    Beauty allows our minds an expansion of the proprioception mechanism (by which we represent ourselves to ourselves) into an extended territory of comprehension.
    Hence its fundamental and critical importance.


    “When you go to a higher level, the lower level may be irrelevant.”
    Gregory Chaitin (Conversations with a Mathematician, 2002)





    “The purpose of art, surely, is not merely to depict
    or represent reality — for that can be accomplished very easily with a camera — but to enhance, transcend, or indeed even to distort reality”


    V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein
    The Science of Art
    A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience (PDF)






    image: GFP in steel, Julian Voss-Andreae, 2004
    Why would an artist choose to shift proteins into the world of Art?

    Beauty in short, is an extremely large concept, accommodating within its realm of comprehension the continuity of all forms of knowledge directly enhancing our representation of reality. The result of beauty perception is an immediate transcendence of our previous knowledge and in that sense beauty implies intelligence amplification. Same intelligence amplification can be seen as a process by which the mind of the individual extends its modules of understanding and comprehension to encompass new realities. In short, by grasping and experiencing beauty we move levels, and progress across dimensions.
    Hence, the immense importance of beauty for our minds and by consequence culture and evolution, thus in our evolutionary ascension as a species, beauty is that which gives knowledge its pleasure.

    Step 2
    What is Aesthetics?
    If, as I hold, beauty is that which gives knowledge its pleasure, the subject matter of aesthetics then is the pleasure of knowledge (as intelligence amplification) resulting when beauty is acknowledged, grasped and experienced.
    “The word ‘aesthetic’ is a derivative of the Greek word: 'Aesthesis' ,In its classical use the semantic range of the word covers the English equivalents of sensation,perception,appearance, mind, and knowledge.(Liddell and Scott).”

    Following the previous paragraph concerning beauty then, we may now understand aesthetics as requiring an unsettling of knowledge, a dynamic, and transformative quality of engagement with the world.
    In this sense, Aesthetics can be said to be the foundation of our understanding the inter-subjective relational experience we have with the world. Aesthetics I see as that which disturbs the obvious, disconcerts the known, unsettles the clear and provides a way ahead in our realization of ourselves both as individuals as a culture and as a species,.
    Paraphrasing a famous statement by Theodor Adorno “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident..”
    I shall say:” It is self-evident that nothing concerning beauty and by consequence aesthetics is self-evident”

    This is important in more ways than one, for it is my understanding and realization that for our future to be different than our past we need a new posthuman definition of that which is aesthetically pleasing and that which we consider beautiful.

    Step 3
    Beauty is a restless entity

    “..it may not be a coincidence that the ability of the artist to abstract the
    `essential features' of an image and discard redundant information is essentially iden-
    tical to what the visual areas themselves have evolved to do”

    V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein
    The Science of Art
    A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience (pdf)

    The future that is coming upon us all promises to be more exciting and indeed more extravagant that we can imagine, especially when considering the tremendous advances of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and the immense advances in neuroscience.
    It is obvious that our old conceptions of what is beautiful and the aesthetics of intelligence amplification are the hallmarks of the arising posthuman.
    Witness the astonishing work of: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg/The Synthetic Kingdom/A Natural History of the Synthetic Future in which she asks:
    How will we classify what is natural or unnatural when life is built from scratch? (RCA)


    The Synthetic Kingdom from Daisy Ginsberg on Vimeo.


    Or the absolutely fascinating work of Revital Cohen in which she envisions animals transformed into medical devices.
    ““Assistance animals - from guide dogs to psychiatric service cats - unlike computerised machines, can establish a natural symbiosis with the patients who rely on them. Could animals be transformed into medical devices? This project proposes using animals bred commercially for consumption or entertainment as companions and providers of external organ replacement. The use of transgenic farm animals, or retired working dogs, as life support ‘devices’ for renal and respiratory patients offers an alternative to inhumane medical therapies. Could a transgenic animal function as a whole mechanism and not simply supply the parts? Could humans become parasites and live off another organism’s bodily functions?” (Dezeen)

    Revital Cohen's Pecha Kucha at Design Indaba 2009 from Design Indaba on Vimeo.


    What these projects (and many others which I will cover in the next essay) have in common is a new form of engagement with the world. A fundamental shift from the old manner by which we understood what aesthetics means and what beauty represents.
    As some of my readers know I see the future of humanity as a multi-objective evolutionary engagement, an intelligent engagement that does not settle on any particular perspective. We are much too young a specie in the universe to conclude with any certainty what we are and far be it from our conscious awareness to restrict what we may yet become.
    A conscious aware intelligent entity such as the human need take into account the trivial yet salient point that at this juncture in our evolution our main task is to explore the future of intelligence, the beauty of the knowledge and the immense pleasure derived from our restless imagination.
    As humans we are conscious aware intelligent entities able to entertain multiple hypotheses with regard to our nature.
    Art is such an hypothesis, a complex manifestation of human nature, exploring the phase space of potentialities our minds release; for all practical purposes, it may be the case that at present the intelligent engagement with the world that art and design represent is our main gateway into the implementation of a larger vision, that of the aesthetics of posthumanism.

    Beauty is a restless entity and as such will never release its hold on our imagination or indeed on our capacity to evolve our inherent embodied hedonistic awareness.


    a note:

    This essay is the first in a series that was prompted by a very interesting, clear minded and fully re-presentational post by Natasha Vita-More: “Interpretive Dance of the Transhumanist Future” at Sentient Developments as a response to an article by Athena Andreadis’, "If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution!"
    As a result ,I wrote a few comments (that you can find on G.Dvorsky’s excellent blog) ,given the importance of the subject matter and the book I am currently reading “ Human Enhancement” (edited by Julian Savulescu , and Nick Bostrom ) and the above posts I decided to re-elucidate my views and stance with regard to the post human evolutionary aesthetics and the on-going debate concerning our posthuman conceptions of beauty and their implications upon the culture we are living in and evolving into.









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    Comments:


    Fast T     Mon, Jun 29, 2009  Permanent link
    Love: beauty is that which gives knowledge its pleasure ; Puzzled: Beauty I understand to be a fluid and emergent sense oriented perceptive realization occurring in the mind as a form of knowledge ; Almost understand: we may now understand aesthetics as requiring an unsettling of knowledge ; love again: Beauty Is A Restless Entity ; Agree: A conscious aware intelligent entity such as the human need take into account the trivial yet salient point that at this juncture in our evolution our main task is to explore the future of intelligence, the beauty of the knowledge and the immense pleasure derived from our restless imagination.
    Wonder outloud: did I now attempt to compose a unique take of aesthetics through interaction within this essay?
    Spaceweaver     Mon, Jun 29, 2009  Permanent link
    Very pleasant and thought provoking read.

    It is self-evident that nothing concerning beauty and by consequence aesthetics is self-evident


    As to the restless quality of beauty, it is well known for quite a while that consciousness is one of the most expensive (in terms of energy) functions of the human organism. Therefore our brains are adapted to minimize, so to speak, the activity of consciousness. It has been established in a few experiments that only events with potentially unpredictable outcomes, the kind of events that might demand an unconventional response, are brought into consciousness. Consciousness seems to be the organism's most powerful tool for dealing with change.

    An idea that I immediately associated with this post, is that beauty is the catalyzing agent of our conscious reflective processes. Beauty is a special kind of disturbance that awakens and expands consciousness. Beauty seduces our brains to become extraordinarily generous in using the expensive resource of consciousness. The aesthetic experience is always a conscious experience and it always involves an expansive alteration of our consciousness. (beauty therefore is permeated by both danger and eroticism...)

    As to our posthumanist future, it is clear to me that prediction and projection are conceptually limited tools. My understanding is that our only viable access to a posthuman future is by expanding our consciousness. If this is so, aesthetics may indeed be a primary key.

    Ashalynd     Mon, Jun 29, 2009  Permanent link
    An interesting article, I would really like to go into all links mentioned there... A couple of thoughts, may be not directly related to it.

    The purpose of art is to deliver a message. The less cluttered it is, the more it resonates with the message receiver, the more beautiful the work of art appears to be for the person who "beholds" it (I don't say "sees" because art doesn't have to be visual). In this sense, beauty indeed catalyzes the consciousness of the observer: it helps to bring the message across as if by some magical shortcut.

    I think that the focus in the future will be more on synergy between individuals and on forming the collectively conscient entity, which can do more than any single human that will be part of it. Beauty of human creations is something that glues the humans together. Beauty of nature is something that helps the humans to "get in sync" with the nature, because we are not only parts of the human collective, but are also parts of the more complex and intricate clockwork called Universe, and we can't be sure if we now have full enough understanding of our part in it. By the logic alone it is not always possible, because human logic is based on human knowledge and it is limited. Beauty can come as a hint that some higher knowledge might exist, even if we can't grasp it yet ("there are always truths which can't be proven").

    The idea about genetically modified animals sounds rather scary, I can't agree with it because it would transmute an animal into a sort of biological machine, not sure it this is something that people really need, but from the other side, the idea of animal-like machines helping humans to get over psychological problems might make sense. As adopting physical hygiene had a broad influence on people's health, life expectations and life style, so could be the adopting of "mental hygiene", when people would routinely use methods more or less commonly agreed upon to maintain sound phychological state. May be it will be one of the main goals of the future development of the human society as the people learn to cooperate with each other in better ways.

    I wish one day wars would be seen as something of the same order as the plague outbreaks. The origin of every war, or lesser-scale conflict, lies in misunderstanding. And by the way, beauty,when seen as a way of bringing the message across, even when there seemed to be little chance to deliver it properly, has been considered one of the miracles that could help to stop the conflicts between people or to reduce the damage caused by them. Which form it can take is indeed never to be predicted, because it is never known what, in the given circumstances, is the best way to make yourself understood to another. Life is always imperfect, and that is also a quality of beauty. Imperfect means there is a space to grow, which means there is an interesting future to expect. So, indeed, it's beatiful to be restless :)
    Wildcat     Wed, Jul 1, 2009  Permanent link
    FastT:" Wonder outloud: did I now attempt to compose a unique take of aesthetics through interaction within this essay? "

    I think that your comment is exactly the kind of "unsettling" the aesthetics, as intelligence amplification and de-territorialization of perception, that i was trying to describe. You interacted with my essay and produced a short writing which for all practical purposes I see as poetry.
    recombining the words (as if these words were bits and strands of DNA) into an aesthetic presentation of your own impressions. This for me is proof of concept and insight. Combined Interactive intelligence is the hallmark of the future we are walking into.

    I was mightily impressed by this comment. thank you
    Fast T     Sat, Jul 4, 2009  Permanent link
    Where 'good form', as construed by our historic efforts of interaction, may call for a pause of acknowledgement, flow - as the spinal cord of intelligence, may do without.
    This forms in my awareness as i'm contemplating the aesthetic way of thanking wildcat for his comment, while being pulled into a softer form of interaction. One in which a slight nod will conjure a bridging bit upon which this communication will flow in beauty and thus will deepen the interaction.
    This direction of thinking brings me into greater coherency as to:
    Beauty I understand to be a fluid and emergent sense oriented perceptive realization occurring in the mind as a form of knowledge.
    .
    Now it feels that indeed my understanding has expanded as to where Beauty and Aesthetics are touched in this essay.
    Yet the coarser question still nags me, as to the "emergent sense oriented perceptive realization". vis. What and how that emergent sense etc. happens.
    I call it "coarser " since I identify it as residing in a less open dimension of coming into interaction with the ideas presented here and in my own mind. But I am not altogether clear about the navigation that connects these different dimensions of apprehending and interacting.
    It seems as there are differnet types of aesthetics involved here. I would love hearing your take on that.

    TheLuxuryofProtest     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    fantastic article - thanks most kindly for sharing!
    nom the puppet     Wed, Sep 9, 2009  Permanent link
    "beauty is transformative by nature and has the propensity to bypass our reasoning mechanism without initially implying judgments."

    i don't know if i agree with that last part. in the case of art, the arena of beauty, the question of judgment is almost all-pervasive when the intention to present the work is there in the piece and the viewer is left to answer why. is there knowledge for beauty to make pleasurable without this judgment? if you're referring to the pure sense data from the perception of the artwork, in what way does such knowledge not imply judgment? what reasoning mechanism are you referring to?

    can you elaborate more on the relationship between knowledge and beauty? you mention that it is a form of knowledge and then again as a means to make knowledge pleasurable.

    i like the idea of beauty as a transformative quality or a novel experience.
    Aesthetics I see as that which disturbs the obvious, disconcerts the known, unsettles the clear and provides a way ahead in our realization of ourselves both as individuals as a culture and as a species


    -is the act of art the breaking down these established patterns of meaning if we are to consider it beautiful? what of the theories that beauty is the pleasure from strengthening/streamlining established cognitive pathways? can we definitively distinguish these pleasures?
    -how do we make sense of communication through art without it losing the disruptive nature of beauty when the piece relies on the known to disconcert it? does art of the past become less beautiful as it becomes more well known?
    -does the ignorance of beauty amount to a rejection of possible identity for ourselves as individuals, cultures, and species?
    -does beauty always require a clear and obvious knowledge to act upon?
     
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