There is an aspect to aesthetics that takes it beyond the bounds of coherent conceptual analysis. It shares this characteristic with consciousness itself. There is something about aesthetic experience that evades objective study and yet it is immediately accessible and experienced by all – Nobody needs to be taught what it is to appreciate or sense pleasure in things or to understand the apportioning of ‘beauty’ to certain objects of experience. The sense of the aesthetic seems to emerge, as does consciousness, without fail and without any prompting or training for all human individuals.
What is the intrinsic nature of human nature such that it appreciates a sense of beauty in the world, and in what way can one apportion degrees of the aesthetic to those sensations?
Hierarchical Systems Theory (alternatively ‘Hierarchical Construct Theory’ of consciousness) identifies a hierarchy of systems-constructs – each construct emerges from the evolving complexities of the previous construct. The emergence of each new type of systems-construct leads to a significant adaptive potential that can be realised only through the evolution of physiological structure. In effect, the emergence of each category redefines the restrictive potential boundaries of physiological evolution:
i) With the emergence of each systems category there are huge potential advantages.
ii) These potential advantages are realised only through the evolution of structural form.
iii) The potential advantages acquired through the maturation of structural form drives rapid physiological evolution.
Category 1 – The unintended emergence of active perception began on earth with complex replicating compounds about 3.5 to 4 billion years ago at the commencement of the pre-Cambrian period. It signifies a point when a new type of systems-construct was able to transcend the fallibility of its individual representative structures through its replicative generations, and thereby constructively influence the evolution of informed structural-knowledge about the good and bad of environmental conditions. The potential benefits of replicative capabilities led to the development of complex organic physiologies. A process of self-regulatory organisation is identifiable in these systems as they seek to maintain ‘stable structural adaptations’. The communicative behaviours of actively perceptive systems are confined to innate behavioural responses to environmental experience.
Category 2 – From the disordered evolution of category 1 replicative structures emerged a systems construct that was actively conscious of experience. It began with the unintended evolution of the ability to spontaneously assimilate, evaluate, and prioritise the qualitative value of the good and bad of environmental experience in wormlike animals of the phylum Annelida about 540 million years ago fuelling the Cambrian evolutionary explosion. It signifies a point when a new type of systems-construct began to intentionally evolve structured understandings regarding the quality and value of experience by way of the informative relationship that exists between knowledge about the good and bad of the environment and its experiential effects. The potential benefits were realised in a disordered manner through the development of complex adaptive behaviours within the bounds of evolved complex cognitive and physiological mechanisms. A process of self-regulatory organisation is identifiable in these systems as they seek to maintain stable behavioural adaptations. As by-products of the process, animals both experience a phenomenon of feeling the changing impression of experiential quality, and learn, through experiential association. The communicative behaviours of actively conscious systems are confined to verbal and visual gestures that portray only qualitative phenomenal feeling.
Category 3 – From the disordered evolution of mechanisms that could enhance understanding in category 2 animals, emerged a systems-construct that was actively aware of the conscious phenomenon of the qualitative value of experience. It began with the unintended evolution of higher-order conceptual processing in the hominid brain during the late Pliocene, about 2.5 to 3 million years ago. It signifies a point when a new type of systems-construct began to intentionally evolve structural concepts about reality, which involves identifying principles governing the conditional properties and characteristics that comprise phenomenal reality. The potential benefits were realised in a disordered manner through the development of complex creative behaviours within the constraints of evolving complex cognitive and structural mechanisms, fuelling a rapid expansion in brain size. A process of self-regulatory organisation is identifiable in these individual systems as they seek to maintain a stable concept of reality – a stable ideology. As a by-product of the process, humans experience novel insights as they develop a complex conceptual architecture from a realisation of objective properties and functions. The communicative behaviours of actively aware systems are driven by a desire to convey realisations about reality using any suitable medium and framework. This is made possible through a grammatical structure that need not be linguistic, but that must be able to convey conceptions about the phenomenal characteristics of reality.
On the origins of aesthetics through the evolution of afferent and efferent information processing mechanisms
Each category is characterised by distinctive physiological and behavioural attributes. Distinctive physiological attributes evolve because, for each systems category, there are unique and significant potential advantages that can be realised only through physiological evolution.
Category 1 – For example, when a systems-structure first becomes capable of replication, the realisation of any survival and adaptive potential occurs only following physiological evolution. One can interpret the existing and varied complexities of the environment as forming a set of conditions which these systems are capable of populating successfully only by evolving structures that can take advantage of them. Thus, structural forms facilitate the realisation of that potential through increased physiological and behavioural complexity and diversity, thereby taking maximum advantage of the widest possible variety of environmental conditions.
Category 2 – Similarly, with the second category of systems, the presence of an emergent neurological capability that enables the assimilation, evaluation, and prioritisation of experience on a realtime basis, establishes an immense potential advantage for its organisms:
The environment presents a dynamic and continually changing collage of experiences. Whilst the development ofunderstandings that relate to this dynamic process is of great survival benefit, these benefits are dependent on the degree of sophistication of any assimilative/evaluative/prioritising mechanisms. The more capable a neural network is at assimilating and evaluating environmental data, the more it can realise the potential benefits of understanding the dynamics and qualitative relevance of the environment. Furthermore, neurophysiological potentials are also augmented by mechanistic motor capabilities. Consequently, these systems-structures that experience the realtime qualitative value of experience – i.e. that experience consciousness, are characterised by the varied extent of sophistication of their:
i) sensory mechanisms for collecting environmental information;
ii) neurological mechanisms for assimilating, evaluating and prioritising that information;
iii) motor mechanisms for processing and directing dynamic responses to experience, and
iv) bio-mechanical mechanisms for enacting on those directives.
Each of these mechanisms have to evolve in order to achieve the potential benefits that arise from the ability to assimilate and evaluate realtime environmental experience.
Category 3 – Finally, there are significant potential advantages when a system acquires the ability to conceptualise the experiences that comprise the phenomenon of its reality. Similarly, as with category 2 above, these benefits are limited by the sophistication of afferent and efferent mechanisms:
For example, whilst an animal could demonstrate that it possessed conceptual understandings about the nature of the phenomenon of reality by grunting and gesticulating in numerous ways, physiological adaptations are required to acquire the full benefits of communicating concepts of reality. These physiological adaptations include the:
i) cognitive mechanisms for processing and organising the semantic nature underlying concepts,
ii) cognitive mechanisms for converting those organised concepts into a relational lexicon,
iii) bio-mechanical dexterity and maturation of the musculature of the lips and tongue for verbalising the language of these conceptualised realities.
Whilst the development of each physiological mechanism relies on the slow evolution of structural form over generations, their accrued and significant benefits accelerate the evolution of any other structures that facilitate relevant processes and mechanisms. Consequently, further adaptations would include, as an example, an increased dexterity of the hands in order to craft tools to be used to manipulate this evolutionarily new conceived reality.
As with categories 1 and 2 above, one can recognise with category 3 that a potential materialises only through the evolution and maturation of certain mechanisms and physiologies.
Afferent and efferent processing mechanisms
In the nervous system, efferent nerves – otherwise known as motor or effector neurones – carry nerve impulses away from the central nervous system to effectors such as muscles. The opposite activity of direction or flow is afferent. Afferent neurones – otherwise known as sensory or receptor neurones – carry nerve impulses from receptors or sense organs towards the central nervous system.
In their broadest terms of reference, one can label all neural conflation of sensory input as ‘afferent processing’. Afferent processing is conducted by a conglomeration of ‘afferent processing mechanisms’. The physiological adaptations of the afferent complex which conflate environmentally sensed data, correspond to such things as visual, auditory, chemical, temperature, and pressure interactive stimulations.
Similarly, one can label all neural processing for possible actionable output as ‘efferent processing’. Efferent processing is conducted by a conglomeration of ‘efferent processing mechanisms’. The physiological adaptations of the efferent complex correspond to mechanisms of motor action like growth, replication, localised movements (of body extensions – like limbs), and general movements (of the whole body).
Both afferent and efferent processes may, but need not be, anatomically distinct.
Conversely, ethics concerns itself with an attempt to categorise the dynamics behind efferent mechanism. I term the categorisation of the processes responsible for behaviour, as the ‘categories of action’.
Aesthetics concerns itself with characteristics of experience that relate to the processing of afferent mechanisms. I term any systematic categorisation of the processes responsible for these experiences, as the ‘categories of conflation’.
The relationship between system stability and the ethic
From the premise that coherent functional behaviours are conditional on system stability, I show a correlation between ethics and the necessarily ‘coherent functional behaviours’ of stable systems. This then enables the identification of a ‘trichotomy of influences’ that compete with one another in determining acts of behavioural choice. For more on this, please read my article entitled ‘The Hierarchical Theory of Moral Philosophy and how it relates to Efferent Neural Information Processing’
The relationship between system stability and the aesthetic
Just as one can identify a trichotomous efferent categorisation that explains the ethic, by applying Hierarchical Systems Theory one can also identify a trichotomous afferent classification that explains the aesthetic. This categorisation I call the ‘categories of conflation’.
Any given environmental interaction has the capability of disrupting system stability. To mitigate the potential harm that environmental interactions might inflict on systems stability, a system evolves physiological adaptations that enhance environmental resilience because such adaptations have a positively selective influence. Inevitably, physiologies evolve that are capable of determining the difference between environmental stimulations that reinforce and are ‘good’ for system stability, and those environmental interactions that are destabilising and are ‘bad’ for system stability.
The uniquely differentiated physiologies that are born from this natural systems design-template are classified as:
i) Sensory – that is, any mechanical means for converting environmental experience into a bio-chemically useable format.
ii) Interpretative – that is, mechanisms that can conflate that sensorily derived data.
iii) Evaluative – that is, bio-chemical mechanisms that can prioritise the relevancy of that data.
This entire mechanism is the ‘afferent processing complex’ from which The Aesthetic is a derivative.
to be continued…