Aesthetics / Art / Cognitive Science / Creativity / Incompleteness / Music / Neuroscience / Philosophy / Thoughts

Widening the Horizon

File:Nazca colibri.jpg

To reflect means to enter a meta-level. We look at things from a greater height and the horizon widens. We can now discern the structures of our thoughts without being immersed in them. We can see from here what we cannot see on the ground. From this perspective, we reach a new understanding of structures and connections and can see where to make changes. In this way, processes of reflection are important steps in creativity.

Many forms of art seems to involve reflection-like processes as well. Whereas literature and also more conceptual forms of art are closer to philosophical reflection and sometimes to jokes, facilitating insights or nudging our thoughts in novel directions, most types of music and visual art seem work by another form of reflection that happens nearer to the senses, in our perceptual knowledge, our “grammar” of hearing and seeing. If I am right with my hypothesis that beauty is a result of a sensual process of learning (see On Beauty), an experience of beauty marks a widening of our perceptive knowledge. Here, as in conceptual reflection, our horizon is extended, setting the stage for further experiences.

The horizon is widening, but there is always more behind it. The world is inexhaustible and our knowledge of it is always incomplete. The experience of beauty is a result of the incompleteness and imperfection of our knowledge. Some reflection-like processes, partially conscious and partially subconscious, seem to enable us to adapt our perceptive knowledge by playing around with it to fit it to the irregularities and surprises of the world.

These irregularities “break” our pre-existing knowledge. They are anomalies, but not so much of the things as they are, but of our knowledge and expectations about them.

The oldest philosophers, like Plato, believed beauty to be connected to perfection, as the highest of ideas, above the idea of the good and the true. I think they were mistaken. The experience of beauty arises when our imperfect knowledge is adapted successfully to the irregular reality, so it is a result not of perfection but of imperfection of our knowledge and of reality.

(The picture is from

One thought on “Widening the Horizon

  1. Same principle can be applied to what we call “mutations.” The opposable thumb, a thing of beauty to us, was nothing but an aberration; a mutation.

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