The Aesthetics of Decay

Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the

Absence of Reason

Dylan Trigg

Among Europeans today there is no lack of those who are entitled to call themselves

homeless in a distinctive and honorable sense…for their fate is hard, their hopes are

uncertain; it is quite a feat to devise some comfort for them—but to what avail? We

children of the future, how could we be at home in this today? We feel disfavor for

all ideals that might lead one to feel at home in this fragile, broken time of transition;

as for ‘realities’ we do not believe they will last. The ice that still supports

people today has become very thin; the wind that brings the thaw is blowing; we

ourselves who are homeless constitute a force that breaks open ice and other all too

thin realities.

Nietzsche (1974, p. 338)

can we still maintain that reason is the mechanism by which progress can be realized?

Despite the West’s fall into cultural pessimism, the sovereignty of reason has apparently resisted exhaustion.

Conflict invariably ensues when the principle, led by the claims of reason, exceeds its universality in relation

to a temporal present, so becoming distinctly fetid.

I think he is saying here for example the ideal of democracy is thrown into the limelight by some results of democratic votes and by the condition of ‘truth’ in the time of widespread access to means of dissemination of ideas – memes – formation of ‘belief groups’ – all the things that act against the finding of ‘truth’ given that ‘truth’ itself is hard to define and is mutable. taicbw

The divergence between universality and the temporal present is compounded as ideas are mistaken to

be intuitive, humanistic, or otherwise innate: terms which justifiably warrant suspicion. In the absence of such suspicion, the familiarity of reason prevents it from disbanding.

conflict between preformed principles like reason and on the ground contemporary events taicbw

Disillusionment and dogma

are the likely consequence as a society adjusts to the void between a static

principle and the mutable world in which that principle exists

reason resorts to defining itself negatively.

A lack of reason, led principally by “irrationalism,” generally, but imprecisely,

suggests anti-intellectual emotionalism and vague intuitionism.

If intuition is reactionary, then being overly exposed

to contextual circumstances, its judgment is said to be contingent

Reason, meanwhile, is said to derive from an atemporal and placeless

(non)environment in which context is subjugated by necessity.

the messy contingent present versus the timeless placeless principle (eg kant ‘disinterested delight’) taicbw

Through suppressing the particularity of context, aesthetic

universality is acquired at the expense of actual experience

Similarly, rational

progress is won as reactions and instincts, particular qualities, are suspended.

Precisely what this progress entails remains an obscurity

characterized by conceptual insecurity

Yet into this space of obscurity, a va-gue set of themes united by their commitment to the idea of permanency, be it political or philosophical, take precedence.


This book is an attack on the notion of rational progress which underlies those regimes

[he limits his use of the word ‘reason’ to “the mode of rationality as a homogenizing agent which defines and identifies the particular in accordance with a static prin-ciple already established in the past.” ]

he further says he does not attack methodological reason


The Next Biennial Should be Curated by a Machine

And especially in the field of curating, as well as

in the visual arts and in literature, we continue the useless fight against the individual,

against genius, against the assertion of the creative individual.

The claim of the isolated

performance is obviously ridiculous and funny, but powerful institutions and influential

people still hold on to the artificial and pathetic construction of super-individual –

primarily for economic and social reasons. The mismatch between

The pluralistic credo of Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and Lautréamont: ‘Poetry must be

made by all and not by one’, an even more radical credo is added here: Our reality is

imagined, developed, fed, curated, and subsequently collectively hallucinated by all of

us, humans, animals, and machines and the new networked organisms that are us! This

form of existence can never find a hardened shape. This will not smoothly merge with

the materialism and static requirements of the art genre and establishment. In contrast

to that, in times when personality, innovation, and vibe are in demand, ‘The Next

Biennial Should be Curated by a Machine’ should definitely not be underestimated

Should synthetic curating feel and look like synthetic curating? Human editing, the

human hand, and thinking in curatorial and in epileptic fits (occasions, exhibition,

crises, sensations) convulsively try to insert the idea of the individual, the human, to

add a relatable touch to products, evenst, fits or processes. This longing awoke during

Enlightenment, it was implanted as ideology, but could never fulfill the promise of

independence, self-reliance and freedom. Based on fragile collective hallucinations, on

fairy tales of the individual as an absolute, on radical negations of the collective and

obsolete reflexes of faith, it failed miserably while causing widespread and sustainable


The Arts are More than Aesthetics:

Brown, S., & Dissanayake, E. (2009). The arts are more than aesthetics: Neuroaesthetics as narrow aesthetics. In M. Skov & O. Vartanian (Eds.), Neuroaesthetics (pp. 43–57). Baywood Publishing Co. 

Neuroaesthetics as Narrow Aesthetics

Steven Brown and Ellen Dissanayake

BUT tremendous ambiguities inherent in the terms “aesthetics” and “art,” ones that limit a proper understanding of human art


It is only during the last two centuries that the terms “Art” (with an implied

capital A, connoting an independent realm of prestigious and revelatory works)

and “aesthetics” (as a unique, and even reverential, mode of attention toward such

works) have taken on their present elitist meanings and become unavoidably intertwined

(Davies, 2006; Shiner, 2001

Evolutionary aesthetics investigates

sensory preferences in animals and humans that promote selective attention and

positive emotional responses toward objects in the environment that lead to adaptive

decision making and problem solving (Orians, 2001). Objects perceived in this

manner are considered to be beautiful (Thornhill, 1998).

Although workers in evolutionary aesthetics do not overtly adhere to the elitist

philosophical connotations of aesthetics, some nevertheless write as though their

findings are applicable to an understanding of human responses to art and beauty

(e.g., Thornhill, 1998).

we suggest that present-day neuroaesthetics is limited in three

important respects by a narrow, culture-bound sense of aesthetics/art

FIRST Neuroaesthetics, like evolutionary aesthetics and

other scientific notions of aesthetics, is predicated on a class of emotions whose

biological function is to generate an appraisal of the properties of objects


for assessing a wide variety of objects

important for biological survival, as in evolutionary aesthetics, where they include

landscapes, food quality, the appearance and behaviors of conspecifics,

So the aesthetic data used in neuroaesthetics apply to a fat bigger category of objects than art objects

‘Strictly speaking, it is this broad area—not works of art alone—that defines the

domain of neuroaesthetics’

As presently

conceived, neuroaesthetics has no way of distinguishing art from nonart.

we present a view of art as a behavior of “artification,” a neologism that allows us to

think of art as an activity, in other words as something that people do (to “artify”).


……..The realm of human experience of the arts is far wider than aesthetic response to individual features……..

A focus on such responses and preferences, even in individual artworks, reduces the arts to the level of receiver psychology and social functionlessness, as presupposed in many philosophical approaches to the fine arts based on Enlightenment principles.’

…..complex behaviours eg making art include an aesthetic dimension but they are not reducible to the aesthetic dimension……..

THIRD ……….art deals with the emotions so a neuroaesthiec study of art needs a basilisks of a theory of emotion. BUT th BET theory of emotion is inadequate to cope with emotions produced by art and saestheric response………..

……… is a fuzzy category – mixed up with eurocentric conceptions……


a comprehensive scientific understanding

of art must include its manifestations in all human cultures


… in other cultures is not the ‘disinterested’ thing that is western fine art and also may not be connected with beauty………

A foray into

the arts of non-Western cultures not only compels us to confront art practices that

are removed from the “disinterested” aesthetic practices of Western fine art, but also

forces us to consider the arts as behaviors that may have no necessary connection

with beauty (Dissanayake, 2007

……art in premodern society is ritual:…….



ceremonies, as behavioral manifestations of cognitive belief systems about the

way the world works (Alcorta & Sosis, 2005), have some common characteristics.

They are performed at times of perceived uncertainty, when individuals and groups

wish to influence the outcomes of circumstances that they perceive as vital to their

livelihood and survival (Dissanayake 1992, in press; Rappaport, 1999; Turner,

1969). They are typically multimodal, combining singing, instrument playing,

dancing, literary language, dramatic spectacle, and the decoration of bodies, surroundings,

and paraphernalia. In addition, they are typically participative: even

when an audience observes specialists performing, they join in by clapping, moving,

shouting, singing, and so forth. As John Chernoff, a scholar of West African

drumming, has observed: “the most fundamental aesthetic in Africa is that without

participation, there is no meaning” (Chernoff, 1979, p. 23).

……the arts in ceremonial contexts have very many functions identity feasibility life cycles, relief of stress foster cooperation maintain social harmony etc etc…..

………so they question a neuroaesthetic approach to art….

…….they suggest instead a not in of the arts as ‘things that people do’……..

We suggest that it is profitable to consider the arts not as objects (paintings,

songs), qualities of objects (beauty, consonance), cues to sensory-cognitive preferences,

or passive registrations of sensory/cognitive stimuli, but as behaviors of

artification—things that people do. Over several decades, one of us [ED] has gradually

refined such a concept (Dissanayake, 1988, 1992, 2000, in press). Artification

(originally called “making special”) refers to the universally observed penchant

of human individuals (and groups) to “make ordinary reality extraordinary”

(Dissanayake, 1992, p. 49).

ritualisation as part of art

…..ritualisation and artification……….

Briefly, ritualized

behaviors are communicative displays that take ordinary, unremarkable behaviors

drawn from everyday life (e.g., preening, nest building, pecking for food) and use

them in an altered manner and novel context in order to communicate something

entirely different from their original source

…altered by a)simplified – formalised stereotyped or patterned b)repeated c) exaggerated d) elaborated e) manipulation of expectation

These alterations or operations

serve to attract attention to and sustain interest in the new message, which is often

concerned with aggression or courtship.

……….they make the point that artification (the things enumerated above) has not only an aesthetic effect but also a cognitive one………

mainly to generate a new signification for something compared with

its ordinary meaning or use. For example, ornamentation of objects like weapons or

vessels is a way of giving them special power: the placement of a crucifix in a new

church is a way of sanctifying and protecting it, and the utterance of special texts like

prayers or incantations is a way of making contact with remote deities. Hence, the

emphases that underlie the “alterations” of artification involve not only changes

in context or performance properties such as repetition and exaggeration but include

cognitive changes in the signification and function of an object or event. Arts

behaviors are among the most important mechanisms that link ritual practices with

cognitive belief systems

note that interactions between mother and child rely on features of ratification mothers

….diss says that this coordinated dibasic behaviour evolved because od ‘the obstetric dilemma’ of 2 million years ago with bipedalism = narrower pelvis conflicted with enlarged brains and skulls……..


(2000; in press) suggests that human sensitivity to and competence for the operations

of artification originated phylogenetically in evolved interactions between ancestral

mothers and their immature infants.

…..need for a theory of emotion……

……….brown/diss define emotions….:

responses to events or objects in the environment,

driven by appraisals of goodness or badness

strongly tied to goaldriven

motivational states important for survival,

….also focus and BET….


……….four foci outcomes objects agency social interaction

2) Objects. The second category deals with valenced reactions to the aspects of

objects and events. Importantly for this volume, it is this category that comprises the

aesthetic emotions, spanning the range from liking/attraction to disliking/disgust.

This is also the category that is invoked when people discuss preferences and taste.

Hence, feelings of aesthetic attraction, whether for a face, a food item, a melody, or a

building, fall into this category, as do negative-valenced counterparts such as hate

and disgust. Regarding neuroaesthetics, it is telling that the basic emotion theory

does not contain a positive-valenced aesthetic term (e.g., attraction, liking, love),

only the negative-valenced emotion of disgust.

Aesthetic emotions are unquestionably an integral part of the arts, but they are

neither necessary nor sufficient to characterize them. Thus, a narrow focus on

aesthetic responses is ultimately a distraction from the larger picture of what the arts

are about. Finally, to the extent that the arts are perceived as rewarding, this is not so

only because artworks are appealing objects. There is a wide variety of rewarding

emotions that occur when people create and experience art apart from simply

object-based emotions, including the pleasure of social communion and the moral

zeal of common cause.

A thousand brains

chapter two ; author says that the brain is a prediction machine – always monitoring its environment (unconsciously??) when it comes across something that does not fit its predictions it stops and pays attentiion

would that explain the power of art? why would we pay attention? how would the act of paying attention be pleasurable to us? how would the act of paying attention contribute to our survival?

I think I work on this very simple understanding of evolution: things that helped us survive were things that we did a lot because they were pleasurable. so did it take an individual who did an action and enjoyed doing it and that action was favourable to the survival of that individual.

how would the act of paying attention give rise to emotional responses to art so that we are moved to sadness or to a sense of beauty and significance

A mind-bending photograph of an orangutan with the sky reflected in water has won first prize in the Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2021 competition.

The image, by Canadian photographer Thomas Vijayan, is called The World is Going Upside Down. It beat 8,000 entries from around the globe to win the top prize of £1,500.

“Thomas’s image is really unique, and immediately stood out to the judging panel,” said Will Nicholls, founder of Nature TTL.

“The unique perspective and composition means you are immediately trying to figure out what exactly you are looking at.”

Mr Vijayan took the photo in Borneo, where he selected a tree that was in the water so he could get a good reflection of the sky and create the upside-down effect.

“This image means a lot to me because presently the orangutan population is reducing at an alarming rate,” he said.

“Trees over 1,000 years old – which are a major asset to our planet – are being cut down for palm oil plantation.

“As humans we have a lot of alternative choices to replace the oil, but the orangutans don’t have any options other than losing their home.”

Vijayan’s photo also won first place in the Animal Behaviour category.

Here are winning images from other categories, with descriptions by the photographers.

An image of an orangutan climbing a tree with the sky reflected in water below

Andy Norman on JRE 1653 MAY 18

Andy Norman says that our brains are ‘pattern recognition engines and will generate many false positives’. they are talking about astrology and the fact that people believe in it.

my use of this would be two suggest that the ‘payoff’ is in the generation of positives, false or otherwise and maybe the entertainment of the existence of something suggested by our visual experience was a thing that contributed to our survival and thus was so important to us that it was accompanied by positive feelings in order for us to keep doing it. we get pleasure from the examination of things in our visual field particularly where they allow for the generation of ‘many false positives. precisely because this ability to generate ideas false positives, possibilities of what was there in our environment was a strong adaptive feature

listening to Brian Greene on Joe Rogan latest one April 2021

Rogan and Green are talking about how to understand the universe and its quantum strangeness. Greene says some physicists think we should leave alone the task of understanding it – saying we should limit ourselves to the maths and using the maths to make predictions that can be verified using LHC. Others say they want to try to understand the universe and precisely the universe in this quantum strangeness.

both I think acknowledge the limitations of human thinking and how human thinking evolved to solve the immediate problems of human existence. so human thinking may lack the ability to ever understand this quantum reality we live in.

Greene says the view that we should concentrate on the maths and leave speculation and trying to understand it arose from the early days of quantum mechanics when the need was to develop the maths and not to waste time trying to understand its implications. Now that the theory and the maths are more developed greene says more people are beginning to power the meanings.

Rogan remarks that avoiding or suppressing thinking about the meanings the implications the how’s of quantum mechanics does not sit well with human investigation of the world they find themselves in – explorations in physics, biology astronomy, chemistry – this need to investigate and to understand is part of who we are.

the specific thing they are discussing and finding hard to talk about is quantum entanglement – this is a proved factual aspect of our world – that one a particle comes into contact with another particle, they are forever connected – even though they may be dispersed across the universe. What I will do to the one particle here on earth will also have an effect on its entangled particle on Jupiter or wherever. this is an inescapable and indisputable fact about the universe we live in.

Green remarks that up to this point our thinking about these things, our attempt to understand have all units now been about things out there already there in the universe. But he makes the point that now we are on the cusp of creating things that would never form on their own – new materials new structures. because our mathematical knowledge is now at a point where we can begin to manipulate materials at a sub atomic level. and in the future humans will be the driver of new things in the universe as opposed to up to now being the passive consumer of things already in the universe.

This is related to my exploration of aesthetics, the wow experience. new ways of seeing – not just the effect of microscopic viewing of things in the universe but the creation of new marks, new experience, new punctums

Trump order: New federal buildings must be ‘beautiful’

Trump order: New federal buildings must be ‘beautiful’

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Treasure Building, Washington DC
image captionWashington is a city of columns

US President Donald Trump has issued an order that future federal buildings across the country must be “beautiful”, and preferably built in a classical Greek, Roman, or similar style. 

The executive order says too many federal buildings reflected “brutalist” designs of the last century.

It says new government buildings should look more like America’s “beloved” landmarks such as the White House.

Although traditionalists will welcome the move, many others are unhappy.

The American Institute of Architects said it “unequivocally opposes” the initiative.

The order – titled “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” – creates a new council to advise the president on future federal buildings.

“New federal building designs should, like America’s beloved landmark buildings, uplift and beautify public spaces, inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public, and, as appropriate, respect the architectural heritage of a region,” the order reads.

The White House
image captionClassical buildings such as the White House are “cherished landmarks”, the order says

President Trump, a property developer, has only a few weeks left in office after losing November’s election to Joe Biden.

His executive order says that federal buildings built in Washington DC in recent times have created “a discordant mixture of classical and modernist designs”.

It said that with some exceptions, the government had “largely stopped building beautiful buildings”.

The use of classical and other traditional architecture “should be encouraged instead of discouraged”, it adds.

A draft of the order was first made public in February, raising objections from the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

On Monday, the institute said that communities should have “the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs”.

The head of the institute, Robert Ivy, said in a statement: “Though we are appalled with the administration’s decision to move forward with the design mandate, we are happy the order isn’t as far reaching as previously thought.”