Aesthetic paper draft 3 17 02


Beautiful patterns

Matjaž Potrč

University of Ljubljana, Slovenia;



The book by Božidar Kante is a good introduction to the area of aesthetic, but there are no patterns mentioned in the list of the matters it deals with. The following may be seen as a trial to supplement for this omission. My acquaintance with the importance of patterns for aesthetics steams from my interest in Veber’s work which also and curiously is not mentioned by Kante. Veber thought that patterns involved into works of art are what aesthetic should occupy itself with. The access to these patterns according to his understanding is psychological, whereas patterns themselves, the irreal Gestalts, “irrealni liki”, belong to an area of Meinongian objects whose mode of existence is not empirical but rather kind of Platonist. I think that one should respect one’s national tradition and that Kante should supplement for this in his future work. My proposal is inspired by irreal Gestalts, but it does not take them over in a Platonist sense. Perhaps there is agreement between Veber and myself about non-projectability in the nature of aesthetic patterns. But my patterns, contrary to his, are more directly linked to the nature of cognitive systems. For our cognitive systems are involved into creation and understanding of beautiful patterns.



Aesthetic is concerned with understanding and explaining of works of art, such as paintings, dramas or operas. Grasping and explaining of patterns involved into the works of art is in the center of this enterprise. Patterns are often understood to support generalizations that enable productivity or application to novel cases on the basis of a scarce number of encountered cases. There is no role for generalities either in understanding or in explaining of the works of art. But there certainly are patterns in works of art. Richness of these patterns invites an approach based on intuition with exclusion of generalities and projectibility. The nature of aesthetic patterns is particularist. Their study may help support ethical particularism.


Aesthetic as explanation of works of art

What should be the subject matter of aesthetic as a philosophical discipline? The obvious answer is that its field should be works of art, such as paintings, dramas and operas. And the activity of aesthetic should comprise understanding and explanation of works of art.

            There are several possible understandings of works of art. One of these involves sociological considerations. Various perspectives involving the historical moment in which the work of art was conceived, author’s life and technicalities that were employed in the production of work of art are studied. This is supposed to provide a way towards the full development of the ability for aesthetic experience. Special training in the history of art or just mastering of several alternatives involving available possibilities and techniques is often required for an understanding and explanation of works of art.

            One may claim though that all this cannot directly contribute to the aesthetic experience. Imagine that some work of art, a picture say, is presented to you. It happens that you do not have a clue about the sociological, technical or biographical background through which it was produced. Yet you can still fully experience the beauty of the picture.


Patterns in the center of works of art

In the aesthetic experience you are attuned to the patterns specific for works of art. In order to begin understanding the importance of patterns in aesthetics, one may aim towards giving a description of patterns and then proceed to the specific aesthetic patterns of increasing complexity. The question that deserves attention is whether there is any generality involved into patterns. This question will be important for the specific account concerning the role of patterns in aesthetics as compared to their role in other areas such as ethics. It is argued that aesthetic patterns do not involve any generality, and that the lesson they teach us in this respect may be expanded to other areas.

            The first example of a pattern that comes to the mind is the famous duck/rabbit illusion example. In the basis of the phenomenon is a certain shape, a line of specific form drawn on a piece of paper. As you encounter the shape you immediately grasp it as the pattern representing a duck. You do not need the time for reflection; you rather intuit the pattern momentarily. You are psychologically glued to the pattern, as at the moment you cannot help to grasp the shape otherwise as the duck pattern. At the time you are attuned to perceiving the shape as a pattern representing a duck, you are pattern-blind as to the possibility of perceiving shape as a rabbit. Once your starting position is attuned to the duck pattern, some effort and some pattern-switch is necessary in order for you to perceive the shape as the pattern representing a rabbit. The whole phenomenon centers on the pattern switch. And each of the states in the switch is related to the very forceful intuiting of one pattern at the exclusion of the other. Both patterns may be recognized though – although not simultaneously – on the basis of the same shape. Is there some generality in this pattern recognition? There is just powerful intuiting of a particular way for me to see the shape. Just to repeat it: there is pattern switch between two ways of seeing the shape, accompanied with deep intuitive grasp of one of the patterns, to the exclusion of the other. But it does not seem that there is any generality involved into the example of duck/rabbit, or any projectibility. There is no projection involved from duck to rabbit, and there is nothing general involved into the transition between them. One may claim that once you grasp the pattern of a rabbit, this may help you to project the pattern to other similar cases. But this is not the point of the example. In general, the pattern is not there in order to enable you the projection to further cases. Just the singular intuition based experience is what matters.

            Some people working in aesthetics claim that grasping a work of art consists in grasping of the pattern involved in this work. Or maybe it consists in grasping of one among the patterns involved into work of art, for there may be many of these constituting it. This would then be a generalized case of pattern switching. It may happen that you hear a symphony for the first time and that you recognize a pattern in it. Then you have some aesthetic pleasure. But as you come back to listen to the same symphony again, such as Mahler symphony number 5, you may recognize several patterns on several different occasions of listening to it. Each of these will bring you a different kind of aesthetic pleasure. Perhaps after a while this will allow you to intuit a further pattern at a higher level, which will become present to you in an intuitive flash. Patterns may be comparatively easily recognized in some works of arts such as pictures. But take an opera such as Mozart’s Don Juan that involves ballet, the orchestra, several singers and changing scenery. You may be able to intuit a pattern involved into this performance of opera at some level if you will be careful to follow several of various pattern threads. These patterns will come together from various directions and they will unite in an overall form supporting your aesthetic pleasure and the judgment that you form on its basis. Opera certainly shows an example of a complex pattern, whose intuiting, at the time you grasp it, will probably happen in a flash, in a moment full of experience. Now ask yourself if the pattern involved into the opera is there in order to allow you the projection of similar experiences at other occasions? This does not seem to be the case. Pattern is involved in your aesthetic enjoyment and this is why it is so tightly connected to the intuition.

            This brief survey of two examples involving patterns that may first come to the mind shows us first that several patterns may be intertwined and multiply involved into a single phenomenon, giving the occasion for appearance of some superimposed pattern. And it also shows that there is no projective role involved into the grasping of the pattern.

The case of the opera has shown us that on the basis of the pattern, which you discover in it, you just form judgment about the goodness of this performance. There exists a very complex descriptive basis for formation of this judgment. But there is no generalization involved. The judgment is about this specific performance. It may be claimed that the forming of this judgment allows you to project similar judgments in the possible subsequent cases. But what are similar judgments? Certainly some skill of judgment develops along your opera involving experiences, but still it may be seen as a concrete application of judgment to each separate particular case. So there is no clear role for projectibility here, and thus no clear role assigned to the general.

            We took a look at a couple of patterns. The result is that these patterns do not involve any tractability and that they rather depend on intuitions. One shape can be apprehended and intuited in several different ways.


A dynamical cognition primer

The importance of patterns for an understanding of works of art is related to the cognitive system that is involved into forming of aesthetic judgment. One way to look at the nature of the cognitive system presents it as governed by hard computational rules involved into the computation over representations. This is then the classical language of thought model of cognition. One problem for the classical model of cognition is known as the frame problem, the problem about how to put the frame around the amount of computations assuring relevance in several changing situations in which the cognitive system finds itself. Frame problem is the result of hard computational rules and of tractable procedures supposedly governing the cognition. Connectionist models tried to improve on the classical cognitive architecture by including skillful activities in the nature of cognition. These models build on distributed representations following associationist procedures, and they are inspired by the structure of the brain, where representation activation proceeds over patterns of distributed neurons.

            Whereas connectionist models reject the language of thought hypothesis, dynamical cognition (DC) embraces it on a qualitatively new level. DC proposal about how to model cognition is inspired by connectionism and in a way it is much closer to connectionism than it is to the classicism. But DC has two basic claims that put it into a different perspective in respect to the perspective of connectionism. It treats actual connectionist proposals as still involving tractable procedures, although these may be of greater complexity as the ones characteristic for classical models of cognition. And it embraces a structure of language of thought. In this it would be a kin of classicism. But the difference is that this is a non-classical language of thought, obtained on the basis of the cognitive system’s intractable richness. Because of embracing the basic richness of cognitive systems, the model of DC has a different way of explaining relevance than this was the case for the classical systems. Whereas classical models relied on hard computational tractable rules, DC framework rather introduces a multi-dimensional rich landscape at the middle level of cognitive systems’ description. There, the total cognitive states that appear at the higher cognitive level of description are positioned at the landscape according to the dynamical forces acting and putting the pressure upon them. There isn’t any tractability according to the DC view, either at the higher intentional level of cognitive system’s description, or at the middle level of its description, where the classicists had an algorithm. DC generalizes algorithm into the mathematical transitions descriptions. An important ingredient of the dynamical middle level of description is the morphological content, the intractable humming background that is effective in positioning of the total cognitive intentional states at the landscape.

            It is not hard to see that DC framework gives a basically different view of how the cognitive experiences may be located as does the picture proposed by the classical model of mind. Buying the DC framework will allow us a rather different view about the foundation of aesthetic experiences and of the patterns involved in them. The important thought is that aesthetic experiences happen on a nontractable multidimensional landscape that does not allow any space either to tractability or to generalizations related to it. DC framework invites a particularist account of aesthetic experiences, founded on the richness of the cognitive landscape.


Phenomenology of understanding and explanation of works of art

We took a look at the sociological approach to an understanding and explanation of works of art. We have seen that such kind of approaches do not necessarily expose what is important for aesthetic pleasure. The remark may be put in the following terms: they do not envision an irreducible first person what it is like perspective that certainly takes place in aesthetic judgments.

            What would be a pattern encompassed by this qualitative perspective? The pattern has to be a thoroughly holistic one. It will be a pattern complex to the extent that it cannot be repeated and thus cannot be projected either. No projectibility is at work here because of the patterns’ complexity. Also, there is no projectibility because of the very nature of the qualitative nature of what it is like experiences: what it is like experience is substantially not projectible.

There is a pattern that allows for an account of what it is like perspective. It is a complex intractable non-codifiable pattern, not to be repeated, and thus not projectible. It is a pattern of the cognitive system as intuited at a time. The background of this pattern is the whole of some individual’s cognitive system, with lots of morphological content that encompasses several traces of former experiences. The pattern as a response to the aesthetic pleasure is quasi-synchronic. It is synchronic in that it may be ideally represented as a punctual state of a very complex cognitive system’s structure at a time. It is quasi-synchronic in that the state of the cognitive system involving cognitive pleasure is not really punctual. Experientially it tends to come in a punctual intuitive flash. But this punctual intuition is intertwined with complex traces of past experiences and with anticipation. A simple example of such punctual intuiting from another area may be presented by a dream that is triggered by a knock on the door. The dream has a complex intertwined structure consisting of several episodes, but we may presuppose that its actual duration is momentary. The moment-long knock has triggered a subconscious pattern pushed by the multidimensional landscape of the cognitive system, involving morphological content.

Quasi-synchronic realization offers an account of a structure that is not tractable and not codifiable because of its richness. There is no projectibility in it, but there is what it is like experience. There is particularistic realization. This is the structure that may deliver an account of what it is like experiences.

The wrong presupposition is that what it is like experience has to be given via a tractable and codifiable procedure. Look at Mary the scientist, the what it is like freak. She engages in an accumulation of all descriptive tractably surveyable facts about qualitative experiences that are available to her. But all this does not bring her to the what it is like qualitative experience of red. Then, as it is stressed, she intuits a new quality of her experience in an enlightening flash. The experience imposes itself on her in a powerful manner. It is intuitively available and not repeatable even if one would like to classify it as one of a kind, such as the kind of experiencing involved in red.

What about the role of phenomenology in an understanding of works of art? There is certainly phenomenology involved into an aesthetic experience. There is a rich cognitive structure underlying intuitively accessed experience, triggered by works of art. Just somebody with some previous experience will be able to appreciate work of arts. The experiences though will come to her always in a new particular manner. The repeated experiences will accumulate themselves in a non-projective manner, at the landscape of the experiencer’s morphological content.

The comparison with Mary is instructive here. Whatever the amount of descriptive information about color, Mary will never be able to derive qualitative experience from it. All the knowledge provided by the science about the color perception will not produce in any direct way the qualitative what it is like experience of Mary’s seeing the color red.

To a certain extent, this is comparable to the situation with the descriptive information about a work of art, in its relatedness to the aesthetic pleasure, i.e. one’s experience of the work of art. No matter how much descriptive information about a certain work of art you accumulate, it will not directly lead to your experience of the aesthetic pleasure as you are confronted with the work of art. No matter how much descriptive information related to the musical notation, the descriptive details about Mahler’s work of art you accumulate (that he was in Ljubljana at the beginning of his career, that he was at a lake in Carynthia later in his life) will automatically bring you to the threshold where your qualitative phenomenology of experience will jump in and be possible. Your qualitative experience, enjoyment experienced while listening to the 5th symphony, in a way, will arise irrespectively of any amount of the accumulated descriptive information.

Yet, this is not the whole of the story. There does seem to be a certain involvement of the descriptive information in the enjoyment of the works of art. To some extent, you can feel the desire to learn more facts about Mahler after you have listened to some of Mahler’s music for a while. Indeed, at some stage, the descriptive information about Mahler’s life, and also about the descriptive technical details about writing of the notes, and the relations between them, will help you to have a richer experience. Yes, the point is that the accumulation of the descriptive information will not bring you automatically to the aesthetic experience. But it may help you to have a richer aesthetic experience once you do have it. How comes? Consider that the descriptive information will accumulate through time in your cognitive system. It will be integrated into the rich landscape of your cognitive system, in the morphological content. Later at the moment as you will listen to the music, the morphological landscape of your cognitive system may help you experience aesthetic pleasure. In an intuitive flash, there will be aesthetic experience, which will settle in a rich system’s low at some point at the landscape. Consider now that the whole system as a very rich pattern has changed following the input of new descriptive information. As the whole of the cognitive system supports the intuitive flash of aesthetic experience, the landscape of the system will be molded with the accumulation of the new descriptive information. This will then certainly refine or enrich the structure of the intuitive flash supporting the aesthetic experience. The experience therefore may become richer because of the accumulation of the descriptive information.

In this way, descriptive information still does not give a direct support for transition to the experience. Rather, you may think that sometimes after the fact adding of descriptive information may enrich the aesthetic experience of pleasure. It certainly contributes to it. An alternative change of aesthetic experiences and of some new descriptive information input is what may contribute to your ever-richer aesthetic enjoyment and experiences. On the other hand, it stays as a fact that just the descriptive information will not lead to the qualitative aesthetic experiences.

Behind all this is the picture of the whole cognitive system contributing to the intuitive flashes of aesthetic experience. There is this rich pattern at a time, involving an abundant structure of the cognitive system. The cognitive system stays the same, but it is also bound to change all the time, if we take a look at its quasi-synchronic cuts. Because of the holistic structure of the system’s pattern, two important points emerge: a. Due to its basic richness, the pattern is not repeatable. b. The pattern is also not tractable, which means that there is no procedure (fitting perhaps to the accumulation of the descriptive knowledge) that would account for the coming into existence of the qualitative aesthetic experience.


Aesthetic patterns are complex

Some works of art are very simple. Take for example a minimalist designed picture involving just a blank surface. Isn’t this a clear example against aesthetic patterns being complex? Isn’t the picture all one sees? Very few things may be even descriptively said about this picture. So, there does not seem to be any real complex integrating pattern here.

            Still, there is the feeling that the aesthetic experience related to this picture may be very rich. How comes? The answer is given by taking care of the rich cognitive landscape that gives its support to the aesthetic experience. This landscape may be even shaped by descriptive information that you accumulated about the art, painting and its dilemmas. This all molds the landscape and provides rich structure where access is possible via an intuitive flash.

            There is another, perhaps more important claim about the complexity of aesthetic patterns. The problem for aesthetics is that no tractable way to explain the patterns involved in aesthetic experiences can be found. And there is phenomenal side involved into aesthetic experiences. Each particular experiencer’s experiences are not completely repeatable, not even for a single person, if you take a look at it through time. This is due to the rich cognitive background involving morphological content. The cognitive system’s landscape also molds through time with the accumulation of novel experiences. All this contributes to the intuitive grasping involved into experiences. The complexity does not allow experiences to be tractably surveyable, thus to have a descriptive basis. For the descriptive basis tends to be tractable by its nature.


Productivity argument attributes the role of projectibility to patterns in ethics

One reason patterns are mainly believed to be of use in the areas outside of aesthetic is that they enable projectability. If there would be no patterns, it is believed, then there would be no projectability possible, and thus no inductive generalizations.

            In the area of ethics the following productivity argument requires patterns in support of generality: It is circular to classify right acts on an arbitrary basis. A codifiable pattern that enables projectibility is needed. Only codifiable patterns allow for productivity, i.e. the grasping of a potential infinity of cases on the finite basis of presented samples. Thus, patterns are necessary for productivity.

            The argument is motivated by the claim about particularism’s wrongness: if all the right acts happen without an underlying pattern, then their classification is arbitrary. But this is not desirable. Generality should be involved, and so the patterns are needed. For patterns only allow projectibility to a potential infinity of novel cases on the basis of a scarce number of consulted cases. Patterns are necessary for productivity.

            It may be objected to this argument that what it requires – codifiable patterns – is not the only way to achieve productivity. The presupposition of the argument is the existence of a codifiable structure. But productivity may also be achieved on the basis of the intractable and non-codifiable systems, such as the actually existing human cognitive systems.

            If one takes a look at the situation in this way, then it is not important anymore that generality would be involved into productivity. Productivity is then rather a result of the rich cognitive system’s basis.


There is no generality involved into aesthetic patterns despite that there is complex structure that may be intuited

A support for the lack of generality in the way one obtains productivity may be given by the examples from aesthetics. The aesthetic judgment is the result of an intuitive flash upon a very rich background pattern at a time. Although this pattern involves structure, it does not involve any generality. This may be supported by the platitude that the aesthetic experience is always unique.

            Let us look at the pattern involved in my aesthetic experience and therewith in the judgment of my enjoying this picture. If there is enjoyment involved into my observation of the picture, this is not on the basis of the descriptive information, as we have already claimed, but on the basis of the complex pattern that I intuit in a momentary manner.

            There is a complex pattern involved in forming of my aesthetic judgment, a pattern produced by reaction of my cognitive system to the presented work of art. The pattern involves not only my perception, but perception undergrid by the richness of my cognitive system, involving morphological content responsible for the area of this aesthetic enjoyment. There may be several accumulated traces of descriptive information involved in this, and several kinds of anticipation. It is a very complex pattern indeed involving many dimensions. It is a pattern, which is substantially related to an intuitively formed judgment.

            Now ask yourself whether there is any generality involved in this. The answer is that there is no generality of the projectible kind involved here. A case of aesthetic experience helps in the refined quality of further aesthetic experiences. But it does not help in a manner of simple projectibility. It helps via the detour over the rich pattern of the cognitive system’s background structure. The aesthetic experience at this single occasion involves the whole rich pattern of the cognitive system in a quasi-synchronic way. It molds the structure of the rich background cognitive system, involving the morphological content. Thereby it contributes to the quality of next cases of aesthetic experience and judgment. But it does not contribute to this quality in any simple projectible way, such as presented by this example of


If X has 170 cm and Y has 180 cm, then Y is taller than X.

            If X has 190 cm and Y has 200 cm, then Y is taller than X.


            If X has 150 cm and Y has 140 cm, then Y is not taller than X.


This is an example of projectibility succeeding after the consultation of a limited number of cases. We use these cases in order to put it through to somebody what the meaning of the expression “being taller” is, supposing that she does not know the meaning of this expression. The generalist claim here is that the teaching has succeeded because of the projectibility, of the general procedure or algorithm that has been grasped upon presentation of just a limited number of examples. A pattern was grasped at a certain point, enabling the generality and therewith the related productivity. General pattern has helped us to get the point through.

            There is nothing substantially intractably rich in the above pattern of reasoning. The substantial richness though is characteristic for the holistic all-encompassing quasi-synchronic patterns intuitively supporting aesthetic experiences. Because of their holistic nature these patterns are particular, in the sense that they do not allow for any generalizations, and that they do not allow for any projectibility to novel cases. Aesthetic experience is unique, particular.

Eventually, it may be claimed that the lesson about the formation of the essentially particularist aesthetic judgment may be transferred to the above simplistic form of generality and projectability inducing patterns reasoning. If the cognitive system complies with the DC framework, it is expected that the above reasoning of the necessary generality pattern may be put in doubt.


Rich structure and intuitive grasping of aesthetic patterns invites particularistic quasi-synchronic explanation: each work of art needs to be taken as presenting a rich holistic non-projectible pattern

Now it is the time to summarize the view promoted by the above considerations. As we are presented with works of arts, we form intuitive judgments involving their aesthetic value. These judgments are supported by a very rich intractable and non-codifiable pattern, considering just this particular experience of this particular work of art at a time. These are particularist aesthetic experiences. Those experiences mold the background structure of the cognitive system so that they may enrich each new experience. But if nothing else because of their holism they are bound to stay particular, without that they would involve any generality. They are supported with particular non-general patterns without the force of simple projectability.

            Each work of art, perhaps at each occasion of its aesthetic experience, needs to be taken as presenting a rich holistic non-projectible pattern. This makes for the beauty of aesthetic non-repeatable patterns.


What can ethical patterns learn from aesthetic patterns?

There is a position in ethics called particularism. Particularism opposes ethical monists which claim that there is one general pattern, such as utility, that may put an explanatory grid over several ethical judgments. Particularists oppose ethical pluralists that claim how several principles coming together in a contextual situation need adjusting and partial silencing. The true dispute with pluralists is that they retain normative authority for each of the prima facie principles. There are thus still projectible patterns out there according to the pluralists, although they are many and not only one.

            Particularist does not reject patterns. She just disputes that these patterns substantially support projectibility and that they are tightly linked to generality. The richness of the patterns produces judgment in an intuitive flash, without that projectability or generality would be involved in this.

            The case of aesthetic patterns, where beauty is intuited in a momentary flash upon the rich underlying morphological background, shows clear support for particularism. There is no real projection or generality involved into each particular case of aesthetic enjoyment.

            Ethical particularists may take cases of aesthetic judgments to offer a clear support for their position with their radical non-projectibility and lack of generality, but with the basis of a rich holistic structure.


Visiting a gallery

The successful teaching does not involve the acquisition of general truths. Sometimes in the circumstances a teacher succeeds in bringing home his point just by pointing to examples. As children are brought into galleries, pictures are shown to them, and some features on these pictures are stressed by the teacher. There is no generalization and projectibility involved into this.






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