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Elegance

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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17 November 2019 23:15
 

In your opinion which is a closer approximation of the case:

1. The world is described and governed by mathematically elegant systems at all scales and vectors. This is a deep truth that human attention can reasonably infer from the small but consistent cross section of events we are currently able to observe, predict and manipulate. Our inability to acknowledge elegance reflects the limits of our attention and not any basic property of the world.

2. The world is chaotic and contingent and mostly unknowable. Properties like elegance are not intrinsic to the world. Human beings perceive elegance because we are social animals whose cohesion relies on consensus values and functional patterns. We discern an ordered facet of the world that happens to be useful to us. We project an aesthetic preference upon the outside world. Our perception of elegance is correct to the degree that its predictive but globally it is more a reflection of our needs and limitations than it is a function of reality.

I lean towards one but I’m not really qualified to say.

[ Edited: 18 November 2019 09:41 by Brick Bungalow]
 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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18 November 2019 05:49
 

We aesthetically appreciate according to our everyday cognitive-emotional as well as bodily functions. We react positively to beauty and elegance and seek them out because they tend to reflect worthwhile activities, places and things. They don’t always reflect what is beneficial for us, however, because they can take on a life of their own in the sense of emergence, so what’s elegant or somehow attractive to me may be fit for the trash can to you. And what seems attractive at one time of day might seem less than worthwhile at another time. Our elegance detectors operate with mathematical precision, but the math seems to be too chaotic even for mathematicians to be able to work out.

Aesthetic appreciation, by the way, did not originate when humanity arrived in the world. The chemistry that allows it has been around much longer than our prehistory. That’s how I see it, at least. For instance, just above me right now is a spider that has stopped in the protective line where the ceilingĀ meets the wall. I’m hoping the spider will start walking either on the wall or on the ceiling so I can swat it. (I’m a boomer.) But most spiders seem to find comfort in that line of protection, and I’ll most likely have moved on to other concerns well before the spider will have given up its line of protection that results from its aesthetically-induced chemistry.

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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18 November 2019 07:03
 

Number One. It fits better with my overall world view and personal experience. We are looking at the backside of the tapestry and can’t see the weaver’s pattern.  But I admit that I can’t prove that.

 
burt
 
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burt
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18 November 2019 09:38
 

In terms of human action, the mathematician works with perfection, the physicist translates that, as best can be done, into natural laws, the architect or designer uses this to develop blueprints for material object…, but it’s always the carpenter who adapts things to the reality on the ground.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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18 November 2019 09:40
 

I don’t think we can really prove much when it comes to large scale generalizations about reality. We infer. We have hunches.

I’m just curious what peoples general impression is.

I apprehend a beautiful clockwork universe… which could be true. Or it could be because I’m programmed that way. Or some combination.

 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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18 November 2019 12:54
 

Do I have to choose!? That was a beautiful post. It reminds of the PR thread about whether beauty existed in objective reality because it was a purely angular and geometric understanding of things.

I adore the concepts of elegance and grace. In fact it was my people here who put me onto the beauty of the flow of movement.

 
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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18 November 2019 15:05
 

I’ll go with case one, although your use of the word, “elegant” seems problematic. Calculus seems elegant to anyone who knows how it works. To those who don’t, it’s baffling. I suspect that if some omniscient being tried to explain to us the parts of the world we don’t understand, we’d fail to see the elegance.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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18 November 2019 16:27
 
Jb8989 - 18 November 2019 12:54 PM

Do I have to choose!? That was a beautiful post. It reminds of the PR thread about whether beauty existed in objective reality because it was a purely angular and geometric understanding of things.

I adore the concepts of elegance and grace. In fact it was my people here who put me onto the beauty of the flow of movement.

Of course not. There is no dichotomy. I am merely trying to survey peoples perceptions.

If we have to frame it as a switch I could simply ask, is the universe elegant or inelegant, on balance?

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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18 November 2019 16:42
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 03:05 PM

I’ll go with case one, although your use of the word, “elegant” seems problematic. Calculus seems elegant to anyone who knows how it works. To those who don’t, it’s baffling. I suspect that if some omniscient being tried to explain to us the parts of the world we don’t understand, we’d fail to see the elegance.

Elegance is an aesthetic quantity and not a rational one. (mostly) But I think its robust none the less. I believe a majority of persons have an empirical experience of beauty and harmony that can be reverse engineered. There are principles of composition that travel across disciplines that otherwise have nothing in common. Why do certain combinations provoke emotional reactions? Is the pleasure we experience from novelty and invention purely a matter of selective pressure? I believe there are good reasons to believe there is more to it.

I don’t think its something that is mainly understood by reduction though. Even though this kind of answer is available. I think its a more a meditation on the moment. It’s introspective. It’s the base of value we have to justify for ourselves in solitude after we put the debate away. Not elegance specifically but rather our personal orientation about the composition of the world.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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18 November 2019 17:27
 
Brick Bungalow - 18 November 2019 04:42 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 03:05 PM

I’ll go with case one, although your use of the word, “elegant” seems problematic. Calculus seems elegant to anyone who knows how it works. To those who don’t, it’s baffling. I suspect that if some omniscient being tried to explain to us the parts of the world we don’t understand, we’d fail to see the elegance.

Elegance is an aesthetic quantity and not a rational one. (mostly) But I think its robust none the less. I believe a majority of persons have an empirical experience of beauty and harmony that can be reverse engineered. There are principles of composition that travel across disciplines that otherwise have nothing in common. Why do certain combinations provoke emotional reactions? Is the pleasure we experience from novelty and invention purely a matter of selective pressure? I believe there are good reasons to believe there is more to it.

I don’t think its something that is mainly understood by reduction though. Even though this kind of answer is available. I think its a more a meditation on the moment. It’s introspective. It’s the base of value we have to justify for ourselves in solitude after we put the debate away. Not elegance specifically but rather our personal orientation about the composition of the world.

Be that as it may, if some of these mathematically elegant systems which describe the properties of the world (the ones we don’t know we don’t know) turn out to be beyond human comprehension, will they still provoke the kind of emotional reaction that stems from elegance? Even if the perception of elegance is universal among humans, can something that no human perceives as elegant still be called elegant?

In other words, if you don’t understand X, you won’t perceive X as elegant. Agree or disagree?

If so, then if no one understands X, no one will perceive X as elegant; and if no one perceives X as elegant, X cannot be elegant. Agree or disagree?

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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18 November 2019 20:28
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 05:27 PM

Even if the perception of elegance is universal among humans, can something that no human perceives as elegant still be called elegant?

In other words, if you don’t understand X, you won’t perceive X as elegant. Agree or disagree?

If so, then if no one understands X, no one will perceive X as elegant; and if no one perceives X as elegant, X cannot be elegant. Agree or disagree?

I’m struggling a bit with the question.

Things beyond our perception would seem to be beyond any evaluation. So in that case, yes. Its not intelligible to apply attributes to something that I am not even aware of.

But comprehension is another matter. I have all sorts of experiences that I don’t understand. Some of them I do find beautiful. Similarly there are explanations that I feel are false that none the less strike me as beautiful.

Mythological or antiquated explanations, I think can be simultaneously false and beautiful.
Poems and songs in a language I don’t know are not intelligible to me but none the less quite beautiful.

or maybe I’m not following you…

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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18 November 2019 21:28
 
Brick Bungalow - 18 November 2019 08:28 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 05:27 PM

Even if the perception of elegance is universal among humans, can something that no human perceives as elegant still be called elegant?

In other words, if you don’t understand X, you won’t perceive X as elegant. Agree or disagree?

If so, then if no one understands X, no one will perceive X as elegant; and if no one perceives X as elegant, X cannot be elegant. Agree or disagree?

I’m struggling a bit with the question.

Things beyond our perception would seem to be beyond any evaluation. So in that case, yes. Its not intelligible to apply attributes to something that I am not even aware of.

But comprehension is another matter. I have all sorts of experiences that I don’t understand. Some of them I do find beautiful. Similarly there are explanations that I feel are false that none the less strike me as beautiful.

Mythological or antiquated explanations, I think can be simultaneously false and beautiful.
Poems and songs in a language I don’t know are not intelligible to me but none the less quite beautiful.

or maybe I’m not following you…

I don’t think “mathematical elegance” is the same as the beauty of sunsets or women or music (although music has mathematical elegance, too—provided one understands musical theory.)

Suppose we want to determine the volume of an irregular three dimensional object. We could model the object with mathematical functions, then use calculus to calculate its volume. Or we could plunk it into a bucket of water and measure the volume of water it displaced. Which is more elegant? Now imagine that you are a mentally handicapped person incapable of understanding mathematics. Which is more elegant?

To me, “elegance” in the sense you’re using it implies an understanding of the mathematics involved and how it applies to a particular phenomenon or problem. Wouldn’t calculus look, to someone to whom calculus was unknowable, like a bunch of gobbledygook? I suspect that the Theory of Everything would look like that to us if super-intelligent aliens tried to explain it.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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19 November 2019 07:20
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 09:28 PM
Brick Bungalow - 18 November 2019 08:28 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 18 November 2019 05:27 PM

Even if the perception of elegance is universal among humans, can something that no human perceives as elegant still be called elegant?

In other words, if you don’t understand X, you won’t perceive X as elegant. Agree or disagree?

If so, then if no one understands X, no one will perceive X as elegant; and if no one perceives X as elegant, X cannot be elegant. Agree or disagree?

I’m struggling a bit with the question.

Things beyond our perception would seem to be beyond any evaluation. So in that case, yes. Its not intelligible to apply attributes to something that I am not even aware of.

But comprehension is another matter. I have all sorts of experiences that I don’t understand. Some of them I do find beautiful. Similarly there are explanations that I feel are false that none the less strike me as beautiful.

Mythological or antiquated explanations, I think can be simultaneously false and beautiful.
Poems and songs in a language I don’t know are not intelligible to me but none the less quite beautiful.

or maybe I’m not following you…

I don’t think “mathematical elegance” is the same as the beauty of sunsets or women or music (although music has mathematical elegance, too—provided one understands musical theory.)

Suppose we want to determine the volume of an irregular three dimensional object. We could model the object with mathematical functions, then use calculus to calculate its volume. Or we could plunk it into a bucket of water and measure the volume of water it displaced. Which is more elegant? Now imagine that you are a mentally handicapped person incapable of understanding mathematics. Which is more elegant?

To me, “elegance” in the sense you’re using it implies an understanding of the mathematics involved and how it applies to a particular phenomenon or problem. Wouldn’t calculus look, to someone to whom calculus was unknowable, like a bunch of gobbledygook? I suspect that the Theory of Everything would look like that to us if super-intelligent aliens tried to explain it.

Ok. I understand now. And agree. I think mathematical elegance is analogous to other kinds but its experience does depend on comprehension. And its important to note that not every correct formula possesses elegance. These things have an intersection but they are not identical.

 
Garret
 
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Garret
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19 November 2019 14:06
 

I think I can make an objective case that its #2.

Consider for a moment the religious v. scientific debate over evolution.

From the scientific perspective evolution is often considered elegant.  It is a relatively simple process that produces mind-boggling complexity and beauty.  It is awe inspiring and amazing that the same process that produced me also produces bacteria and great basin bristlecone pine trees.

From the anti-evolution religious perspective (not all religious people, just those that vehemently oppose ideas like evolution), the concept of evolution is abhorrent, improbable, and certainly not elegant.  It is so confusing and incomprehensible that it cannot possibly be true.

Same idea, and yet people view it completely differently.

Sean Carroll is on record saying that he doesn’t believe an elegant solution exists to explain quantum mechanics.  He thinks whatever mathematical equations that finally solve a lot of the current unknowns are likely to be messy and complicated.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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20 November 2019 01:17
 
Garret - 19 November 2019 02:06 PM

I think I can make an objective case that its #2.

Consider for a moment the religious v. scientific debate over evolution.

From the scientific perspective evolution is often considered elegant.  It is a relatively simple process that produces mind-boggling complexity and beauty.  It is awe inspiring and amazing that the same process that produced me also produces bacteria and great basin bristlecone pine trees.

From the anti-evolution religious perspective (not all religious people, just those that vehemently oppose ideas like evolution), the concept of evolution is abhorrent, improbable, and certainly not elegant.  It is so confusing and incomprehensible that it cannot possibly be true.

Same idea, and yet people view it completely differently.

Sean Carroll is on record saying that he doesn’t believe an elegant solution exists to explain quantum mechanics.  He thinks whatever mathematical equations that finally solve a lot of the current unknowns are likely to be messy and complicated.

Hmm. I feel like elegance is about as subjective as concepts get… so I’m not sure how it would be possible. Although I can certainly appreciate any number of cases for number two.

 
Garret
 
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Garret
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20 November 2019 06:14
 
Brick Bungalow - 20 November 2019 01:17 AM
Garret - 19 November 2019 02:06 PM

I think I can make an objective case that its #2.

Consider for a moment the religious v. scientific debate over evolution.

From the scientific perspective evolution is often considered elegant.  It is a relatively simple process that produces mind-boggling complexity and beauty.  It is awe inspiring and amazing that the same process that produced me also produces bacteria and great basin bristlecone pine trees.

From the anti-evolution religious perspective (not all religious people, just those that vehemently oppose ideas like evolution), the concept of evolution is abhorrent, improbable, and certainly not elegant.  It is so confusing and incomprehensible that it cannot possibly be true.

Same idea, and yet people view it completely differently.

Sean Carroll is on record saying that he doesn’t believe an elegant solution exists to explain quantum mechanics.  He thinks whatever mathematical equations that finally solve a lot of the current unknowns are likely to be messy and complicated.

Hmm. I feel like elegance is about as subjective as concepts get… so I’m not sure how it would be possible. Although I can certainly appreciate any number of cases for number two.

That’s my point.  Elegance is subjective, and my point uses objective evidence to demonstrate that.  You embedded within #2 that the concept of elegance is subjective.

Remember, subjective and objective can intermingle quite regularly.  Having a favorite color is a subjective choice, but if a person’s house is pink, all their clothes are pink, and all their furniture is pink, the evidence that their favorite color is probably pink is objective.  It isn’t objective that pink is the best color, rather, we can objectively observe and use evidence to make a fairly solid prediction about what subjective choice that person made.

 
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