Updated: Apr 5

We adore chaos because we love to produce order.

—M. C. Escher

Given that disorder increases with temperature in matter, and probably with little respect for the boundaries between life and the nonliving, it’s predictable that brains are more disordered when they’re hotter, or while they’re heating up, and that many of the otherwise nonsensical expressions we use in angry, violent, sexual or other exciting contexts, or in descriptions of such things, will reference various forms of disorder. Examples of this potentially include: “in your wildest dreams” (disorder—excitement), “not all it’s cracked up to be” (disorder—up—exciting, or order—down—unexciting), “deranged” (disorder—aggression), “make a crack” (disorder) “talk trash” (disorder—social disorder), “dirty language," “rough you up” (disorder—up), “read the riot act” “I'm only messing with you,” “loose cannon” (disorder—solid), “let’s tangle,” “fly off the handle,” “spin out of control” (disorder—out), “blow your top” (disorder—up), “crack the whip,” “wisecrack,” “get bent,” “come unglued,” “on a tear,” “get dirty,” “get kinky,” “junk,” “wet and wild” (fluid—disorder), “get nasty,” “sloppy seconds,” “slops” (Australia), “busty,” “have a crush on,” “bust a nut” (disorder—solid), “screwing” and “banging.”

Other expressions of interest in the context of disorder, many of which suggest we find it more exciting than order, include: “you’re cracking me up” (disorder—up—humor), “a smash hit” (disorder), “hellbent” (hot—disorder), “tongue twister,” “let it rip,” “bust up” (disorder—up), “crack a smile,” “crack under pressure” (disorder—down), “having a blast,” “you’re a crook,” “get busted,” “drug bust,” “nervous breakdown,” “break the rules,” “break a promise,” “break a heart,” “shattered dreams,” “breakfast” (disorder—dynamic), “break a leg,” “a twisted outlook,” “just for a twist,” “with a twist,” “break into song” (disorder—in—singing), “crack pot” (disorder—solid), “crash the party,” “get all bent out of shape,” “twist the truth,” “bend the truth,” “warped,” “firecracker” (hot—disorder), “not all it’s cracked up to be” (disorder—up), “take a crack at it,” “all shook up” (disorder—up) “shaken up” (disorder—up) “shake it off” (disorder—out) “don’t twist my arm,” and “get cracking.” To the extent that disorder corresponds in human language to heat and fluidity, it seems possible, though not obvious, to predict that these things are also related in the universe.

References to order are also strangely common. We’re speak of simple shapes, flatness and straightness in a way that suggests we have a more fundamental understanding of them than one would expect: “on the straight and narrow path,” “straight face,” “square in the face,” “shipshape,” “shapely body,” “all bent out of shape,” “whip into shape,” “steady as she goes,” “information,” “square the circle,” “a great figure,” “how do you figure,” figure it out,” “straight to the point,” “straighten up,” “straighten up your act,” “fly straight from now on,” “not in any way, shape, or form,” “get it straightened out,” “damn straight,” “as straight as an arrow,” “walk the line,” “draw the line,” “cross the line,” “get coordinated,” “levelheaded,” “level with me,” “bring into line with,” “back to square one,” “get squared away,” “a square deal,” “take measures,” “smooth things over,” “framework,” “crystal clear,” “figure of speech,” “father figure,” “figure head,” “the bottom line,” “top of the line,” “get back on track,” “guidelines,” “along those lines,” “all along the line,” “straight edged,” “clean cut,” “edgy,” “cutting edge,” “straight forward,” “sort it out,” “even the score,” “straight laced,” “let’s get one thing straight,” “going steady,” “timeline,” “line of thinking,” “make arrangements,” “blockhead,” “corners of the world,” “get your priorities straight,” “apple pie order,” “borderline,” “on another plane,” “a line in the sand,” “draw a line under,” “level the playing field,” “flat footed,” “fall in line,” “hold the line,” “in short order,” and “now we’re even.”

The phrases above containing references to disorder seem to be more exciting, on average, than those referring to order. Assuming disorder to be generally exciting and arousing doesn’t mean we prefer, or are always more intrigued or interested in disorder than we are order. In aesthetic matters complex combinations of order and disorder, or regularity and variation, are very common. Music, dance, poetry, stories, films, jokes and idioms contain examples of this in the realm of human culture and there are more examples in the habits of other animals. If order and disorder represent a duality in nature, in the sense that solids are generally orderly on small scales and fluids are disorderly, then this duality is broken, or marginalized, in brains and aesthetic phenomena. We adore order because we love to produce chaos.

Cultural disorder

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