Updated: Apr 5
An interesting characteristic about mixtures in aesthetic phenomena is that we don’t care to follow rules that would be expected to dictate their structure. Otherwise the way the given more and less exciting qualities alternate and interact in them would be obvious. We’re not particular about them being made of outwardly observable, or perceivably opposite things and natural dualities such as liquid—crystalline, fluid—solid, disorder—order, light—dark, dynamic—static, up—down or out—in. We don’t distinguish these in aesthetic practice from mixtures such as bright—solid, static—fluid, dynamic—dark, down—hot and order—up, or imperceivable opposites. Living things recognize a different, more extensive set of dualites than what the nonliving world exhibits to us in our normal experience. All of these mixtures, although we shouldn't be aware of them, or therefore appreciate them, turn out to describe numerous patterns in idioms, art and animal behavior because we tend to select them over combinations from within a category. Aesthetic phenomena have been selected to reflect unconscious biases in the mind favoring these mixtures over the combinations obtained by switching one of the qualities to its opposite, such that phenomena synonymous with bright—solid are to some degree favored over those synonymous with bright—fluid or dark—solid, and we prefer phenomena synonymous with static—fluid over static—solid and dynamic—fluid, dynamic—dark over static—dark or dynamic—bright, down—hot over down—cold or up—hot, and order—up over disorder—up or order—down, arranging things in our languages and environments accordingly. Mixtures of qualities used by nonhuman animals in the business of amusing each other are also indiscriminate with respect to perceivable versus imperceivable mixtures. There are numerous examples in animals of patterns which are analogous in structure to English idioms, art, symbols, and other cultural practices.
Esther Leslie (2016) accounts for the curious abundance of references to, or depictions of, fluidity and the mixture liquid—crystalline (herein referred to as fluid—solid) in art by way of liquid crystallinity in the sensory system or brain, or at least makes a strong case implicating that connection. She does the same for the artistic interplay between motion and stillness in chapter two, "Ice," under the section she calls "Standing floe." In the fifth chapter, “Meltwater,” she considers early surrealist literature, writing in which the author simply records their thoughts without attempting to make the words and sentences realistic or comprehensible, for instance by accelerating the writing process. Leslie discusses André Breton and Philippe Soupault and their seminal, surrealistic 1920 book The Magnetic Fields (1985), citing the fluidity present throughout, including in the first paragraph:
“Prisoners of drops of water, we are nothing but perpetual animals. We run through noiseless cities and the enchanted posters no longer touch us. What’s the use of these huge fragile enthusiasms, these dried-out leaps of joy? We know nothing but dead stars; we look at faces; and we sigh with pleasure. Our mouths are drier than lost beaches; our eyes turn aimlessly, hopelessly. There’s nothing now but these cafés where we meet to drink these cold beverages, these mixed drinks, and the tables are stickier than these sidewalks where our dead shadows from the day before have fallen.”
Blue coloration indicates an apparent reference to a less exciting quality and pink indicates a reference to a more exciting quality. As Leslie notes, the book is an exploration of the unconscious minds of its authors. The aesthetic texture of the paragraph is very similar to that of dreams (see Mixtures in dreams), even though it’s not necessarily to be expected that either surrealistic writing or dreams should have content to which we ascribe aesthetic value. Most of the contradictions in the paragraph are imperceivable. It contains, at least, the contradiction between containment (inwardness) and fluidity in the concept of being trapped in a drop of water, static—dynamic in perpetual animals, speed and (presumably unexciting) silence in running through silence, solid—up in dried leaps of joy, bright—stasis in dead stars, roundness disruption in turning eyes, fluid—cold in drinking cold beverages and perhaps a contrast in the last sentence between solid sidewalks, static deadness, dark shadows and falling on the less exciting side with the brightness of day and the fluidity of drinks.
The second paragraph of The Magnetic Fields is similar:
"Sometimes, the wind wraps its big cold hands around us and ties us to trees cut out by the sun. We all laugh and sing, but no one feels his heart beating anymore. Fever abandons us."
Fluid wind is mixed with containment or inwardness (as in the first sentence of the first paragraph), hands mix with coldness (which is evidence we find hands exciting), solid trees with the hot/bright sun, excited, outward laughing and singing with a central static heart, and heat in the body with abandonment, the later qualifying as an aesthetic mixture under the assumption that being abandoned is perceived as unexciting.
The other paragraphs in the book are probably similar, with a thermoaesthetic texture, most likely exhibiting instances of every imaginable hypothetical mixture of the given more and less exciting things, with little regard for the fact that the opposites in the mixtures can't be reliable observed as such in the perceptual environment.
Indiscriminate mixing can be illustrated in language by choosing a set of hypothetically exciting qualities, along with their opposites, listing every way that each member of both sets can be put together in a paired sequence with its opposite, and listing idioms that conform to each sequence to see whether perceivably opposed qualities are more common in idioms than imperceptibly opposed qualities. Listing the seven qualities hot, fluid, disorder, brightness, dynamism, upwardness and outwardness with their opposites and combining the ones that are equivalent results in 48 distinct mixtures:
Hot—cold/cold—hot (), hot—solid/solid—hot (), hot—order/order—hot (), hot—dark/dark—hot (), hot—static/static—hot (), hot—down/down—hot (), hot—in/in—hot (), fluid—cold/cold—fluid (), fluid—solid/solid—fluid (), fluid—order/order—fluid (), fluid—dark/dark—fluid (), fluid—static/static—fluid (), fluid—down/down—fluid (), fluid—in/in—fluid (), disorder—cold/cold—disorder (), disorder—solid/solid—disorder (), disorder—order/order—disorder (), disorder—dark/dark—disorder (), disorder—static/static—disorder (), disorder—down/down—disorder (), disorder—in/in—disorder (), bright—cold/cold—bright (), bright—solid/solid—bright (), bright—order/order—bright (), bright—dark/dark—bright (), bright—static/static—bright (), bright—down/down—bright (), bright—in/in—bright (), dynamic—cold/cold—dynamic (), dynamic—solid/solid—dynamic (), dynamic—order/order—dynamic (), dynamic—dark/dark—dynamic (), dynamic—static/static—dynamic (), dynamic—down/down—dynamic (), dynamic—in/in—dynamic (), up—cold/cold—up (), up—solid/solid—up (), up—order/order—up (), up—dark/dark—up, (), up—static/static—up (), up—down/down—up (), up—in/in—up (), out—cold/cold—out (), out—solid/solid—out (), out—order/order—out (), out—dark/dark—out (), out—static/static—out (), out—down/down—out (), out—in/in—out ().
This list can be filled in with corresponding idioms (List 3: Mixtures), aesthetic cultural phenomena (List 4: Cultural mixtures), paintings, artwork titles, poem lines, song lyrics, animal courtship behaviors or other aesthetically selected things, all of which will be, predictably, distributed throughout the mixtures rather than concentrated in perceivable ones. These are not the only more and less exciting qualities one can put in a list, of course, and they're not necessarily the best ones to be used, but they seem fundamental based on how often we refer to them and others, in metaphor research, have identified most of these particular qualities as being critical to the way we think. It may be practical to add or remove dualities (quality pairs) based on new information about their relevance. Given a sufficiently large sample of any type of aesthetic phenomena, representatives are predicted to exist for every quality that applies, within the constraints of the sensory modality involved. Brightness is relevant in paintings and idioms, but not in music because it can’t be heard. Similarly sound doesn’t matter in lists of paintings. Heat doesn’t necessarily apply for visual stimuli, but it does for popular expressions and jokes. Each pair of qualities will have a certain number of aesthetic phenomena associated with it, and if the numbers of representatives are similar between all possible pairs, not concentrated within perceivably opposite pairs, then this should be interpreted as strong evidence for a thermoaesthetic approach in psychology and biology. Curiously, so far the mixture with the largest number (n=29) of representative idiomatic expressions is the mixture fluid—in. Fluid—in is treated as equivalent to in—fluid, disregarding whether variation in the temporal order of occurrence of qualities in expressions is relevant, although it may to some extent determine the way a phrase is interpreted. There are biological reasons to imagine humans are interested in this particular abstract mixture. It seems to be emphasized in aesthetic language over other mixtures such as hot—static, of which so far there is only one representative popular expression. Fluidity and inwardness are more salient elements of human existence, perhaps, than stasis and heat, which may explain the relative abundance compared to other sequences. The reverse mixture out—solid/solid—out so far has about half as many representative phrases as fluid—in/in—fluid. Dynamic—solid/solid—dynamic and disorder—solid/solid—disorder currently have the second (n=17) and third (n=16) largest count. Hot—in/in—hot, fluid—solid/solid—fluid, dynamic—static/static—dynamic and up—in/in—up are currently tied for fourth place in idiom count (n=14). Thus the most common mixture, fluid—in/in—fluid is made of psychothermal opposites, not those perceivable in the environment, and only two of the seven most common mixtures are those we could potentially have learned from observations.
Overall, there's no apparent pattern showing an emphasis on the aesthetic selection of phrases containing perceivable contradictions, meaning that even the perceivable ones should be considered unlearned, and that the given more exciting qualities reside together in a mental category, with each of the qualities being amusing to animals in a mixture with every quality in the less exciting category of opposites. The phrases have been collected haphazardly, not randomly or systematically, so comparisons of the frequency of each mixture are speculative and preliminary. Also it’s arguable that roundness should be included as a type of order, because we treat it as such in language and culture. Listing roundness—excitement idioms would increase the count of phrases incorporating order, but roundness is dealt with separately here.
The word “take” is reasonably synonymous with inwardness, and so all languages should have examples of it being mixed, without discretion, in idiomatic language with qualities on the exciting side as in “take heat” (in—hot), “take a piss” (in—fluid), “take a break” (in—disorder), “take the world by storm” (in—round—disorder), “quick take” (in—fast), “take if for a spin” (in—dynamic), “take a shine to” (in—bright), “take up” (in—up), “take over” (in—up), “take a flyer” (in—up), “take a flying leap,” (in—up—up), “take you out” (in—out), “the take away,” (in—out) “I better take off” (in—out) and “give and take” (in—out). Thus, the word is associated linguistically with its actual, perceivably opposite quality outwardness, but also every other more exciting quality. We are unconcerned, from an aesthetic perspective, that the inwardness of taking be opposed by its obvious, real perceptual counterpart outwardness. High temperatures, urine, destruction, chaos, speed, motion and outwardness work as well.
Soupault, Philippe, and Breton, André. The magnetic fields. London, Atlas Press, 1985.