Updated: Apr 6
Examples of common expressions can be found for all possible contradictory combinations of the hypothetically more and less exciting qualities, and many of the same mixtures are observable in slightly different forms throughout human culture and animal mating behavior. Mixing qualities often creates juxtapositions we find interesting, agreeable, intriguing, admirable, and sometimes sacred, as in: “tear drop” (fluid—down), “windfall” (fluid—down), “shiny object” (bright—solid), “rock star” (solid—bright), “rock and roll” (solid—dynamic), “level playing field” (order—dynamic), “every cloud has a silver lining” (fluid—solid), “smoking gun” (fluid—solid), “earth shattering” (solid—disorder), “light at the end of the tunnel” (in—bright), “fair and square” (bright—order), “all squared away” (order—out), "break even" (disorder—order), “clear the air” (order—fluid), “all caught up in” (in—up—in), “transfixed” (dynamic—static), “break it to you slowly,” (disorder—static), “wild blue yonder” (disorder—dark—out), “take a deep breath” (in—down—fluid), “influence” (in—fluid), “inspire” (in—fluid), “mouth watering” (in—fluid), “enlightenment” (in—bright), “in the spirit” (in—fluid), “holy water” (in—fluid), “bleeding heart” (fluid—in), "star struck" (bright—in), "heart and soul" (in—fluid) and “spellbound” (fluid—in).
Seeing these expressions as mixtures requires that the assumptions used about synonymy are reasonable and widely agreed upon. Being level, square, even or clear are treated as things that we think of as related to each other and to order in general. Wind, tears, smoke, air, breath, water, spells and spirits are all treated as reasonably synonymous with the a general concept of fluidity. More controversially inwardness is broadly interpreted to include being caught, mouths, holiness, hearts and being struck. One can see how qualities from the same category can be swapped out for each other in opposition to a single concept: brightness (stars) and dynamic motion (rolling) are both interesting opposites to rocks (solids), and mouths and holiness (inwardness) are both interesting opposites to water (fluidity).
List 3: Mixed sequences gives a few hundred more idiomatic examples, of which there are likely to be thousands in every language, made up of different references to the same qualities. All of these expressions have an excitement surplus of zero because the more exciting component balances the less exciting one and vice versa. They might be thought about as being euphemistic, for instance "wait up" with the structure static—up and an excitement balance of zero is a nicer way of saying "wait" (static), with an excitement balance of negative one or "wait the hell up" with a positive balance of two, assuming hell to be hot, or "raise the bar," which is thought of as good and thermoaesthetically neutral with a balance of zero (up—solid=0), versus "set a low bar" which has an excitement deficit (down—solid=-2). Some mixtures consist of a single word, like "flawless" (disorder—fewer) in which disorder is balanced by the idea of less, or fewer things. Nearly all words are mixtures of high and low-pitched sounds, a situation which is easier to imagine arising if one assumes a preexisting, universal predilection favoring such auditory mixtures and rejecting linguistic systems with less complexity and range in tone. A similar bias for sound punctuated by silence can explain the way language is broken into small, separate sequences of continuous sound. Several euphemisms in English are structured to add a more exciting quality to something less exciting or vice versa. "Let go" is a cooler way of saying "fired." "Pass away" is an outward way of ameliorating the stasis of death. "Kick the bucket" is another way of doing the same with dynamism. Removing the dynamism and adding more down and inwardness, as in "bury the bucket," removes the expression's exciting element and renders it unsuitable as an amusing way of describing death. It becomes insufficiently similar to being alive, unlike us and therefore unlikable by comparison to kicking a container. "Making out" describes intense kissing as outward, which it's not. Similarly "going all the way" is an outward way of describing the inwardness of intercourse. "The birds and the bees" counters sexual inwardness with exciting, upward, high-pitched and multitudinous animals. In practice the sexual act itself appears to give rise universally, across animals, to whatever references they are capable of making to qualities on the more exciting side. All languages should be similar with regard to euphemism. They should be found to deal with perceptions and concepts presenting extreme degrees of thermal qualities by making allusions to those at the other extreme.
Longer mixtures can be structured with perfect alternation or with concentrations of more or less excitement occurring at the beginning, end or center of the expression. "Wild blue yonder" is a three part sequence with perfect alternation between more and less exciting things (disorder—dark—out), and an imbalance on the exciting side. “The goose that laid the golden egg” (bird—down—bright—round) is a longer example with a structure of perfect alternation between more and less exciting things and a perfect balance, or no overall excitement surplus or deficit, assuming geese to be more exciting than laying and an egg to be less exciting than gold. That the egg is golden and intended to represent a precious object suggests we see the mixture bright—round as special. Mixtures are found at high rates in artistic names. The title of Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has the structure single—up—up—bird—in, with three exciting things surrounded by two less exciting ones, and an excitement surplus of one. "Burning the midnight oil" (hot—dark—fluid) has the opposite shape, with excitement on the outside. The way in which references are distributed throughout an expression may influence the way we perceive them.
Interpreting expressions in terms of thermal qualities is partly subjective because the assumed synonymy between a quality and a reference is subjective and some words represent distinct perceptions which involve more than one of the given qualities. "Between the devil and the deep blue sea" is balanced with respect to more and less excitement (red—down—blue—fluid=0), unless "between" is considered synonymous with inwardness, in which case the expression has a small overall excitement deficit or an excitement balance of negative one. If the devil brings to mind more qualities than just the color red; also heat, fieriness, spikiness, brightness and downwardness, then the expressions' excitement balance, its level of moderation with respect to the given more and less exciting things, is probably higher: red/hot/fluid/spiky/bright/down—down—blue—fluid=3. If the devil is Dante's devil, who's half frozen, then solidness, stasis and coldness would contribute to the less exciting side and add to the complexity in the phrase, which is already complicated from a thermoaesthetic standpoint. Such expressions are favored because in some sense the contradiction in them adds familiarity. The notion of being in an impossible situation could be communicated in a lot of other, less elaborate ways. The fact we do it using the expression in question isn't accounted for by either utility or randomness. It's the same for most other idioms. Such expressions have an essence of moderation which is lacking in simpler, thermological combinations of qualities from within the more and less exciting categories. Many of them can be made into more or less exciting expressions by changing one of the qualities to its opposite. For instance tearing up is more exciting than tearing down, landfall less than windfall, perhaps, and wind up > wind down, caught up > caught in, slow breaks < fast breaks, holy water > holy shit, and hypothetically, if there was a wild red yonder it would be more exciting than the wild blue one, but not more likable.
Each contradiction or mixture is one of many examples of aesthetic phenomena with the same simple structure to be found throughout the aesthetic world, each of which arises in response to a corresponding sensory bias, within a set of many related biases, which, collectively, are meant to define the wider concept and phenomenon of complexity bias. Each mixture predicts the existence of its thermoaesthetic reverse. A pattern in which animals tend to be brighter at entrances and crevices implies the existence of the bias in—bright, which itself means a trend should exist to match the reverse bias out—dark. An appreciation for the mixture bright—round implies appreciation for the reverse mixture dark—fluid. A bias for the mixture up—order implies a bias for down—disorder. Aesthetic phenomena exhibiting both a mixture and its reverse represents support for a thermoaesthetic approach, particularly when the mixture and its reverse can be shown to occur simultaneously in the same nonhuman animal as its dancing for a potential mate, and then to occur less so or not at all when the animal is not dancing, or deliberately trying to be unpleasant for reasons of survival or competition. For example if there's a trend across courtship rituals in which animals are prone to lower the brighter parts of their bodies below the darker parts, this implies the existence of a sensory bias for the mixtures up—dark and bright—down, and if the same animal is prone to raise the bright parts of its body and lower the darker parts when it's attempting to be unlikable, this is further reason to suspect a universal relationship between complexity with respect to the given more and less exciting qualities, animal preferences and the way animals look and behave. If there's a trend across courtship rituals in which animals are more likely to move the lower and central parts of their bodies more dynamically and chaotically in dances, while simultaneously holding the upper body and extremities relatively still or moving them in a repetitive (orderly) fashion this is evidence for the universal biases dynamic—down, disorder—down, up—static and up—order. If the same animals tend to display upper body and extremity dynamism and disorder (e.g., flailing, waving with two hands, throwing hands up in the air) together with lower and central body stasis and regularity (e.g., stomping, putting your foot down, standing ground) when their not attempting to be likable, or when they're trying to be unlikable, this would constitute further evidence of the biases. Aerial mating dances are of interest due to the fact that up and down are more in play compared with dancing on the ground. The dance of Costa's Hummingbird, Calypte costae, which involves expanding a shiny purple splash-like gorget around its head, which he attempts to hold still while swaying his tail below in semi-random fashion and swaying his hips, suggest several of the predicted biases for mixtures in stimuli such as bright—dark, fluid—dark, roundness disruption, fluid—down, up—static/down—dynamic, up—order/down—disorder and central—dynamic. The same biases can be found in the aesthetic world of people. Due to the universal nature of the biases, any of those which can be discerned in human aesthetics probably have counterparts in other animals.
In art and mythology it’s possible to find numerous, nearly universal examples of moderation and complexity in the form of mixtures of more and less exciting things which can be viewed as predictions of things that have turned out to be true in a deeper sense than science had yet discovered. Empedocles Cosmic Cycle is prescient with respect to the scientific discovery of liquid crystals. The Yin Yan concept is prescient with respect to the division of the brain into hemispheres and liquid crystallinity. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is essentially a story of order and chaos. In Poe’s character Arthur, a young man who sets out as a stowaway on a whaling vessel for an adventure at sea, Helen Lee (1966) sees a man with a desire to “seek chaos and try to convert it to order,” and points out that many of the episodes within this story also involve order alternating with chaos. On larger scales an order—chaos theme is present in the juxtaposition of reality (e.g., Poe quotes a report from a real southern seas exploration expedition at length, and includes three chapters on geography) with fantastic events, such as the water in the streams on Tsalal Island. Lee concludes that the “rhythmic counterpoint between chaos and order creates the structure of the story.” Poe’s description of the water on Tsalal is included in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2003) for its interest as, so it says, the earliest description of a liquid crystal, but Poe’s description, published in 1838, predates by fifty years the scientific discovery and description of liquid crystallinity by Friedrich Reinitzer in 1888:
"I am at a loss to give a distinct idea of the nature of this liquid, and cannot do so without many words. Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities where common water would do so, yet never, except when falling in a cascade, had it the customary appearance of limpidity. It was, nevertheless, in point of fact, as perfectly limpid as any limestone water in existence, the difference being only in appearance. At first sight, and especially in cases where little declivity was found, it bore resemblance, as regards consistency, to a thick infusion of gum Arabic in common water. But this was only the least remarkable of its extraordinary qualities. It was not colourless, nor was it of any one uniform colour—presenting to the eye as it flowed every possible shade of purple, like the hues of a changeable silk…. Upon collecting a basinful, and allowing it to settle thoroughly, we perceived that the whole mass of liquid was made up of a number of distinct veins, each of a distinct hue; that these veins did not commingle; and that their cohesion was perfect in the regard to their own particle among themselves, and imperfect in regard to the neighboring veins. Upon passing the blade of a knife athwart the veins, the water closed over it immediately, as with us, and also, in withdrawing it, all traces of the passage of the knife were instantly obliterated. If, however, the blade was passed down accurately between the two veins, a perfect separation was effected, which the power of cohesion did not immediately rectify. The phenomena of this water formed the first definite link in that vast chain of apparent miracles with which I was destined to be at length encircled” (Poe 1885).
Phenomena corresponding to mixtures of the given qualities across high and low excitement categories appear to be more common than their simpler, unmixed, thermological counterparts in language. Mixtures occur more frequently than expected across various aesthetic ideas and activities of human culture. The effects of the same preferences or biases seem to determine in part the way animals look and how they behave, through mate choice, with many examples to be seen in courtship rituals. As a consequence of the same biases being applied by animals universally, courtship-related coloration, body shape and dance move have certain simple features in common regardless of how related the species are. Mixtures correspond to some extent with what in psychological literature are called incongruent stimuli. This connection can be seen in the hue heat and Bouba Kiki effects. Representations of the same mixtures have arisen repeatedly, in unrelated aesthetic realms, but apparently in response to the same basic set of preferences. The psychological preferences responsible for the origin and perpetuation of mixtures in culture seem to be more fundamental than the context in which we experience them, or the sensory modality with which we do so. The idea of the disruption of round objects, so common in popular expressions, is evident as well in many games, sports flowers and symbols. Ideas of dark (e.g., black, purple, blue) fluidity and dark dynamism which can be seen in animal coloration patterns, human artwork, animation and special effects. Aesthetic mixtures, or incongruent stimuli, such as bright solidness and bright roundness are common in animals, idioms, metaphors, and poetry, while also probably relating to the human fascination with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls, teeth, stained glass windows, trophy’s, medals, pins, coins, bright yellow circular happy faces and in general the idea of animals being attracted to bright shiny objects, assuming the word "object" to mean something solid, and most likely the fact that advertising their seeds in the form of a bright, round food source has been a successful strategy for so many plants. Bright solidness and bright roundness also figure prominently in the sexual transformations animals tend to undergo prior to and during courtship. Animal sacrifice, ghosts, zombies, semi-immortality and reincarnation correspond to the mixture dynamic—static, pyramids and constellations to up—order, treehouses, alien abduction and heaven to up—in, the pearly gates to up—bright/in, and hell to down/in—hot/fluid/disorder. The mixture fluid—down corresponds, perhaps, to our appreciation of such things as crying and waterfalls.
America's "Horse with No Name" demonstrates the way that artists frequently use alternating references to heat, fluids, dynamism, upwardness, outwardness and their opposites in indiscriminate juxtaposition in lyrics. Exciting qualities are colored pink, less exciting ones are colored blue, and nonwords (la, la, la) are removed:
"On the first part of the journey / I was looking at all the life / There were plants and birds and rocks and things / There was sand and hills and rings / The first thing I met / was a fly with a buzz / And the sky with no clouds / The heat was hot, and the ground was dry / But the air was full of sound / I've been through the desert / On a horse with no name / It felt good to be out of the rain / In the desert, you can remember your name / 'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain / After two days in the desert sun / My / skin began to turn red / After three days in the desert fun / I was looking at a river bed / And the story it told of a river that flowed / Made me sad to think it was dead / You see / I've been through the desert / On a horse with no name / It felt good to be out of the rain / In the desert, you can remember your name / 'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain / After nine days, I let the horse run free / 'Cause the desert had turned to sea / There were plants and birds and rocks and things / There was sand and hills and rings / The ocean is a desert with its life underground / And a perfect disguise above / Under the cities lies a heart made of ground / But the humans will give no love / You see I've been through the desert / On a horse with no name / it felt good to be out of the rain / In the desert, you can remember your name / 'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain... ".
We appreciate moderation and the corresponding complexity that results from mixtures of more and less exciting things. For instance humans are fascinated by the concept and appearance of flowing water in intimate relationships with solidness, as in water fountains, which are complex and moderate in being a combination of opposites. Traditional gargoyles, stone faces that convey water, are similar. In both cases we achieve a kind of moderation with flow and a solid structure balancing each other, like in the brain. Popular expressions such as idioms and artistic ones such as poetry, as well as landscape paintings, or those depicting the land and sea or stone and flowing water together, the fluid-like patterns we carve into stone, and the way we bend metal into twisted and spiraling or other fluid-like forms have the same aesthetic structure as fountains and gargoyles in that they contain a reference to both something fluid and something solid. We see the same aesthetic result in language that we see in architecture. Such universality, like that of the flower, song or dance bias, requires a physical explanation. Clearly we find flowers more flowing-looking than leaves, even though they're static, and so the explanation for flowers is probably to some extent the same as that for cultural solid and fluid mixtures like fountains. Also similar are the ancient cave painting patterns in which simple shapes such as grids and lattices are found together universally with drawings of spirals. We reshape both our physical and auditory surroundings in the same way, using the same natural duality, solid—fluid, as a blueprint, which happens to correspond with the liquid crystalline situation of the brain and mind, where the duality is broken, or at least marginalized, so to some extent our aesthetic endeavors are about making our surroundings more like us.
Breton André, et al. The Magnetic Fields. New York Review Books, 2020.
Leslie, Esther. Liquid Crystals: The Science and Art of a Fluid Form. Reaktion Books, 2016.
Lee, Helen. "Possibilities of" Pym"." The English Journal 55.9 (1966): 1149-1154.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.” The Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe: Arthur Gordon Pym, and other tales. Vol. 3. John Henry Ingram. J. C. Nimmo, 1885. Web. Google Books.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia : Knowledge in depth. United States, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2003.