1993 September 8

Ethics Esthetica

Topics

In the beginning—as far as we know—there was nothing [Note 1]. And then, roughly 15 billion years ago, the greatest event in the history of the universe happened. This occurrence was so important and so wonderful that humans call its cause God and often ascribe intelligence to it.

We may never know the truth of that matter, but there are some things we have learned about this first and greatest event. It was an act of creation. In a fraction of a second so small as to be incomprehensible to the human mind, all the matter and energy that has ever been sprang into existence from the void. That alone was a tremendous achievement, but the Power behind the creation was not finished: it caused the new pieces of matter to combine in various ways so as to create substances with different properties. Protons and electrons formed out of the countless initial quarks and recombined to bring forth hydrogen and helium; soon thereafter supernovas exploded under their own weight and created gold.

Scientists have recognized four facets of this Power, which they call the strong and weak nuclear forces, the electromagnetic force, and gravity. These are only sides of the one Power, however, which has as its aim the combination of diverse elements into a new and more complex structure. This Power exhibits itself through human beings as well, and they (as is their nature) have given it a name: Art. [Note 2]

If Art were the only power in existence, however, our universe would not have had a beginning in time. Creation and created substance would have been eternally. But as Sir Isaac Newton realized, no force can exist without its opposite. At the moment of Creation, Art seems to have won an inexplicable victory over its rival force, Entropy. Our cosmos sprang forth from that brief yet vital imbalance. [Note 3]

Now the two forces are again in balance; scientists long ago pointed out that no matter or energy is created or destroyed. We should hope that such an imbalance in Entropy's favor never occurs, as significant portions of our universe could quite suddenly disappear. [Note 4]

From a completely objective viewpoint—that is, one entirely removed from any conscious perception—it makes no difference whether or not Art or Entropy has the advantage at any given moment. Yet from the point of view of our universe, it is extremely important that Art won its little victory. [Note 5] I think we can say, then, that there is a universal (if not entirely objective) value standard.

Many people claim that values are subjective and so are not binding on humanity as a whole, but this seems inaccurate. Value judgments declare that things are “Good” or “Bad” (in the sense of “proper” and “improper”). [Note 6] Art is a universal and not merely a subjective Good, for without it our universe would not exist. Since its opposite, Entropy, seeks to destroy our universe, it is Bad.

The essence of Art is the creation of difference from sameness. On the cosmic scale, Art creates matter and manipulates substance to form atoms, molecules—even life itself. On the human level, Art guides intelligences to perform the same creation and recombination on ideas as well as on matter. Life, Literature, Painting, Atoms, Music, Molecules, Drama—all of these are Good insofar as they are Artistic.

The essence of Entropy is the reduction of difference to sameness, and is likewise manifested on both cosmic and human levels. On the cosmic level, Entropy causes complex systems to degenerate into a simpler and undifferentiated state. Death and decay are the most common cosmic symptoms of Entropy, and are certainly easy to recognize. The human symptoms range from the blatantly destructive to the seemingly innocuous: Fascism, “ethnic cleansing,” any system of thought that requires unquestioning acceptance, school uniforms, [Note 7] even fashion trends—these are all Entropic and thus Bad.

If this seems controversial, it is only because humanity as a whole has yet to understand that being different is implicit to Art and so is Good. Human beings are still unfortunately ruled by the instincts inherited from our unthinking ancestors; to these instincts, “different” = unknown and therefore potentially dangerous. In order to insure survival, instinct taught animals to shun the different and destroy it whenever possible.

As use of the word “destroy” suggests, such an act is really Entropic. Indeed, almost all human evils are caused by this desire to destroy the different. Intolerance, bigotry, prejudice—all these are archaic leftovers of our pre-sapient brains. [Note 8] When humanity truly grows up, it will learn to embrace the different (which is not so dangerous these days), prizing it as the foundation of life and interest. [Note 9] What would hold our attention in this world if everything were the same?

To say that Entropy is Bad does not suggest that the universe would be a better place if Entropy did not exist. If Entropy vanished on the human level, difference would soon escalate into insanity as language and thought-patterns became so individuated as to preclude communal understanding. [Note 10] And without Entropy to hold Art in check, the universe would be an undifferentiated mass of matter—an ironically Entropic state.

This is in fact my vision of Hell—a picture that is all the more frightening because (unlike most theological hells) it involves our very own cosmos and not some mythical other realm of existence. Due to the force of creation's explosion of matter (the Big Bang), our universe has been expanding since its birth. However, Art (in the form of gravity) is constantly at work trying to bring together all the various pieces of matter that exist. Which of these forces is stronger depends on the amount of matter that was created.

There are three possibilities: one, that the force of expansion is greater; two, that gravity and the force of expansion are equal; and three, that gravity is greater. In the first instance, our universe continues to expand forever, all the matter contained within moving farther apart for all time. In the second instance, the physical boundary of the universe reaches an equilibrium, while (due again to gravity) all the matter it contains accumulates at its “center”11 in the form of iron, the most stable element. In the third instance, the universe contracts back on itself, eventually imploding.

The first case is Limbo; the second is Hell. The third case I would say is Life—at least that part of Life which is Death. I personally hope that the third instance does achieve, as I find it fitting that our universe, like every living organism, should have a death as well as a life. This would give it a completion, a meaning, and make it a true work of Art. Also, I cannot help but believe that God would step in again to insure the creation of a new universe—a different universe, in the best Artistic fashion.

Heaven was conspicuously absent from those possibilities, but this is not because I consider it to be either impossible or other-worldly. We shall discover an earth-bound and [theoretically] possible Heaven later; but before I disclose my conception, see if you have one of your own.

Thus, there is a paradoxical necessity at work; though Art and Entropy each seek to eliminate the other, neither can truly exist separately. Art provides complexity for Entropy to break down, and Entropy provides simplicity for Art to build up. This is true of the human level as well as the cosmic—at times, the Good may best be served by allowing Entropy a brief reign.

But now we are entering a moral arena which is more properly discussed shortly hereafter. Let us approach that discussion by examining the second greatest event in the history of the universe: the birth of Homo Sapiens Sapiens. With the appearance of this new species, the universe at last was capable of beholding itself. In an evolutionary breakthrough which was truly miraculous, the human brain was capable of perceiving its own perceptions. Though many animals could think, suddenly humans could think about their thoughts.

Why is this such a breakthrough? Because the ability to recognize one's thoughts allows those thoughts to be analyzed and even changed. For the first time, an animal existed which was not at the mercy of its genetic programming. Homo Sapiens was able to reprogram itself in nearly infinite new ways, escaping the stimulus-response pattern of the lower creatures to create its own reactions. Humanity alone in the universe had achieved Freedom.

With Freedom comes responsibility; humans are the only creatures accountable for their actions, since they are the only animals who could have chosen different ones. Awareness of this gave rise to the human concepts of Good and Evil. [Note 12] Apart from human action, nothing in the universe is Good or Evil. These ideas are meanings, and only Homo Sapiens has the Freedom to create and assign meaning.

Objectively speaking, it does not mean anything to be an apple. The apple simply is. However, the human mind can see an apple, be aware of its perception of an apple, and choose to assign other perceptions to it. [Note 13] In short, a mind can give its perceptions meaning: an apple “is” a symbol of temptation, for example.

Good and Evil depend on two other concepts, Right and Wrong. The meaning of “Right” is “in accordance with the Good,” and “Wrong” is naturally enough “in accordance with the Bad.” Good behavior consists of choosing to act Rightly, while Evil behavior consists of choosing to act Wrongly. Morality is the classification of behavior as Good or Evil, and it has been a hotly disputed issue for millennia (mostly because different minds have created different ideas of Good and Bad).

By now it should be obvious that the morality I am presenting—a morality based in Art and therefore dubbed “Ethics Esthetica”—calls that behavior “Good” which tends to make the world more Artistic or more Free, and that behavior “Evil” which makes the world more Entropic or more Tyrannical. (This is of course assuming that the behavior in question was freely chosen. If not, the actions would merely be Right or Wrong.)

Freedom is a less universal Good than Art, because it has relevance only to humanity. From a human standpoint, though, Freedom can still be said to be objectively Good—that is, Good for all individuals. It is even a sort of proto-Good, for without Freedom, there would be no morally Good behavior. Most importantly, though, Freedom is Good in and of itself because without it life would have no meaning. [Note 14]

A final word here about Freedom, responsibility, and meaning: meaning is created only by human choice. Therefore, an individual life has only that meaning which the individual in question has developed for it. Some people look to find meaning “in the stars” or through divine revelation; but this (as we have seen) is a waste of time, since meaning cannot be “found.”

Perhaps they have been scared away from the ultimate act of human Art—the creation of meaning for a life. Responsibility is daunting; there is no one else to blame. But when humanity matures, I believe it will come to see this Freedom as exhilarating and rewarding. We will look for the credit and not the blame for a given life; and where our ancestors felt themselves to be only lost wanderers, we shall know ourselves to be the trailblazers. [Note 15]

People who try to find meaning instead of create it are led astray by Illusion, which is Bad because it prevents the recognition of real options and thus limits an individual's Freedom. The polar Good is of course Truth, which is the correct perception of reality and the full understanding of that perception. Truth entails honesty, for a dishonest rendition of any situation precludes proper understanding of it and only creates Illusion.

Truth is an objective Good again only at the human level, for nothing else in the universe has understanding. But it is extraordinarily important to Homo Sapiens, for it touches at the very essence of being human: understanding reality and making Free choices based on that understanding. The same paradox encountered earlier is at work, though: ultimate Truth is both unattainable and undesirable.

Its unattainability has mathematical expression in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and physical expression in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (among other instances). [Note 16] It is undesirable because the achievement of total Truth would bereave humanity of its very nature. Some may call this progress, but really it is only stagnation. The human mind reaches its heights in discovery, which is a process involving both Art and Freedom; mere knowledge is commonplace among the lower animals.

We shall return to both paradox and stagnation, but for the moment let us examine a Good which is objective to life and not just humanity. Living organisms have evolved a means of communicating impropriety (or Badness): pain. Pleasure is a body's way of expressing that its condition is proper. Lest it be thought that I am advocating complete Hedonism, I would like to briefly refer to the Paradox Principle and paraphrase an earlier statement: “at times, the Good may best be served by allowing the Bad a brief reign.”

Pleasure, then, is a Good and Pain a Bad. Behavior that deliberately causes Pain is Evil and is spurred by a human emotion called Hate. Contrariwise, behavior which seeks to ameliorate the human condition is spurred by Love. Love is, I believe, the most important inter-personal emotion; it overcomes the fear of the different, promotes mutual cooperation, and builds the families and communities that humanity needs to survive.

The most important intra-personal emotion is Hope—the nebulous belief that it is possible for everything to turn out for the best. Note that Hope is not Optimism; the latter is the paradoxical overdose of Hope, the belief that everything will turn out for the best. Optimism is really Illusion.

People tend to be described as Optimists, Pessimists, or Realists, but I would like to postulate a category which is not as committed as the first two and not as fatalistic as the last: “Hopist” (for want of a better word). Hope is crucial because an individual without Hope has no reason to keep living; the belief that change for the better is impossible is Entropic and death-driven. Hope is also important for groups of people, since it is the emotion that spurs progress. The development of a community (or an individual) hinges upon the belief that progress is achievable (a somewhat recursive but nonetheless valid and necessary stance). Hope is a manifestation of Art as evolutionary power.

Another key concept arises from the above discussion: progress. Progress may roughly be defined as Art + Freedom + Truth + Love + Hope, so its importance should be obvious. It too is subject to paradox; progress is the struggle towards a more perfect state, yet if that state is achieved progress is over. My thesis is that progress is better than its own fulfillment. Perfection is stagnation, Entropic sameness.

This brings us back to the traditional concept of Heaven. I trust the drawbacks of an utterly fulfilled and perfectly happy existence are readily apparent. Though Happiness is an important goal of human life (a side-effect of Love), it too is subject to the Paradox Principle.

There is one concept discussed above that was not constrained by paradox, and it is upon that concept that my idea of Heaven is based. Unlike Art, Freedom, Truth, Hope, and Progress, Love seems to be immune from overdose. Utter and complete Love would be a state of being in which every single person desired to make the lives of all creatures better. I can find no drawback to such a state, and so I call it Heaven. This version of paradise has the added attraction of being theoretically attainable on Earth, and so is truly worth working towards.

Though Happiness and Progress are extremely important concepts, I find that they are reducible (as I pointed out earlier) to those concepts which were highlighted at the time of their first appearance in this text. Those five concepts—Art, Freedom, Truth, Love, and Hope—I find are irreducible, and so constitute the core of my morality.

In order to depict the unity of this system as well as the distinctness of each concept, I have devised a logo that forms a regular whole (a diamond) from a symbol of each main concept. It looks like this:

The uppermost symbol, the eight-pointed star, stands for Truth: the light shining from afar that inspires us to understand the universe but is always unattainable. Underneath the star is a heart, the universal symbol for Love. Below the heart is a bird which to my mind suggests Freedom: escape from gravity, mobility in the air as well as on the land. Flanking the bird are the Tragedy and Comedy masks of theatre, my choice for the representation of Art: on a personal level, since theatre is my métier, and also because the necessary duality of Tragedy and Comedy calls to mind the necessary duality of Art and Entropy. Finally, the flower at the bottom is Hope: a tiny plant that brightens one's path, growing anywhere but easily killed.

This system of Ethics makes much of paradox, which should not be interpreted as a logical contradiction, but rather a situation in which two exclusive conditions are intimately bound together. The system as a whole confronts this issue: I obviously believe it to be the only supportable morality and wish it to be adopted universally, yet such “progress” is only self-defeating. A central tenet of the morality is that difference is vitally important to the quality of life, and if everyone adhered to this system there wouldn't be much room for difference!

This suggests that anyone who really follows this morality will construct their own morality and follow it instead…

Elliot Thomas Grant
Carroll Valley, PA, 1993

Nothing substantial, that is. As we shall shortly see, the fact of creation demands the existence of forces that must be called eternal—“eternal” because time began with creation. Time is only the measure of the rate of change; and where there is no substance, there is no change and thus no time.
When understood in this manner, Art is seen to be the creator, and not the imitator, of life.
The reason for this imbalance is the unknown quantity earlier referred to as God. God is not Art, but rather the factor which allowed Art to create matter. Thus, there is something of the divine about Art, for God is seen to be Art’s ally.
Perhaps black holes are pockets of Entropy…
I do not wish to suggest that our universe has conscious perception, only that conscious perceivers exist within it.
I wish it were possible to define these terms better; however, philosophical definitions must fail at the level of basic terms. There are only two methods of definition: either a complex term is explained in more basic terms or instances of the term are compared and contrasted so the common feature (the term to be explained) can be recognized. For ordinary purposes, one or both of these methods is sufficient. Philosophical definitions, on the other hand, are established in order to classify instances; it is therefore circular to define a philosophical term from instances. Many basic concepts may (and should) be employed to philosophically define a complex term (see the definition of Art which begins the next paragraph), but philosophical systems only become impenetrable or recursive when attempting to define basic terms. There is a certain point at which participants of a philosophical inquiry must either speak the same language or abandon their discussion.
Some schools are forced to adopt uniforms in order to prevent crimes caused by the desire for or reaction to the ostentatious display of status. Such a course is the pragmatic choice of the lesser of two evils, and does not imply that the suppression of individuality is Good.
A plug against social conservatism (by which I mean the completely apolitical resistance to change for its own sake)—this attitude deplores change because change produces difference. Such a mind-set is immediately classifiable as Entropic and death-driven. To be more explicit: life is change. Something can only truly be said to be alive if it is capable of producing change in itself. Is it coincidental that social conservatism is most often rooted in the elder generations, people whose viewpoint is nearer death than life?

Evolution is in fact the continued victory of the different over the same. Without small imperfections in the DNA-replicating process, all of life would merely consist of trillions of copies of that first living cell—a most Entropic state of affairs.

Sexual reproduction (and its concomitant pleasures for lovers everywhere) arose from the need of organisms to spread gene variations more rapidly. It allows the mixture of two entirely different gene pools, creating a radically new genome. Previous asexual reproduction created only minor changes (those evolutionary imperfections) because it produced a copy of the old genome. Since each change meant an additional chance for better survival, sexual reproduction had a marked advantage over its predecessor. From these instances, we see that variety is the crux, and not just the spice, of life. Vive la difference!

It is hardly new to suggest that the classifiably “insane” are really only the most Artistically-evolved people. I hope it is clear, however, that such an excess of Art is undesirable; the world-community is a complex work of Art which rampant insanity would Entropically reduce to individuals that are identical in their isolation.
A misleading term, as our universe has no center in three dimensions.
As Nietzsche has pointed out, it is a philological crime that “Good” in many languages has two divergent meanings: it means the opposite of both “Bad” and “Evil.” Care must be taken to keep the existential Good (“proper”) separate from the moral Good (“choosing to act Right”).
When something has a meaning, humans can “make sense” of it. Notice the Artistic element of creation that is involved: sense is made, not found.
The principle of Paradox is still applicable—complete Freedom would entail omnipotence, no limitations whatsoever. This is merely an all-powerful stagnation, allowing no room for development or progress.
A note on Free Will—many scientists discount Free Will because of the Newtonian determination of the observable universe. Others maintain that no human will is Free because it is bound by the genetic programming of its brain. Both these views are mistaken—Newtonian determinism breaks down at the quantum level, and human genetic codes allow for “self-reprogramming” which can chaotically change the codes for personality and thus rapidly create a personality which is Free (to some extent) from its heredity.
The former states that even in the most complex formal systems, there will always be a statement which is unprovable by that system; the latter demonstrates that it is impossible to know an electron’s position and momentum both—only one or the other may discovered.