Monday, April 16, 2012

Winton Bates on Progress and the Arts

Winton Bates, an Australian economists, discusses Frederick Turner's book The Culture of Hope. He discusses Turner's idea that the arts can be a force for progress. This in turn prompted him to discuss Alfred North Whitehead's book Adventures of Ideas, discussing it in light of Hayek's quote that "In one sense, civilization is progress and progress is civilization."

If Turner is right that the arts are (or an be) a force for progress, then he is arguing that the arts are (or can be) civilizing. This civilizing aspect is beauty. Bates wonders if art is but a way of keeping communication flows open (using Bejan's idea of the constructal law). However, this would relate directly to the issue of beauty, as beauty may be the way artistic communication flows are kept most open and best flowing. In fact, Turner argues that tree-like branchiness is important to understand beauty, time, and the arts. The golden mean emerges out of the constructal law -- and the golden mean is central to our experience of beauty. The same with fractal geometry.

Perhaps our experience of beauty is the brain rewarding itself for recognizing the constructal law in nature.

And perhaps anything that is allowed to evolve according to the constructal law of nature is beautiful.


  1. I agree with you that beauty may be the way communication flows are kept most open. Having now read Whitehead's book I am more open to the view that turbulence and discord can be beautiful if they result in meaningful progress. This seems consistent with the way some economists (including myself at times) talk about creative destruction as though we see it as a beautiful process.

  2. Bejan does point out that for certain kinds of flows turbulence does in fact facilitate those flows. He also points out that tensions between opposing forces is how flows come about. No turbulence, no large flows. No tensions, no flows at all. Thus, no turbulence, no tensions, no flows. Thus, no creative destruction, no networks, no self-organization. Indeed, creative destruction IS a beautiful process. Spontaneous orders are in fact beautiful.

  3. I agree. The problem is that many people have difficulty in standing back far enough from their personal circumstances in order to to see the beauty of the big picture.

  4. Indeed. This is what Heraclitus meant when he said, "To men something are just, some unjust. But to God all things are good, just, and beautiful." If you stand too close to even the most beautiful painting, you can't see how beautiful it is, and you may even find what you see ugly and imperfect.