Because we experience the world indirectly, through intervening filters: concepts, explanations, thoughts, perspectives, and paradigms – mental models of the world – it is especially helpful to see them as essentially aesthetic constructions, which we choose because they please us in some way.
Experience is mediated. Our brains create simulations of experience by means of chemical and electrical representation, neural patterns, wave phenomena, quantum decoherence, and other as-yet-unknown methods. Externally, our experience is transferred to us by assimilation of familial, tribal, and cultural symbols and systems of thought. We use pre-existing words, images, memes, and explanations to process awareness and give a sense of meaning to our lives.
Understanding why we make the choices we do involves looking into the aesthetic and ethical aspects of human perception, cognition, and behavior. We choose what we are compelled to choose for reasons which may be conscious or unconscious, yet it can still be said that we choose what pleases us. Examining the bases for our choices allows for the possibility of greater and greater degrees of freedom regarding the experiences we create and the world which results from the sum total of our human choices.
We can also take a look back at the world which has been chosen by us in the past and by those who came before us. What kind of world did humans choose to create and why did we make those choices? What was it exactly that pleased us about making those choices? And when we felt compelled to make them, what were we actually choosing to affirm? And what was it about those affirmations that pleased us?
We have the power to create illusions – to mystify, enchant, entrance, and hypnotize ourselves. And because our very paradigms of reality formation function in an identical fashion whether we are experiencing fact or fiction, we do not know when we are seeing clearly and when we are not.
We have a great need for beliefs. It pleases us to believe things. And it pleases us to believe we have knowledge. We need to feel that our beliefs are true in some way. We need to feel we can understand and therefore control or, at least, manage and influence the experience we refer to as “being alive” in what we call “the real world”. In the pursuit of all this, we enjoy inventing concepts, such as “free will” and entire systems of language, logic, and mathematics out of whole cloth.
We expect that our invented abstractions have some independent existence outside of ourselves. We create elaborate systems of proof, in which our invented concepts are imposed upon what we call “reality”. To the extent we can thoroughly impose these ideas upon some aspects of our experience, we see them as universal laws, applicable in the remotest regions of what we have named “the universe” – this is a conceptualized location which embodies the ideas we have named “space” and “time” – the exact nature of which we do not understand.
We desire domination and we enjoy submission. We create situations in which we can act out those roles. We are filled with fear. We fear pain and death. We have the ability to empathize with the pain of others and we have the ability to cause great suffering.
As we are, in fact, discussing life as art and not art in isolation, ethical considerations arise that relate to the kinds of aesthetic choices we make – in other words ethical decisions regarding what pleases us and what repels us. To what extent can we exercise free will and ethical decision-making in the world models, paradigms, and belief systems we create? If we are free to make the best choices what will they be? Can we learn to make choices that decrease suffering and increase compassion?
Image: “The World is Art 2″ by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.