Creativity (stories, film, etc.), Philosophy

Beauty as the balance between simplicity and complexity

All beauty lies in the tension between order and chaos, simplicity and complexity, pattern and randomness.

If we humans see or hear something that is too simple, too obvious to us we find it boring and blunt – an insult to our intellect and not worth thinking about, because we always crave for new experiences, to explore and discover. But if we experience something way too complex to comprehend and it is beyond our ability to recognize a pattern or a logic in it, we get frustrated and frame it with the simple concept of randomness to hide its inner complexity from our interest in order to not waste more of our energy on it. So either way, if something is too simple or too complex we turn our back on it and move on.

But what really interest us are those things that seem new, exciting and strange but that at the same time we feel have an intrinsic logic, patter or familiarity – something to hang on and work with, to study the phenomenon and bring meaning and understanding to it. And the utter reward is when we succeed in comprehending it. Then we feel gratitude, contempt and happiness. Not long after that, we might feel bored by the same phenomenon, because now it seems trivial and too simple for us.

But there are things in nature and elsewhere that we clearly can see a pattern in, but at the same time we cannot fully comprehend or understand it. The most beautiful works of art are often those that take something well-known, like the shape of a human body or face, or geometrical shapes, and take it one step further, transform it somehow to imply some additional meaning and thus slightly elevate its level of complexity. Or we see beauty in nature, because it is clearly organized; every organism strives purposefully to grow and reproduce, everything strictly bound by the laws of physics and biology, yet the resulting complexity in colors, shapes and movements is just overwhelming and astonishing. Just look at the clouds, reflections on the water or the movement of shadows on different surfaces, leaves dancing in the wind.

But the example that got me thinking today (thx Annina!) (and made me remember this TED talk) was actually music: when you recognize a song as good, but still don’t like it. My theory now is that you realize that there is an interesting, well crafted and well executed pattern to the sound or the lyrics, but you just can’t get the hang on it, cannot decipher it, so you get kind of frustrated and start disliking the song. Maybe, when you hear it again and again, or somewhen later in life, you’ll understand it better and feel differently about it, but now it just doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, we get bored by songs that we find just too simplistic or have heard too many times, over and over again.


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