Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


22.5  Extraterrestrial Aesthetics

Aesthetics is the scientific study of the arts and their function and significance in human cultures. Xenoaesthetics is the equivalent course of study as it relates to all sentient beings -- including man -- in the universe.

Exactly what is art? The standard dictionary definition goes something like "creative work generally; the making or doing of things that have form and beauty, including painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, dance... ." Many devotees claim instead that "art is life," while skeptics insist that "art is useless." Science fictioneer Robert Heinlein has written that "art is the process of evoking pity and terror."2643 Then there is the offbeat "cultural gene" view of art suggested by biochemist A.G. Cairns-Smith: After much study a Martian might come to the conclusion that the text of Hamlet is a genotype which interacts with its environment in such a way as to bring about its own preferential reprinting.2364 Perhaps the most satisfactory operational definition from the standpoint of xenology is the following: Art is a means of sensory communication within the context of culture which serves or is intended to evoke emotion in the perceiver.1744 Beauty, the touchstone of all artistry, is a quality of a thing that makes it seem pleasant or satisfying in some way beyond its mere pragmatic function -- a profoundly emotional experience. (From this point of view, emotionless ETs can have no indigenous art forms.)

Table 22.5 was suggested by Abraham Moles’ work in the field of information theory and aesthetic perception.1815 The three dimensions shown may be used to classify all known simple art forms and, most important for xenoaestheticians, to generate scores of possible modes of aesthetic expression which have never before appeared on Earth.


Table 22.5 Physical Dimensions of Xenoaesthetic Experience

Spatial Aspect
Temporal Aspect
Perceptive Aspect
0-Dimensional (point) Static (no element of time) Tactic (touch, vibration)
1-Dimensional (line) Kinetic (incorporates time dimension; has motion) Gustic (taste)
(planar or curved surface)
Dynamic (incorporates time dimension and feedback control mechanisms) Osmic (smell)
(spatial or volumetric)
Sonic (sound, hearing)
Electric or Magnetic
Electromagnetic (vision in visible, infrared, or radio spectrum)


A printed line of literature in a book is a time-invariant sequence of linearly assembled symbols. Such a mode of artistic communication is classified as 1-dimensional, static, and visual (tactic, if the book is in Braille). A painting or drawing provides messages in two dimensions, sculpture and architecture in three -- but all are static art forms. Movies and television pictures are 2-dimensional kinetic forms, but with the addition of a computer gaming circuit become interactive and thus dynamic. Speech and music have no spatial dimension whatever (0-dimensional), emanating as they do from essentially point sources. Music may be static,* kinetic (as with recorded soundtracks), or dynamic (as with a jazz orchestra, which may be influenced by the behavior of the percipient audience). Finally, there are the "complex" art forms which combine two or more of the "pure" classificational types to create artful mixtures -- including cinerama, dance, and live theater.


* The American composer John Gage has written a piece called "Silent Sonata" which consists of the performer sitting on his bench before the piano without ever touching the instrument or producing any sound whatsoever.1550 Here is a form of art, calculated to evoke emotional response, which may be classified 0-dimensional and static.


Last updated on 6 December 2008