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Life in terms of the nonliving. Universal animal preferences for mixtures of simple perceptual opposites.

Some things are universally more exciting to animals than their opposites. Light is more exciting than darkness, red coloration is more exciting than blue, everything is more exciting than nothing, and movement, speed, long flowing forms, spikiness, upwardness and outwardness are exciting relative to stillness, solid and round objects, smoothness, downwardness, inwardness and holes.

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Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Various types of simple excitement such as anger and sexual arousal correspond to higher brain temperature in animals, heat which must be accompanied by physical increases in brain fluidity, disorder and molecular motion. Such changes in the brain explain why, in angry and sexual contexts, we spontaneously make reference not only to heat but also fluidity, disorder and speed which doesn’t actually exist in any way in the outside…


Guppies choose mixtures of simple perceptual opposites such as bright and dark colors when they mate.

The Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata Peters, 1859) is a ray-finned fish in the cyprinodont family poeciliidae, Greek for “with different colors” (Froese and Pauly 2008). It’s also known as the “millions fish” or the “rainbow fish.” Males grow to a maximum size of about 3.5 cm, females to about 5 cm standard length. Guppies have no dorsal spines, seven to eight dorsal soft rays, no anal spines, and eight to ten anal soft rays (Rodriguez 1997, Froese and Pauly 2008). In the poeciliid family there are 293 extant species living in freshwater and brackish habitats at low altitudes in the…


Humpbacks and humans like a mixture of order and randomness.

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Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) songs, as part of their sexual allure, emphasize both regularity and variation at the same time and weave them together in intricate patterns of sound. These two simple perceptually opposed qualities — order and disorder — have not been given enough consideration as factors in the decisions animals make and the structure of aesthetic phenomena. Along with other simple opposites like high- and low-pitch, continuity and discreteness, and sound and silence, these constitute common, essential features of all songs and music in humans and other singing animals. A sound sequence with perfect regularity or order over…


Prior to the evolution of the first living things the world was made of crystals, liquids and gasses. Life’s beginnings must have involved the transition of matter from these states to one of liquid crystallinity.

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Some important events in the origin of life on Earth probably include the concentration of carbon, the formation of complex organic molecules, sorting of those molecules into chiral types, the evolution of sustained loops of chemical interactions, formation of a replicator, a coupling of this chemistry and replication to an energy source, the origination of liquid crystallinity, and possibly a transition from indistinct networks of living material into relatively individual, self-contained entities or cells. …


Animals prefer mixtures of length and roundness.

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A universal sensory bias favoring oblong things is probably responsible for human and animal decorations being, very often, not too long, not too short, not quite spherical or square, but elongated somewhat along one dimension, and more often than should be expected by chance with no obvious corresponding advantage to explain it practically beyond an intrinsic appeal to the senses.

Being oblong instead of perfectly round probably makes an object look more complex, familiar and likable to an animal. …


Experiments show we recognize imperceivable dualities and opposites, such as blue versus hot and red versus cold. We identify more closely with a hot blue object than a hot red one and a cold red object more than a cold blue one.

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The hue heat hypothesis demonstrates how we consider certain qualities to be opposites even though we shouldn’t think of them as opposites based on experience, and how it can influence our behavior:


General sensory biases selecting for mixtures of upwardness with darkness and downwardness with brightness in bodies are the most likely explanation for widespread dorsal darkness and ventral brightness in animals, rather than differential survival and countershading or obliteration.

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“Animals are painted by nature, darkest on those parts which tend to be most lighted by the sky’s light, and vice versa.”

— Thayer (1896)

Universal biases favoring the perceptual mixtures dynamic — dark and bright — static appear to be responsible, via mate choice, for a widespread pattern in bird and other animal coloration in which dynamic body parts are darker than more static ones. Examples of numerous species with darker extremities, meaning such parts as wings, arms, legs, tails or long ornamental feathers or hair, or those which undergo the most dynamic motion from the perspective of another…


Popular expressions show that, in the brain, learning is a fluid process and knowledge is like a solid. Learning, novelty, lies and fantasy are more like heat, disorder, motion, upwardness, outwardness and length while knowledge, truth and reality are colder, orderly, still, down, inward and round.

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​ — Shakespeare

That fantasy is elevated slightly excitement-wise above reality is detectable in how we employ the words “unreal,” “unbelievable” and “fantastic” to mark exciting moments or perceptual events even though the events inciting such exclamations are perfectly believable, just unexpected. Surprisingly many of the phrases we use regularly and collectively to describe learning, or changes in the material of the brain, directly implicate the specific, simple qualities heat, fluidity and disorder in the process. …


A list of common English phrases which are contradictory mixtures in that they reference a sequence of simple, fundamental perceptual opposites

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This story is a list of every way the relatively exciting qualities hot, fluid, disorder, bright, dynamic, up and out and their opposites cold, solid, order, dark, static, down and in can be arranged in pairs across categories of excitement as contradictory, mixed or complex perceptual sequences. Similarly structured, popular, otherwise nonsensical English phrases are listed in parentheses along with the current count of phrases representing each mixture.

The expressions are most likely reflections of biases favoring them over combinations of references to qualities in the same mental category. We like expressions that allude to one hot thing and one…


One thing we all share as organisms is our physical situation in a state between the solidness of a crystal and the fluidity of a liquid, a fact responsible for other, larger-scale commonalities.

Photo by Jené Stephaniuk on Unsplash

Liquid crystals, or ordered fluids, are organic compounds that exist in stable states intermediate between the more common solid and fluid. They are intermediate in characteristics such as molecular regularity, confinement, and ability to flow and mix. About five percent of known organic compounds exhibit liquid crystalline characteristics (Makow 1982). An apparently necessary property of the types of molecules that exist in these intermediate states is that they be rod-like or disc-like. Many liquid crystal forming molecules have both rigid and flexible regions:

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