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Beauty and understanding

This chapter provides background argumentation for what beauty has to do with understanding. First from a theoretical perspective, and then diving specifically into how specific domains approach this relation. Our theoretical approach will be start from the aesthetic theory of Nelson Goodman, and a lineage which links aesthetics to cognition, most recently aided by the contribution of neurosciences. We will see how source codes does qualify as a language of art—that is, a symbol system which allows for aesthetic experiences.
After argumenting for a conception of aesthetics which tends to intellectual engagement, we will pay attention to how surface structure and conceptual assemblages relate. That is, we will highlight how each of the domains contigent to source code— literature, mathematics and architecture—communicate certain concepts through their respective and specific means of symbolic representation. The identification of how specific aesthetic properties enable cognitive engagement in each of these domains will in turn support the identification of how equivalent properties can manifest in source code.
This thesis argues that aesthetics have a useful component, insofar as formal arrangments at the surface-level can facilitate the understanding of the underlying deep structure of concepts denotated. In the specific context of source code, we show that aesthetic standards are contextual, as they vary along two axes. First, they depend on whether the attention of the writer (and thus the reader) is directed at the hardware, or at the software (which can, in turn, address real-world ideas, or computational ideas). Second, they depend on the socio-technical context in which source code is written, a context constituted of whether the program text is read-only or read-write, and of whether the intent is for the program text to be primarily functional, educational or entertaining.
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