The sublime has a long and well-explored history in art, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Kant distinguished the mathematically sublime and the dynamically sublime. The mathematically sublime brings to our attention that which we can conceive of symbolically (through mathematics), but cannot experience sensorialy. The dynamically sublime suggests the incomprehensible power of nature. An important aspect of the sublime is the tension created be- tween pleasure and fear – the pleasure of knowing that we can be aware of what we cannot ex- perience and the fear that there exist things that are too vast or powerful for us to experience. In relating nature and aesthetics, the sublime formed a major critical and philosophical approach in western art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (for an overview of the relation of the sub- lime to nature see [39, Chapter 7]). Bourke and Kant argued that it is possible for artworks to suggest the sublimity of nature – to suggest by experience of the artwork that which we cannot experience in totality.
In recent times, the postmodern sublime has contrasted beauty as a form that can be apprehended against the sublime, as that which is unrepresentable in sensation . As discussed, emergence in computation is unrepresentable, in the sense of the product of elements interacting in ways that give rise to properties that cannot be predicted. Artworks that seek to give a sense of the processes of nature in machines, seek to give experience to that which cannot be experienced in totality – only suggested through a dynamic interaction.
Therefore the concept of the computational sublime is introduced – the instilling of simultaneous feelings of pleasure and fear in the viewer of a process realized in a computing machine. A duality in that even though we cannot comprehend the process directly, we can experience it through the machine – hence we are forced to relinquish control. It is possible to realize processes of this kind in the computer due to the speed and scale of its internal mechanism, and because its operations occur at a rate and in a space vastly different to the realm of our direct perceptual experience.