Saturday, December 29, 2012

History of Western Art

The progression of art over the years appears to show a be a history in which the "or" has become increasingly transcendant.   We can say that initially, the "and" was dominant, but that over the course of history, the "or" has increasingly asserted itself.   Thus, in a sense, the history of art mirrors that of matter, which according to the laws of entropy, and astronomical observation, shows that the universe has been expanding and that different units of matter have been drifting apart from each other.  Could it be, then, that artists are simply mirroring the development of the cosmos?  Possibly a subject for future posts.

Back to the history of art. The tension between the "and" and the "or" takes its shape in the relationship between form and matter.      Initially, in the great pyramids of Egypt, the "and" is dominant.  Form is imprisoned in matter.  The pyramids are almost perfectly shaped, equilateral.  Their can be no deviation., no escape.   This begins to change with the Greeks and Roman,  and regresses somewhat with the Dark Ages.  This change becomes clearly evident during the Renaissance,  where we see paintings that show incredible perspective.  Every man, woman, floor tile and tree is in its rightful place.     Matter is no longer imprisoning form but is letting it be, allowing perspective to express itself, allowing grass, tables and people to be as they are.  Soon we see this perspective, this harmony, being lost as the "or" asserts its newly recognized power.  With impressionism, it is no longer necessary to photographically capture each object.  Certain objects, colors, ideas etc. are emphasized.  The perfect unity between form and matter no longer exists.  Form, colors, shapes and feelings start to overpower the medium.   And with Cubism, the "or" starts taking hold.  It pushes objects out of their rightful place.  Heads need no longer be attached to bodies.  Musical instruments float in the air.  Perspectives are jumbled.  In short, form is prevailing in its struggle to escape matter.   The "and" and the "or" are at war, and the "or" is winning.  And this progression continues with surrealism and abstract expressionism, in which the idea escapes the canvas, and the canvas itself becomes secondary. Simple black lines and blocks of color point to what can no longer exist on the canvas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The magic of multiplication

Of the mathematical operations, multiplication is the most magical.  It is an act of creation.  It brings into the world entities that had not heretofore existed, and it creates them out of nothing.  It is true that each multiple must exist for the product to be created, but the product comes into existence as a result of the multiplier (who could be me or you) performing the operation.  By an act of magic, the multiplier brings new units into existence.  Addition, subtraction and division do not involve this act of creation.  Addition presupposes the existence of of two or more units, and through the "and" combines them into one.  Subtraction likewise presupposes the existence of all the elements involved in this operation, and through the action of the "or", separates them.  Similarly, division presupposes the existence of a set of units, and once again through the action of the "or", separates them into separate sets.  Addition, subtraction and division involve acts of brute force.  Multiplication involves the act of creation. Multiplication is special.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Criticism of Heidegger

Heidegger seems to think that modern man, particularly the man or woman who does not speak German, has lost sight of the true essence of things.  He sees things as "ready at hand", simply a tool to be appropriated and used rather than seeing them in all their beauty.  He recommends a passivity, an openness, a willingness to let things be as they are, rather than as things to be used.  And this passivity, this openess, will enable one to live authentically.   And of course it is better to be authentic than to be inauthentic.

A problem with this.  The essence of many things is man made.  The essence of a thing is to a large extent determined by its use.  Take a chair.  When is it no longer a chair?  When it can no longer be sat on? Not quite.  We can sit on a stool, and a stool is not a chair.  What differentiates a chair from a stool is that a chair has a back.   And you learn this through being taught it.  It is determined in large part by culture, custom.  Some tribes never had chairs. And three hundred years ago, a member of such a tribe would not know the difference between a chair and a stool.  But my point is that the use of a chair is fairly central to its essence.  Now, it may be a perfectly beautiful chair, and it is possible that if we became too lost in our activities and thoughts we would not realize how beautiful it is.  But there are unappealing and decrepit chairs as well.  And the beauty or ugliness of a chair is not what makes it a chair.

Sure.  It can be helpful and healthy to take a deep breath and recognize how wonderful the universe is, and how fortunate we are to be alive.  But does that make us authentic?  Does that make us better persons?  Should we all live lives of contemplation?  Society would not be able to function if we did.  There would be nobody to take out the garbage, to take out the garbage, to hang the clothes.  And Heidegger did, to a large extent, practice what he preached, living out much of his life in the Black Forest.   The problem was that he was doing so while the Nazis were slaughtering millions of people.  And he knew how wicked they were.  A number of his associates, such as Husserl and Hannah Arendt, were Jewish.  But Heidegger chose to be authentic and live in the Black Forest.  There is nothing wrong with taking a vacation, but you're a citizen of the world as well.


There is something about the word "being" that transports one to a higher level.  It is intoxicating, glowing, inviting.  It is indeterminate.  It means too many things.  Beware of being!!!  

Monday, December 3, 2012


So it turns out that one of the ancient Greek philosophers essentially anticipated my ideas regarding the "and" and the "or" 2500 or so years ago.  Empedocles called the principles "love" and "strife", where love represented the coming together and strife the breaking apart into a thing's constituent parts.   He also saw a cyclical process in which one precedes the other, and even, to a large extent, anticipated evolutionary theory by proclaiming that some groups of parts will randomly come together and survive, while others will not.  As we've seen, the cyclical view of history has largely proven correct with great empires, whether it be the Roman empire or the Soviet Union, imploding, different countries uniting and or being absorbed by others again and again and again.  Similarly, the cyclical theory of love and strife holds on a cosmic level with the big bang,   dust coalescing to form suns and planets,  lighter elements combining and becoming compressed in suns to form heavier elements, suns exploding when their lives expire, black holes absorbing matter and eventually compressing it to the point that new bangs occur and new universes are formed. As I've demonstrated, love and strife are at work everywhere, whether it be on a mathematical,  a molecular, cellular, linguistic, biomechanical or evolutionary level. Empedocles was right.  The PreSocratics, including the Sophists, were the greatest.  Socrates and Aristotle ruined everything.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Leafing through the pages of a book

It is interesting how the "and" and the "or" is even evident when one turns the pages of a book.  For what happens when this occurs?  The reader separates the page from the pages that come after it "the or", and groups it with the other pages he has read, "the and".  It would seem that in the universe that we know, the "and" and the "or" act simultaneously.   When an object moves away from another, it is moving towards yet another.  To a large extent, the "and" and "or" work in harmony and maintain a balance.   It may seem possible, depending upon the nature of space, for an object to drift away from the universe of other objects.  But even in this scenario the "and" is still operative. For when this object is drifting away from the universe of other objects, there is an observer (you) observing this, and the more you are observing this, the more this object, in a sense, is drifting towards you, or you are drifting towards it.  


I have been away for some time, lost in the events of the world.

We must ask what all events have in common.  And the obvious answer is that they are events.  Whether they are mathematical equations, equations describing chemical reactions, the laws of physics or biology, or history they describe events.

And what do events describe?  They describe relationships.  Relationships between objects.  And I have argued that all relationships involve the "and" and the "or".   Thus, if we are looking for that part of reality that exists everywhere, that will always be and (possibly) always has been, then we can say that the relationship is the most fundamental eternal thing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

M or F

     We can say that the "or" is distinctively male in character.  Think Sampson pushing apart the columns.  Think freedom from slavery or other forms of subjugation.   Any unity that the "or" may seek, whether in the form of copulation or conquest, is temporary, a means towards hegemony.  The Romans conquered so they could be great.  A man screws to attain genetic dominance.
The "and" is distinctively female in character.  It seeks togetherness and unity for its own sake.  It is incomplete unless it is with.   And even with that withness, it will always be incomplete.
And the unity between the "and" and "or", while temporary, is often more powerful than the bond between the "and" and "and".   Think the penis, jutting out, wishing to express its power and dominance, only to be sucked in by that which seeks unity for its own sake.  The penis withdraws to preserve the illusion of dominance, so that the man can tell his friends about his conquests, so that the "or" can continue to exist.  And this is the natural state of things.  The "and" and always existed and the "or" has always existed.
        Even before the "big bang" the "or" existed.  Perhaps everything was unity as has been theorized.  Perhaps electrons and nuclei and protons and elements and atoms and the various elements had not come into existence.  Perhaps all was one "super atom".  But this state of affairs could not last indefinitely.  For the "or" was always there.  Just like energy can be neither created or destroyed and is always there in either potential or actual form, the "or" can be neither created or destroyed.  Perhaps it was not there prior to the big bang, at least in actual form.  But it was there in its potential form.  Perhaps it existed exclusively in its potential form at that time, but it existed.  And its prevalence has neither increased nor diminished.  Nor will it ever increase or diminish.  Perhaps entropy is increasing as the universe continues to expand.  Perhaps galaxies continue to be pushed farther and farther apart as astronomers say.  But the "or" is not increasing in prevalence.  Its form may be changing from potential to actual.  But it always was there and always will be there.  (My earlier entry about the "or" running wild was a joke).
      We can say the same about the "and".  It has always been there and always will be there.  It can neither be  increased nor diminished.  Perhaps, in contrast to the "or", it existed only in actual form prior to the big bang.  Perhaps it has morphed in form from actual to potential.  And perhaps, at the end of time, it will be pure potential.  But like energy, it can neither be created nor destroyed.
Our friends were with us forever.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Movement again

We have said that the "and" and the "or" underlie all of reality in all its spheres, whether it be physical reality, mathematical reality, language, history or epistemology.   However, to construct a truly unified theory of the world, we must ask if there one principle, reality or commonality these two forces share.  And the answer should be obvious: movement.  Objects, concepts, principles coming together, drifting apart or distinguishing themselves from one another have their genesis in movement.   As long as there is movement there will be atoms with orbiting electrons, light travelling at light speed, words joining together and forming sentences, sentences forming distinct units, paragraphs distinguishing themselves from other paragraphs, rivers that run, dramas, and history at a human, animal, planetary and astronomical level.  It is this movement that artists, such as DeKooning, with his bursts of yellow, sought to capture, and it is movement that Heraclitus intuited and sought to describe long before Plato founded his academy.   And movement contains its own mystery.  For movement in and of itself does not tell us whether things are coming together or drifting apart.   But the mystery is beautiful.  It gives birth to color, to light and to history.  And to contemplate this movement, perhaps, is to contemplate God.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Andorian analysis of certain team sports

   It was occurring to me that over the past several years, the Knicks' repeated attempts to "buy" a championship team have failed miserably.   The Yankees' attempts to do the same thing have by and large succeeded.  Which allows us to weave our Andorian methodology into our analysis of team sports.
  Baseball is largely a game of individual statistics.  The role of the "and" is less prominent in baseball than it is in basketball or football.   Each batter faces off individually against the pitcher.  Each fielder individually fields ground or fly balls.  Sure, the shortstop has to throw to first base.  The catcher suggests how the pitcher should throw.  However, there are a finite variety of plays that can be run.  It is not necessary that players acclimate to each other to perform well.  Baseball is largely a game of individual performances.  If the pitcher pitches well, and the hitters and fielders perform at a high level, the team does well.  The "or" predominates, and the "and" benefits from a powerful "or".   A team of superstars, all in their prime, will thrive.  As George Steinbrenner repeatedly proved, championships can be bought.
   Basketball is different.  The performance of each player is highly dependent upon the actions of his teammates.  An offensive talent cannot thrive if his teammates don't get him the ball.   While few doubt that Karl Malone would have been an excellent player on most teams, it is unlikely he would have been a great player were it not for a John Stockton repeatedly feeding him when he was open. (And Stockton would have been fairly mediocre were it not for Malone.).  I believe we can say that in basketball, to a greater extent than baseball, the "and" predominates.  The "or" is certainly not subjugated by the "and".  Great teams invariably have at least a couple of great players.  But the "or" is largely dependent upon the "and".  Great players cannot thrive unless they work well together.  And that is why attempts to buy or design great teams have often failed so miserably.  The Knicks are a prime example.  An idiot named James Dolan disregarded the advice of several people more knowledgable than he was and traded away several budding players to acquire a superstar named Carmelo Anthony.   The team already had one superstar, Amare Stoudemire, and he believed that adding a second would create an unbeatable combination.  It didn't happen.  Carmelo shot and shot and shot, missing more often than he hit.  Amare faded.  The team sank. Similar examples abound.   Lebron James believed that teaming up with another superstar, Dwayne Wade, and a star, Chris Bosch, would guarantee a ring.   While no one could deny they did well, they fell well short of his unrealistic expectations.  He and Wade could not consistently have 40 point games on the same night.  When one was hot, the other took a back seat and sometimes lost interest.  In basketball, it seems, the whole if often considerably less than the sum of its parts.
  I would submit that the "and" predominates even more in football than it does in basketball.  The team moves like a multicelled animal up and down the field.   The quarterback can only throw if his blockers are protecting him.  No one would ever say that a football team can win without excellent players.  However, cohesion is built into the game, and more than any other american sport, a prerequisite for success.   The receiver can only catch if the quarterback's throw is relatively on target.  The vaunted touchdown, the momentary victory of the "or" that occurs when a player separates himself from the others in the endzone, only occurs when the "and" functions at the highest level.  The number of plays that can be sketched for a basketball team is great, (particularly in comparison to that can be drawn up for a baseball team.)  The number that can be sketched for a football team is infinite.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Of course, our comparison of the relatively rich conscious life of the human and that of the cat may at times appear misleading.   In a way, the richness of the "and" and the "or" pervades human consciousness.   My room is inundated with the "and" and the "or".  It is filled with objects, a queen sized bed, sheets and comforter, a desk, a TV, computers, recording equipment, loose papers, barbels, dressers, a chair, clothes including pants, socks etc.   While this may appear almost unbearably rich, in truth, human consciousness, like that of a cat, is largely intentional.  I'm drawn to my bed and plop down, exhausted, only semiconsciously aware of the other objects therein.
Perhaps, though, this semiconsciousness is a resource our fellow beasts lack.  When it is time to turn my attention from resting to another activity, I may scan the rich array of objects and directing my attention to those that suit my purpose.  Perhaps I have already established a set of goals or tasks yesterday, or at the beginning of the week, and relatively little scanning is required.   The activity of scanning through possible tasks and choosing those that are important to you, was done in the past.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The categories/creativity

It is in the nature of the human mind to categorize things.  Unlike a cat, we will categorize what is a book, what is a chair, what is a magazine, what is a pencil.   We are always at work categorizing.  And by categorizing, we are both setting things apart from each other and grouping things together with each other.  The "and" and the "or", it would seem, is more deeply entrenched in the human mind than in the brain of our fellow beasts.  And through this ability to categorize, we are able to create new forms, new tools, new songs, new paintings, new novels.   We combine bits of old forms in new ways, discarding that which does not meet our purpose.  And when a new form acquires a certain degree of recognition from society, that form will acquire more form as you will, more definition.  Take the personal computer.  It may have begun as a construct in the basements of some men we now call geniuses.   But the idea of a personal computer certainly had no being 75 or 100 years ago.  It was only after it was invented, used and adopted by millions that this form, this invention, this category, truly came into being.
We can now level some criticism at some ancient Platonists, who believed forms were eternal.  Certainly the form form for a computer was not eternal.  It was born, it came into being and will likely one day become obsolete.
It may be worthwhile in future posts to categorize what, if anything, is eternal.  Is something that is eternal somehow divine?   An electron may come close to being eternal (though electrons may not have existed before the big bang.).  Is an electron divine?  It seems absurd.

The primacy of mind

This last question gives rise to the conclusion that language gives rise to form.  As long as there is language, there will be some form.  For what could seem to be as form free as formlessness?  But as soon as we call it something, we have defined it.  We have labeled it, and it is something that is different from other things.  Formlessness is different from form.
Thus we can say that this differentiation, the "or", at least in part, has its birth in language.  Which is not to say that the "or" is an artificial construct.  We have seen how the "or" is present, in very real form, in nature, epistemology, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, society, history, economics et al.
However, to an extent that may never be completely clear, the "or" emanates from the human mind.  In the same way that an electron does not occupy a certain position until the observer observes it, and the observer determines that position, form does not exist until the speaker defines it.  Does this mean that reality does not exist until it is observed, as some philosophers have argued?  Of course not.  Electrons exist, regardless of whether they are observed.  But the observer plays some role in defining them.  Just as an observer plays a role in defining various types of form.
Take a chair.  Does my cat understand what a chair is?  Does she really see it as anything different from a tree stump or a bed.  Does she know it generally has legs, a backrest (in contrast to a stool), and sometimes armrests?  I don't think so.   The concept of chair has much more meaning to a human than to a cat. To a cat, beds, tree stumps and chairs may all occupy some vague position in the world of potential resting places or potential observation points.  But they aren't something a cat will think about or categorize to the point that a human will.