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.