Tuesday, April 12, 2016


158 years ago last week, the first patent was issued for the modern pencil.

This week, HTC Vive released their latest virtual reality technology, which allows an artist to "paint in three dimensions with a bevy of whimsical substances.  Flick a selection tool and you can add twinkling stars, smoke and swirls of blinking neon or frame your creation against a cosmic backdrop."

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

One has to wonder what remains for old fashioned drawing in an era where robots can use face recognition software to paint entirely new Rembrandts, complete with Rembrandt's characteristic surface textures.

I received a reassuring answer recently when I went to the new blockbuster movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. 

The film is based on a clash between Batman and Superman in Frank Miller's smart, imaginative comic book, The Dark Knight Returns.



Drawn in old fashioned ink, The Dark Knight Returns was a major leap forward in the evolution of comic books.  Beautifully designed...

...and staged with intelligence and conviction, Miller's book was a genuine work of art.

The movie, on the other hand, was a two and a half hour, huge, honking mess. It was state-of-the-art big budget digital story telling: a frenzy of high rez destruction, collisions, nukes, plane crashes, explosions, flames, huge monsters and collapsing buildings, but not a hint of judgment or proportion or artistic restraint.  The pretentious choir-of-angels soundtrack and the self-important posturing ("man vs. god") were particularly irksome in a movie so devoid of an artistic soul.

Henry Adams wasn't a movie critic but he correctly observed, "Man has mounted science and is now run away with."

Despite the film's superior size, speed, decibel level, budget, and the advantages of 30 years of technological enhancements, the hand drawn comic book remains a far more powerful work of art.

Score one for the brain and the pencil.


Anonymous said...

Haven't seen it yet - but bet I'll agree with your review - how about 300 , the first Snyder Miller adaption ?

" the incessant choir of angels " When the hell did they start using that in blockbusters and gum commercials ?

My pet cliche is the "one knee up - opposite hand on ground " hero landing . Whether it's A. Jolie jumping 4 stories onto a moving truck or Ironman alighting, it's everywhere .

Al McLuckie

Unknown said...

There's also the simple fact that digital media does not replicate the qualities of analogue, on a variety of levels.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Well put! I am reminded of the last page of David Mazzucchelli's afterword to the 2005 edition of the seminal "Batman: Year One":


kev ferrara said...

That disgorgement of a Rembrandt is its own kind of debacle; epic pretension and glum result. (And a million media-drone-bees on facebook to give it publicity, just like the drone bees on either side of the question regarding supes versus bats.)

It seems more and more obvious that, for the artist, the way inside nature, life and his own art is through direct contact withit; personal, immersive, sensual and thus with immediate psycho-physical feedback. That's how true learning happens, the mind as a diligent apprentice to consequence. This idea that the artist can live in some antiseptic armchair bubble, divorced from the unnerving third rail of vital experience is another insane marketing-driven dream of modern life. The result of the hawking of computer technology as a necessary antidote to "the sloppy, time wasting drudgery" of labor and craft. With any and every other person's filters (all technology has an inbuilt philosophy which filters the results possible with that technology) put between us and reality, we are subject to their limitations in experience, sensitivity, epistemology, and philosophy, as well as our own. That half the world's art is being filtered through the glib, mechanistic reductions of a galvanized spectrum disorder class explains a lot.

Josh Werth said...

Exactly what I was thinking the whole way through that slog of a movie.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- I didn't like 300, but at least I viewed it as a failed experiment. They tried some new things that were visually very stylish, but I think its excesses quickly became oppressive, and eventually silly.

Unknown-- True, although I suspect the number of people sensitive to those analogue qualities is smaller and getting smaller.

Øyvind Lauvdahl-- Thanks. I'd forgotten about that page. It's right on the mark.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I suspected you'd have strong feelings about a subject such as this. I don't disagree with your reaction to the computer Rembrandts, but as they continue to refine the technology perhaps they'll be able to impress you in ten or twenty years.

Further, I don't disagree with your point about "true" learning-- life experienced through computers does seem to miss some of the highs and lows (although we shouldn't underestimate the significance of the way computers transform and enhance life at that middle range). You may find it more fulfilling to work in "that half the world's art" that is not filtered through "mechanistic reductions" but I'm guessing that number won't remain at 50% for long. To paraphrase Trotsky, "You may not be interested in mechanistic reductions but mechanistic reductions are interested in you."

Josh Werth-- "Slog" is the right word. The film would've benefited if they'd cut the length by 45 minutes (they could easily have removed 45 minutes of explosions and no one would've noticed the difference).

Laurence John said...

the digital Rembrandt reminds me of the guy who taught his computer to write Bach style chorales; a technological parlour trick, that relies for its effect on the uncanny quality that computer technology can have in seeming intelligent (appearing to make its own decisions based on taste).

p.s. i'm glad you saw that Bat vs Super film so i don't have to. i trust your judgement.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Yes, I take the hit by watching this garbage so loyal readers won't have to. I take your point about computers programmed to write Bach. But keep watching; we've all witnessed the astonishing progress of computers and related information technologies over the past decade. We don't know yet whether they will make similar leaps forward in aesthetics.

kev ferrara said...

...as they continue to refine the technology perhaps they'll be able to impress you in ten or twenty years.

But keep watching; we've all witnessed the astonishing progress of computers and related information technologies over the past decade. We don't know yet whether they will make similar leaps forward in aesthetics.

Your tendency, David, is to be persuaded (something to the effect) that reality is computational at bottom, therefore all things in it are, in a sense, computed. Therefore, humans, being a part of all things, must too be computed. Therefore, computers, if improved, can someday replicate all things human.

Whereas I think that humans are more than the sum of their existential computation - and I don't mean that in a religious way. I mean that humans are just so very integrated in all the ways in which they sense, feel, think, imagine, interpret, wonder, influence and become influenced, inhabit and embody, socialize and isolate; subject to undifferentiated interpenetrating levels of consciousness and unconsciousness, experience and interpretation, all at the whims of our strange, beautiful, pathetic and capricious biology. And I think in the AI world there is this vast failing in the ability to comprehend just what it means to appreciate life - exterior and interior - through this fluid fullness of human spirit; a massive epistemic failure to get even in the ballpark of what it means to have our kinds of thoughts merged with our kind of experience.

Which is all to say, I feel strongly that computers will be like us when they are, in fact, like us. I don't think one can get to "soulfulness" through absurdly reductive binary and linear languages, no matter how complex a mechanistic network may be developed from them. This "computerism" fallacy seems to me best exemplified by Stephen "Horatio" Wolfram, who appears to believe that because computers can generate fascinatingly complex models that resemble aspects of reality, ergo, reality must be itself a model, also computed in the sense that we understand it. This is somewhat akin to a child thinking, because he built a city of stacked Legos, that all cities must be built of something like stacked Legos.

The ineptness of that "average rembrandt" is only slightly more egregious than the ineptness of "Tim's Vermeer." But it's showing a disturbing pattern that began with David Hockney's Secret Knowledge thesis.. that if you are an inept scientist, an inept artist, a slipshod historian, a decent engineer, and know a good publicist, maybe you can poorly demonstrate to the credulous, once again, that all men are created equal, all evidence to the contrary. The best that can be said of that "average rembrandt" is that it may help that furshlugginer lab make payroll next year. It does nothing to further human progress in any sense. The whole thing was a rent-seeking computer gimmick, complete with a social media-ready hype reel.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Kev, rather than say that I tend to be persuaded that reality is computational at bottom, I prefer to say that I believe that the qualitative and quantitative realms overlap, and that I don't yet know the extent of that overlap.

I certainly don't think the two domains are co-extensive (and I'd be deeply depressed if they turned out to be). I've often quoted on this blog the great Bertrand Russell maxim, "Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover." Russell sounds right to me.

But at the same time, I don't know how we can fail to have great respect for the astonishing strides being made in the quantitative realm. That's where all the real growth seems to be taking place right now, and for that reason alone I think it would be wrong to prejudge just how far the quantitative and the qualitative facets of life will end up overlapping. Sure, computer simulations of Rembrandt are crude right now, but computers have only been doing this for a few years and look how far they've come in catching up with a human enterprise that has a 40,000 year head start.

It is difficult for us to keep an open mind about this question when so many of the public figures who claim to be investigating the possibilities (Wolfram, "Tim," Hockney) seem in reality to be straining to vindicate their personal prejudices. But as the saying goes, an idea is not responsible for the people who hold it. Disregard the publicity seeking clowns who seek to enlist us in their partisan cause, take a hard look at where computers started out, how far they've come in such a short time, and then try to tell me that we know for a certainty how far they will ultimately fall short.

Sean Farrell said...

The computer is a machine and so it can't experience the joy of drawing an arc, it can't experience the time, flow or pace by which it draws an arc. Drawing a decal wrapped around the cone of a race car or a label upon a can is a spatially sensuous drawing experience which the machine can perform, but cannot enjoy and so everything the computer does is a type of non-event in imitation of life. It is truly, the worst of both worlds. It is experientially dead while productively perfect.

The machine will not sing with others in bliss, nor die from a heart attack in sympathy with another. It has no joy to lose, no being to lose and so no innocence to lose, neither can its being or innocence ever be redeemed, nor invented. The machine is sadly, not alive. It is no more alive than a garbage can.

Hockney is an interesting name for Kev to raise here because he did spend much time imitating or exploring the work of other artists. But he never surpassed such work and sometimes did it poorly as his wasn't the hand of experiential understanding which created what he was studying. On the other hand, there's an interview with guitarist Joe Walsh where the guitarist discusses the digital age, how its digital production programs and equipment have ruined music, because music isn't supposed to be perfect, how a performance is a testimony and other interesting reflections on this digital world and its effect on making music. He explains how being forced to perform in a trying situation gave him his style. It's slow going but I found it worth it.

kev ferrara said...

I think Sean's points are well taken. But leaving aside the aesthetic effect of the background tension behind every vital performance of Art, the whole issue of composing art, particularly realistic paintings (rather than, say, Bach or Mondrian's graphic designs) is very much tied up with the nature of appreciation and the different kinds of appreciation that blend and multiply as they filter into a painting. All of which are so very tied up with experience, I don't see how a thing that does not experience can compete. The nature of aesthetic communication is sensually transmitted meaning, derived from sensually experienced meaning. In what sense can an unliving, non-experiencing thing bring sensual appreciations it has never felt to bear on an artistic problem? How can such a thing even develop an artistic problem to solve? (This is a deep philosophical impasse, not merely argument or opinion. To put it another way: If you are driving down a dead end alleyway in Brooklyn, you can't get to Toledo unless you first stop the car, put it in reverse, and then back up.)

The massive problem not even fathomed in all this is just how poorly understood Narrative Art is and our experience of it. Particularly in the academic world and sciences. In fact, it seems quite obvious that we've been backtracking into civilizational and cultural ignorance on that topic for over 100 years. I don't see how progress can be made under such a circumstance, no matter how powerful the computers get.

Tom said...

David said

"Sure, computer simulations of Rembrandt are crude right now, but computers have only been doing this for a few years and look how far they've come in catching up with a human enterprise that has a 40,000 year head start."

Computers have no philosophical outlook, no reason for there actions, whats the point of an artwork that lacks a viewpoint or an expression of a viewpoint. Who cares if you can duplicate a Rembrandt, a photo is also a duplication. Are you saying the goal of art is how well one can intimate nature? Which is a very small outlook indeed. One can copy and duplicate forever and still know nothing of the nature of art, understanding something is a much more difficult problem. As Michelanglo said one makes art with their brains not their hands.

It is amazing how ugly we make our public spaces now, and all on computers. No sense of proportion or scale or rest.

Richard said...

The funny thing here is that for most people art has already long been dead.

The camera stomped out its lights. It checks all of the public's boxes. It produces pleasing pictures, quickly, and at a fraction of the cost. Then came Photoshop. Now this.

If we squint, we can make out the outline of the future. Computers are on the cusp of crushing any remaining reason to produce art. Shortly thereafter, machines will produce much better art than man. Then the question will be moot to anyone but Luddite extremists.

In the not-so-distant future, the machines will produce for us exactly the works we want to see. Works that are statistically perfect. Works more spiritually illuminative than man has made in his two hundred thousand years. And they will do it without thinking a thought, or experiencing a single moment of qualia, purely by seeing what we want and replicating it.

Once art has been entirely defanged by machines, there may still be some painters, but they'll be little more interesting than enthusiasts of Hikaru Dorodango.

Richard said...

Also, I would add, that in a hundred years we'll be able to measure our emotional states at all times with rather cheap devices.

Combine that with the ability to algorithmically produce media on-the-fly, and you'll realize where this is all going.

We will be able to generate music on the fly specifically tailored to our mental state at that very moment.

The iPod of 2075 will have no prerecorded music. As you go about your life, the new media player will generate your personal soundtrack. Statistically perfect music.

By 2150 the television will also be replaced:
Now, 3-dimensional, hyper-realistic animated films will be generated on the fly to the sorts of plot devices you like, with dialog designed to fit your desires. They will measure, all the while, to make sure that each plot turn produces the right amount of joy.

António Araújo said...

Loved the sci-fi, Richard :D. Whether that kind of AI is possible or not is an open question. I'm not invested in either answer. I am firmly on the camp of "let's have fun with it and see how far we can go until we hit a wall". You always learn something that way, even if it's not what you were trying to learn.

What I don't get is the fear of being surpassed. Even if a machine could make works of art of the most sublime sort, even if it could feel what it was doing, I fail to see how that should be the end of art for me, as a human.

Even if a machine could feel, it could not feel *for* me. I'd still have exactly the same motivation to go and draw. To feel for myself, to observe for myself, to explore for myself. Only I can have my experiences. It is not new for the world, but it is new for me. Just as I still can have fun playing chess even if I know there is a machine that can crush me at it. Let's face it: just as I have fun drawing even if I know that there are humans out there who do it far better than me. Just as I have fun making love even if everyone has been there and done that.

So I don't think the experience of making art is at risk. What is at risk is the ego of artists, their motivation, and their market. Those are important things, but we shouldn't take them for what they are not. That is confusing art per se with its day job. Often artists who are out of the trendy groups of the day complain about the state of art when they are worried about the state of their careers. It sounds more lofty that way.

And even that risk is overstated. Artists will still be competing with each other for fame and glory in the human category, just as athletes compete happily over who is faster even though all of them are so lame compared to the average cheetah. Picasso will still make the ladies swoon because he's such a great artist...for a human. Those ladies aren't in the market for a robot partner, after all (they'll already have a few, for those days when they are into really good performance :D).
The art market may be bust, though, except for the chauvinist who insist on buying only human-made art (hard as it will be to tell apart from emulation :)), but I guess that in that hypothetical strong AI world you wouldn't need to care so much about the drudgery of making money.

Either way I see no reason to panic. Hell, the future's so bright I have to wear VR goggles :)

kev ferrara said...

As the old Hollywood joke goes, "Now if we can only get rid of the writers!"

I've had similar sci-fi thoughts about the future of art. But I think actually, they are not the future of art, but the future of advertising and marketing; a different thing, I would argue. (Although, of course, to a postmodernist they are the same because there is no such thing as inherent meaning/aesthetics to them.)

I can't imagine the vast hordes of untalented, stressed & depressed people autogenerating restorative art for themselves. One of the grand tragedies of our modern age is just how inhuman so much of the art is. That's fine if one is a 15 year old boy high on his own hormones. But, thankfully, a society has a lot more variation in the audience. There are worlds within worlds; millions of people quilt and carve and knit and prefer the handmade to the store bought, etsy to wallmart. The popular culture armada prefers to marginalize those holdouts to their domination, but I don't see them going away. There seems to be, rather, a resurgence in physical painting just now, for instance.

One of the presiding ideas that all artists in all art forms come to touch upon is the need to give the audience not what it expects or thinks it wants, but things it didn't know it wants. In other words, new wants. And that takes talent, creativity, experiment, taste, sass, an adventurous spirit, etc.

And then there is the point made by Kenneth Burke that "Stories are equipment for living." And thus, we seek out narrative as a method of learning from authoritative narrators/artists. And we can't very well learn things we already have in our minds, that we already know. So this is why, unless we end up in some Terminator computer overlord scenario; some total colonization of cultural space by some super-corporation... where there is no human cultural choice at all, abnormally talented human authors living abnormally free human lives will be the main participants in Art-making.

Richard said...

> "Loved the sci-fi, Richard :D. Whether that kind of AI is possible or not is an open question."

I would call this 'engineering fi' at this point. Almost all of the science is in place. Neural networks can be trained on just about anything if they have a closed feedback loop.

ECG-based emotion recognition is gaining ground every year:

>"Just as I still can have fun playing chess [...] I have fun drawing [...] I have fun making love even if everyone has been there and done that."

I commend your will, or self-determination, or whatever it is. I don't think many people share those noble feelings, especially the last (and especially if your lover has been loved many times before).

Kev, I empathize with the sentimental content of your argument, that there is something lost in having a machine calculate our art for us. That said, I think you're off the mark on two points:

First, I suspect you overestimate the amount of people who prefer the handmade to the machine made. The price of my Etsy shares have taught me this the hard way. For all the public's FUD about mass market production and hyper-industrialization, the market in general doesn't seem to actually care about whether something is handmade.

Second, you say 'some total colonization of cultural space by some super-corporation... where there is no human cultural choice at all,' You have this backwards by my estimation. If algorithms are providing for us exactly the media we want, that's more human choice, not less. It's a more egalitarian system.

kev ferrara said...


Even with the advances, the state of the science is not even in the ballpark, as I pointed out above at 4/17/2016 4:02 PM. Which presumes that my understanding (based wholly upon what artists have been saying about Art since Aristotle) has some merit: that the nature of art is to create a complex subliminal structure written/manifested in the terms of the particular artform, hidden behind a compelling fiction, which, when experienced by an audience, provides an aesthetically induced epiphany and/or catharsis that expresses a deep, resonant and/or unspoken truth about life.

To achieve such an Artistic result (which is the real issue here, let's try to keep to the subject) is many, many orders of magnitude above an algorithm that simply figures out our politics, subjects of interest, or buying habits. That's already here and so no points for soothsaying it. (Humans still have to make all that computer selected media content, of course.)

But your idea of a "Magic Algorithm" that might generate the art we need/want/desire can't even be called conjecture at this point, let alone extrapolation. Its simply a fantasy. When some piece of advanced scientific technology can tell the difference between a human's thought of a dog and his thought of a whale, wake me up and let me know. Until then, the whole matter has not even begun to be realized.

And there is nothing "sentimental" about the argument I made. I never said that Etsy was overtaking Microsoft or Sony. But there are people woodworking, quilting, knitting, making pottery, etc, pretty much every day all over the country and all over the world. There are guilds and groups in every town in the country. Etsy is but a small fraction of that action, evidence of the luddites creeping online by baby steps. (I only mentioned them because they are an obvious touchstone for people who get most of their culture digitally.) The handmade never went away and it most likely won't. For the simple reason that human beings who are aware of their being want to be happy. And so will instinctively avoid the overstimulation, exhaustion, ill health, and depression that comes with long term overconsumption of immersive digital cultural products. Disaffected teenagers of all ages will not be so disciplined, and so will pay the price of wasting too much of their lives immersed in digital emptiness. Hopefully when these Morlocks wake up to real life and actual emotion, they will find real art there waiting for them, to help them get through the remains of the day.

A little perspective on the OP: If Superman vs Batman, say, grosses $300 million domestic - assuming $10 for an average ticket and no repeat viewers - that means 90% of the country didn't see it.

Richard said...

It's important that we distinguish between intelligence and consciousness here. A system may be intelligent without being conscious. Look at evolution.

The human mind has two connected but distinct features -- a consciousness (us), and an unconscious intelligence. (Routinely called subconscious, I think unconscious puts a finer point on it.)

Now, if you investigate your own mind while creating art, I think you'll find that the conscious mind only directs the show, the art is produced by this lower unconscious intelligence.

As artists gain more skill, less of their conscious mind actually needs to be involved in the creation of art, this unconscious intelligence knows how to do it.

And that lower-mind operates, to the best of our understanding, essentially as a neural network. (Neural networks are named after neurons for a reason.)

So it should come as no surprise that artificial neural networks are increasingly able to replicate vast areas of human intelligence. They are themselves intelligent in roughly the same way we are.

No, they are not conscious, but humans aren't actually that conscious either. Most of our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and creations bubble up from below the conscious mind, and we conscious beings have next to nothing to do with it.

The lower-mind is, in spite of us, in charge, and it's a biological automaton. The consciousness watches, convinced that it is driving despite that it rarely, if ever, turns the wheel it self.

Your misgivings about a machine making art then sound misplaced. Or, is it even your misgivings to begin with? Or perhaps was it whispered in your ear?

Richard said...

Relevant Dijkstra:
"The question of whether Machines Can Think... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim."

kev ferrara said...


It is an accident of bad naming and reductive pseudoscience that we bifurcate surface thoughts and deep thoughts. So the consciousness vs unconsciousness discussion is actually irrelevant. Our deep thoughts are who we are, and what we think, and the willful push toward understanding. Our shallow thoughts do not control these deep thoughts. Our shallow thoughts are just reflections of our deeper thoughts seen on the surface of the pool, mere symbols of the reality. So this idea that "we" (our consciousness) might be automatons (directed by our unconscious mind) simply misses the point that we are our unconscious. But it is easy to think that we are our conscious and because our consciousness is just so late to translate our inner efforts into symbolic awareness that it seems like a whole other inner personage. But its not. Our consciousness has no directive power whatsoever. It is merely the messenger boy to itself of what we are thinking, willing, and imagining.

Your thesis that "neural networks", which are based on intertwining complexes of binary (on-off) and linear (straight lines of code) signals can equate to the organic, non-linear, symbolic holograms of the human imagination is another fantasy.

Richard said...

The properties of computation aren't as transitive as your second paragraph hints.

You're right that the human mind doesn't operate on boolean/binary logic alone.

Fortunately, artificial neural networks, and Bayesian inference networks, don't rely on boolean logic alone either.

ANNs operate on systems of tolerance towards uncertainty and imprecision, using weighted values of interconnected nodes to produce a system of fuzzy inference. This is why they can operate as universal approximators.

Yes, they run on top of hardware which is mostly boolean in nature (outside of analog inputs, of course, like ECG readings).

However, they are many abstraction layers away from the hardware, and that abstraction (in combination with these analog inputs), allows for emergent computational properties different in nature from the underlying hardware.

This is, again, not so different from the human mind.

António Araújo said...

Artificial neural network are an ad-hoc model merely inspired in real neurons, and of course many thing are sure to be missing from the metaphor, perhaps something absolutely essential.

However, for the record, neural networks are, as a mathematical model, very much non-linear. That's the thing that distinguishes them from the older perceptrons.

Now, every time the model is implemented in a computer, you are working within the limitations of a discretization of that model. I think kev was referring to those limitations.(?)

That is the same that happens whenever you solve a non-linear differential equation numerically in a PC. You are solving a discretization. But that doesn't make the model (or the implementation for that matter) linear. And for many purposes the discretization will be good enough. One example where it isn't is the infamous strong dependence on initial conditions. You don't have "real" real numbers at your disposal in a computer, after all, you only have integers (binary or not is irrelevant, that's just the base, they are integers) pretending to be reals. So you can neither put in real initial conditions nor perform exact calculations. And the computational capabilities of real-valued neurons are known to be different from those of finite precisions neurons.

Also, neural networks work in parallel, as a model, but again their implementation on an ordinary PC will run sequentially. It is important to acknowledge the difference between model and implementation. However, parallelism can be simulated sequentially, at the expense of time.

I was once in a course on neural nets with CS types of the new sort, that are inspired more by Zucker-borg than by John von Neumann, and are rather frail in their mathematics. They had clearly little concept of the difference between the model and the implementations. They had all sorts of opinions, never bothered by the prosaic fact that they couldn't quite work out the chain rule for the derivatives in the backpropagation algorithm :) (I had some colleagues like that in Physics, that had strong opinions on relativity but wouldn't bother to learn their Newton first). They didn't care about the maths because, hey, it's just crap on paper, let's just program a cool net in the latest fashionable language and make it recognize some handwriting. Which is also ok, not everyone has to care about the foundations.

But the fact that there are many types like that around doesn't mean that the field is composed of people who aren't aware of those questions. A lot has been written about it. It is also normal that much more will be written about technological applications than about fundamentals.

Richard said...

Hey AA,

Glad to hear your take.

I'll offer a few observations --

ANNs probably won't need to solve for butterfly effects, at least in the cases I provided, as our brains can't do that either. I'm not arguing computers can compute the universe, rather, just what human intelligence can.

I'm not convinced integer size will prove the problem you expect. There are modern implementations of bignums of exceptionally higher precision and scale than the processor supports natively. At some point, our high-level implementations of large numbers should approximate the tolerance or granularity of the human neuron, even if our processors don't.

Yes, an ANN alone probably will not be solving this problems. It may not even be a Von Neumann machine. I'm a big proponent of heterogenous computing -- as we hit the 5nm semiconductor mark, companies are going to have a lot of incentive to start pushing heterogenous computing projects forward. I expect things to speed up, not slow down, from their current pace. Expecting to see big moves in domain specific hardware, and FPGAs.

Also, I expect to see big things building off of HP's new memristor science, allowing us to parallelize to a higher degree without running into our current thrashing problems.

Richard said...

One more note -- one of the other regular arguments against major advancements in computing are centered around problems of waste heat.

But that's a market problem, not a science issue. We're still just blowing fans at our processors.

We will see the waste heat problem engineered away fairly quickly once the general market is in hermetically sealed refrigerated towers and workstations.

Also, ironically, I had to fill our reCAPTCHAs to post these comments. CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA are distributed training projects for optical recognition. We are literally training the machines that will do this art, while arguing about whether machines will ever make art.

Select all images with palm trees? Indeed.

kev ferrara said...


Thank you very much for your learned comments. Good to have a real math guy here to discuss this at a technical level.

Allow me to push back a bit on your assertion, however. You say that neural networks are non-linear, but actually, as I understand the matter, they are not. I mean, they are non-linear in the parlance or context of the computer researcher. That is, the flow of information through the network isn't necessarily moving in a single direction through the network, or only one signal at a time, and everything is connected to everything. But this is all happening in computer-land, with computer architecture. Which is to say, everything is still made up of discrete isolated paths connecting at discrete nodal units. So it is a non-linear architecture made of linear building blocks. And this is why I say it is not really non-linear in the organic sense I am trying to get across.

Now if you look at nerve cells in the brain (neurons), you note that there are capillary structures (dendrites) covering the cell body like branches of a bush, each branch made out of ultra-sensitive flesh. And flesh, let's remember, isn't a logic gate, it isn't circuitry, it isn't on or off. It is tropistic in the sense that it warms and cools, calms and resonates, intensifies and relaxes, reaches out and pulls back... and can be affected from every side, at tip or shaft, and at varying amplitudes of signal strength... and beyond just nerve fiber connection and electrical stimulation, but through chemical connections, heat resonance, blood, nutrition, and whatever else we don't understand yet... This is truly nonlinear in the sense that the connections between one "unit" and another run the full gamut of connective possibility from linear to truly non-linear... from point to point to a wave of input to an utter suffusion of input; a flush of information in liquid form. And while one might argue at the subatomic level we still are dealing with discrete information, at the level at which the structures seem to be functioning mechanistically, our neurons are indeed subject to vastly more fluid types of inputs than the tightly restricted diagrammatic structures of neural networks afford.

kev ferrara said...

And while one might argue at the subatomic level we still are dealing with discrete information

Sorry, I realize I should have said at the atomic or even molecular level...

Sean Farrell said...

There is a difference between a fact and belief. If someone says, the earth has a moon, it's a fact, indifferent, dispassionate, not a belief. I don't believe, I know there is a moon. But if I identify the moon with something else, perhaps a song, then it becomes part of belief.

Belief is all that which involves being; apprehensions, desires, pleasures, misgivings, outer or societal obligations, the future, the next moment, hope, the terrible, the end, mystery, the unknown and the unknowable. Belief is unknowable or not entirely knowable because it involves all which is being with all that affects being. And such things are commonly understood as having meaning and they happen often without being facts in the known linear or categorical conceptual area.

Many things can be distinguished but remain inseparable. We can know the effect that one thing has on another. We know a virus does one thing and we know such builds up immunity, but after that, the experience is dismissed, dropped into a waste basket of un-pursuable questions regarding inseparable meaning.

Most differences today are about belief and proponents seek facts to fortify their beliefs and what people believe is often wrongly assumed whereby facts can also be wrongly applied. What is the self often boils down to simple things like honesty. I lied or I didn't and I did so for gain or to protect another, etc.

Yet we can conceive of objectivity, as we are able to experience such in limited applications. Thus there is a fantasy of a megastructure of objectivity because it is conceivable, but as it is conceived it is without being. If a mega-objectivity were living, it would also have to be beyond human limitations and yet this notion is no longer conceivable and such is charged as a silly conception, (except as an extension of human capacity). Both are beliefs reflecting our limitations and both imply capacity beyond our human limitations, but only one is believed to be alive.

So the pretentious overtones which David mentioned at the end of his post are, as silly as they sound, the new dawn and so on, a theme of our time. I've seen the same theme in different forms from an introduction to a massive slide show on a building in Germany, “in the beginning they believed in god...but now we know, etc.” to lectures by people as esteemed as Lee Smolin who also dismisses the concept of a god, as something which served man in the past, but is now behind us as we enter the age of science. Yet even Lee Smolin wrestles with a need for meaning. We all do and that's why David's post opens huge areas to ponder longingly.

Anonymous said...

What else would be expected from or for people(youth) who have a second long attention span. The ending of The Third Man could never be watched or appreciated by these people.

Richard said...

"Go is famously a more complex game than chess, with its larger board, longer games, and many more pieces. Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence team likes to say that there are more possible Go boards than atoms in the known universe, but that vastly understates the computational problem. There are about 10^170 board positions in Go, and only 10^80 atoms in the universe. That means that if there were as many parallel universes as there are atoms in our universe (!), then the total number of atoms in all those universes combined would be close to the possibilities on a single Go board."

António Araújo said...


people always make the assumption that because the state space is so much bigger than in chess then it must be harder for the computer to win at Go than at Chess. It may be true that it is harder, but that conclusion doesn't follow from the premise, because the computer doesn't have to beat the game: it only has to beat the human player (and the task is harder for *both*). It's like the joke about outrunning the bear. :)

António Araújo said...


I don't think butterfly effect matters either in the case of NNs, it was just a trivial example of the limitations of dicretization. The other bit may be important, though: computation is different in the real field:


Real computers allow for Super-Turing computation:


So someone could argue that maybe the brain is somehow Super-Turing.

Of course, even if the brain does things that integer computing cannot do, that doesn't answer the question of how far you can go with computers. Many people argued that you could not do Go at the human level. Now we can argue that the emulation of artistic creativity cannot be done at the human level. But we don't know. It just hasn't been done. Perhaps Super-Turing only comes into play at a few specific tricks of the brain (like consciousness, or whatever). We just don't know.

António Araújo said...

there are the know unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Both can set the hard barriers for AI. Known unknown might be something like "is the brain super-Turing?". Your invocation of the magick of flesh (let me call it the Goo argument :)) is basically a warning for the unknown unknown and the danger of hubris. Sure, you can be right! In the middle of all that goo in the brain, that we hardly understand at all, can surely be a completely unknown factor that is an absolute barrier for strong AI, or even for some weaker stuff like an AI that is only half ridiculous at the imitation game.
But the thing about the unknown unknowns is that it's down to intuition. If you happen to love the field you will make the optimistic bet and go for it, even though you know it can be a fool's errand. If not, then you won't. People work in all sorts of things, people flip burgers. Even if strong AI is fool's gold it is still a nice enough endeavour and at worst will turn out cool stuff like programs that can beat any human at Go or drive cars unattended, so I don't think the practicioners will have too much cause to repent either way.

Back to the term "non-linear": I think you used linear in 3 different senses above. I was using it in the usual technical sense, meaning that the neuron fires if a *linear function* of the coefficients hits threshold. In this sense, perceptrons are linear, but NNs are non-linear. But I think you also used the term linear to mean programs that are executed sequentially rather than in parallel (this in the first message I replied to). In that sense, I think the fact that parallelism is simulated only impacts speed of execution, so it's a "merely" practial aspect. And I think you used linear in a third sense on your next message - in the sense of the flow of information going only one way, from the input neurons to the output neurons. That is, in the sense of them being uni-directional. In this third sense I have to add that although the typical textbook NN is uni-directional, there are NNs that don't work that way. But I don't know much about the details of those, or how that affects the learning algorithms (maybe Richard or someone else knows something). So I don't think that non-linearity is really a good argument against NNs.

Which doesn't mean that summing up all those weighted inputs and firing if a non-linear function hits threshold captures all that needs to be captured about dendrites and axons, but the productive question is always: if not just that, then...what?

I've been traching bayesian probability for some time and the unknown unknown question can be formalized in an interesting way: when you are testing between k hypothesis, but all the hypothesis you came up with are false, the bayes rule will still happily favor one over the others, given the data. Meaning, it cannot all by itself detect total nonsense (just like in logic, garbage in leads to garbage out). So it is tempting to always add the k+1 hypothesis which is: "something else is true". And you can. The formalism totally lets you do that. The problem is that you cannot calculate anything with it. You cannot calculate p(something else|data) because you do not know p(data|something else) because you don't know what "something else" is. There is no substitute for making a guess about the something else. Unknown unknowns are there, but they might as well be those "here there be monsters" annotations. All you can do about them is remain vigilant.

kev ferrara said...

Computers should be better at games than humans, because the mental architecture of computers consists wholly of game-like elements and structures.

kev ferrara said...


I'm not "against" NNs. They're just a tool; they have functionality, they provide service. It will be interesting to see the extents of their uses in medicine.

What I am against is the presumption that Art, true art - rather than, say, the simply minded design-generating program that Ray Kurzweil had running in his old office - can be produced by something that does not experience. The issue is not a computational one or pro- or anti-technology question, it is purely a philosophical issue. This is neither "productive" nor destructive to point out.

Part of the philosophical problem goes to the issue of what non-linearity can mean outside the computer lab.

On one level non-linearity is everything in the gamut of "that which isn't linear." But there are many ways of looking at linearity because it is a relative issue; a single dot is linear compared to morse code. But then morse code is linear compared to a melody. And a melody is linear compared to a symphony or sculpture. Etc.

In my appreciation of the matter, a strongly nonlinear communication would be one that comes in liquid or experiential form and is experienced that way as well. That is, the communication is an undifferentiated wash; the kind of communication that flesh and mind excels at experiencing. Whereas game-like components are utterly reductive in what they may communicate or experience by both necessity and design. (As I see it, if you really want to understand the neuron problem, spend a few hours subjecting a single fingertip to as many different stimuli as you can find. Then think about dendrites in the context of that level of exquisite sensitivity. Rather than thinking of them as just some kind of tripwire for an electric alarm with voltages which we can measure in a petri dish.)

So my thinking on this is not based on some "unknown goo" problem. I'm not even thinking about the epistemic issue, its too speculative to really argue about (Although the fact that we can't actually study the human brain directly while it is working is surely the elephant in the lab). I'm just arguing from the known goo. I'm still concentrating on what it means to be organic, what it means to experience experience, to have flesh subjected to fluid information, how it feels to understand something through a nerve ending as opposed to a sensor, the difference between a thinking system connected up to a digestive system as opposed to wall socket, about how the size and fallibility of organic structures are crucial to their successful operation (which includes their humanness), the importance of combining experiential oppositions in creative ways, say sadness and joy or beauty and strangeness, in a work of Art, the complicated reasons behind the need to please or provoke, etc.

Richard said...


Wouldn't a real computer require the universe to have perfect, infinitesimal precision? To my current understanding of physics, this is not the case.

Also, I would note that humans could be considered part of the greater computational system when they train the NN. So, it's possible that humans make theb total system hypercomputational by being a piece of it.


kev ferrara said...

Addenda: just so I'm not misunderstood; I don't mean to compare the qualitative aspects of a single dendrite with a whole fingertip full of nerve endings. And of course, there's the matter of interpretation. I'm just trying to express the nature of organic sensitivity by making that comparison.

Richard said...

Sensor sensitivity would not have been my first argument given machine superiority in that space, like Hubble ultra deep field.

kev ferrara said...

I understand the tendency to keep harking back to mechanism outside of consciousness because the game-like simplicity makes it all so easy to understand and model with. But it doesn't really help us understand what it means to be organic and living. No doubt, the hubble is a truly excellent telescope attached to a camera launched into space so the earth's atmosphere doesn't get in the way of the shot. But sensitivity isn't simply about good, clear reception and precision in amplification. It's more importantly, in the context of discussing Art, about experience. It's about the physical exchanges, the feedback loops we have with life which mean something to us intrinsically just because we are made of flesh and nerves. And then it's also about the fluidity of the sensitivity; its malleability as a sensor, the scope of a nerve's perceptual abilities, as well as the quality of the responsiveness of nerve tissue in all its forms. Our nerves touch the world around us and the movements within us. What is data to a computer is physical to us. Eventually, all that compounded sensitivity manifests flows of thought which are physical even as they are immaterial, experiences that experience themselves. We should never forget that everything we are made of is in a constant state of sensing its own existence in the context of its local organic milieu.

Richard said...

I'm not denying the soul of art. I'm merely disagreeing about where it resides.

The new Rembrandt makes the argument, better than I, that fundamentally the soul of art resides in the consumer of an image, not the producer.

This is not true for all media, in music the composer's intent is unquestioningly important. In text, the author's expression of their own mind is unavoidable. In the visual arts, however, intent seems only a seasoning added to an otherwise journalistic pursuit. And like spice, too much intent spoils the recipe.

I have great respect for art as a historical pursuit of beauty, but to express the heart it seems inferior to music, for the mind it falls short of text, and the image, short of that infernal machine -- the camera.

kev ferrara said...

The new Rembrandt makes the argument, better than I, that fundamentally the soul of art resides in the consumer of an image, not the producer.


The "soul" of an artwork is a subliminal gift of insight packed into it by the artist and then unpacked by the sensitive and receptive among the audience. It's a deep communication, and often an extremely subtle one. And rarely does the audience understand where it comes from consciously. Sometimes even the artist doesn't understand it consciously.

That Rembrandt makes no argument worth listening to; it has no insight to share. It's the product of a bunch of dorks in a lab who needed funding and so came up with a scheme that would go over on facebook. And its depth is in accord with its target "drive-by" audience on social media.

In the visual arts, however, intent seems only a seasoning added to an otherwise journalistic pursuit. And like spice, too much intent spoils the recipe.

What are you talking about? In a great work of art the whole bloody thing is intent, every jot. When you really analyze great pieces every iota has a purpose which serves the larger idea. That's why, when it really comes down to it, everything is compositional; drawing and composition can't be untangled; composition and intent can't be untangled. That's unity in a nutshell.

The repletion of meaning and intent is a defining aspect of Art, the very thing that differentiates it from life and makes it resonant, strange, and mythic. This holds for all forms of art in all eras of human history.

kev ferrara said...

I have great respect for art as a historical pursuit of beauty, but to express the heart it seems inferior to music, for the mind it falls short of text, and the image, short of that infernal machine -- the camera.

Art exists as a pursuit of beauty only insofar as it is a pursuit of truth. And truth is the result of the clarification of an insight expressed through the non-literal terms of the artform disguised by its fiction.

If you can't experience the power of art, if you don't really feel it, it probably isn't wise to pronounce upon it. Don't presume your deficiencies are universal.

Sean Farrell said...

The issue separating life and what is subject to life, is unity. Unity here might represent the unknown, since its comprehension, by linear or experiential means, seems a lost cause in the world today.

There are reasons pleasure seeks ever greater levels of depravity and that's because it isn't unifying, but partial, because it is subject and as subject it is separate and can never be unifying. Something is unified, no doubt, but it is a confirmation of disunity. So compromised, it seeks greater levels of depravity, hoping to attain unity or a deeper state of unity, but achieves only a deeper unity with disunity, or its very hunger. Only as unity can it be unifying. And if that isn't clear, think of someone with a shoe fetish, where the other person is replaced and personified by the adulation of a shoe.

A similar thing is true with machines, which can never achieve unity because they are subject. One can go on and on with them as inventor or consumer, but they will never achieve unity. The simple pencil though which is understood as a tool never claims to be otherwise nor would its owner. It is subject, discardable, a tool to serve its master. Its purpose is to serve and then when it is used up its remains are discarded. The relationship is obvious and understood.

It would be flat out crazy to fall in love with the pencil itself, yet that is what's happening with the computerized pencil.

Tom said...


How about those Englishman at night lightening the Greek sculptures with candles and going into rapture over the turning of planes and the distances between the meeting of planes?

Tom said...

The precision of art.

Richard said...

> ‘The "soul" of an artwork is a subliminal gift of insight packed into it by the artist and then unpacked by the sensitive and receptive among the audience. […] And truth is the result of the clarification of an insight expressed through the non-literal terms of the art-form disguised by its fiction. ‘

Insight and truth are the spiritual foundational of the visual aesthetic experience, this is self-evident. But insight and truth can be experienced in a purely journalistic image as well. Looking out on our world, sensitively, we may experience new and profound visual truths in bed, at our desk, on the street, on the subway.

The artist’s job is one of curator of that truth. They, over years of practice, build a mental catalog of the insights they have discovered, and build up fictions to display as many of their hard-won insights as possible in a single work.

It is here where art most profoundly fails. In their training, artists learn eventually not to see reality more clearly, but rather to see only their own memorized and curated visual insights projected out onto the real world. It becomes propagandist by its very nature.

This is fundamentally where we differ – I believe there is more insight available in reality, because the truth hasn’t yet been painted over by that deadening eye of the artist. It may be harder to find, but that’s inseparable from its value. Reality has not been refined into a pill. The artist's intent becomes an obscuring lens, rather than a clarifying one. The camera is king at capturing those more difficult, more deeply hidden, insights.

The camera may ‘communicate’, or at least makes record of, insights without the photographer having intended their capture. Often, the capture of that insight is noticed by a sensitive consumer of images only. It is there, where the audience finds insight that no conscious mind intended (unless there be a God), is the heart of the future of Art. Art has been democratized, and the artist becomes a curator of a museum of propagandist, masturbatory, and eventually dead insights.

Laurence John said...

Richard: "... I believe there is more insight available in reality..."

what you're arguing is that we (you) don't require 'art' as an intermediary between us and reality to reveal anything we might have missed. that's valid. maybe you don't. if all you want to do is to 'see reality more clearly' then go ahead and plunge into life. what's stopping you ?

Richard said...

> "what you're arguing is that we (you) don't require 'art' as an intermediary between us and reality to reveal anything we might have missed. "

Not quite. What I'm arguing is that the curatorial powers of a democratized viewership will, with time and experience, point fingers at insight of greater depth and breadth, with greater regularity, than a caste of well-trained artists.

This doesn't mean art would be without curation. It simply means it wouldn't be pre-chewed and crystallized by an intellectual elite.

kev ferrara said...


It is obvious that the definition of curator does not equate and has never equated to "author." (Just try and "curate" an original comic book, painting, or novel into existence. Go ahead, I'll wait.)

Insights are hard won. They are achievements hewed and wrought out of difficult experience, even the small ones. All insights, by their nature, are hard to stick a flag in. It pays to scribe them on some permanent surface because they easily slip away. They are, after all, unreal except to the human mind. It is only our sixth sense that perceives them.

Due to ADD, over-caffeination, anxiety, mania, and other chemical imbalances, a lack of practical experience in the matter under discussion, a lack of intellectual discipline and rigor, and various other cognition snags, many people cannot distinguish true and useful insight from hasty conclusions, fallacious reasoning, bad guesses, dogma, shallow analysis, flippant cleverness, mental convolution, cognitive distortion, or ego-satisfying wishes.

When we create art, we don't "curate" our insights, whatever that might mean, we manipulate them to our ends. Or, more accurately, we back-engineer how they came to us and then manipulate the back-engineering so it fits the fiction or vice versa. (Objective Correlative, if you care to delve.)

Now, of course, curation can be done poorly or well. If we want to hang an art show, some taste and sense is required, some appreciation of scope, some distance and consideration. But "curating" as a general matter requires almost nothing except the fan's interest in DJ'ing their cultural interests to an audience. Curating is about selecting from ready-mades - stuff that's already there for the looking, taking and placing - in order to put on a strong cultural demonstration with minimal effort.

The ease of selecting from ready-made cultural tidbits to create a cultural demonstration is why "clip art" became so big so quickly in the 1970s. It is also why photography is so ubiquitous, as well as music sampling, thinly-veiled plagiarism and pretentious jargon in academia, and "news aggregation" all over the internet.

Regarding the "democratization" of insight-generation... Who in their right mind would think that all the stunned brains experiencing life through a fucking UV glowing box, bewildered by the relentless distraction and stupefaction of the internet, are becoming more focused, diligent, circumspect, and insightful? Really now. I just don't know what planet you are living on. I think one of the defining traits of the era is its tinfoil thin shallowness, its inability to concentrate for more than a twitter post's worth of consideration. The 1960s have taken over. Personal virtues are dead. The will to indisicipline has won. Now even the squares think like stoners.

John Kricfalusi put it more sensitively, "Unfortunately, schools are really bad now. Schools are not only bad in reading, writing and arithmetic, they're worse in cultural aspects, like in music and art. They don't teach you anything anymore. I know this from twenty years of experience hiring artists out of the schools. They get worse every year. They're absolutely ridiculously retarded now."

Richard said...

>"Just try and "curate" an original comic book, painting, or novel into existence."

You notably left out music and film. What of the producer or director? Where is Kurosawa, George Martin, Kubrick, Miyazaki, Brian Wilson? Are you sure you're not making a technical distinction, rather than a philosophical one?

I think if you gave photography the proper attention, groping for insight in stray marks, the way you do with drawings -- as though they were rendered by human hands, as though they were intentional, you'd be able to see their power as clear as day.

If she isn't art, I prefer whatever she is.

kev ferrara said...

If you think David Fincher "curates" his films into existence, or that Brian Wilson "curated" Good Vibrations into existence, then you don't know what the word curate means. Or what creativity, focus, conduction, talent or taste are.

Speaking of taste...

That photo is horrific. On seeing that child's eyes and that hand, I had an emotional jolt. And naturally so. But what that has to do with Art, I have no idea. It is, actually, pornography. It seems you didn't recognize that. I presume you introduced it here because you also had been jolted by it; you had a sensation you know was caused by that photo, presumed that any sensation equals art, and didn't think any more of it. Well, again, sensation alone is shallow and quick; lacking nourishment. People who chase sensation for the thrill, keep chasing it, because the calories are all empty. And eventually addiction develops, and it gets nasty from there. Maybe you're already down that road, I don't know. You have just said you "prefer" that pornography to actual Art. (Makes me wonder what you are doing here.) Perhaps next you'll show me more great "Art" such as a mother wasting away from Aids, or a heroin addict getting a gangrenous arm amputated. Why don't you become an "Artist" yourself and go around taking photographs of the contents of unflushed public toilets? You're bound to get a sensational reaction with such images.

Whereas it is said - where teleology is spoken - that the natural tendency of art is toward the musical, it seems to me the natural tendency of photography is toward the pornographic. After all, Photography's power derives mostly from its simulation of the factual subject itself. That is where the light rays being captured are coming from. So, naturally, to amplify the image, amplify the subject. And this naturally results in a "heat" that is the exact opposite of the "disinterested contemplation" pointed out by Kant as necessary to the aesthetic experience. (Btw, Joseph Campbell and David Mamet's essays on sensation and pornography are worth consulting on this issue, if you want to delve.)

Richard said...

But beyond her eyes and hand -- what of the spiritual calm?

Captured there, held in balance with the violence of the moment, is the human heart at its most stoic.

Further, see what God and camera have done when rendering these things:
the blueness and lack of specularity of her hair, the stillness of a crooked nail reflected on water, the way the depth of field washes into grain the newspaper in the background.

The attention to detail, see the way the Artist has made a world of perfect reality, see what God has done with the debris of the water -- simultaneously beautiful and terrible.

Notice the way the greatest violence is hidden off-screen. There in that dark muddy water is the cause of her eventual death, but the Artist didn't feel the need to hit us over the head with it! We are met, instead with the face of the lamb.

If you see pornography here, I question your own aesthetic sensitivity.

Tom said...

Joseph Campbell on James Joyce


kev ferrara said...

Further, see what God and camera have done when rendering these things:

You should write for a magazine called God & Camera.

As I've said before, yes nature is lovely. The light rays bouncing off everything into our eyeballs is a gift. And so, it can be a gift when captured by a light capturing machine. This is curation. Not art. And there are many lambs reflecting light. A billion stillnesses and swamps, cold breath leaving beautiful faces all over. Lots of pretty to see and capture. Lots of boring and ugly too.

When one curates real horrors, explicit sexual acts, real people undergoing real tragedy, then, the philosophy suggests, the image becomes pornographic. Just because these images are "hot." They arouse our real interest, and in this way they become a substitute for the real thing in life. Which is why they are not aesthetic in how they function on our psyches. The sensation is tied to real belief not the experience of form in the context of a fiction.

But, of course, even in pornographic images there will be nature, light, texture, line, shape, design, decoration... because these things naturally appear on the surface of our reality, easily captured even by accident. (So no, I don't only see pornography in the picture of real life horror you linked. But the charge of the picture is coming from the pornographic elements, not the other ubiquitous stuff you described in purple. Any "depth" the picture has is due to our reflection on the horrors of life.)

And yes there is some truth among the facts in photos, the basic surface relations between things is always correct, so far as it goes, because it cannot be any other way. So no points for that. Yet, sometimes photos are highly explanatory and make for very effective communication of a shallow situation's truth at its surface level. And sometimes the surface contains enough of the truth that the photo can be thought of as sufficiently honest. Most often, though, the surface-mimicking of photos is just pretty, boring or ugly, unless it is pornographic.

There is some compositional expression that happens naturally in life, too, which can be curated. And, of course, there is some plasticity available to the camera operator (assuming he isn't actually physically interacting with the environment and elements in front of his lens, which is a form of sculpture). But nature is never composed to the extent and depth that a real work of art is.

It was said by Sargent that nature is always wrong. And that is because nature is confused in its symbolism, with conflicting messages, replete with meaningless incidental information which works against the unified conception. Artists have the burden and luxury of having complete control over everything in their works. Which is why qualitatively and quantiatively Art is orders of magnitude more plastic than photos.

But if you prefer photos that's your own business.

Richard said...

I suspect if we continue, without new clarifying or elaborating voices, we will find ourselves not moving forward in this line of questioning. I'll make this my signing off;

I'm happy to be viscerally aroused (sexually or otherwise) by art, in addition to experiencing that feeling of sublime.

When I delve into Edward Hopper's paintings of beautiful women, or Manchess's, Drucker's, Frazetta's, Leonard Starr's, I am no less wrapt in the desire to have. Rather, I would say that this pornographic hook drags me further into the inner sanctum of aesthetic experience contained therein.

To Sargent I would point to the Photographic works of Anne Brigman (1869–1950):

Take care. Until next time.

Unknown said...

Richard: "If she isn't art, I prefer whatever she is"

that's photo journalism.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...


I'm not going to chase most of the loose ends you've scattered about. You never seem to hold the point of the thread in mind as you post. You just seem to hunt around for something you can be righteous about. If you say something absurd (the soul of art resides in the viewer, the artist's job is to be a "curator" of truth, etc.), you never correct yourself, the whole contention just goes away from your mind, and you continue heedlessly rooting for something different to be right about. It makes it so utterly thankless to engage you. Because I know, god I know, you are not listening. Either to me or even to yourself. How do you learn anything with that as your ethic?

But, anyway, let's take stock one more time, and let's see if I can connect some conversational dots.

The issue is whether there is something fundamental about Art that makes it impossible for something non-living to create it. This requires some thought about what is art and how it functions. This is where the philosophy becomes useful.

Here's a thought experiment. We set up a robot camera in a beautiful girl's bedroom pointed plainly at her bed. It takes photographs automatically every five minutes all day and night. Eventually it captures something that arouses the standard issue male. It takes an erotic photograph where all the force of the image comes from the erotic charge.

The reason this is not art, is because it is simply capturing light rays bouncing off something that arouses the hetero male. This sexual charge would definitionally not be an aesthetic charge. It is utterly "interested." So we are dealing with the stuff of porn, not Art.

So now, when we discuss a photograph or a work of art, the question of its artfulness derives from what I just said: It is whether the charge of the art, its artfulness, mostly derives from its form, treatment, and composition or from the heat or character of its subject. This means that sometimes a photo (like the sparkling stream you linked to) will indeed be artful and effective as a kind of shallow art. And sometimes that means that a painting that gets most of its force from its sexual depictions is functioning more as pornography than aesthetically, and so won't be worth much as art at all.

Eroticism is a tough one, I think. If it's effective at all, it's generally shading over into "interestedness." However, in some uber talented folk, erotic art can be erotic more for its aesthetic expression than its subject matter, and so will overcome its "interested heat" and stand forth as true Art. Frazetta, it seems to me, happens to be that rare artist, at his best, who can pull off the eroticism due to the sheer amount of aesthetic force he manifests. Robert McGinnis, as wonderful a draftsman as he is, seems rather less successful at toeing this line. His pale nudes are just plopped and posed to titillate. For Starr it seems a pretty face is window dressing. To some degree he's simply trying to attract eyeballs, and in that sense he's being more a salesman or an ad man than an artist. But there's so much more to his work than the pretty faces it would be hard to really knock him for that.

I don't quite know what to say to somebody who thinks a bunch of gauzey old "art photography" is an answer to John Singer Sargent. We'll just put that one in the same refuse bin with the rest.

Anonymous said...

The one single thing I like about Richard's posts , is that he provokes a nice essay from you - and I still think his favorite Bond was Roger Moore.

Sean Farrell said...

Hi Kev, In my comparison earlier between the moon as a fact and the moon as part of a song, there is intimacy or relationship in the latter, which would include painting the form of the moon. The value of the fact being in its constancy, despite being remote, without intimacy, etc.

A person can have a most exquisite relationship with the ordinary, but such a relationship is primarily through being. I think part of what is being discussed is how a mechanical world is replacing our immediate organic relationship with life which is dimensional, in relationship and belief (as I defined it earlier). Through a remote application of facts, we now have complex, second hand, artificial and limited relationships with reality though all kinds of digital inventions requiring multiple actions or protocols to perform simple intuitive tasks. All our acts and thoughts have been and are being reshaped, limited and made economic. You have done a very good job in helping me understand much of this.

I haven't forgotten your list of books but after reading the founding chapters of Dewey's Art As Experience, I decided to give it a rest. The book may have something to offer later on, but the opening chapters possessed major flaws.
I'm looking forward to Robert McKee's book and hopefully will be able to share some thoughts on your favorite subject. Thanks

Richard said...

Anon, this dark rumor has followed me too long. I will say that I have seen a Moore film, and I will say that I enjoyed it.

kev ferrara said...


Of course I agree about the technological colonization of experience, and the fallout of that; that the metaphysical virtues and values associated with personal agency and self-worth give way to the values of the confused and anxiety-ridden adolescent. In that vein I would add that modern digital commerce is all about offers to mediate reality for us in some way so as to make our lives easier. Which is a complete come-on, a Trojan Horse. What marketers really want is to begin controlling our information diet as close to the very point our senses contact reality as possible. That way they box out all other contenders for our attention and own that sacred portal that leads from our minds to our wallets... which they can then rent to the billion vendors who want in. As well, political people are absolutely ravenous for control of thought, they are sick beyond sadness, and so they are obsessed with securing any portal that might mediate our interpretation of experience as well.

What we are seeing now, all over the cultural joint, is open warfare for control of our attention. But the cold version of that war goes back to the beginning. The closeness of modern life, the connectedness, seems to have broken down the fences that once made for better neighbors.

I would be very interested in hearing any critiques you have of Dewey's Art as Experience. Personally, I thought the book was so full of gems of insight it was worth enduring both the occasional misstep and, frankly, the slog.

Thanks Anon, whoever you are.

Sean Farrell said...

Well said Kev. I realize Dewey is going to address form as the convergence of elements and that is what I'm interested in, so I do have to carry on with the book. It would be time consuming to address in detail, the time Dewey takes to dismiss belief or the ideal as a cartoon interfering with direct experience without understanding that it is our nature to attach ourselves to things by belief whether atheist, warrior, or doctor, whether arrogant or humble. Even economists believe in economics. The emotional attachment to remote things such as facts might seem contradictory, except that such attachment does not come from the faculties of reason, but belief, which is emotional, experiential and of relationship. The Italians yelled out the name of Verdi when they went into battle, so beloved was his music and this attachment was as much love as it was belief.

To misidentify and dismiss such as a driving force behind human life is not a small mistake, even if belief may be terribly misplaced.

kev ferrara said...

Hmm. It seems, ironically, you are letting your beliefs about belief get in the way of experiencing Art as Experience. I mean, the gist of the matter, in my translation, is if an experience be a true one, it will educate us in a deep and thematically resounding way. The problem with belief is that it has its nature in the word, the ready made symbol. It is a knowledge monument in the mind. And as a mental monument, it is naturally imposing, hefty and immobile. And thereby threatens to block any passage through it, intimidates everything around it, and so may immobilize the entire conceptual environment in which it stands. Which translates as some probability that it will block the fullest aesthetic experience of new experience, preventing the cutting of whatever path it may have taken through our mental landscape; the real education that only experience imprints.

I don't think Dewey would disagree that human nature assures we go through the day burbling our beliefs like a fish tank aerator. Dewey's point, I think, is that experience will be truer when that tendency is backgrounded. This is hardly a philosophical deal-breaker, no?

Tom said...

"I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief." Jimmy Joyce again via Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of an artist

Isn't belief a thought? And a thought is not an experience. It's the ego. One can have lots of beliefs but what happens to the belief thought when you are not thinking it? It's not there. What is there is experiencing. Or to quote Degas "the artist does his best work when he no longer thinks what he is doing."

kev ferrara said...


My understanding (pace C. S. Pierce) would be that a thought is in search of a belief, that is its purpose. So thought is mobile and belief is stable.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, What Dewey is saying isn't a deal breaker and I do understand symbol distinct from reality, much from our discussions. But it is Dewey (not I) who raises a fascinating subject and makes short work of it and erroneously so.

Let's look at Dewey's summary of Pater (page 32). “The elevation of the ideal above and beyond immediate sense has operated not only to make it pallid and bloodless, but it has acted, like a conspirator with the sensual mind, to impoverish and degrade all things of direct experience.”

The sentence can be understood to mean a person who is emotionally tied to a preconceived notion and resists direct experience. This is part of what I meant when I put belief in the area of emotion, because there is no emotion in the remote nature of facts yet many emotionally argue neutral positions. Then after reading a bit on who Pater was, there was no mistaking what Dewey was referring to. Who is to say Plato didn't intuit his sense of the perfect, a higher realm from direct experience/ contemplation? Doesn't math make calculations of the dimensional? Can human beings have any thought above sense if in fact the brain structure is itself an organic reality? This whole subject is filled with mystery.

Pater is followed by Keats (page 35) who speaks of the uncertainty of things, then Dewey sums up a false comparison of his own with those who believe “Reasoning” must fail man-....a doctrine long taught by those who have held to the necessity of a divine revelation” and goes on to say, “Ultimately there are two philosophies. One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities- to imagination and art.”

The statement is entirely ridiculous because there's no conflict with contemplation in the “other philosophy” and there is no more a freeing “direct experience” than surrendering oneself selflessly to fate, (Divine Providence). True, the poet and artist seek their medium, but hardly do they own the area of accepting life's uncertainties, nor accepting life's mysteries. The “other philosophy” is obsessed with mysteries in the sacraments, the mysteries of evil, goodness, half truths, mystery of birth, mystery of being, the glorious, joyful and sorrowful mysteries; the mysteries of suffering, death and life thereafter are hardly certainties. Besides, there are tons of poets in that camp, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dante, John of the Cross etc. Why he would pick a fight or make sweeping statements about something he doesn't appear to understand is quite incredible. Earlier he made a statement that the entire religious experience, the Mass, is a surrender to aesthetics and throughout the first chapters is bent on making the comparison between direct or empirical experience and what he terms “ideal” or “religious” experience.

That empirical experiences of timelessness or a spatial liquidity can be take place outside of direct religious understanding is hardly unknown. That is, many experiences are had, whereby a unity is experienced but not entirely understood. But to believe one is necessarily the other is an assumption upon a mystery. In short, what Dewey is doing is pitting experiences of an openness or directness to nature with experiences of an exquisite tenderness which many people identify as holy, beyond their own natural dispositions. I was hoping to find something out about how elements converge in picture making to form unity and grew impatient with the first several chapters and so I gave it a rest.

Sean Farrell said...

You have asked a good question. Isn't belief an idea? When we talk of it, we do so in words, but we are not talking of words, but of being and being is experiential, often experienced as something beautiful.

A fellow named Roy Schoeman who was a Harvard Professor and atheist had an experience on a nature walk in Cape Cod, which gave him an understanding that he was intimately loved and had always been intimately loved. He claims to have experienced a sense of his life as if from death, where he saw his life as loved. His actual experience is described between minutes 13:05 and 16:36. The rest is all theological stuff he wrestled with later on.


I don't know if he experienced this in pictures, or simply through feelings, or both, but I think he's implying he comprehended his experience through feelings. I don't know anything about what happened to this man, but assuming it is true, it is an example of belief as an experience. So I can't actually answer your question but to say, that I think there is a language in feeling which is capable of being comprehended in our ordinary verbal manner.

kev ferrara said...

The sentence can be understood to mean a person who is emotionally tied to a preconceived notion and resists direct experience. This is part of what I meant when I put belief in the area of emotion, because there is no emotion in the remote nature of facts yet many emotionally argue neutral positions.


I don't agree with your interpretation of that passage, and thus I don't understand your reaction to it.

My understanding of both what Dewey is saying and what Pater had been talking about was about a particular kind of preconception, which is a tendency to experiencing everything as a kind of symbolically sensuous trope. Which is not bad, in and of itself, but becomes stale quickly as a automatic imperative because there is no contact with the texture of things; the state of mind is floaty and unreal. To live in such a state divorces one from all sorts of qualities of reality, actualities which become unavailable for consideration as poetic, but which do in fact have tremendous significance if one can just experience them brutally. For instance, blood as actual blood. The sky as an ocean of air, etc.

I'll get to your Keats passage later on...

kev ferrara said...

The statement is entirely ridiculous because there's no conflict with contemplation in the “other philosophy” and there is no more a freeing “direct experience” than surrendering oneself selflessly to fate, (Divine Providence).

It turns out I don't understand your interpretation of the Keats passage either. Here, it seems to me, he is distinguishing the strongly felt aesthetic insight which can be justified entirely and the one that can't. With the later, the poetry is offered in an intellectually incomplete way, as a rush or force of the intuition. Which is to say, with the mysteries and wonders left in as part of the presentation. The "other" philosophy being discussed is not specifically religious, but it is dogmatic and thus, in a sense, authoritarian while also being incomplete. That is to say, it demands full justification, and so consists only of fully justified notions, refusing what is called "half-knowledge."

The main point I got out of the passage is that the demand for a serial logic to defend all appreciations of truth is absurd given the fact that all knowledge, to be of any value, must inevitably attach to the aesthetic feeling; it must actually originate in or be thoroughly related to our sensual appreciation of reality; which is that sense which alone allows us to truly understand. The truth value of any logic worth its words would, therefore, be predicated on the same foundation of aesthetic force as those rejected poetic notions of truth which could not be defended through the linear route of language. Basically, Dewey is expressing the primacy of Aesthetic feeling in all worthwhile communication through the entire the entire chapter.

Richard said...

Sean --

I'm sure I'm not alone here, having experienced 'divine grace', and at least in my mind I don't think you can completely divorce idea from that experience.

It may very well be that grace washes over you first, and then the brain rushes in to try to make sense of it, but the experience doesn't happen in isolation of your mind.

Also, I'm not sure it's accurate to describe it as belief yet. Belief is something that describes an idea or feeling that is currently inaccessible to you. During the moment of grace you no more have a 'belief' about divinity, than you would have a 'belief' about the existence of a hot poker smoldering in your hand.

Richard said...

Rather, I shouldn't say that grace isn't fundamentally about belief, just that there are two types of belief. One is the sort of belief which is held at a moment when a feeling or idea is distant from you, and the other is a belief which is held at the moment of an experience (even if that experience is based on bad information).

If I were to perceive that someone is saying something racist to my face, even if that belief is wrong, there is a tangibility to that belief because it is tied to the moment. At that moment it is no less real than the hot poker. Down the line my perception of that interaction may change, as it losses viscerality, and that second sort of belief I think is what is generally meant by belief.

Richard said...

> ' That is to say, it demands full justification, and so consists only of fully justified notions, refusing what is called "half-knowledge." '

That seems to be exactly what he is saying:
'He contrasts Shakespeare with his own contemporary Coleridge, who would let a poetic insight go when it was surrounded in obscurity, because he could not intellectually justify it'

It's unclear why you, Kev, regard the latter as authoritarian/dogmatic.

Wouldn't relying exclusively on what you could intellectually justify (by way of experience), divorce you from the sort of lofty notions that would lead one towards authoritarianism?

It would seem that both religion, and extreme politics, rely on people to put a lot of weight on the sort of lofty and incomplete poetic insights and feelings that Keats is here defending. Suicide bombers are plumb poetically inspired.

Dewey seems to support that Keats here meant something dogmatic:
'Much of the dispute is carried on in ignorance of the particular tradition in which Keats wrote and which gave the term "truth" its meaning. In this tradition "truth" never signifies correctness of intellectual statements about things [...] It denotes the wisdom by which mean live, "especially the lore of good and evil." '

Tom said...


Belief's are thoughts, they are our idea of reality. And people's beliefs change all the time with age and experience so how can they be stable?

One can live from experience or maybe a better way to say it is to be aware of experience. But once you start to talk of experience you have already left the world of experience for thought. As Yogi Berry said "you can't think and hit."

Roy Schoeman experience sounds like satori or enlightenment. Thomas Aquinas put down his pen in 1273, why? Probably for the same reason or as Jaccques Lussyran wrote. "By the end of a year in Buchenwald I was convinced that life was not at all as I had been taught to believe it, neither life nor society." I think it is more of an example of living from experience, then belief. The peace that surpasses all understanding. Or as the Taoist say, the Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao.

Thanks for the video. Here is one on Art by Rupert Spira https://youtu.be/TbJ__laExQ8.

There is Ted Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor a brain researcher who had a stroke. I think the title of the Ted talk is, "Stroke of Insight".

kev ferrara said...

Wouldn't relying exclusively on what you could intellectually justify (by way of experience)

In this sentence, you are conflating the oppositions Dewey is contrasting. So you aren't making sense.

divorce you from the sort of the sort of lofty notions that would lead one towards authoritarianism

Who says it is necessarily abstract/lofty notions that lead toward or justify authoritarianism? Authoritarianism is just about control, which always includes information control, and that is where Dogma ties into it. The predicate for authority can be lofty or base or a combination of the two, but either way its rules will be written in dogma. (I was pointing this out because of Sean's interest bringing religion into it. But the book is about Art and Poetry, so we are shoehorning things.)

It would seem that both religion, and extreme politics, rely on people to put a lot of weight on the sort of lofty and incomplete poetic insights and feelings that Keats is here defending. Suicide bombers are plumb poetically inspired.

You are completely confusing the notions under discussion. Religion and extreme politics both traffic in absolute knowledge claims. There are no ideological gray areas that aren't spun back into absolute knowledge claims, which is to say Dogma. People don't blow themselves up because they are unsure of the righteousness of their cause. Obviously Dewey is writing a treatise on the nature of art, and so isn't really going to address the mind of the fanatic. But you can extrapolate from what Dewey says to answer your question. Which is that Dewey is against received Dogma and is for the kind of open experience that brings about fresh aesthetic understanding. Such receptivity is inherently non-ideological and would be utterly antithetical to any true believer or warrior in the cult of any ideology. Because surety is one of the great values and benefits of ideology, part of its core. So even a half understood, incomplete appreciation, be it true and from experience, if it contradicts a dogma, is a threat. Because it can cast that dogma into a shade of doubt. And doubt is the real enemy.

This is not to say that Coleridge would be pro-ideological fanaticism because he advocates for justified poetic tropes. My point - and I think this was Dewey's implication - is that there is more to experience than that which we can be absolutely sure of. And to only include in poetic expressions those experiences or notions that we can be absolutely logically sure of presents a kind of dogmatic worldview to the audience. While seeking to have only crisp answers, it elides the preponderance of mystery that envelops us. And thus we are being taught by the poet to ignore questions. And this sets the poet up as a dogmatic authority, a controller of information. Not such a bad thing for an artist in the grand scheme of things. But things get hairy when the same kinds of authorial editing of reality makes its way into politics. (Actually, I think the command editing of reality is the nature of the political. But that's a different matter.)

kev ferrara said...

Belief's are thoughts, they are our idea of reality. And people's beliefs change all the time with age and experience so how can they be stable?

Let me unpack that. C.S. Peirce defines a belief (In The Fixation of Belief) as something like "an understanding that a mind is sure enough of to bodily act upon." He further explains that the object of thought is to fix a belief in order to have a predicate for action.

The action that stems from the belief naturally tests the quality of the belief. For, if the belief is sound, the action resulting from it will be sensible and effective. If not, not. If a belief is not sensible, then (assuming the sanity of the inquirer) it will be subject to change; it would go into a state of flux.

A belief in flux would definitionally not be a belief, actually. Because it is not stable enough to warrant some action over another. Thus "fluid belief" is an oxymoron, and is actually better understood as simply a question, a query, an inquiry, an ongoing investigation, etc. And this ongoing investigation consists of mindfully and somewhat freely tinkering with mental models of the elements involved in order to arrive at some best answer. In other words; thought.

The point is that thought is inquiry, which moves toward an answer, and belief is an answer, stable by definition, which is used as the justification of an action.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you Kev. All is fair. I do understand what Dewey is saying and you are explaining what he is saying correctly. You asked and I tried to explain why I thought the comparison was not valid.

In the poems of St. John of the Cross, he is describing in poetry, nonverbal experiences which can't be put into prose. He does explain the poems as an instructional guide, but that is not the same as the poetry and the poems. There is a long tradition of understanding that God communicates spirit through non verbal experiential reality and such as an understanding has gotten lost over the centuries following the Reformation.

I bring this up as a point of interest to share because you believe that the organic nature of the brain receptors, interpret reality first as sensations and then as language and such is compatible not only with non verbal sensory perceptions of a visual type, but traditional understanding of spirit perceived as sensation, which is still recognized in Catholicism and this is why I felt the comparison was not valid.

Sean Farrell said...

Richard, Thank you. What I'm trying to say is that belief is very closely related to what we feel, not only to the ideas we say we believe. In other words, a person will get very defensive about what they feel, if they feel threatened and so on. This taking things personally is only one example. But the non-verbal nature of communication of the sort experienced on the road to Emmaus is another example. Of course we understand things outside of the verbal reality, as we understand heat, so too we understand love and recognize such.

I'm not trying to separate the word from the experience, or isolate the experience from the word, but such may be embodied in some way we don't exactly understand and such might explain the types of understandings poets and ordinary people claim after sensory experiences.

Richard said...

> Wouldn't relying exclusively on what you could intellectually justify (by way of experience)

>> In this sentence, you are conflating the oppositions Dewey is contrasting. So you aren't making sense.

I think you (or, rather, Dewey) may be putting words in Keats' mouth.

Keats doesn't seem as interested in the power of intuition to capture truth (as Dewey rightly notes, Keats means good when he says truth).

Keats allows that the poetic is wrong, that our intuitions are wrong, and remarks that they are good because they are 'sensuous', that their truth is irrelevant:
"Though a quarrel in the streets is to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest Man has a grace in his quarrel. Seen by a supernatural Being our reasonings may take the same tone — though erroneous, they may be fine. This is the very thing in which consists poetry."


"This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."


"I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth [read: good] - whether it existed before or not "

and, arguing for a hedonist's theology:
"we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we called happiness on earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger as you do after truth."

It would seem then that your philosophy, as I understand it, goes something like 'beauty is that which is beautiful because it tells the greatest truth, and truth is good', while Keats, disagreeing strongly, argues roughly that 'beauty is the highest form of truth [good] because it's the most pleasurable'.

I suppose I should be taking this up with Dewey, but I'll leave it here instead.

Sean Farell said...

Thank you Tom,
I enjoyed both videos and your own thoughts. Just a thought for discernment, if what we are experiencing is truly perceptive beyond our own being, then each experience would possess something unique from, or upon our own being.

Richard said...

> "Of course we understand things outside of the verbal reality, as we understand heat, so too we understand love and recognize such.[...] might explain the types of understandings poets and ordinary people claim after sensory experiences. "

So, in short; a belief is perceptual, and experience is sensational, and they may inform each other -- a belief informing a sensation, a sensation informing a thought -- and as a result there may be a causal chain from the sensational to the perceptual?

That is putting it simply. We must also look at those ways in which the human-mind generates its own beliefs and sensations. Where mental feedback loops create sensations and perceptions which don't match the sensational data.

That is to say, we have to be careful with the poets (and cult leaders), in that they spend an awful lot of energy re-wiring their own heads to create novel psychosomatic, hallucinogenic, and synesthetic experiences with which to daze their audiences. As a result, it becomes difficult to trust the sensational or perceptual contents and insights expressed when they come from someone who purposefully breaks their own noggin for financial or social gain.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "They arouse our real interest, and in this way they become a substitute for the real thing in life."

i think the distinction between pornography (as you're defining it above) and art is a very tricky one to demarcate. nearly all representational art / illustration has a vicarious quality; the suggestion of surfaces, water on skin, fingers through hair, the thrill of dangerous action, the impact of physical violence etc. none of these things would affect the viewer if they didn't in some way stimulate a sensation of the real thing in the viewer's mind. it is of course, this very vicarious quality (which he calls 'predigested') that Greenberg objected to and which he deemed 'kitsch'. i know you'll hate his essay 'The Avant Garde and Kitsch' but i understand what he's getting at.

Sean Farrell said...

Thank you Richard, You raise some interesting points, but I was only using one non-verbal thing to demonstrate another.

Dewey is talking about visual perception and superimposing it on an institution with nearly 2,000 years of discerning felt perceptions as well as some other types of perceptions. It had done so in part through measuring the conclusions drawn from such experiences as part of its charge to maintain unity and fidelity and as you mentioned many perceptions can be misleading. Pierce himself was influenced by two medieval churchmen. For Dewey to subject the Mass for example to a his understanding of visual aesthetics assuming such is the sum total of the aesthetic surrender is to miss the felt experiences derived from interior meditation upon intent and a presence he doesn't acknowledge. It's a fair criticism, but then he carries on making similar comparisons throughout the opening chapters. The limiting nature of preconceived notions is perhaps best demonstrated by his own assumptions. It's something like believing that the left half of the brain is responsible for all religious experience when there is something called intent. True, detachment is apart of the faith, but its purpose is not for its own end.

Then there is the use of animals as vital examples of direct experience, but when removed from the variables of environment become listless in captivity. Likewise do humans experience civilizing factors and his can be for the better as people can cultivate specific skills and relations in a civil environment which can't be achieved in the presence of such vitalizing factors. There's a bit of Jack London being pitched in the first chapters which was part of the monstrosity of the 20th century.

Richard said...

Greenberg is confusing digesting the pictorial or figurative framework of an image with digesting its aesthetic content.

By Greenberg's line of thinking, reality should be terrible pre-digested. I don't find it anything of the sort -- it seems instead a vast aesthetic field which we may explore.

Artworks are not alien entities to this universe, they are perfect members of the greater whole of reality -- the relationship between reality and art is like that of bird's nest and branch.

Tom said...

That makes sense Kev but when he writes, "an understanding that a mind is sure enough of to bodily act upon." That sounds more like an intuition or a fact. Intuiting that placing a certain blue in your painting will make the orange in the painting appear more intense is an intuition and when it produces the desire affect you can feel secure in your "belief." Your belief or intuition was sound. That is practical thought.

I was thinking of beliefs such as the existence of God, or Santa Claus or if everyone thought the way I thought the world would be a better place, our opinions our hopes and dreams. "Belief," in gravity may be a stable answer to a thoughtful question, but most of our beliefs tend to produce a lot of pain for us and others.

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Rick said...

I agree with your assessment of the film whole-heartedly. Miller's comic was far more engaging and enjoyable, despite the relatively dark subject matter. Dark for a comic book about Superman and Batman, anyway.