2005/11/11

Art is a trial at answering the question "what is reality?".

I guess that if we spend our time and energy crafting sentences with words it is not only for the sake of spending our time it is, I believe, to express some thought in the hope to shed some light on our understanding of reality. We should thus expect coherence in the verbal expression of our thoughts; is it not.

It seems to me that we are somehow permanently dancing around a question without ever admitting that this question really exists. This question is "What is reality?". This question is at the heart of artistic creation and out of it there simply is no art, it is also at the heart of philosophies and religions and let us be very clear this question has nothing to do with marketing nor with anything that relates to money nor capital.

Dark matter, dark energy, empty space are concepts derived by scientists (astrophysicists) out of their visions at the end of their "tunnel enquiries". In the case of dark matter and dark energy the "tunnel enquiry" is in the direction of the outer limits of our macro-universe. In this particular form they start their "tunnel enquiries" at the eye of a telescope zooming always further in the search for new "images". Another widely popular form is for scientists to focus their attention on the microcosm, zooming always deeper into the infinitely small with the help of microscopes. The form of their approach looks different but essentially they are doing the same thing they are "tunnel enquiring" towards infinitely small details with the hope that the workings of those details will reveal to them the workings of reality as a whole.

The most serious problem with such an approach is that the collected images are invariably describing a detail only of a near infinite macrocosm or of a near infinite micrososm. The epistemic question that thus arises from such scientific studies is "How could the study of such a small detail give us a clue about the working of the whole?". There is indeed a "whole" inside which we are only infinitesimal particles and it is the working of that very whole that constitutes the reality in which our lives unfold.

Scientists are peering always further from the "here and now" of their position as observers but this gives them no more than images of far away details that make no sense of the working of the global reality...

Philosophies have generally taken an opposite path searching for sense in "the whole" wherein we live while neglecting the parts-like machinery. To summarise (outrageously I'm afraid):
- on one side are the founding philosophies of the religions of the word which posit that the observed infinite chain of causalities has to be interrupted for the sake of human sanity. Their argument then goes that there is an "ultimate mover" who starts the chain of causality. Aristotle appears to give the most extensive presentation of such a thesis. What follows in the next historic bubble is no more than folk stories (religions) that will be used as social glues to keep kingdoms and empires together.
- on the other side are the philosophies derived out of "animism" a system of thought that humanity unanimously shared for tens of thousands of years and perhaps even for as long as hundreds of thousands of years. At the turn of their establishing and enforcing power the religions of the word brutally destroyed any remnant of animism in their geographic areas of control. In all other areas animism survived or was integrated in "superior" philosophical systems. Everywhere animism posited that humans, animals and plants are particles of "the whole", "the one"... and that they are somehow bound or linked all together which implies a code of morality obliging humans to respect animals and plants and the working of their environment.

With the start of agriculture that followed the last period of climate change some 11,000 years ago greater concentrations of people could survive on a same territory... this is what led gradually to the assembling of different tribes under political and military leadership. This is also the crosspoint in history when philosophies and religions took root and were then imposed on all by the men of power.

It should be noted that capitalism and its ideology of rationality took root where one of "the religions of the word", christianity, had established a firm grip on the beliefs of the people under its control... and that appears to be in Europe and subsequently in all the territorial extensions where Europeans established themselves and imposed their worldview to the natives.

I'd like to suggest that scientific rationality let on its own will most probably lead humanity to an early extinction. Our choice, if we have one, is to recognize and accept the limitations of capitalistic and scientific rationality... and our vital need for an interaction between rationality and philosophy. For sure this is the opinion of an artist, of a thinker, some will argue that, as such, it is not even worth the listening. But I have the weakness to believe that the artist's role has mutated over the last century. Visual artists have been along all the time-span of our cultural history no more than image technicians; craftsmen polishing the visual lines of the stories told by the men of knowledge of their times. But this changed sometime around 1900 when the men of knowledge lost the support of the men of power who were on their way to transforming into state-machinery technicians, in other words, who were transforming into bureaucrats whose vision was limited to the internal working of the newly built institutional system. That is when visual artists were freed of the imposition to represent the worldview of the men of knowledge.

Picasso who had some good friends in the mathematical circles, and the cubists, related to the buss-words "en vogue" in their time with mathematicians to explain reality: the fourth dimension, relativity and so on. The surrealists were more attuned with the new "psychology" theories developped by Freud, Jung and other students of the psyche.

Without to understand this very clearly, after the turn of the 19th century, visual artists started to reject the image that projects on the retina. In other words visual artists were rejecting the realism that the mechanics of our eye's sensors were giving us to see...

What is that visual mechanic of human eyes good for after all?
Nothing more than to let us know what is moving around us so that we could possibly do what it takes to preserve our existence. In other words our eyes are no more than functional sensors that our evolution gratified us with in order to help us assure our preservation... In a sense, yes, our eyes reflect in our brains images of reality but in another sense we also understand that these images that our eyes are giving us to see are very limitative giving us to see only a very narrow segment of what could be possible to see. So our brains were naturally frustrated and with the development of scientific approaches towards all the fields of reality our brains somehow encouraged us to develop visual images of what we started to understand but that our eyes could not apprehend.

Visual imagings have been for so many tens of thousands of years at the centre of the mechanics of the human animal's survival that they have established themselves as our leading sense. Other animals developped other sensors based on the application of other principles: infra-red, sound and so many other that are still unknown.

So here we are now trying to answer the same old question "What is reality?".

Scientists go to it through the road of that particular logic of rationality without understanding that rationality is no more than the ideology of the "logic of capital" that, applied for some seven to eight centuries (in Europe at least), imposed itself as being the ultimate truth teller within the industrial societies. But the negativities for the human race should, by now, start to sink into our minds. The application of that rationality, along such a short time-span of only a few centuries, has already succeeded to rapidly and surely conduct to the extinction of our species. Rationality can no longer be left on its own to direct the evolution of the human species. But understand me well, rationality should not be rejected per se it remains indeed a very powerfull tool to help create a better tomorrow for all the children of our earth: humans animals and plants alike. Specializing in the understanding of the particles of the whole scientific rationality needs now to be confronted to an all encompassing system of thought akin to animism, a philosophy, that would be accepted and shared, if not by all then, at least by most of the citizens on our earth. This will be seen as a dream and will surely be portrayed as the vision of an idealist but I'm absolutely sure that I'm the only one that is utterly realist here. I do not one moment believe that such a move or such a convergence between science and philosophy will come about through the conscient exercise of human decision-makers. No. Decision-makers will resist that move but in the end they will be overwhelmed by what the historian Toynbee called "necessity". We already can see the first signs of such a necessity and the first answers coming from the decision-makers. Look only at climate change. But when I speak about necessity I have in mind something all-together a lot more world-changing. I'm not divining here but for the sake of understanding just try for a moment to imagine what it could be like in a situation like the one described in the movie "The day after tomorrow", or for the sake of realism just look at the answers coming after New-Orleans or the South-East Asia Tsunami... and imagine what comes next.

Painters have been discharged of the obligation to represent visual signs of the worldview of the men of knowledge of their times but let's be honest most painters and most other visual artists are mostly lost nowadays not knowing what to illustrate nor what ideas to express in their creations. My own take on this whole story is that visual artists, if they want to make sense out of what they are doing, have no escape but to accumulate scientific and philosophic knowledge that eventually could help them to regurgitate a plausible vision of the worldview that a surviving humanity will come to share within the next decades.

If interested by what I wrote here, read my book ARTSENSE that dwells along 310 pages on those ideas.


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