Friday, July 6, 2007

Brunch and Berkeley

I have a for you dear reader, a conundrum inside a mystery, wrapped by a gluten free riddle and topped by some fresh made guacamole. (Sorry, I'm a little hungry). But the prime component of this ponderous pearl of pontification pivots on the prestigious premise of Berkeley.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it. Does it make a sound?


Now, this little question, as interesting as it may be, has been explored extensively. However, I would like to propose an extension of Berkeley's logic here, so please humor me for a moment.

Let us suppose that an unknown artistic genius, living somewhere undetected, produces a great masterpiece and then abruptly dies. This masterpiece lies in an attic undiscovered while the world continues to turn, never to be discovered. Is this work still a masterpiece though it has never been seen by eyes other than those of the creator? Does it exist within a context, though it is not regarded within that context?

Now let us suppose that the same piece is discovered 1,000 years later and is hailed as the greatest work of that era. Was it a masterpiece the whole time or was it only a masterpiece once it was discovered and described as such?

Hmmm... do you have any salsa?

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5 comments:

Denise Williams said...

The whole thought of the undiscovered masterpiece has kept me awake many a night contemplating that very question. It is good to know another artist ponders the same things.

Steven LaRose said...

First I'd like to make it clear that I am from the camp that when a tree falls, it does NOT make a noise, it makes wavelengths and it is dependent on an ear to convert the wavelengths into sound.

There HAS to be an audience is my understanding.

"This masterpiece lies in an attic undiscovered while the world continues to turn, never to be discovered."

This "masterpiece" is vibrating away, but is not truly a Master or Missus Piece yet.

"Does it exist within a context, though it is not regarded within that context?" Not as a piece of Art, but as potential. It is simply vibrating away and only given meaning 1,000 years later by its "discoverers"

It isn't really something we have control over or should worry about. You should be your first audience. It is important to make Masterpieces for yourself and then, if you think it is important, share them with others. The sharing of vibrations is Art.

(Oh, and as I am a first time comment leaver here, I must warn you that I reserve the right to change my mind on anything I type. . . wishy washy powers activated)

"Hmmm... do you have any salsa?"

We have a container of our valley's local organic special, "Katrina's Salsa".

RichardTScott said...

"(Oh, and as I am a first time comment leaver here, I must warn you that I reserve the right to change my mind on anything I type. . . wishy washy powers activated)"

Great! That makes for more exciting dialogue.

And your local organic salsa sounds exquisite. Although unfortunately, if you shipped me some it would no longer be "local" but perhaps still tasty.

I also often completely change my mind. Though I typically would agree with you on the view that vibrations do not constitute sound until perceived by an observer, I'm going to take the opposing position for the sake of good-natured argument.

Firstly, I suppose the analogy of the tree doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny when transposed to the state of art. Meaning that as you based your first opinion about vibrations on fully accepted science, the second is based more on the still debated realm of metaphysics. If one follows string theory, one can conceive of the "masterpiece" in question as vibrating in a physical sense. As such, if all matter consists of small packets of energy vibrating at different relative frequencies, then each packet of energy affects those around it. Therefore, the specific harmonic construction of the "masterpiece" affects the frequencies of even the matter around it. To diminishing effect, but still occurring, the "masterpiece" does affect the greater context in an almost subliminal way adding an eddy in the system of complex relationships in the harmonics of the fabric of reality and our perception of it.

However, thus far, string theory is not substantiated in science at large. It is an elegant, brilliant, and compelling theory, but all in all is still merely theoretical as we cannot test it - yet. Thus the analogy between the physical vibrations of sound and the metaphysical vibrations of the "masterpiece" fall into question.
Yet, since it was proposed in a metaphorical sense (by me) as regarding the greater idea, I will grant you the same format.

Taken metaphorically the question of masterpiece "vibrating" unknown hinges essentially on two branches of thought. One based on Aristotle's concept of "matter" whereby the nature of reality is concrete and absolute. Man's perception may change but the observable reality does not.
The other is based on Plato's ideal "form" whereby true reality is something like a blueprint underlying the imperfection that we observe. Each tree you see may be uniquely different from each other, but that which makes it a tree is the divine template, the order, the "tree-ness" of the tree. All the order underlying nature are interpreted by this school of thought to point towards a divine creator. Thus, the "masterpiece" exists as an example of order created from chaos, regardless of one's observation.

So it depends on whether you see altruism in the universe or if you acknowledge only the surface.
Responding to the Aristotelian view, I would point out the several hundreds years of science which has shown that underlying systems certainly do affect us, though they are unseen. It is a conception inherent to post-modernism that a piece of art is only a masterpiece if the collective view sees it as one. This is based on scientific Aristotelian logic. However, if one truly believes that on must take into account that most of human history did not see things as we do. For most of recorded history mankind has believed in some underlying order or truth. They would surely view the "masterpiece" as such regardless of it's observation. Thus, according to post-modern views, you must take into account the accumulated perceptions of all those who have come before us, who shape our views of the world and affect our perceptions. The number of people who have ever been born is: 106,456,367,669. Our current population is 6,215,000,000. Thus, the perceptions of the past far outweigh ours and the "collective consensus" is that the "masterpiece" stands upon it's own truth regardless of our judgment.

Steven LaRose said...

A “good-natured argument” is a dance.

I’d like to paraphrase and riff on how all things effect All Thing(s). I guess I see your point, or rather, I feel your point. That is my child-like understanding of true physics, one which I can only grasp in allegories and metaphors. I imagine the hologram which is supposedly made up of pieces, all of which contain information regarding the whole. Every bit of the painting in my closet is a part of the Universe. . . and even influencing the Universe. Even if I never show my closet painting to anyone it is making the Universe. Some would even go so far as to say that my painting (that you may never see) is even effecting other dimensions (I’ve just put down my first Robert Anton Wilson book).

There are, and will be, so many theories out there. Of course, I gravitate (pardon the pun) to the ones that I think I understand. String theory is like a fantastic religion that re-describes the “God is everywhere” phrase and seems very empowering to me. We are God, you, me, my closet and its hidden masterpiece. The whole she-bang is all there is. We better take care of it, etc.

Aristotle and Plato seem too rigid to apply to what we are talking about, even poetically. Gee-whiz, “concrete and absolute?” Underlying masterpiece blueprints? It just seems so simple. . . in its impossible way. I love the “think of an apple” day in philosophy 101. Are we all thinking of the same apple? Etc. I do believe in an ultimate Ideal Truth Masterpiece Blueprint Thingy, but one that is mutable. Can that be? Is that why people hate post-modern thinking? The subjective relativism SEEMS like chaos, but isn’t it really an order that We are responsible for? We are the divine creator. We are the little vibrating particles (made up of little vibrating particles) that make up the masterpiece.

How does “altruism” fit in? Do you mean, that if one truly sees the world in a string theory religious way, one will consequently be more responsible for ones actions, and obviously do onto others etc. because we are all part of a seemingly deconstructed whole?

“It is a conception inherent to post-modernism that a piece of art is only a masterpiece if the collective view sees it as one”

Did I say that? I might amend it to not “a collective” view but a shared view. This would then allow art on a desert island. . . if there were two of us to witness the shells lining the path to the outhouse, otherwise, the shells become practical markers or maybe decoration, or therapy. My point being, I still think that a piece of Art can only be a Masterpiece if it experienced by more than one person. This then includes pointing out a uniquely shaped cloud to someone as (possibly) a form of Art. . . it can’t just sit in a closet.

Is it safe to say that 100,000,000,000 peoples accumulated perceptions didn’t make the world any flatter?

Thanks for stirrin’ my pot.

RichardTScott said...

Excellent, eloquent, and ephemeral. Thank you for your comments. Though I would love to respond to each and every point as I'm enjoying it thoroughly, I only have time at the moment to address one. But I think it relates to the thrust of the whole fairly well.


"Is it safe to say that 100,000,000,000 peoples accumulated perceptions didn’t make the world any flatter?"

Yes, but can one prove that the world wasn't flat until we decided that it was round?