September 23, 2016

Desktop Universe

In my previous blogpost, I commented on the debate between formal and conceptual art. The crux of my argument was a defense of the conceptual underpinnings of formalism is now well supported by neuroscience but not very well appreciated by the art world. What obstructs this appreciation are the efforts undertaken by Duchamp in establishing conceptual art and his disparagement of painting as merely retinal art.

Now, I must emphasize at this point is that I appreciate conceptual art in all of its iterations and I think as many of us do that Marcel Duchamp is rightfully regarded as a giant of art history. For example, I think that the collection of minimal and conceptual art at DIA Beacon clearly shows how the artists of that generation anticipated the later emergence of the information age by decades in advance. All arguments require a tincture of artifice, even Picasso famously said that "Art is a lie that reveals the truth." Duchamp was using artifice to advance the popular recognition of conceptual art. What I am saying here is that we have gone well beyond making a fetish of this aspect of art history. We are so fundamentally formatted by its assumptions that we have become blind to its parameters.

What had prepared me to question the divinity of Duchamp was my reading of E.H. Gombrich's Art and Illusion and Rudolf Arnheim's Art and Visual Perception in between my years between undergraduate and graduate school. The simple point driven home by Gombrich and Arnheim is that sight is not merely a retinal phenomena but a cerebral one. Indeed, the retinal can be considered an extension of cerebral architecture, as some neural processing is already underway before signals enter the optic nerve.

The video above is a recent reinforcement of this idea, augmented with a vision of human perception of reality as one mediated by something resembling a GUI, the graphical user interface that we all know as a computer virtual desktop. We should be wary of another clockwork universe. Humanity always sees the world according to the technological fashion of the day. Donald Hoffman points past these representations toward something else, trying to lift the seemingly impossible veil to see reality as it is (shades of Kantian Noumena!). I think that Hoffman is pointing in the same direction that Roger Penrose was looking -towards this ultimate reality- and you can check out Penrose's fascinating presentation in this blogpost from November 23, 2014.

Posted by Dennis at September 23, 2016 11:58 AM

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