Response to Daniel Hill on epistemological chasms as unbridgeable

Leonard Shapiro/ “But the epistemological differences between the two make a true convergence unlikely in our lifetimes and perhaps never.”

Despite the epistemological constructs that separate art and science, one can still build a bridge and forge practical links (on an individual basis i.e. literally in the work that one does), between art and science. I teach an observation method that involves touch and drawing to medical students and medical practitioners in order for them to dramatically improve their ability to observe the 3D form of the human anatomy.  I see the work that I do as having made a small bridge between art and science, but a bridge all the same. More of these practical examples can happen.

6 Replies to “Response to Daniel Hill on epistemological chasms as unbridgeable”

  1. Thank you for your comment Leonard. I looked up the HVO&D method you developed and agree that you have forged a small bridge towards a connection and congratulate you on that. I feel also that I am making a small step toward some sort of connection in my work, but that bridge is personal one, using select ideas, concepts, methods, and the quality of thinking of science to serve as the primary motivator and conceptual underpinning for my work. (If I was to rely on the art world for these same resources, I might have given up art long ago!) Ultimately since I am an advocate of pursuing some sort of connection between art and science, I agree with you. I would also agree that moving forward in incremental steps is a prudent, logical method. But I do think that the epistemological differences may be enough that if it were possible for a true union- which implies balance- it might take generations. There is a Max Planck paraphrase that says, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”- which suggests that even in the advancement of purely scientific ideas, the old guard must pass to give way to the ideas of the next generation. The notion that art could serve science in a way that would be scientifically useful would seem further off, although not impossible as James Elkins pointed out in his lecture. This is the train of thought that produced the statement you referred to.

  2. Thanks Daniel for engaging with me on this. Could it be that (in those practical instances) where art and science find a union, that it becomes apparent that there was no ‘division’ between them in the first instance, and that they actually complement each other?
    I give the example of making scrambled eggs. Is it an artistic practice? Is it a scientific practice? Or are both art and science present as equal partners in this process? A person who follows a recipe from a cook book follows a description of a method as does someone who replicates a scientific formula with its method in order to manufacture a drug (although the ‘recipe’ to make the drug is far more precise as it needs to be). So, in the case of making scrambled eggs, let’s imagine that we are scientifically observing, measuring and recording someone making it, with the same degree of exactitude that someone would record a science experiment such that they can replicate it. We find that making scrambled eggs is highly calculated; it is a science. If one were to measure the method/recipe to scientific standards and with scientific instruments, such that it could be perfectly replicated, it might be recorded as follows: break 3 eggs into a glass bowl measuring A x B. The eggs should be precisely 16.2 degrees centigrade. Whisk for 135 seconds with a xxx whisk. Pour into a pan which has been preheated to 82.4 degrees C and in which 23.4 grams of butter has been melted. And so on. It is a science and it is an art. So, what is that ‘something’ at the intersection that holds science and art as common to this recipe for scrambled eggs as well as for the making of a drug? Is it human creativity; that ability in us that is able to grapple with what we know about heat, eggs, butter, amount of whisking, (or chemicals and their effects) and devise many different types of scrambled eggs (or different variations of a drug) by varying the method and ingredients?

    1. I’m glad to see you two pursuing, if I may, the “complementary hypothesis.” Much of what we’ve heard from the scientists on the panel seems to support what you’re getting at. Both Werner and Elaine have emphasized the exploratory aspect of their processes, wherein the “scientific method” as we laypeople learned it in school isn’t exactly the operative agent. (I loved hearing from Werner that he and his colleagues don’t much think about it at all.) Much of it, it seems to me, comes down to pure heuristics, which is exactly how I’d describe the artistic process. I wonder if we can get Sinead to chime in here, since what she’s doing is very similar to your work, Leonard.

    2. I’ve been thinking how to respond to this and had this thought: if we assume that making scrambled eggs is both an art and a science, what if a robot makes the eggs? (This is possible now) Would it still be an art? I ask this as someone who makes art guided in some part by rules in a system, but have learned the most interesting part of my system are the human mistakes or the unforeseen glitches of the system. Art is a human activity, at least as of now, but is this because it cannot be fully described by an algorithm? A well funded team has created the “Next Rembrandt” with algorithms and 3D printing, but is this art?

      1. Leonard Shapiro/ At the outset, let me say that robotics is not my field so please be as critical of my response as you need to be.

        A robot would be programmed with the intelligent input of a human or a number of humans. When the robot makes decisions and then acts on these decisions based on its programming, it is acting within the parameters of its programming and therefore within the parameters and limitations of the human intelligence that it now contains. I am sure the robot can be programmed to randomly adjust some of its decisions. For example, to add a pinch more salt or whisk the egg more slowly or more quickly (which will introduce less or more air into the egg mixture). The parameters of ‘how much or how little salt’ can be pre-programmed; in other words, it would be pre-programmed not to add over a specific amount of salt relative to the number of eggs in the bowl. In this way, a robot can make a number of different variations of scrambled eggs. [As an aside, a good use of this programming would be for us as humans (and for chefs in particular) to taste a number of scrambled egg recipes made by a robot programmed in this way, and then to judge which recipe works best].
        However, we still have the robot making decisions and acting within the bounds of its programming, even though it has been programmed to make variations on any of its decisions.

        But we are separating robot from human as if we share no robot attributes simply because we are made entirely of flesh and bone (i.e. our bodies are entirely non-mechanical). But as soon as I introduce a machine into my existence I begin existing as an integrated unit with the machine. Even when I use a washing machine, my behavior is changed; if the washing cycle will take 15 minutes, I will have a conversation with someone based on the fact that I have to take out the washing in 15 minutes time. So, my human behavior has become partly determined by my engagement with the (washing) machine. And this is just one machine that is ‘attached’ to my consciousness and my daily decision making processes. My human mind is the ‘computer’ operating the machines in my life and my mind is in turn influenced by the abilities of the machines that I use around me. What I arguing is that we are more robotic in our programming than we acknowledge ourselves to be.

        What I am doing when I drive a car is applying a number of decisions in order to operate a machine. I am using my brain like a computer. And now we have entirely non-human operated cars, which indicates that the use of my brain when driving a car can be substituted by a computerized program. Of course, a car going from A to B is just that; it is being guided within a set of predictable and very narrow parameters.
        Scrambling an egg is very different from driving a car; we expect creativity/artistry to be introduced into the making of a scrambled egg recipe but not in the driving of a car which we expect to be governed within strict parameters.

        Can a robot learn?

        A human will make a scrambled egg and if they repeat this daily, they can learn ways on how to improve it based on what they did the previous day. They can learn how much or how little salt to add. Can a robot be programmed to learn? Could a robot learn and make adjustments based on what it has learned? Assuming that we had a robot that could be programmed to taste in the same way as a human could (and so it would know what was too salty or not salty enough), and it made a scrambled egg, would it be able to learn the quantity of salt that it needs to add so that the egg does not have too much or too little salt in it? (note that in the case of this robot, we have not programmed it to add an amount of salt within certain parameters as in the previous example).

        So, I think that a robot making scrambled eggs would indeed be an art similar to a human making a scrambled egg would be an art. In fact, a well programmed robot would make better scrambled eggs than a novice human cook. And the proof of this would be in the tasting: when tasting the scrambled eggs made by a well programmed robot, a group of chefs who did a ‘blind’ tasting would surely agree that it made better scrambled eggs than a novice cook (who might have added too much salt).

        Also, in the programming that I have described for our scrambled egg-making robot, doesn’t it follow that one can write an algorithm for the making of a scrambled based on the way that a particular human makes it? If so, wouldn’t it follow that one can write a number of algorithms based on a number of individuals who made scrambled eggs in their unique way? (I am asking this as a genuine question as a non-robot expert).

        ps. I liked the Youtube video on the Rembrandt painting. I would be keen to see the computer paint a Jackson Pollock :). One thing that would be needed is to program in the kind of splashes made from a brush loaded with a paint of a specific viscosity and flicked at the canvas from a specific distance, or dribbled onto the canvas from a tin with a hole of a specific size in the bottom of it.

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