Punked by Information

The Human Condition (painting)

The Human Condition (painting) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of Blind Men and the Elephant is useful metaphor for the value of a variety of perspectives. It is difficult to comprehend the whole of an issue in all its complexities unless observed from multiple points of view. The same could be said for time. That is, our perspective changes at different points in time. We perceive an event (book, movie, etc.) differently over time by virtue of maturity. And cosmic time offers the advantage of perspective via the work of history.

I just listened to a podcast interview with the mathematician, Keith Devlin, who is an evangelist, really, of mathematics. He considers it a beautiful and pure language that eloquently expresses the universe and what it means to be human. It was inspiring and provoked a teensy urge to revisit math . . .

calvin and hobbs on math But, in the interview he quotes G.H. Hardy in Cambridge who wrote he could see no real-life circumstances in which he would ever use the complex computations of his professional career. Hardy saw his life work as nothing practical in application—it is just really complicated math. But, within the century they became the means and ground for the computational language that made Internet possible and undergirds (oxygenates?) the very information-saturated air we breathe.

A recent article by Richard Lacayo promoted a new show at MOMA. René Magritte, the surrealist painter of the early-mid 20th century, specifically a 13-year span that represents the nucleus of his perspective, is featured. His work was first interpreted as surrealism, though started out intending to produce in the Cubist form. Yet, to appreciate Magritte’s work in this second decade of the 21st century, is to understand that his is clearly more than Surreal. Now it is possible to see how Magritte’s representations inform, convey and expose (signify) the constraints that information puts on true knowledge of one another. That is, through all manner of technological devices, one may communicate words, messages, and infinite data, but cannot approach the human-communication that comes by physically being in one another’s presence. The Human Condition (see above) portrays a window with an easel tripod underneath, and comments on the way we create an image of the ‘real world’ and place the image in front, obstructing our view and co-opting a static representation for the ever-evolving, perspectival, perceivable beauty of the actual. But, I am taken with The Lovers, “his 1928 painting of two figures, heads enshrouded in fabric, locked in an embrace but unknowable to each other.”the-lovers-1928(1)

The acumen of Lacayo is beautifully captured in the closing comments:

“Is it too much to think of Magritte’s art as a kind of cautionary note for the Internet age? With its warnings about the treachery of images and the ways language itself is a disinformation campaign, it’s a collective metaphor about the limits of knowledge and the pitfalls of communication. It’s aimed at us, bent over our phones and keyboards, eagerly retrieving ‘information,’ all the while punked, all of us, almost all the time.”

Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge is power,” and many since have tweaked the quote to say, information is power. And, it is true that information can easily be used to wield power over those not as well-informed. It is also true that information can be communicated in stunning ways to convey aspects of life from a variety of perspectives, such as Euler’s identity or the epigenetics within a cell. Still, nothing is more human than to enjoy the company of another. It requires time, and is timeless. Would someone like to take the time to enjoy the Magritte exhibit when it comes to Chicago?!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MobePckZVmc (h/t Howie Snyder)

2 thoughts on “Punked by Information

  1. Reblogged this on Howie's Blog and commented:
    As we get ready to worship together at Just Church this morning, this is a great reminder of the presence we have with each other in community – even more so with the Spirit in our midst in worship – awesome! 🙂

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