I have just started to read a ridiculously good book. It is the kind of book that will be almost impossible to review, since there is so much in it to write about. The book is Bohm – Biederman Correspondence Volume One: Creativity and Science. On March 6th 1960 American artist Charles Biederman wrote a letter to physicist David Bohm. Biederman had just finished reading Bohm’s Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, and for Biederman, it seemed that just as Physics was attempting to articulate a new order in nature, a nature of indeterministic causality, so were the Surrealists, who unable to call forth a new order, had descended into “disorder”.
Bohm wrote back to Beiderman, expressing his view that the classical forms of art, including the novel, no longer were able to express “modern reality” and so began a decade of correspondence between the two great thinkers, who both wished to explore how art and science could converge rather than compete in their attempts to explore, describe and come to know more deeply nature and the deeper reality which gives rise to our experiences of the world we are conscious of.
It is a truly remarkable read, and here we have a great physicist intelligently expressing deep insights to a non-scientist, with an internationally recognised artist expressing his great worry that he may appear ridiculous in his attempts to converse on a technical subject in which he felt utterly unqualified to speak. But we also hear Bohm expressing his own humility in the limits of his knowledge of art, and he asks Biederman if he knows “a single soul” who really is qualified to discuss both art and science.
In my previous article, I interview Maria who talks about the relationship of the parts and the whole in relation to how we comprehend and envisage an organisation. This deep insight of the dynamic relationships between the part and and the whole, this same “movement in thinking” is discussed between artist and scientist. Bohm relates his own understanding of wholeness in quantum physics to the way in which we approach a piece of art. In a picture “one cannot analyse the whole into separately existing parts (e.g. spots of paint etc.). Rather, to the extent that the picture is a real work of art, the justification of each part is only in the whole picture.”
Bohm continues: “A good picture is not only an integral whole, but even more, it achieves this wholeness by expressing something having universal significance.”
In a very interesting passage, Bierderman opens up to Bohm that he feels that he can follow Bohm intellectually, but that the much deeper experiential or intuitive level of consciousness from which these insights spring still elude him: |I can follow you verbally, everything you say is reasonable, but I cannot reach the non-verbal level from which I must suppose your notions to be derived.”
I read this just after having read an article by Stephen Wolfram about the next generation of computational languages (Something Very Big Is Coming: Our Most Important Technology Project Yet). What Wolfram appears to be saying is that through symbolic programming based on natural language, any form of knowledge can be expressed:
There’s a fundamental idea that’s at the foundation of the Wolfram Language: the idea of symbolic programming, and the idea of representing everything as a symbolic expression. It’s been an embarrassingly gradual process over the course of decades for me to understand just how powerful this idea is. That there’s a completely general and uniform way to represent things, and that at every level that representation is immediately and fluidly accessible to computation.
It can be an array of data. Or a piece of graphics. Or an algebraic formula. Or a network. Or a time series. Or a geographic location. Or a user interface. Or a document. Or a piece of code. All of these are just symbolic expressions which can be combined or manipulated in a very uniform way.
For many decades now the goal of true artificial intelligence has been a dream. I studied A.I. as part of my degree in Psychology, but two decades down the line, an eon in computational evolutionary terms, it seems we are still no nearer the goal. Clearly I am not qualified to critique this new innovation by Wolfram, which no doubt will be massively computationally powerful. But do we really understand creative insights, and are we really sure that the deep insights of Bohm and the artistic vision of Biederman can be encoded symbolically? I am not so sure. This is my critique of pure reason.