Can a work of art’s quality be numerically measured?

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I argue with some of my artist friends about creating a numerical measure for the quality of a work of art. They claim that artworks are too individual to be quantified. I have been creating a chart for measuring beauty based on specific qualities that I feel are measurable, and then each of the qualities will be given a numerical value. When that is done the various works may be measured and weighted and the whole group may be added together. That will give a single numerical value. It sounds a bit contrived, but after a large number of items have been subjected to this treatment I suspect that there will arise a generally agreed-upon belief that there is an aesthetic core beneath artworks for humans. It would differ for other species. There are aesthetic judgments being made by birds like the Bower birds of New Guinea, and by bees, here in Bend, when choosing flowers to inspect.

I will show a shortlist of the artistic qualities that can be measured, but first here is a chart I created for measuring Pain. It gives a much better measure than what you have probably encountered in a medical doctor’s office because it gives objective things that can be observed and quantified

Probaway Pain Scale

Pain Scale – For measuring the intensity of human pain; click to enlarge.

Aesthetic beauty has more dimensions than physical pain and therefore will have a longer columnar list of qualities. For example, the aesthetic sub-quality SKILL can be measured as going from a work filled with wobbly mistakes measured as an ESTH~1 on to one filled with masterful strokes, ESTH~14. PERSEVERANCE can be measured as a partially begun work that was abandoned, ESTH~1, to a work that required many strokes and filled the space to the point where everything is perfectly used to completion. That might be measured as an ESTH~14.

I have been working on a list of qualities that include, EMOTION, THOUGHT, INVENTIVE, ARTISTICALLY AGGRESSIVE, RISKY, CLEAR, DISTINCT, CULTURALLY ASTUTE, MOTIVATIONAL, RARITY, SALES VALUE.

There will be other qualities on the final list and then these can be judged down to a more workable list and standardized. Retch, everyone reading this will say, probably in a loud voice.

And yet, this chart when completed will help artists create better works, because it will be easier for them to judge where they might place additional effort.

This blog will be a talking point one of these days.

 

 

After the doom and gloom, a pleasant day.

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When I think about population continuing to double in forty years and how the present population is already consuming the last of various essential resources, I get gloomy. And, when I think of how the kids I know and respect are going to cope with problems we are now creating, I get gloomy.

An hour ago I was at an annual potluck party with the UUs and I retreated from the older folks eating at tables indoors and went out onto the patio to where the kids were playing in the late afternoon twilight. After eating the fantastically delicious home-made foods those older folks brought to the event, I played with the kids.

We had some bubble-making wands, which was fun, and some badminton racquet games were very childish as the kids were about age four to seven, but it was more exuberant fun swatting live bubbles rather than fake badminton birds. And, in the midst of all that were some word games, with words I’ve never heard of, but all the other kids seemed to know. It had something to do with people with dragon faces.

I liked them, and they liked me. The games changed very quickly from one thing to another, and the rules changed too. Strangely, there always seemed to be some underlying rules like, “Don’t hurt anyone!”, and “Keep everyone involved in the new evolving game!” How are these kids going to cope with the coming problems that I see as inevitable? They will of course, or die trying.

So, you see, I do have the capacity to enjoy the moment, perhaps even more than the other people my age sitting around conversing pleasantly. And, I really do enjoy mixing with little kids as one of them. At a party I’m not a responsible adult, I’m just a bigger kid. I suspect that the older people see me that way too, and choose to stay back a little bit when I’m acting that way.

Still, lurking behind all the real fun, I have a “melancholic feeling: a weltschmerz, which translates to ‘world-weariness’ or ‘world pain’”.

Obviously, I think too much!

So many things to do!

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Most people, everyone, that I talk to seem to think the world as we know it is in deep trouble. Population overshoot, natural resources used up, climate rapidly changing for the worse, and people living beyond their income because they won’t ever have to pay off their debts. There is no tomorrow! Live for the moment! Spend everything you have for any pleasure you can get. Why worry? We will soon be dead! Some people I know look forward to the end of humanity because they claim we are ruining the world for all the other living things. Of course, humanity will progress toward the collapse of civilization if the people with these attitudes have their way. Groups of people are driven by fear, and the usual response to fear-driven motives is violence.

I don’t feel that we are doomed, only that we are at risk of calamity. It does appear to me, because of my personal history with H-bombs, that the calamity will be much worse than most people imagine, and that population numbers will drop back to the times of the Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the population of the Earth at that time was only a hundred million or so, which is one-eightieth of our present population.

I believe, or at least like to believe, that humanity can, with the experience of a total collapse of civilization, turn their fear of that disaster ever happening again to a kinder world view. What we need is a new world view of what human life is about, based not on a proclaimed abstract love of people, but upon a society of people behaving with physically kind actions. We can learn to perform kind actions routinely, and we can learn to teach children that it is a good thing to actually do kind things for other people. And because we as groups are driven by fear, it is necessary to make obvious to the children, and to everyone else, that the result of not treating others with kind actions is the annihilation of the human species. That idea is annoying!

Cheer up! There is hope! It is a tiny hope because it runs counter to the impulses of natural humans to be purposefully kind.

Caroline E. Tate’s first lecture on Olmec civilization

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This was like living back in Berkeley, where I went to public lectures at the University almost every day. Nearly all of them were interesting, maybe ten percent were excellent, and a couple of them were fabulous. The lecture by Alvarez about the demise of the dinosaurs was fantastic. There were a few others, like the emergence of the fish onto land, named the Tiktaalik, which is the ancestor of most of the animals including birds, lizards, and humans.

Today’s introductory lecture was in that class of lectures. Why do I rate it so highly? Because it was about perhaps the only civilization that arose absolutely independently of the Old World ones. It gave a view into what humans can create that is wholly human and yet with foundations that are unique.

Carolyn E. Tate opened a window into an alternate form of human being. Her many years studying the early Central American societies brought into sharp focus some very strange behaviors, and yet they are eminently human behaviors. The Olmecs started from a hunting and gathering lifestyle back about 2,000 BC and over a stretch of 1,500 years evolved all the characteristics that we call civilization. Writing, astronomy, agriculture, cities, and wonderfully sophisticated art forms.

I suspect that this course on the Olmecs will expand my understanding of what it means to be a human being. I am a bit strangely expanded but I expect to become stranger.

Philosophers Squared – Charles Galton Darwin

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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Charles Galton Darwin  (18 December 1887 – 31 December 1962), was the grandson of Charles Darwin. He was the director of the National Physical Laboratory which was the WWII British atomic bomb project before the Americans began the Manhattan Project. He wrote The Next Million Years, a perspective on basic human problems of survival. It is the consumption of food that in the end determines the population of the world.

Charles Galton Darwin was an analyst of humanity’s long-term survival strategies.

We cannot see the detail, we can foresee the general course its history is almost certain to take over a long period … It is to describe roughly the kind of things that will be going on most of the time in most places.

The general principle stands, that in statistical theories quite complicated results can be deduced from simple principles.

We know that the earth had roughly the same climate for hundreds of millions of years, so that it is nearly certain that the climate will stay the same for one more million years.

A tendency for historians, apart from their primary function of recording the past, to be interested not so much in resemblances as in differences. … determining whether laws can be laid down from which the march of humanity can be foreseen.

It may be well to warn the reader that the consequences I am forced to deduce will be found exceedingly depressing by all the political and social standards that are now current.

Would it not perhaps be better to forget the fact and simply go on hoping? I don think so; if we are living in a fool’s paradise, it is surely better to know the fact.

Certainly we can do something to control the world around us, and if we can appreciate the limits of what is possible, we may have some hope of achieving our aims.

It is a practically important thing to see clearly any laws which must set absolute limits to what it is possible to do.

He now could know just what was physically possible and could set himself a target that was actually attainable. … If we know the limit of what is possible for humanity, through determining some kind of laws of human thermodynamics, we shall before successful in doing good in the world, than if we recognize no limitations, and so are perpetually struggling to achieve what is in fact quite impossible?

The fundamental question is survival, and this must never be forgotten.

It is always necessary—and it is indeed quite surprisingly difficult—to keep in mind that the fundamental quality pertaining to man is not that he should be good or bad, wise or stupid, but merely that he should be alive and not dead. therefore the first thing that must be asked about future man is whether he will be alive, and will know how to keep alive, and not whether it is a good thing that he should be alive.

The primary question then arises: what are the conditions which determine whether a man will survive or not?

It is the consumption of food that in the end determines the population of the world.



Sources of the quotations of Charles Galton Darwin: The Next Million Years.

COMMENTS

It is the consumption of food that in the end determines the population of the world. There are many tragedies that have and will befall humanity. Atomic wars, intentionally designed diseases, total destruction by computer wars of basic infrastructure of civilizations, but there will probably be pockets of survivors. Hopefully, these people will see and understand the causes of those disasters and will be willing to endure minor pains, like taxes, to prevent major pains, like the collapse of civilizations.

I asked the labyrinth stones, “How can humanity survive for a long time?”

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A hundred yards down a gentle slope from the UU church there is a labyrinth of stones laid out on a gravel bed. It is large and takes me 276 normal walking-speed steps to walk in to the large stone at the center. We are currently having two services at the UU with an hour in between the services for coffee and a gathering together of people from each of the services. That time is filled with pleasant conversation, sitting in the library by the fireplace, strolling on the patio, and for me sometimes walking down to the labyrinth for a walking meditation.

Yesterday, I walked and thought about the question I asked the stones. Obviously, the stones don’t answer my question directly, but I look at each of the several hundred stones with that question in mind. There are many stones, and every one of them is beautiful in its own way, just like people, and each stone projects a personal uniqueness into its answer, just like people. It’s my mental interpretation of the many aspects of the encounter that develops into a meaningful conversation, and I don’t come out with quite the same attitude toward my question as when I went in.

Yesterday, I paused at the entrance, closed my eyes, formed my question, and then asked the labyrinth for permission to enter it with that question in my thoughts. This time my question was “How can humanity survive for a long time? And, what can I do to help it survive?”

For a while, the stones were a bit puzzled by what survival meant to me because we are so temporary compared to them. Survival isn’t a thing you have any control over if you are a stone, but in the very long run, both they and we all simply return to being scattered subatomic particles bustling about. There was a kinship there, in that realization, between me and the stones. We came from the processes of the Universe, and we now exist in our own way independently within those same continuing processes. But for all of us, this is a temporary situation. So, what’s my problem?

“We humans have some control over what happens to us. Granted the control is limited and brief, but right now I do have the choice to walk around with you stones and talk to you or to walk back up the gathering hall, and talk to people. I can hear them more clearly when they talk back to me, although I must admit some of them get disturbed when I tell them I talk to you. It doesn’t bother you that I talk to people, does it?

By the way, thank you for giving me your thoughts on scattering far and wide into the Universe and residing where people are not a problem.”

Saving the human species.

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My thoughts may seem trivial, or absurd, or impossible, or beyond any individual’s pay grade, but someone needs to proclaim something that might somehow get humanity through the obvious end game we are now embarked upon. Everyone hopes the good things that we presently enjoy will somehow wiggle through into the distant future and a glorious continuation of our current remarkable status as the top dog of species will continue forever and ever.

Unfortunately, several ways of exterminating humanity are within easy grasp of humans. There are obvious ones like the 13,865 atomic weapons currently available to nine independent nation-states. Another is the manipulation of DNA becoming so easy an average high-school biology student can do it. Who knows what a single angry individual of the over seven billion people currently living might brew up.

We might optimistically hope that no one would do such a terrible thing as destroy all humanity with an atomic war or with diseases. And yet, there is a reported global suicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000 population. “About one person in 5,000–15,000 dies by suicide every year.” (7.7 billion divided by 10,000 equals 770,000 suicides per year.) If there are that many people who are so distraught that they are willing to kill themselves, what is preventing any single one of them from taking others with them … even to the extreme of attempting to kill everyone?

Back when I lived in Berkeley, I was talking to a UC professor of laboratory biology about such things, and he said he could easily create an epidemic. That was more than fifteen years ago, before CRISPR became readily available. Nowadays, it would be even easier! I didn’t inquire into the specifics, but he spoke that scary statement as if it was easy to do for a person knowledgeable in his field.

Probably, a single disease would not wipe out everyone, but back in 1532 at the beginning of the Spanish conquest of Peru, a major reason that 168 soldiers could capture a functioning empire of millions of people was because of disease. Apparently, one deadly Old-World disease after another somehow, in the forty years between 1492 and 1532, found its way over the vast distances to Peru. These Old-World diseases killed huge numbers of people on being introduced to the New World, and apparently in Peru, every person was in poor condition after having survived several Old-World diseases.

Back in 2013, my Probaway Person of the Year was Plague Inc., a computer game that explores the problems of creating a disease that will kill every last human being on Earth. It is a game now, but after a few plagues have gone by it will be remembered as a precursor to epidemics and a warning to humanity.

Okay, I’m horribly morbid about what I consider to be inevitable disasters, but along with my morbid projections is my quest for a way for humanity to survive and learn to be stewards of our Earth, rather than simple exploiters of its resources and possibilities. I spent a lot of time ten years ago creating an outline for the Earth Ark Project. It’s such a failure it doesn’t even get any Google recognition without a lot of digging. I created a different method for pursuing that goal and it resulted in a parallel list of EarthArk Project posts.

A second approach that I have been working on, and one that I recently discovered that Charles Galton Darwin recommended, is creating a “creed.” That is, a coherent group of ideas that might resemble a religion but is based in physical reality rather than some postulated hope-filled fantasy.

It’s time for me to take a warm bath.

Some suggestions for improving humanity

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On page 76.7 of the book The Next Million Years, by Charles Galton Darwin,  published 1952, there is a discussion of improving the DNA of the human race, in which he asserts: “The policy of paying most attention to the inferior types is the most inefficient way possible of achieving the perfectibility of the human race.” That supports his ideas that in the very long run of a million years there will always be a starving margin, or soon to be starving margin, of humanity. He maintains with Thomas Malthus that the population of all living species is driven by the function of the sexual drive to expand to the carrying capacity of its local environment. And it is the most successful of a given species that will survive and reproduce and fill their local environmental niche.

Therefore, by that extended argument, he asserts that it is a waste of human resources to pour resources, which are in the long run always limited resources, into the failing portion of a species. He includes human species in this argument. He maintains that during the last few centuries humanity’s technology has advanced so rapidly that our starving margin has been minimally picked off by natural selection. In the very long run, he says this can’t be maintained and soon humanity will return to the natural state of having a substantial number of people living on the starving margin. When he was writing this book, about 1950, the population was 2.5 billion people; now it is 7.72 billion. The period of time that we have been living in is extraordinary in its population expansion. This rate of population expansion can not go for a billion years, and probably not even for another hundred years. When the overshoot occurs, it will be the starving margin that will be the most hard hit. I don’t like that probable fact, and I doubt if you do either, but Mother Nature isn’t a moral judge.

I have proposed a theory that copes with the problem that Galton Darwin described, which I call Eveish Selection. It postulates that our last hundred thousand years of gossiping women have discerned those qualities in men that are most beneficial to raising healthy children. They chose those qualities that have brought us to the sophisticated society we live within today. They may be the ones who can bring us through the next hundred thousand years.

Praise young women and help them to help us improve our whole society and our species.

A pleasure-seeking First Friday Art Walk here in Bend, Oregon

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It was a warm and very pleasant evening here in Bend, and there is a tradition here of having a big party on the first Friday of every month. Every sort of “art” is on display. Visual arts in the many art galleries, clothing arts in the clothing stores, bubble arts by the bubble girls, numerous bands blasting their “music” etc. Being old, the music is offensive, of course, but I love the rest of it. In fact, the visual arts are too tame for me! I like visual arts that make me think and possibly groan out with a WOW.

Not on display here today, but what I can use to give an example of WOW, is in a book I am reading, Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture – The Unborn, Women, and Creation, by Carolyn E. Tate. In this book, there are many artworks pictured that were created by a culture so distant from us, but so human, a culture that created images that are clearly sophisticated and yet so strange that a modern person is wowed. Here is a link to online Olmec Art. Spend a few minutes looking at those reproductions and wonder what kind of people in what kind of world would create these things.

That is what I consider WOW art for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much wow out of our art walk tonight. And yet, if I were to stand back mentally and view our evening walk from the perspective of those 3,000-year-old Olmec people they would probably be WOWed.. Of course, our recent technical stuff would be astonishing, but what would be their response to our visual presentations of what both cultures would think of as meaningful visual art? Stuff that is representative of our mental states and our emotional responses to our worldly environment.

Our Bend art has nothing to compare to the Olmec gigantic stone heads. We have nothing so bizarre as their human/animal creations, we have nothing remotely like the weird fetuses, nothing like their offering of their baby children into the unknown, and no seeming infinite repetition of grimacing faces. How trivial our culture, as represented in our art, might appear to the ancient Olmecs.

It’s time for me to take a warm bath and reminisce about this evening and us.

Charles Galton Darwin’s theory boils down to food.

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I have read and reread Charles Galton Darwin (CGD)’s 1952 book The Next Million Years. This book may be in a thousand years in the future valued as a much more important than his grandfather Charles Robert Darwin (CRD)‘s book Origin of Species.

The reason I suspect that CGD’s book Million Years will be considered important is that it not only applies observations based on long-term past behavior of living things, as does CRD’s, but it also projects these ideas into the long-term future of humanity. In CGD’s analysis, it all boils down to food and the realization that no matter what the technical improvements in our food supply the population will soon adapt to equal the new food supply. In a period of several generations, a population will begin to librate about the carrying capacity of the earth’s food supply.

Starvation will probably not bring Homo sapiens to extinction, because there will usually be local populations with a few survivors who will reproduce and repopulate the planet. However, as the population nears an upper population limit, and before a general famine strikes the whole world, there will be starving margins of people. When that condition of severe shortage is local to an area there will be starvation and death of those marginal people.

At the present time, we have a system of worldwide distribution of food, and an abundance of food, but even so there are isolated groups that are on the edge of famine. When the worldwide distribution system is stressed there will be local famines, and when it becomes nonexistent there will be severe shortages and some localized starvation.

Species that lack predators, such as humans, have a tendency to boom and bust, but because humanity is widely spread across most of the Earth it is unlikely that a general supply disruption would occur everywhere and that would result in pockets of survivors.

One factor that is always there but swept under the hopeful idealist’s table is a massive war using atomic weapons. The Wikipedia article List of states with nuclear weapons states “the worldwide total inventory of nuclear weapons as of 2019 stood at 13,865” atomic weapons. That is only half as many as in the early 1960s but is probably still enough to kill almost everyone.

After the war, starvation and disease set in and only pockets of humans will survive.