On Boredom and the Arts

I believe that artistic production, including literary production, is a spontaneous order. That means artistic production is an epistemic ecosystem–it creates knowledge. Artists all attempt to solve artistic/aesthetic problems within the artistic ecosystem and create artistic knowledge as a consequence. The one objection–which isn’t a small objection–is what regulates this process?

In the system of trade–properly called the catallaxy, but more commonly mis-labeled the economy (which is a complex system that includes the spontaneous orders of money and technological innovation)–it is profit and loss that (primarily) regulates the order. It is reputation which regulates the scientific order. In technology, it’s simply “does it work?” But what may it be in the arts?

I want to suggest that it’s a combination of boredom and interest. “Boredom” is one of the self-correcting aspects of the artistic order. Enough people get bored, and nobody listens/reads/views the work any more. A work that continues to stimulate people to producing more work–that maintains “interest”–continues to be heard/read/viewed.

Of course, this regulatory process is a slower one than you find happening in the catallaxy, technology, or even the sciences. But speed is no objection. Scientific ideas can lie untapped for decades or longer. Reputations of long-dead scientists can rise and fall. The fact that a poet may have little influence on several generations of poets, then be re-discovered and influence later poets doesn’t mean the process isn’t a spontaneous order.

In fact, we would expect a power law of influence/boredom if it is a spontaneous order. We would expect a few poets to have longevity, or even to be rediscovered long after they were seemingly forgotten, while we would expect the overwhelming majority of poets to be mostly unread in the lifetimes of the poets and for pretty much the entirety of the time anyone anywhere will read poetry. And there will be a medium number of poets with a moderate amount of influence. It’s entirely possible for a poet to have immediate influence and no long-term influence, except through the influence they had on the more important poets they influenced.

The fact is that most art produced by most artists is boring. Most works are uninteresting, uninspired, and uninspiring. They don’t help us see things in a new way or remind of of aspects of being we have forgotten and keep forgetting (Kundera). Or, they may help us see something in a new way that then becomes so widely adopted and “obvious” that the work becomes cliched after the fact and people lose interest. I would think, as an artist, there would have to be fewer worse fates than that–to show the world something that’s so obvious once you’ve shown it to them that its truth is from that point obvious and your work becomes kitsch.

Regardless, such is the rise and fall of artistic influence, of the discovery and promulgation of artistic problems and solutions. No matter what the reason, the worst sin you can commit as an artist is to be boring. Whether or not your work remains boring, though, only time will tell. The same is true of interest–if you create it, you’re golden, while if you lose it, you’re lost. And how do you create interest? By solving artistic problems–and in solving them, creating new ones.

The Global Social Network

The human brain has a network structure that is both local and global. There are small, local modules that perform certain functions, and they are typically close to other modules that support those functions. But there are also huge neurons known as giant fusiform cells that allow for global connectivity across the brain. Giant fusiform cells are only found in the apes, and they are found in the largest number in humans. This combination of local and global that reaches a high degree of complexity in humans is what allows for the high intelligence of apes in general, and humans in particular.

There have been moves across the world–most notably, the EU–to create more globalized, more centralized political structures. Roger Scruton argues that we shouldn’t do away with the nation-state so easily, and he argues that it’s the highly-globally-connected wealthy elites who are pushing for things like the EU and even more global governance. At the same time we are seeing a push for a stronger EU, we are also seeing a pushback with the Brexit vote last year, and also more and more desire for local political control, especially in Spain and the U.K. With many of the independence movements, though, there is a simultaneous desire to remain part of the EU.

We can understand this by thinking about the network structure of the human brain. The global elites who are more comfortable with each other than with their countrymen are the equivalent of the giant fusiform cells. The problem arises when they think the world ought to be just like them. But that’s not the reality among human beings. A brain of only giant fusiform cells wouldn’t be a healthy, productive, or likely living brain. Most people are, like most brain cells, part of a local, specialized area. They have their own local culture, religious beliefs, and industries, among other things. And they persist in the face of global culture.

The point is that those who wish to have a more globally connected world are right, and those who wish to maintain their local cultures and mores are right. We need to be both more local and more global–and have many areas of unity in between. We need a global civilization where the Scots can be Scottish, the Welsh can be Welsh, the English can be English, and they can all be British; where the British can be British, the French can be French, the Spanish can be Spanish, and they and the rest of Europe can also be Europeans. And all regions can have a weak connection through the UN. We need strong local cultures as well as natural classical artists with global reach. We need all of this simultaneously. The more the globe evolves to match the network structure of the human brain, the healthier humanity as a whole will be.

A Story of Emergence

Suppose you were a conscious amino acid. The material world consists, for you, of fellow biochemicals, and you know too that you are made up of atoms, and that those atoms are made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. You go about your business, acting as an individual amino acid, sometimes joining into larger groups (proteins), and then separating out from them. You wander around your society of biochemicals, imagining that this is all there is.

And then one day, a nucleic acid comes to you and tells you that you are part of this larger entity, that your mind is not entirely your own, but that there is this thing out there, this “cell” of which you are a part, that comes in and influences your actions. All that you thought were your choices or merely random events is in fact run by this higher intelligence known as the “cell.” It is not that you don’t have choices — you can be in this or that part of the cell, you may attach yourself to a tRNA, to a protein, to a short polypeptide, etc. — but you are now informed that there is a greater purpose involved, that you are part of this larger cell, and that your actions help to keep this cell alive.

Now, from the point of view of the amino acid, the cell will seem, in relation to you, “immaterial.” It will make no sense from your material point of view. It will seem very strange indeed. You may believe in the cell, or not (and be an atheist). There will be discussions among your fellow biochemicals regarding the nature of the cell. Is it material? That is, if it even exists. The “cell” theory does seem to make a lot of things make more sense — but it is nonetheless troubling. If it is not material in the same sense as a biochemical, is it really material? From our more complex, emergent human perspective, the cell seems to be just as material as as its constituent biochemicals. While, on the other hand, our “mind” appears to be just as immaterial as the cell is to the biochemical.

Let me tell a short story of emergence.

In the beginning was pure information, or pure energy. Information is inform, yet gives form. It is the foundation of all things. (In the beginning (archae) was the word (logos).)

As the universe expanded and cooled, that pure energy crystallized out into quantum particle-waves. It became more material.

Some of those quantum particle-waves combined to form emergent atoms with greater complexity. These atoms were more material than their constituent particle-waves.

Some of those atoms combined to form chemicals (more material than atoms) — and some of those chemicals were able to interact in complex cycles to give rise to cells with emergent complexity. These cells were more material than their constituent chemicals.

Some cells were able to develop complex interactions such that multicellular organisms were able to emerge, giving rise to greater complexity and more complex interactions. These multicellular organisms were even more material than their constituent cells.

One species of animal evolved a highly complex brain with an emergent intelligence. This brain resulted in more complex social behaviors, the evolution of language, and the emergence of complex culture and religion. It was so complex that it was able to contemplate itself and the universe (thus, the universe became complex enough to become self-aware, to be able to contemplate itself). It seems that there will soon be 10 billion members of that species, with brains so complex that the minding function of that brain has given rise to the appearance of permanence (the same way that while each of the lower levels that constitute it are in fact always in flux, always in time, they nonetheless gain more appearance of permanency). This species has more time and more time experience, more material being, than do all the levels below it that constitute it (there is a nested hierarchy — a new Great Chain of Being). And that mind is much more material than the brain that gave rise to it.

Humans are not the end of the line. New levels of complexity have emerged in the past, and they will continue to do so in the future. And there will be fewer examples of those more complex levels that emerge (the same way that there is more energy than quantum particle-waves, more particle-waves than atoms, more atoms than chemicals, more chemicals than cells, more cells than organisms, and more organisms than humans). The emergentist evolutionary world view thus gives you emergence of tue universe to God — who is the most complex, highest level of emergence, with the most time. Thus, God is also the most material.

This story derives from Darwinian evolutionary theory, combined with information theory, complexity theory, chaos theory and fractal geometry, the theory of emergence, and self-organization theory. This combination is able to give rise to both ethics and God.

An Information Ontology

I do not ascribe to a materialist ontology nor an idealist one, but rather, an ontology of information. In other words, I take the following from John 1:1 seriously:

en arche hn o logos
“the foundation of all things is information”

Admittedly, this is a definition that comes about in light of information theory — but if you truly understand both what information is, and all the meanings of logos, you can see that “information” is a good translation of “logos.” Certainly a far, far, far, far, far better choice than “word,” which is such a peripheral meaning of logos as to be almost completely inaccurate. When we “Logos,” we communicate information one to another, process that information, and pass on that information. All things are information at different levels of complexity — information processors, which all communicate different kinds of information at different levels. For biological organisms, the vehicle of communication tends to be chemical, though also photons and sound waves. Humans communicate using more complex information-carriers, particularly through grammatical, syntactical language. If we look at the ways to define information — as a noun, it is that which is without form; as a verb, it is that which gives form to another. Thus, pure information is that which is without form, which gives form.

“The foundation of all things was information, and the information was 1) to the advantage of 2) at, near, by 3) to, towards, with, with regard to (the word translated as “with”) God, and God was information.”

That is the most literal translation of John 1:1 I can render. The story of the universe is one of foundation on information, and the increasing complexity of that information over time in the universe. Atoms have less complex forms of information than do chemicals and especially chemical cycles and systems. Biology is a set of highly complex chemical systems. The human brain is a highly complex neural system in complex interaction with other humans through complex social systems. That information is communicated through language, which itself must be highly complex in order to communicate most efficiently. God is the most complex of the universe, and thus has all the information. This is how God is both the Alpha (the inform information that gives form at the beginning of the universe) and the Omega (the most complex, most informed).

All the other theories I use in my philosophy — evolutionary theory, game theory, chaos theory, complexity theory, emergence theory, etc. — explain the ways in which information interacts to create more complex things and how those complex things engage in complex interactions. Information theory is the foundation of all these things. Information is the foundation of all things.