I used to be a postgraduate scientist. More to the point, I used to be a four-year-old kid (humanity’s highest form of explorer-hero). In neither guise did I question the impulse to invade the unknown and colonise it with knowledge. We worry today about things like overspecialism, looking fondly back at Leonardo and proudly reinventing interdisciplinarity – but perhaps we do not worry enough about the human hubris in believing that more than 5% of the universe is knowable, and assuming that we must work harder to know it.
I now carry in my pocket more data, on a device the size of my fingernail, than used to exist in my college library; but I am not much wiser. Information is power when it is inequitably distributed. But when everyone has access to everything, the greatest problem might not be ignorance, but how to move beyond the Anthropocene to a Post-Information Age.
Some of the week’s artworks at Allenheads will help to prepare us.
Ji Hyun Park’s hypnotic rhythms of relationship with the weather and the physicality of the land went way beyond what words or images could do.
Sam Clark’s rock-filled boots suggested, iconically and in the idiom of the place, that we can understand some aspects of the universe quite well in a somatic/bodily/experiential way; and maybe in the case of gravity we are capable of accessing 95% of what we need to know about that force by feeling it.
Sally Annett’s contemplation seats included one that didn’t face the view but challenged the sitter to face up close into a grassy bank. I remembered reading about a school class whose members had been asked to write about the street where they lived, and when that produced few results they were offered the more specific scope of writing about their bedroom, and when that was similarly unproductive the teacher pointed to a brick in the wall of the classroom and said “write about that”, and suddenly a great creative flow of imagination was unleashed. All the world in a grain of sand – as in Buddhism (Indra’s net) and in physics, everything is contingent on everything else, and the whole can be (has to be) expressed in terms of its relationship to any one constituent part. Deeply contemplating 5% therefore necessarily conjures up the other 95%, and maybe we get a more effective handle on the “big picture” by intelligent use of sampling, than we do by trying to suck in as much information as possible.
A more highly-evolved state might be one in which we get good at not-knowing, and strive instead for understanding. Art that consists of insights into how things in nature come to be arranged the way they are, the constraints that operate, and the way the dynamics of an organism interact with the forces of its environment, gives us a strong sense of patterns, and of what seems “right” or “not quite right”. This is directly relevant to strategies for environmental sustainability – being able to understand whether we are working with the grain of the realities of nature or not; and whether we are in tune with its limits to tolerance of change or not. And maybe sometimes we cultivate this better with aesthetics than we do with science. Congratulations ACA/MigAA for provoking these very necessary questions.
David attended the exhibition and final discussion thanks David for your thoughts