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Preface for the limited edition honoring George Boole.
The following Preface by Roger Malina was written for the illustrated limited edition on George Boole's "Derivation of the Laws. . .", the 3rd Chapter of Boole's 1847 classic on the Laws of Thought. Written in 1989-90 this preface identifies issues raised by generative art and the evolution of computers that have changed the face of our culture. Malina's observations demonstrate his historic insights into emerging futures in the intersection between culture, technology and the sciences.
For over a quarter Century the astrophysicist Roger Malina has
served as Executive Editor of Leonardo, the major academic journal
documenting changing relationships between art, science and
technology. He has played a major role in documenting and promoting meaningful
understanding of emerging inter-relationships between science,
technology and the arts. Through his writings, service on boards, lectures and
encouragement of others he has nurtured a healthy growth of cultural
intercourse between the arts and sciences.
as the Queen of the Sciences, has long had a tempestuous relationship with
working artists and scientists. One of the mysteries of this relationship
is that the constructs of logic and mathematics are found time and time
again to have a privileged relationship with respect to the real world.
have been times when the beauty of a logical or mathematical idea has led
artists and scientists astray. For there is no rule that the real world
must meet our transient standards of beauty. It was trial and error, not
theoretical constructs, that led finally to the sublime creations that are
the great cathedrals of Europe. And a new age
undid the beautiful machinations of Aristotle with the power of observation.
Many a bridge and ship, dreams of nineteenth century engineers, collapsed
under the weight of the new and poorly understood materials of an
In this century Theodore Von Karman, one of the greatest applied
mathematicians of all time, brought the nineteenth century engineer into
check by reasserting principled alternatives to trial and error and the
engineers' rule book. Von Karman, together with my father Frank J. Malina
and a group of graduate students, demonstrated that even the behaviour of
explosives and rockets is susceptible to the charms of the Queen of the
We live in a time when mathematics is at its
prime as a device - a tool for perception, understanding, and mastery of
the world around us.
is a book about trial and error. George Boole, with the supreme confidence
of his century, assures us that he has no truck with metaphysics: "As
respects both the determination of the laws of thought, and the practical
uses of them when discovered, we are, for all really scientific ends,
unconcerned with the truth or falsehood of any metaphysical speculation
Roman Verostko, with the doubt of a doubting
century, is in unholy conspiracy with Boole's progeny. He takes Boole's
prose as fact not fiction, he accepts the computer as his colleague and
goes to work. Like the naturalists who would bring the chimpanzee or
dolphin into their homes and communicate through sign language or
whistles, Verostko teaches this child to paint. In his recent article in
the journal Leonardo (23, 1), Verostko exclaims,
somewhat foolish introducing this routine. I had spent long hours
developing a routine to make the drawing machine paint with a brush. It
seemed clumsy and pointless at first. But through trial and error with the
brush mounts, the software, the inks and the paper, a vast untapped
With the software-driven stroke
there is a sureness and directness that is almost
exhilarating. The software knows precisely where the beginnings and
endings are. It remembers the stroke and can improvise with the same
stroke in a scalar fashion and do so without failure. This latter
capability promises rich ground for development....
) Notice the spontaneous quality of the stroke and how it drags off softly
in relation to the tooth of the paper on the upper right portion. This
stroke has many of the qualities that are valued in Chinese calligraphy.
The stroke shows movement, response to paper texture,
dry brush effects and sureness.
Verostko notes that "the computer gestures do not show the Chinese
characters for wu wei, but perhaps the process itself is a form of wu
wei." Verostko, if he were a computer scientist, would have
described this statement about the painting as the assessment of a Turing
test, a test where an unknowing observer is asked to distinguish the task
performed by a computer from that performed by a human being. Inevitably
on the pages of this book, the work of an artist qua computer scientist
confronts George Boole with his hidden metaphysics, his wu wei.
My son, Xavier, is two years old. In the evening, whilst I cook dinner, he
likes to be with me in the kitchen. He sits at the table drawing and
painting. He is still at the stage of unformed scribbles, scribbles that
he tells me signify equally well a dinosaur, San Francisco, or a train.
I have been trying co teach him that although paint tastes and feels
interesting, it is only the visual qualities of paint that are to be
valued. When I draw the round outline of a circle which I call "big
moon," he tries to copy me. He draws a respectable circle by now. His
memory is good, but he often does not remember the new shapes I taught him
yesterday. I am angry at Xavier whenever he paints on the wall next to the
table or on the kitchen floor. I try to teach him the hidden meaning of
the edge of a piece of paper. Sometimes he keeps drawing on the same piece
of paper until it is a solid mass of paint, with no sense of order or
pattern. With repetition, he is beginning to exert some discipline over
the lines on the paper.
While I cook and he draws, we talk to each
other. His attention span is not very long yet, so he loses interest,
climbs on a stool, and starts playing with the water in the sink.
Eventually, I much teach him the danger of instant gratification and the
value of anticipation.
The computer understands words so easily, but not sounds, smells, sights,
or textures. It remembers so easily, that we struggle to introduce
spontaneous and unpredictable responses. It never bores of repeating the
same task endlessly. It does not understand ambiguity or small talk, and
the only surface it draws on is the one we have told it about. It has a
vast memory and remembers yesterday's lesson as well as last year's.
Yet, as with a child, we willingly spend hours and hours teaching it the
things that will please us and the things that will keep it content. One
day computer education will not mean how you teach people to use computers
but rather how people should teach computers to grow up.
There is a large literature analyzing the history of technology and its
role in human society. We are reminded that we have invented tools to
extend or augment our own senses and faculties. The telescope and
microscope extend the range of our eyes. In similar ways we have found
means to extend and amplify as well our other senses: hearing and touch,
taste and smell. With books, films, recordings, and computer disks we have
augmented our memory. With automobiles, airplanes, and spaceships we have
extended our mobility. With drugs, diets, and medicine we seek to extend
our life span.
The computer, if viewed as a living organism, has an evolutionary
advantage over our own species. Each generation of computers is much
shorter than a human generation, so computer evolution is occurring much
more rapidly than human evolution. Computers are mutating and adapting to
a changing environment and changing needs.
The computer, as a living
organism, started off with the technologies that we had developed to
extend and amplify our own senses and capabilities, and we continue to
connect computers to new tools as fast as we can invent them. The future
of computer evolution will involve the acquisition of features that are
inherent to us as humans. Computers will be taught to become
self-repairing, self-replicating, and adaptable. The computer in a sense
is still in the Garden of Eden, and the hand of the creator is still
omnipresent and all powerful. The computer is still made in our own image,
and its evolution will continue for some time to encompass more and more
For independent evolution
to occur, computers eventually will need to find a different evolutionary
niche to be expelled from the territory that we both now occupy. This is
all perhaps too fanciful, but the drawings in this book force me to such
musings and make the road from George Boole to metaphysics seem all too
I am a working astronomer involved in a project to map the sky in the
extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The sky has never been mapped in
this color of light, and the human
eye is unable to detect it. This light never reaches the ground because it
is blocked by the atmosphere of the earth. New telescopes are uncovering a
universe largely beyond the scientific speculation of earlier days, when
we were confined to the universe that could be observed only in the
visible part of the spectrum. We find new parts of the universe in X-
rays, radio waves, infrared light, extreme ultraviolet light, and all
the other parts of the spectrum inaccessible to the human eye. There have
been many connections between the discoveries of astronomy and the
philosophical systems we have invented. With each new part of the universe
discovered by contemporary astronomers, humanity's place in it is subtly
As we equip the computer with new interfaces, whether a brush or a
hypercard, the place of the computer is redefined, just as each new map of
the sky reveals a new context for viewing ourselves. The artist, as much
as the computer scientist, has a key role in developing the interfaces of
the computer and hence in defining what it means to be a computer.
Today is also a time when our respective understanding of the universe on
the largest scale, as cosmologists, and on the smallest scale, as particle
physicists, are joined together. These connections are made through the
mathematical bases of physical laws established over the past few
centuries. Cosmology, the study of the structure and evolution of the
universe, is a precarious science. There are perhaps no more than two
dozen established facts about the universe that cosmologists seek to
explain. Mathematics is the most powerful tool we have to guide our
perception and understanding of the universe.
New mathematical systems lead to new conceptions of the universe, whether
formulated and applied in the day of Aristotle, Copernicus, or Einstein.
Today's computer is heir to work of mathematicians such as George Boole
and Alan Turing. Already we see new kinds of computers being developed
based on different internal architectures and mathematical descriptions.
Artists, with computer scientists, must be involved in developing the
cosmologies associated with each of these different kinds of computers.
the roles played by artists in this "postmodern" era, they
surely include working side by side with scientists, engineers, and
mathematicians in the effort to connect fact and theory within the realm
of human understanding.