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Interview of David Bohm by Maurice Wilkins on 1987 February 6,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
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Attended seminar at Bristol on algebraic topology; geometry and quantum mechanics; philosophy of Heraclitus, Aristotle, Democritus, Parmenides, Zeno’s paradox – atoms and motion; molecular biology and quantum mechanics; publication of Causality and Chance in Modern Physics; necessity and contingency; correspondence with Charles Biederman; evolution of art; Impressionism and quantum mechanics; Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity; Biederman and Krishnamurti’s views on societal conditioning.
We were discussing some of the early period when I was in London, you know, last week.
Yes. You remember discussing Bohr. We got as far as discussing ideas about Bohr, about what Bohr was doing and the philosophy of Bohr, the wholeness which was in Bohr. You don’t remember my student, Schumacher?
Yes, I remember now. You were saying about Schumacher and the complementarity or something and what he precisely meant by this. Yes.
Yes. Well now it occurred to me that we ought to go back; I left out a few things. Even back to Bristol. The last year or so in Bristol I got in contact with somebody in the math department and we discussed a lot of algebraic topology. I attended a seminar of his.
In your last year there?
Yes. I can’t remember the man’s name. But now this I felt was very relevant because I felt it provided an analogy to quantum mechanics. The basic idea was that space was broken up into simplicies that might be called squares or triangles, to triangulate it into finite areas. And then when you carry out integrations of functions over the space you only specify the inter grow and not the function and detail. The idea of integrating functions over small areas. These were called P-sets. Now it was shown that those integrals of functions, which form a discrete set of numbers, have a property that the boundaries can be represented by discrete operations of matrices. Therefore a lot of equations of physics, such as Laplace’s Equation and Maxwell’s Equation, could be looked at as just specifying some integrals of various functions over area of certain simplicities and their boundaries. For example, in they have the basic simplex triangle, the boundary would be the three lines. The boundaries of each of those lines are two points and so on. We have integrals over these simplicities and expressed in terms of the intricate functions and the boundaries. You get sort of discreet matrix relationships, which look a lot like quantum mechanics. Now this seemed interesting because I wanted to find — See, I wasn’t thinking about Einstein who had said, “Instead of regarding gravity as a form of mechanics,” he said, “gravity is a manifestation of geometry.” Is that clear any?
I think so, yes. You mean something in the material world, which caused one to something in the mental world.
No. He says that properties of space — or instead of Euclidean geometry, which is usual we expect, if it were non-Euclidean and curved space, this would be an explanation of gravity. That an object moving by its own inertia in what is the nearest possible thing to a straight line would follow a curve path, which would describe the effects that we ordinarily attribute of gravity. For example, if you take a sphere, geodesic is the nearest to a straight line, suppose this spirit has an irregular surface, then the geodesic will all sorts of wiggles in it. One idea is to say that there are forces that make it wiggle. The other says it’s just following the nearest it can to a straight line because the surface is irregular you get these wiggles. Now it doesn’t include a time as part of the space and time together. And that way you have a trajectory, and that there product or planet is now following the geodesic as the geometry is modified by matter. Now therefore, the idea is unite properties of matter, the dynamical properties of matter with the properties of space and time. That was his basic idea. Now I said, “Well that’s fine for classical physics, but quantum mechanics is very hard to unite because it’s so different.” See first of all, you have the fact that you have sort of discreet movements rather than continuous. Secondly, it’s probabilistic and not deterministic. And thirdly, it has all sorts of non-local features. Whereas you could say that the geometry does not have any of this. It’s deterministic. It’s continuous. It’s local. But if you want it to regard quantum mechanics as a manifestation of the properties of space it looks as if we’re blocked. Then we seem to have a contradiction that we say we quantum mechanics of space on the one hand, continuous and so on. In quantum mechanics quite the opposite. Somehow it has to be injected into space and we cannot make any sense of it. So I said, “Suppose we regard quantum mechanics as an indicator of the properties of space, as we could regarding gravity as an indicator of properties of space. But then we need a new mathematics. We need to describe space in mathematics similar to that of quantum theory.” I always thought this algebraic topology was beginning to do that. First of all, it described all sorts of relations by matrices, which were discreet among simplicities that are broken up into discreet bits. And secondly, it was open to transformation similar to quantum mechanics, a linear transformation among all those bits, which was exactly the same as what was called unitary transformation in quantum mechanics, that the wave functioning was subject of that transformation. That was one of the most basic principles quantum mechanics, which is behind what is called the Principle of Linear Superposition. So I said, “It looks as if algebraic topology might have in it something similar to quantum mechanics. And you might eventually hope that by starting with a discreet description of space, starting with abstract simplicities and boundary and neighborhood relations described by matrices, you could get to space.” For example, if you take a lot of triangles, take the nth triangle and we say let me out all the lines that are in this whole way of triangulating the space. Then you say which of these lines are on the boundary of the which triangle? That determines a matrix, which is one if it’s on zero if it’s off. Then you could also determine neighborhood relations saying which simplex is the neighbor of which. Which is one if it’s a neighbor to zero or otherwise and so on. So you could say in principle the properties of space are determined by boundary and neighborhood relations at least in our metrical property. Quantum mechanics has to do with those rather than with the metrical properties, which are further refinement, the measurement, you know, the length and so on. So that was why I was interested in this algebraic topology.
You mean a metrical thing —
It would come in a little bit later. That comes in actually in the —
I mean do you have continuity doesn’t it?
No, not necessarily, because it turned out that to each set of simplicities there’s a dual set and that metric relates the simplex in as a dual. Metric is implicit in the relation two sets of simplicities. Let me give you an example. Suppose you break up space into squares, two dimensional space into squares, tessellate it, right. You can form a set dual simplicities by putting a point in the middle of each square and in the middle of each line and so on and draw lines. Then you get another set of squares, which sort of half overlaps the first. That’s called a dual set. Now it turns out formally that the role of metric is covered in the topology by the relationship between a simplex and its dual. Therefore there’s a topological meaning to metric, and then its measurement meaning comes out in a later wave, somewhat more indirectly.
Well, go on. I can’t really grasp all this, but you better go ahead.
I don’t know much of this I could put in the book then.
How much would I put in the book?
I don’t know. I think this is a bit —
You grasp the tessellation of the whole space by trying that and the simple relationships of boundary and so on. Then I could just say in the book that there’s another relationship called dual, which contains the metric. We won’t go into it now.
Well, I think if you want to use the term “the metric,” then you need to explain what you mean by “the metric.”
What is meant by perpendicular? The metric determines — There are two functions of metric. One is to determine angles and the other is to determine length. Now angles are effectively determined once you determine what is the perpendicular, and then once you do that you can then divide up angles. Now see if we take this dual simplex, it determines the perpendicular simplex in a way which does not refer to the ordinary properties of space. It just says put another point inside the square and another point inside the midpoint of each line, then the lines which connect them are by definition the perpendicular. If you start that way as a midpoint you’ll get the usual perpendicular, but then you can then proceed to take that as the definition.
I think this should do all right. It’s a little bit like a book that I was reading about in Harrison’s text where they use all sorts of terms like interest. Interest is used in different ways in these contexts of money and regulation. So that I think if you explain it, it should be all right.
The idea which I had by the time I got to London was that somehow topology would be a way into treating quantum mechanics in the same way that Einstein treated the ordinary metrical property, continuous properties of space, the curvature and all of that. Therefore we could eventually then get to new laws. Just as Einstein found new laws, you know, once he was able to treat curved space as the event he came to new kinds of laws and similarly new kinds of laws could be arrived at, which would be beyond even quantum mechanics if you took this as a base. That was an idea which was interesting to me, and essentially it was the germ of the implicate order. Because this algebraic topology contained what I called an explosive transformation, that each simplex was exploded into all the others. Therefore, that was essentially the implicate order that each simplex was as it were unfolded into all the others.
Have you got that in your Implicate Order book?
I didn’t think I’ve seen it there.
No. But that was already the mathematical term of the implicate order. I didn’t think of it in those terms then, but I felt it.
It seems to me that these ideas can be very helpful, because in the Implicate Order book you use various analogies like holograms and the deep thoughts in the glossary. And then I think you point that of course in certain respects none of these analogies holds up completely.
But if you don’t take it too far, each of them helps one to comprehend what is meant by the basic ideas. But I think it is further ideas like the one you’re mentioning I would have thought would be helpful.
Another thing that I didn’t mention was that just about the time before I was leaving —
Wait a minute. Can I get clear?
You’ve got those thoughts when?
When I was leaving Bristol the first year or so in London.
But did you then leave them on one side for some time and then seeing the significance in relation to implicate order later on?
Yes. These would be a part of my idea about this underlying cosmology and world view of saying that we would — I had the idea that flowing movement as basic and the forms would appear out of it. But then the idea was that space and time itself must eventually appear out of it that the flow of movement would be in these forms. It tied up at some questions in art somehow.
I mean Heraclitus was more or less saying everything is flowing movement, all is change.
All this change, the ground of everything has change. Let’s put it that way. As movement. And then the way I think Aristotle sort of backed that up insofar as he talked of the potential to the actual — the potentiality was potentiality for change in Aristotle’s view.
You mean everything is moving to find its right place?
Also that in so far as he says, “Everything has potential for being other.” That was a very dynamic view. And also that the potential was not just the potential for a fixed form, but the potential was a potential to change things.
All this is an interesting point. I suppose the whole organismic notion of Aristotle was holistic too. But Democritus says everything is atoms in motion.
But then that was not fully Heraclitian because the atoms were fixed beings.
Yes, exactly. Well at least he was saying that they’re not moving.
He was sort of in a compromised position. He said, “That the problem was what is the nature of being in motion.” Now Parmenides had said, “All is being. There is no nonbeing. There is no motion.” And that seemed logical, but it made no sense. Now then Heraclitus had said all is flux, though they’re to extremes. Now then Democritus tried to solve this problem. What is motion? Zeno made the paradox, then, what is motion? How can there be motion? If an object moves from one time to the next, at each moment it’s just there. There’s no motion. The only way you can discuss motion is by comparing a point that is to a point that was. But then that makes no sense to compare what is to what is not to discuss the property of what is. Democritus was trying to solve Zeno’s paradox.
Is that commonly —
I don’t know. I read it somewhere.
It’s commonly recognized.
Yes. His solution was brought in by bringing in the atoms, which are permanent beings, and the void, which was nothing. It combined being and nothing literally. He said, “The nothingness of the void made room for the atoms to move.” Whereas in platinum of Parmenides left no room for anything to move around. Therefore these atoms could move and in their motion they could explain the various life scale objects, you know, their properties.
If you take molecular biology, I mean they’re saying everything is moving. This is the basis of their sort of modern way of Darwinian evolution and direction. All these are all sort of bobbing about [???] —
Yes, but it’s not the same as Heraclitus because in Heraclitus even the very units are not given.
No, but it’s more Democritus.
Democritus. Modern physics tends to move towards Democritus, though quantum mechanics makes Democritus extremely hard to use.
Well, I think the idea that everything is possibly in motion is an essential part of the whole sort of molecular biological idea.
Except to say that the fundamental units are not regarded as — That is, to use the word flux of everything flows means that there is no fixed quality at all. Democritus did not say that everything flows. The basic beings, the atoms, did not flow. They merely moved translated through space. The motion was reduced to mechanical motion.
Yes. They had fixed shapes, too.
Fixed shapes and fixed qualities. In Heraclitus everything flows, but in Democritus there is no flow in a way.
I agree entirely. I just hadn’t seen this point about the connection between Democritus and Heraclitus.
Yes. And he is trying to also put himself between Parmenides who said only being is. Because the atoms were really each one was a being just as Parmenides would’ve said, eternal and so on. He really combined Parmenides and Heraclitus. It’s a sort of an uneasy mixture, which momentarily solves the problem.
I can’t see any respect in which molecular biology doesn’t cause form to Democritus.
No at present it doesn’t. Quantum mechanics does not really fit Democritus, but molecular biology it hardly takes account of quantum mechanics.
Exactly. It hardly takes account.
And it makes the task of assumption that it cannot matter very much. Once you’ve taken into account the chemical properties predicted by quantum mechanics.
Yes. I think that the bonding between atoms can be regarded like the little hooks on Democritus, atoms and so on.
It’s just says quantum mechanics is a nice way of working out those hooks.
Incidentally, I don’t know whether you’ve seen the work of Mason here in chemistry, but they worked out the spin in the nucleus can give rise to small sort of differences of [???]ality of the energy of different [???] forms. So this would account for the left-handed amino acids. Now this sort of is the first link between the new subatomic level and the molecular. But it’s not obvious to me that this sort of is eroding the basic assumption [???].
No, it doesn’t. It’s using the particles and these are smaller ones. It doesn’t really —
Yes, it’s certainly extending the thing down to another level. But I suppose what you can say is that of course once you get down to subatomic level and everything’s getting sort of very vague. But I don’t think this still doesn’t undermine the molecular biology thing, does it?
No. Unless you take quantum mechanics very seriously, which molecular biologists generally don’t know anything about quantum mechanics. They couldn’t possibly take and fix [?] things.
I sort of wonder if there is any sort of a little chink in the armor coming in through that Mason point? I don’t see it myself.
No, I don’t think so. Because thinking of these smaller particles as essentially similar to the larger ones. There’s no reason why the Democritean atoms couldn’t be made of smaller atoms.
And there’s no reason why these little fixed atoms shouldn’t fixed that and shouldn’t have fixed attributes like spin tossing the atomic particles. It doesn’t seem to me to undermine anything.
The only way of undermining is to bring in the concepts of quantum mechanics directly, and molecular biology is much too crude as to yet touch that.
But how would you do it?
You’re dealing with large aggregates looked at very crudely. It’s the only very, very fine measurements to show up for example interference measurements for the electrons show up quantum mechanics, but to have interference with such large objects would be far beyond the present technical capacity.
But do you mean this is the problem of trying to predict the way structure of larger molecules? They’re not the same?
Well, no. We don’t know how much quantum mechanics will come in there, but I’m just saying that the quantum mechanical properties of matter show up only very subtly with such large molecules. And molecular biology is not yet subtle enough to bring that up. Just as it took hundreds of years before some of the atomic properties would show up in ordinary measurements. Vast refinements of technology were needed.
E. Schröedinger I have the idea about mutations, sort of things jumping from one being —
But we don’t need quantum mechanics for that. It could be produced by thermal motion and so on.
Yes. There’s nothing essentially [???] tacit [?] about that.
No. I think that quantum mechanics involves subtleties that have not been touched by molecular biology. It may take a very long time before they could do such.
You mean if something is broken apart by thermal motion, this can be done on a purely classical.
You mean you don’t have to bring in tunneling for normal [???] or anything like that?
No. It could happen that way, but it isn’t necessary. For example, radiation can do it. You can think of it as just being hit by billiard balls. Also breaking chemical bonds could do it.
I’ve sort of wondered occasionally how much people have thought about this thing about molecular biology and quantum mechanics. Normally people don’t think about it at all.
No. I think one reason is that it’s a long way before one can see any way in which quantum mechanics would make a difference in the kind of things they’re studying today. If you assume the sort of thing they’re studying today is all that counts then it will never make a difference, but that may not hold.
I think the corollarity business was a very sort of sensitive thing.
Yes, but it’s not a very fundamental point.
But as you say, this doesn’t need a quantum —
Beyond the fact that quantum mechanics is used to discuss, then you can think about it as just another property as it is now.
What I was getting at was whether it’s left or right, it’s a very sensitive thing, which is being picked out presumably by, they would by natural selection process. And a very tiny minute energy difference in the end would turn one way and not the other. But whether there are any other phenomenon, which I suppose you might say that in evolutionary processes generally you might pick up very small differences after a while. Anyway, we’d better back to your —
We’re discussing now the properties of space. But another current which started toward the end of my period in Bristol was that my book, the book had just come out, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics where I discussed the meaning of causality and proposed this infinity of nature, which we’ve discussed. To say that — it was somewhat Hegelian, that in every context there is the necessary in the contingent. But what is necessary in on context may be a contingent in a broader one, and vice versa. What is contingent may be necessary, right? So we say that we have the interweaving of necessity and contingency on an infinite context with human being abstracts always finitely from that. That was the basic view of reality I proposed, which left room for saying that there was essentially no limit on the thing, but there was no fixed limit on anything because the whole context was infinite. Now that book — there was an Artist in London called Anthony Hill or was it Chelsea. He sent it off to another artist in America called Charles Biederman. He works in a place called Redwing, Minnesota. It’s a very small town. They’re a peculiar set of artists called the structurists artists. I’ll explain that presently. But Biederman read this book and he was very interested in it. He wrote me a letter, we wrote both back and forth. We started a correspondence which lasted about seven or eight years, a very extensive correspondence, which covered many things that I’ll have to discuss which effected the development of my idea. The first thing to remember is that Biederman, he sent me a long book called Art Is the Evolution of Visual Knowledge, and one of his books, a very thick book. And another book, The New Cézanne [?]. He was very interested in Cézanne. Let me explain his views on art. He called himself a structurist. There was a small structurist school, a few here in England and a few in America. Anthony Hill was one of them. They didn’t really all agree with each other at all. But the basic idea, you have to consider the evolution of art to understand it. He was saying that art has basically two components. One is it began as a form of mimesis, of imitating the forms of nature, the forms that could be seen. It had a function in society to make images and so on. In addition it had a creative aspect. These two are always in some uneasy tension. The point is that the major creativity in art, one possibility at that stage was the development of new means of mimesis. The biggest steps in creativity. For example, perspective, what Leonardo did. Every great artist developed his own approach, every great artist. But there was constant improvement of mimesis so that by the early 19th Century, a French Realist, his paintings have reached a tremendous level of realism. Just about that time photography was invented, apparently partly by artists who were trying to — The artistic idea behind the invention of photography was to let light paint the picture. The early people who worked in photography were very much inspired by art, and they were even themselves artists. The idea was that light began to paint the picture. As photography developed, the mimetic function of art began to become less important. Anyway, the mimetic function had been carried so far that it could not go much further. It was reaching a kind of dead end. There was very little room for creativity in doing that. You could have gotten more and more detail and these people would’ve lost interest.
Philosophically, this whole notion of copying nature is sort of quite unsound, isn’t it?
Right. Well, no. People had two things. They had a creative aspect where they tried to say something different, and at the same time they had to produce images in imitating nature. Not only nature, but also forms of human beings or imagined forms in people’s minds or whatever.
But if you say that you’re going to make copies of nature, this implies that there is some objective —
No. They’re imitating the appearance of nature. That’s all we’re saying.
But the appearance of nature were to depend very much on how they see it.
Yes, that’s right. But nevertheless, given that people will eventually become quite proficient at it. You see whatever way they see it, and there won’t be much room to go very much further except to develop new ways of seeing it. But that’s something different. That’s really what we’re going to discuss.
So they were quite clear, you mean, about the lack of objectivity and they —
It may or may not have been clear, but Biederman feels that’s what more or less happened whether they were conscious of it or not. In fact some were and some weren’t. But that was sort of the general milieu in which artists worked.
I thought the general notion was that very often photography doesn’t in any sense copy nature. And it sort of —
No. We’re not trying to say it copied nature. The work copy is wrong. They’re saying they’re imitating — the artist imitates the appearance of nature. But now photography lets nature paint its own picture. That doesn’t mean that nature isn’t copying itself.
Imitating the appearance.
So you say photography is doing what?
It’s not doing that. It’s letting nature paint its own picture.
So it’s nothing to do with her appearance, sort of [???] of appearance —
It will create a new appearance as it does that. It will be in a way in which nature appears through the camera. As it appears through our eyes, it can appear through the camera.
I still don’t understand this thing about so-called primitive people and not being able to recognize photographs.
That’s because it is nature appearing in a form which they don’t recognize. To them a person has two eyes. Now if you photograph him and he’s got one eye, they say it’s wrong.
Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that the thing’s on a sheet of paper or something.
Not necessarily that because they may not have even put things on paper. But their concept — the appearance of a thing is very much connected with your concept of it as well.
That’s what I was getting at.
To these people the concept of a person is he’s got two eyes and two hands and whatever. And if an image appears without these, it’s the wrong image.
Even if the image has two eyes and two hands, I thought they didn’t recognize it.
They might if it were square on. Their point is the standard image might be square on or from a certain direction or whatever. It doesn’t have the features. The image is quite different, photographic image, from the way people see things, and they have to learn a little bit to see it. They can probably learn fairly quickly how to see it.
Maybe they don’t see things from fixed positions anyway. They’re always moving around also.
That’s right, but they can fairly quickly learn how to interpret a photograph, I don’t think. It wouldn’t take them more than half an hour probably. I think, Ed, we have done that ourselves, but we’ve forgotten when it happened.
I think people always talk this notion out as though it’s a sort of fairly simple one, but I think it’s not all that simple.
So, now the idea was that during the 19th century art was entering a period of crisis because traditionally people were expected to imitate the appearance of nature according to this conventions, what people thought was the appearance of nature. Artists had developed certain conventions and whoever didn’t follow them was not thought to be producing a good likeness. Even people like the English artists, mostly landscapes, Turner, he was innovating quite a bit. He was sort of breaking out of some of the conventions of appearance and going into light, the question of light as a basic part of the experience. So in the early days there was some innovation going on. As the century wore on the crisis got harder. What were artists to do? When the impressionists came, there was the first big change, the first really fundamental change that Monet began. The impressionists, each one were somewhat different. They weren’t all the same. But they were sort of experimenting with changing the meaning of life. Now Monet thought of making little elements of primary color and building everything out of that. When you get close to it you don’t see very much. As you step back suddenly it seems you see a whole space with people and objects, three dimensions and all sorts of things. What Biederman said that what Monet was doing was recreating the order of space through the properties of primary spots of color, primary elements of color, small elements. Now I just sort of anticipate here. This was a little bit like the simplicities which I talked about breaking up space into simplicities. You could imagine putting colors on these and trying to build some images out of them. Colors of varying intensity. When I thought of Biederman, I saw a relationship in his talking about and what I’ve been interested in, which I want to pursue a little bit later. At first Monet was regarded as really absurd and ridiculous and not art at all. Only later did people accept Monet and the other impressionists as artists. But they had already made a radical questioning of the notion of order that instead of trying to imitate by little very fine gradations of paint, they used these small blobs of color. Or brush strokes or whatever form they took. It was the pointillists who had little points of color.
I remember one of the main ideas was that the whole thing was brighter because you didn’t mix all of the pigments up together.
It made a bright thing, but there was a whole new idea in there. Brightness was only a side issue. There was a new whole idea about what to do.
But presumably the fact that it was brighter encouraged them a lot.
It may have felt better and so on, it gave a lightness and brightness to it. But what was behind it was a whole new idea of what was involved. Now what Biederman says is this evolution went along. Monet eventually began to repeat himself and didn’t get any further. But Cézanne went further. Cézanne essentially became interested in not so much in the question of order. Let’s put it that previously artists have been interested in form, trying to imitate the appearance of form. This was the beginning. An artist was becoming interested in the order of space. These little spots of color had no meaning by themselves, and only the way they were arranged in order began to give meaning. It was not imitating the forms of nature, but they were sort of coming out of it when you stepped back. There was hardly any form visible when you got close. But this was really a radically new idea, much deeper than the periods of first sight.
You mean this is distinct from the idea that you don’t see the brushstrokes.
When you stand back you don’t see the brushstrokes. If you get close up you’ll see them. But when you stand back your attention, your consciousness is on the whole meaning of it, which is a three dimensional scene of all colors and shapes and whatnot. But none of those shapes has been imitated at all. Form appears as a property of order. Order in arrangement of the brushstrokes.
You mean the direction of the brushstrokes is related to the form, whereas the —
The general power was in the brushstrokes and may have something to do with form, but the way things are arranged it’s very hard — I thought to make a theory of an impressionists painting I that would brought you to a mathematics close to the quantum mathematics.
But I mean the arrangement of little points of color doesn’t bear any direct relationship to the form.
No obvious relationship at all, especially if you think of it as three dimensional formulas, two dimensional surface.
In that respect it’s quite distinct from the brushstroke.
Yes. Cézanne went on further to the question of structure. According to the dictionary structure is the order, arrangement, connection, and organization of elements. These elements may be very abstract, like spots of color and so on. Not only order in arrangement, but we also have the way they’re connected and the way they’re organized in large areas. Cézanne tried to organize in terms of the sphere, for example. He talked a lot about the sphere, making anything out of spheres and other elements. But it especially in his later paintings and [???] Victor in France, he could see all these things were sort of combining to make up planes that covered the whole thing and it was all organized. It was forming a structure. The point then is that therefore Cézanne not only questioned — he didn’t just discuss order with regard to giving rise to form, but he went into the question of structure, which then began to dominate the local order. Like you’ve seen, as the order was now entering into the overall organization of structure.
His structure wasn’t really an overall one.
An overall one. See Monet, is not concerned with structure, but with an order which eventually gives you an impression of form. But here he is giving a whole structure. This was carried for to some extent by Picasso and Brach in cubism where they made them more abstract. But there was a limit to what they could do, too. They couldn’t carry it very much further. Eventually Mondrian carried it as far as he could by discussing just your metric structure, which was as he said, “You’re dealing with a plane and it tends to pull in three dimensions getting beyond the structure which belonged to that structure.” But then Mondrian, you couldn’t go any further than he did. Once he did that, what could you do? He’s saying now art with Mondrian had reached a crisis where it could not deal with by staying in the plane. He says it has to emerge from the plane into three dimensions in order to make a new step.
Who said that?
Biederman. That’s what he called structure. As he said, “The emphasis was structure,” but Cézanne and Mondrian brought out the emphasis on structure, but structure couldn’t get any further without going into three dimensions. That was okay?
I don’t know what they did about it.
I’ll explain that. So he said that the fact that artists did not face this crisis led to confusion. Some of them slipped back into the two dimensional image again like Picasso. It was not very clear what they were trying to do because they had already mastered all of that. There was nothing new and that they were just going over old ground in various combinations. They were not being very creative. What he said about structure was that you had to come out, but not in the form of sculpture, because sculpture was merely a three dimensional imitation of nature’s form. It was not a structure. So he said structure is more abstract. So he began to produce structures. He says, you’ve got to begin simply and complicate it and develop it later. You can’t begin with complex structures right away. You must learn. So he began with structures on a plane, just reliefs, little planes sticking out of a background plane, that were colored. He eventually got to make them out of aluminum, which was a machine —
These are three dimensional objects.
These are three dimensional objects. The typical thing was that a sheet of aluminum has a base with a very rich, intense color, and then planes sticking out of it at right angles or planer elements, which are also very rich with color in different ways. He would only give a few planes either this way or this way. Sometimes they started off ranging instead parallel planes here and there with different colors. He wanted to combine color as a key element of structure. The question was how did he learn to do this. He had a theory of perception saying that art influences our way of looking at things. We’re conditioned by past art. In other words, not only does the appearance depend upon past conventions, but how past artists has changed those conventions. He says he had to get free of the conditioning by past art to move into this new area. What he had to do was — he says previously people observed nature to imitate nature’s form. Now he’s saying he observed nature not to imitate nature’s form, but to observe nature’s way of creating. That is, nature’s creative process itself. Nature’s way of creating not the [???] It’s like if you think of the camera as nature painting it’s picture in the camera, then you could say nature creates within human beings, but the human has to be receptive to this creativity.
Whether it’s nature creating or the human being doesn’t matter because you regard this as all part of the whole system.
Yes. Then when you learn nature’s way of creating, mode of creating then you create as nature does. Instead of imitating nature’s form, what you do is you create as nature does. And he’s saying nature creates by beginning with simple things and getting more and more complex. That’s an example, right.
I don’t know. I mean is that always the case?
Well, that’s what all the biologists are saying when they talk about evolution and so on as an example.
Complex things also create by going down to simpler things.
It can work the other way, but naturally it can always — But I mean fundamentally complex things are rising out of simpler things is the idea.
But then it’s far more subtle than that. That’s just a small example. Then he’s saying you have to proceed slowly and not expect to produce tremendous things right away. It might take generations, just as art itself evolved only over thousands of years in the form we know. I mean earlier peoples made much simpler pictures and so on. So that’s why you started with these simple planes with color, and he’s saying they’re evolving. I think that he’s had a number of exhibitions. I’m not sure which museum has done it. In a Metropolitan perhaps. One of Guggenheim’s, they buy his stuff and put it on display. He’s had some exhibitions here and there. He had one here in London some years ago, around ‘67.
Yes. Of course I suppose it’s a difficult point to say to what extent these intellectual ideas. Are they sort of directing me? The artistic creativity and to what extent the intellectual ideas of some of expression of some underlying sort of attitude towards the whole nature of art or something. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
No. In any case, artists are highly influenced by their intellectual ideas about what art is supposed to be and so on.
I think all that I’m getting at is that one is obviously, as a sort of stacked questioned locked in one’s mind is to the extent of how creative it’s going to be. If it is too much based on how intellectual —
The question is how could somebody ever break out a whole frame work of character which has gone on for thousands of years.
Yes. I think actually the proof of the pudding as to what he comes up with.
Yes. You’ll have to see it. I haven’t had much opportunity really to see it properly. My own feeling is it’s not as much as he says it is, but it’s interesting enough.
Right. There’s all sorts of people who are always going around having ideas about what they’re doing wrong. So I suppose the —
But he claims that the perception of these things was nonverbal. In other words, that his feeling for the ending of art and so on was a nonverbal — He says it’s almost like people would’ve described a mystical experience, a sudden change of perception. That it has a radical effect at one moment. That he became free of past conditioning in art. Suddenly he could see that it’s a different way of seeing the whole of reality and not just art.
Is this related to what you were saying about being now heroes in the modern world or something?
I mean that created processes is coming to an end.
The created process within all of the traditional framework is coming to an end. The artists saw that first. I mean art is now in a crisis because of that. Biederman claimed that because most artists did not face this crisis they went into a very confused reaction, which has split up into countless fragments and has degenerated. It’s mostly commercialism now. It’s nothing like the kind of creative thing that it was during Monet and Cézanne and so on, Picasso, there aren’t any people like that now.
Just in my feeling, I’m not very interested in graphic arts now. I was just wondering whether you’re really right about the graphic artists seeing this sort of end of the road.
They feel it, perhaps they feel it. They don’t actually are not able to verbalize it, most of them, but they’re sort of been brought up with this crisis.
I was thinking about writers, too. Whether one of the writers is ahead of the others or not doesn’t really matter, but I suppose you could say that probably that all types of artistic creativity are probably having some sort of feeling, I suppose. In music too.
Yes. I had a very long correspondence with Biederman about many topics, not just art, but science, politics, society. He had very broad interests. It eventually ended because he couldn’t accept Krishnamurti of art. Once I told him about Krishnamurti, he said that it became clear that this was entirely against what he wanted to do.
What was it he objected to about Krishnamurti?
He felt that Krishnamurti essentially denied the value of other things, including art, essentially saying that there were no value in it. He’s saying that Krishnamurti rejects him or anything. I think it’s true that Krishnamurti would. I remember even once giving Krishnamurti some catalogue of an exhibition with some of his stuff in it. Krishnamurti never said anything about it. I don’t think he cared about it. But I think that this is sort of anticipating Krishnamurti, which whom we haven’t discussed yet. But I think that Krishnamurti essentially ended up by saying nothing mattered, not science, not art, not anything else. Only this transformation he was talking about then. Biederman sensed that when I sent him the book.
Krishnamurti has always been very interested in science and scientists, hasn’t he?
Only for the sake that they would help the transformation. As soon as they don’t go along he loses interest. He’s not very interested in science itself. It might be a secondary interest at most. He doesn’t feel that it will do anything really or that it matters very much. I mean, I even asked him once suppose we came to the end of science and art. He says, “Well, what of it?”
I don’t really see how you can separate science and art [???] of life. Say this is sort of an expression of it.
Yes, but I mean the way Biederman put it was that the most that Krishnamurti devalues most of the expressions of life in favor of his own particular approach.
I feel sort of somewhat sympathetic toward Biederman. I just got a vague impression that [???] wouldn’t have had Indian dancing and music and all sorts of things.
Yes. But he doesn’t mind it, but it doesn’t mean very much to him. I’m saying that it’s not really of a central concern.
He’s going to say it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s true.
It doesn’t get you to the main point, right.
Whereas his transformation does.
That’s what he’s saying.
Well, then you say that if you have a transformation what are you going to do afterwards?
That’s a question you could raise. He might argue that after that you could do whatever you like. It wouldn’t matter. The first thing, you know, have your transformation. But I think we’re sort of anticipating. Anyway, after a while eventually it broke down this correspondence over Krishnamurti. We can discuss that later after we discuss Krishnamurti a bit. Now the point is that I had developed a considerable interest in art. It started before Biederman. When I returned to Europe I became interested in art and going to museums and also as Sarah was interested in art, I became more interested. And so together especially we’ve gone to a lot of museums and talked about it. Looked at a lot of things. I found also Biederman was a bit narrow in his view of his art. He was very similar in Krishnamurti in that he kind of dismissed everything except himself.
That’s a common characteristic.
He would admit scientists could be creative, but he felt art was the principle form of human creativity. For example, he felt that since Picasso had gone back toward representative art that there had been very little real creativity anywhere except his own. Which in a way you could say is true. But I remember once I tried to argue with him about Ruall [?]. I remember seeing it in the Edward J. Robinson collection, which was shown in London, a picture of a clown. This clown, I don’t know if I’ve explained it to you before, it had a peculiar structure. It had spots, blotches of color really inside and outside, which corresponded to each other in position and they were complimentary colors.
Was this Ruall’s clown?
Well, it was one clown. He had a lot of clowns.
He’s made a lot of clowns.
Yes. He’s done a lot of clowns, but this was one of them. I’ve never seen this one except in the Robinson collection.
It was a bit like stained glass with heavy black lines and patches of color.
Yes. I don’t remember the black lines. I can only remember the patches of color. This one didn’t have very much in the way of black lines. It had patches of color moving out from a center giving a vague shape of a clown. But outside the clown were complimentary patches color on radii going in the same radius. As I was looking at this I began to move the eye from the inside patch to the corresponding outside patch. It would go back and forth. Suddenly there seemed a shift of perception where it seemed it had become higher dimensional in a sense that the clown was now in a vast current of energy, which was pouring out of him into the room and coming back around my head through me. That all of the emotional feelings of the clown were pouring out of him through me. It seemed a tremendous shift of perception.
So you had anyway some strong feeling, which was triggered off by looking at this painting.
Well, it wasn’t only a feeling. It was a different structure in the sense that the picture was not separate from me. It was a feeling of the flowing movement going out of the clown, coming back around through me, and back into the clown.
It was sort of a general feeling about this motion coming and going.
It was the same sort of shift that you get if you’re in a stereoscope and you go from the two to the three dimensional view. It was a shift of structured perception.
You mean it’s like a whole sort of pattern turning inside out?
Yes. But the pattern was different. Previously it was a two dimensional picture with a —
You sort of said it came out of nothing.
Yes. Also like the impressionist suddenly becomes a whole world if you step back. But this was more than a whole world just out there. It was a whole world which was flowing and came back to include [???]
I tried to write about that with Biederman, but he just said this was confused nonsense and he wouldn’t listen to it.
What did Sarah think about it?
She didn’t see it that way. I don’t know. I explained it to her later, because she wasn’t there.
Oh, she wasn’t there.
She was with me, but somewhere else.
I think I can see the sort of thing you mean, that the — I mean, you see something, which you didn’t see before, which is —
Well, it was something that Biederman was talking about, which was a shift in perception. But he didn’t want to acknowledge it in that case. I mean somehow he didn’t feel that Ruall would be able to do anything like that. “It would just be confused,” he said. I mean in this regard he was like Krishnamurti who doesn’t acknowledge anybody else has ever done it either. As he says, “Sometimes I acknowledge the Buddha,” but beyond that he’s very reluctant.
But isn’t every sort of work of art to some extent is doing this kind of thing isn’t it?
Giving you some sort of change of perception. If it didn’t you wouldn’t want to look at it would you.
Yes, but I’m trying to say this was a very big change of perception.
It’s as big as the shift from two to three dimensions.
I suppose the thing about this feeling it was coming out and going around you and back again or something, why did Biederman object to that?
He just said that that’s typical of Ruall’s type of confusion. And he said, “If you wanted to really see that stuff you would see it much better in Cézanne.”
I’ve never understood why I didn’t find Cézanne interesting. People are always going on about Cézanne being so remarkable, and I never found it interesting.
Everybody sees things his own way. Anyway, that’s some background to show where I was thinking. We discussed at great length the questions of order and form and structure, which are really crucial for understanding this problem of space that I was talking about. I wanted to derive space from something else, which was not space. That’s essentially what Monet had done. That is he had derived the order of space from the order of elements of color, the arrangement inside. I wanted mathematically to do something similar. In fact, one could’ve thought that, suppose you had to make a theory of an impressionist’s painting. What is it in the painting, which gives rise to this impression of form and space and so on? You would now discover many things. For example, it’s known that the color value you get for any particular element depends on all the elements around it. And not only that, but their geometric form and then what they mean. Their impression of color is not just decided by the rays of light that are coming out of that little element. The color impression of that element is determined by the meaning of the whole picture. I mean by all the, all sorts of features of the whole picture.
Something in particular was the ones which you’re fairly close to it.
Yes, but even further away can affect it. Also the space value of it whether it’s in two or three dimensions and so on. Now that was something which appeared in quantum mechanics that you have what’s called a hill-bred [?] space, multi-dimensional in which the value of any particular element would depend on other elements, which came in and produced a higher dimension. Suppose you have a large number of particles in quantum mechanics. Then the properties of any particle are dependent on all the others, some more than others, but really on the whole. Therefore you had a considerable analogy between this picture, the properties of the picture and the properties described in quantum mechanics. These properties are what are behind this non-locality that we’ve talking we’ve talked about. To say the quality of any one element does not belong to itself alone. Therefore, I thought that if you had a good mathematician and he wanted to make a mathematical theory of an impressionist painting, he would have done something like what is done in quantum mechanics, but perhaps in a new way that would provide a new insight. It would’ve required getting in touch with some mathematicians just to try to do that. I mean I never found one that was really able to do it. He would’ve had to have broader interests. But then with Biederman we discussed questions of order and structure and creativity. These were all questions, which are relevant to my scientific interests and also my more general interests. The notion of a new order for space, this discreet order of simplicities and not the continuous order, and different notions of structure.
Biederman was able to sort of put all his ideas clearly on paper?
He was very articulate. He was unusual for an artist.
Yes. Because many artists I think are relatively inarticulate. I mean the only they can articulate is through their work isn’t it.
Yes. He was very good at writing down all these things and he wrote a couple of books.
By the way, did you see this chap, Dennis Potter on the television talking about his television series about the singing detective? Talking about people being articulate.
Maybe you were out of the country, but that was one of the most interesting television things for a very long time. This, I don’t know how many, it may have been six things in it television play or series. It was very interesting, seeing the playwrights sort of talking about how or putting these things in the works sort of related to his general way of thinking about things. And he was very articulate in that situation, which I think is often not the case.
That had a big effect on me. For some time I sort of went along with his theories although he sort of frustrated me a great deal about Ruall and about a few other questions where I disagreed. Because when he felt he was right he just simply stuck to it. He was like Krishnamurti again there. He wouldn’t budge.
Do you think he was like Bohr?
A bit like Bohr, too, yes.
But I thought the difference with Bohr, at least when he was younger, was that he’d stick to things very hard, but if you beat him hard enough he was prepared to move.
Well, on fundamentals he never moved. He was not prepared to move.
I suppose everything was —
That’s Biederman too, but you see —
It’s a question of how quickly you come up against that wall.
Yes. But still it had a considerable effect on me, the whole thing. For a while I think I sort of accepted his views on art. Now I think they’re interesting and there’s a lot of truth in them, but I don’t fully necessarily accept them.
But on the other hand they may provide useful sort of analogies and models in relation to your own ideas.
Yes. The important idea was that through your primary notion of order may come through visual perception. So that an important source of concepts would, I had the notion that if you could pay more attention to your visual perception then that would be; I think this was in agreement with Biederman, which would be an important source of new ways of thinking. To some extent this was along Einstein’s line who said that he began with unspecifiable feelings and images and when there was something recurrent in them, that was the beginning of a concept. That the words came only later.
Yes, that’s true, but I think that Einstein wasn’t saying that one should be cultivating these bodily sensations did he?
He was still presumably thinking — Well of course, we don’t know what he did think about.
No. The idea was that if you would pay more attention to nature — and Biederman’s idea was that his structurist art would enable him to do this because nature was very complex and difficult. But the essence was therein structurist started. He called it an analogy to visual music. He says music picks on a few notes and works out complex meanings from them. Now he says a few planes like this can work out a very subtle meaning. If you have such a structure standing on the wall as you walk around it or as the light changes and so on its meaning was always changing. You would have to really have this structure, a few of them, and be able to live with it in order to see what it meant. The museum never shows it to you.
Why? You mean you can’t get all around it and you —
You don’t see it in changing light and people are there interrupting you and so you can’t really put your attention there.
I think that that is a very sensitive point. But I suppose what Einstein might have said was that if you’re thinking about your scientific problem, then it is desirable to take very seriously any, be particular responsive to any kind of visual notions or bodily something or other like that. I suppose that could be a clue to what Biederman was saying roughly.
Yes, but except Biederman would say that since he has already done this. It like say somebody who has produced quite a piece of music. If you listen to the music then you are able to pick up the essential plane, as if you have a whole bunch of sounds in nature you would have to devote a lot more attention and energy to getting anywhere. You would really have to work much more intensively. So he’s saying that he felt that work along his line would be a kind of revolution in human consciousness, that it would really change the perception. By changing the way we saw things it would affect all the problems of humanity. He felt people were over attached to the word. Now in this he was affected by a fellow called Korzybski. I think also we’ll have to bring him in.
He would have to absolutely word.
Yes. There was a fellow called Alfred Korzybski who had been an American philosopher of the 1920s mostly, 1930s. Worked a lot on what’s called semantics or the study of meaning. Korzybski had written an extensive work called Science and Sanity, which Biederman recommended to me and I read it. There were a lot of things in it, but a few points I can probably say. One point is he had of saying whatever we say anything is, it isn’t. It’s more and it’s different, that the word never covers everything. That we however tend to identify things with the meanings of our words, and this is the cause of the vast part of human problems. Because then the way we think about it is going to affect the way we see it. Therefore it was essential not to identify, but to say each particular phenomenon — Like he would say if you have the object now, the object next time, the object next time; it’s not always the same, right. Or anything, like saying Mr. So and So now, Mr. So and So later, and So and So. And as you put suffixes, you know indices to indicate that it’s a different occasion and therefore a different phenomenon and may have a different meaning. The idea is not to identify by a fixed concept, the meaning of the word. This is very important. Biederman felt that we haven’t really used vision properly for the human psyche. He felt that vision was the most essential feature of the human psyche. We had a lot of argument about that. He felt it hasn’t been developed, but he felt it was the most essential feature. Even blind men, I argue with him about blind people who are born blind. But he said that their ability to do anything depending on the order that came by the communication with people who could see.
It would be difficult to prove that wasn’t so, anyway.
And he felt that if you would follow along the lines he’s saying, this would be a revolution in human consciousness, to make it centered on sight rather than on words or sounds. He felt the visual capacities of the human brain had not really being utilized significantly, that they were mostly controlled by the tactile capacities. In other words, that when we see objects, we see them as we would feel them, that dominates it. But his view of structure was not to see it as you would feel it, but to see it first. All you have to do is to say that the object of something that would be touchable, but beyond that, the sense of touch would not play a big role in his visual structures. But the dynamics of changing light and color and form and so on and space would be the thing.
But then was he trying to say then that one should free one’s self from all one’s visual conditioning?
That’s right. And he’s saying that the artistic conditioning was a very big part of it. But he wanted to extend it. The visual conditioning by the tactile sense. He felt that would be a way to open the human mind up in new ways that wouldn’t be so conditioned that would be free of many of the emotional troubles that are in the present approach. So in a way he was saying the same as Krishnamurti, that he had discovered something that would be a fundamental transformation of the human being, if you really pursued it.
I’ll say that it’s always been something that’s puzzled me a bit, because obviously you can never be completely free of all your conditioning. Because you necessarily are [???] that enlarged [???] product.
No, he didn’t say — You’re not dominated by a conditioning. Krishnamurti says okay you’re conditioned to all sorts of things like talk this way in a certain language and so on. But the conditioning that dominates you towards destructiveness and so on is what you have to be free of. There must be an intelligence beyond the conditioning.
Yes. I mean there always is to some extent. But it seems to me that what he wanted was a much bigger sort of change of emphasis on the whole thing. I mean, if you are free of all conditioning well you couldn’t do anything, could you?
I don’t think he meant in exactly that sense.
Yes. Well that’s all right then. But I think possibly —
But there is a destructive kind of conditioning. See this is a matter that Korzybski and Biederman emphasized a lot. Korzybski criticized the use of allness in language to saying all black and people are so and so. That’s typical with prejudice. If you say all conditioning you’re getting in trouble. You have to qualify it.
I mean very crudely what they meant was that your conditioning should show how be your servants and not only the masters.
Krishnamurti really meant that, but he had also he was conditioned to a kind of allness language from his early childhood which caused a lot of it to come out wrong. Perhaps he didn’t realize the importance of that part of his conditioning and therefore he was still conditioned by it. Since he wanted to communicate and this stopped it, this was a serious point.
I see what you’re saying about Biederman’s idea of freeing oneself in relation to one’s visual perception. But you mean this was a sort of extension of what these other people had been doing in the early 19th Century and early 20th, but he wants to take it further you mean than they did.
Yes, much further. Also it was tied up with the idea my interests starting with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and later Krishnamurti and being freed of other kinds of conditioning. So it’s all sort of tied together. Being freed from the kind of conditioning that dominates you is the way I would put it. So that as you say, the conditioning serves you rather —
Yes. It’s having some degree of freedom in relation to more is everything. I mean, conditioning implies lack of freedom.
Well, that kind of conditioning. I mean some kind of conditioning may expand your freedom, if you can talk in the number of languages and so on. In a certain sense, right? But the kind of conditioning that compels you to certain patterns of behavior and certain prejudices and so on gets in your way. It impedes if you’re that enslaved.
In the language, presumably if you’re going to use it creatively, there again you’re making use of the conditioning.
It’s not dominating you.
I mean what I don’t know about and you’ll have to point smack to me is if you look at these ants and everything, all the stuff that socio-biologists study, I mean where is the freedom and creativity at the ant level?
It’s hard to know. I mean that may not be a great deal.
Yes. I think that these people tend to imply, who study them, is that there’s nothing there. They would just be like programmed sort of robots.
They have no way of being sure of that. All they can say is they see certain things in which they —
You mean you might have to study the — I mean you might say, well, human beings are 99% programmed robots, but eventually it’s the 1% which makes the difference in us.
Say some being from Mars just coming to study human beings could easily conclude —
Might tear [???] to see —
It’d take him a very long time before he saw something that wasn’t programmed.
Yes, which would say would be the essential human aspect. I just don’t think it would be interesting if somebody looked at the ads from that point of view because at the moment they seem so dominated by this whole business about everything being determined by the genes that I don’t imagine they’re looking for anything else.
That’s the point. You see the way of looking is conditioning. That’s what Biederman is saying. Our visual perception is conditioned. And then Ouspensky and Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti, what you were saying our other kinds of thought and perception are conditioned. They raised the hope that you get free of this conditioning, whereas the people you’re talking about don’t think anything. They think that that’s all there is.
Yes. In fact, they almost revel in it and say it’s very important that we have to accept that this is the way thing are. That’s what Monos said. We’ve got to face this reality. Can you bring in some visual matter in relation to Biederman to test —
Well, I don’t know. There is some catalogues I could ask for. He’s still alive. He’s getting very old.
Yes. I think of course it is probably very difficult to —
It would be very costly to reproduce that stuff.
What I was thinking more was if some of his points could be illustrated by things which didn’t require very good reproduction. I mean points about impressionists and [???]ists and people, these could be illustrated without having to have good quality good reproductions, wouldn’t they?
How would you do it? It would be hard. You know, you’ve pretty well to be an artist nearly as good as they are to bring it out.
I mean what is the difference between this thing about the points and — I mean one element of it simply is the one which is illustrated in any picture in a newspaper where things are made out of little points. If you look at it up closely you just see all of the points. I mean that’s sort of one aspect of the whole thing isn’t it?
I mean that can be easily illustrated —
That can be illustrated easily enough.
You don’t need an artist to show that.
And then when you see it was a totality of all the relationships and the form against [???], isn’t it?
Yes. Well I think that could be done. I don’t know how you would illustrate Cézanne’s view of structure without reproducing something.
As I said, I’ve never really sort of got to grips with that, so I don’t know. I would’ve felt that for a book that it would highly desirable if you can get visual stuff into it.
I think you could get even a poor reproduction of one of Cézanne’s [???], which would… I would show the structure.
I would’ve thought, definitely in my case, I would’ve thought yes and without color.
Even without color. You could even put in some dotted lines to —
It may be that Cézanne, did he always use color? I don’t know.
I think he always did, but —
There’s probably some other people who didn’t. Black and white or something. You see, if you’ve got some sort of concrete thing people can then sort of grasp the whole sort of notion so much better. I mean obviously Biederman’s got a point about words that the — When I saw some quote I think this morning, I think it was this awful education minister who had some quote about he was giving some poetry reading at some school, Bakehouse. Somewhere or another I saw something about words being — some American writer said something about words and how they were, and he got the idea very vaguely, but they were something like I’m probably quite wrong. It sort of scabs on the human body or something. That’s not right. It was like saying something that here you have an underlying reality and these things are just kind of stuck on the surface in a rough kind of way. And yet people have the illusion that these things are really have some real sort of defined form or define the forms themselves, but they don’t. Maybe it has nothing to do with Baker. But I mean this is quite true about words isn’t it because how the words, I mean have each word has a sort of hundred different shades of meaning, which are changing almost month to month to some extent. And they’re so dependent on our context.
But I think the point Korzybski was the attention to how he used words, how you tend to identify the meaning in a fixed way. And how now you have to not do that to say that each use of the word is for that particular instant. Like saying this chair at this moment, and so on to the next moment and so on. Also making qualifications. Like saying allness, especially the use of allness is very dangerous because that tends to identify everything as belonging to one category when there’s infinite variation possible. It interferes with free movement, doesn’t it? You fix things in saying all people of this kind are this way, and so on. It’s the basis of prejudice.
You see that thing about Bohr saying the use in which the word, and it’s the more precise you try to make the meaning the less useful the word becomes. Incidentally, I likened something I showed to a philosopher here who was reading through something I read. He sort of crossed this out. It was obviously nonsense to him, whereas you can see?