Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Endless Procession

Well, you've got my being cooped up waiting all day in the wifi-enabled jury room 2.60 of King's County Criminal Court to thank for this post not being delayed even more than it already is.

I don't know about you, but I am always worried about receiving too narrow a stream of information. When I started painting, I looked at Sargent a lot:

Then I needed more, so I settled on the Big Three, and studied them for many years:




Titian - for beauty. Velazquez - for psychology and brushwork. Rubens - for energy and joie-de-vivre. No doubt I'll have more to write about them as this blog unfolds.

But even the wonderful worlds of these three painters were not enough. I needed to turn to more artists; voraciously more. I was forced to be catholic in my tastes. I started with a few artists I had once flirted with, and then avoided.

Pablo, bien sûr


And I started catching up on what's going on in the world today. Let me say it plainly: abstract expressionism, and every single movement since then, have done nothing for me. But that doesn't mean I don't look at them. I need shock treatment - I need my boundaries to be attacked and breached all the time. I need to see what possible things other people have thought of...

Lately, I've been watching PBS's Art:21 a fair bit. This documentary series on contemporary artists in many ways encapsulates everything I hate about PBS: its would-be hipness, its snobbery convinced it is populism, its self-righteousness, its tedium, and all with a dash of sucking thrown in for good measure. But they do stumble on some good stuff sometimes - heck, it's a good premise - and I learn even from the bad parts. So I keep watching it.

I saw an episode the other evening which included a section on artist Allan McCollum. This was a fascinating look at a body of work that resonated very strongly with me, even though it's in a mode I do not identify with at all.

Let's look at one of his pieces a bit, and hear what he has to say about it. Then I'll explain what I'm on about:

Individual Works...series begun in 1987.

To produce the Individual Works hundreds of small shapes are casually collected from peoples' homes, supermarkets, hardware stores, and sometimes from the sidewalks: bottle-caps, jar-lids, drawer-pulls, salt-shakers, flashlights, measuring spoons, cosmetics containers, yogurt cups, earrings, push-buttons, candy-molds, garden-hose connectors, paper-weights, shade-pulls, Chinese tea-cups, cat toys, pencil sharpeners, etc. From this collection of shapes many rubber molds are produced from which replicas of these shapes can be hand-cast in plaster in large quantities, thus creating a vocabulary of shapes which can be combined to produce new shapes, and so forth. A simple numerical system is used during the production process to insure that no two finished Individual Works will ever be alike. Each unique Individual Work is hand-cast in gypsum, and hand-painted with an enamel paint. The Individual Works are usually gathered into collections of over 10,000 per collection.
Now, why is this so interesting to me? Let me tell you about a couple of dreams I had when I was very little.

In one dream, I was in a flat landscape. There was nothing superflat about it: it was a village, with trees, small hills, widely spaced houses on farms. Some of the ground had been replaced with checked red-and-white tablecloth fabric. There was a road through the town - it was a sunny day. What was flat about this landscape was that there were no mountains or oceans nearby. In fact, I was aware that this particular region retained this character - houses, streams, trees, thoroughfares, grass, tablecloth - for hundreds of thousands of miles. The extension of this landscape in space was unfathomably vast. It never strongly changed, but it never repeated either. Every point in this land was unique.

A second dream. There was a closet, with a number of shelves. Each shelf was stuffed with a variety of dolls: dolls of animals and people. If you closed this closet, and opened the door again, you would find that the dolls had been replaced with different dolls, arranged differently. A second closing and opening would produce a new set of changes - but the changes would be slightly less significant. Repeating the closing and opening action gradually reduced the changes until they were incredibly slight; a single arm of a single doll would have shifted slightly, perhaps, or a doll would rest at a mildly shifted angle. But the changes, while diminishing in degree, never ceased. There was no logical end-point to the closing and opening of this horrible door. You could keep producing changes, trivial changes growing more trivial, forever.

I have a deep and queasy connection with the concept of an unbounded set of objects which are all unique and yet have no meaningful differences. Consider the trilobites:

Or Stephen Wolfram's cellular automatic plane:

Or the monstrous invasive dream-parade in the movie Paprika:

Or my own fascination, documented here previously, with the sequence of the prime numbers. My friend and model Vadim, considering fashion magazines, once referred to the images they contain as "the endless procession of beautiful but meaningless forms." Perhaps I am not describing something like fashion here, but I like Vadim's phrasing very much - don't you? It is a wonderful phrasing.

It is this very topic, this hideous thing that has no start and no end, which is the subject of much of McCollum's work. In the Art:21 interview, he described his interest in using an industrial process to make unique objects. The objects should have the feel of industrial mass-production, and yet no two should be alike. To that end, he has contrived extremely clever techniques, culminating in a very ingenious computerized graphical procedure (basically sophisticated copy-pasting) which underlies his Shapes project. Here's a bit of what he writes about the project:

And here's a photograph of some of its horrifying scale:

Allan McCollum. The SHAPES Project, 2005/06. 7,056 SHAPES Monoprints, each unique. Framed digital prints, 4.25 x 5.5 inches each. Installation: Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, 2006.

McCollum adds a clarification of the difference between the physical implementation of the project, and its vastly larger conceptual space:
The Shapes Project is a system to create a large quantity of unique shapes, one for every person on the planet when the world population peaks in the middle of the twenty-first century. To make certain that the system will be able to accommodate everyone, it has been organized to produce over 31,000,000,000 different Shapes.
There is a stark inhumanity and terror to McCollum's work. This is work that not only has no meaning; by mimicking many of the structures of meaning - variation, distinctness of shape - it tricks the mind into partaking of it from the perspective of meaning, which it perplexes, confounds, and ultimately undoes. It makes meaning appear meaningless. It renders thought and hope and humanity futile. It makes Sol Lewitt's comparatively finite combinatorial systems look downright quaint:

McCollum has figured out how to particularize a functionally unlimited space, and in so doing, to destroy the mind that attempts to take it seriously.

I think I've been speaking a lot of hyperbole here, and I'd like to back up for a second before I get to the moral of the story. What do I mean "destroy the mind"? What kind of a claim is this?

Well, let's consider a common feature of the Ptolemaic and Copernican universes for a minute.

Sure, they're at each others' throats about the Earth and the Sun, but they both agree that the imperfect world we see around us progresses outward in space toward perfection. This model, to the extent that it permits the infinite, sees stability in the infinite. Its infinite is infinite in extent, not detail.

This is not the universe we now conceive: a universe of varying background radiation, of galactic superclusters, of twisty little garlic knots of spacetime. This universe, too, may prove infinite in extension, although we don't think so. But if it is infinite, it is not uniform. It is thick with detail.

This detail, we abhor. We have a different and more subtle form of the stabilization feature of the Ptolemaic-Copernican infinite: the second law of thermodynamics.
Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same.
Entropy is disorder. The second law informs us that the universe as a whole is tending toward disorder. Total disorder is heat, aimless vibration, crap. The universe is tending toward crap. This crappiness does for time what Ptolemy and Copernicus do for space: without setting an outer boundary, it assures uniformity. It is infinite, but without detail.

The Stephen Wolfram referenced above, a very interesting guy, has referred to the second law as "the so-called second law of thermodynamics." This is kind of a funny line. Wolfram thinks that entropy is not necessarily as straightforward as all that. If you scroll back up and look at that weird triangle pattern, you can see where Wolfram is coming from. This pattern, which never repeats itself and never settles into a quiet uniformity, emerges from the repeated application of some very simple mathematical rules. Wolfram has used this type of rule-set to simulate all sorts of interesting things, such as the patterns on seashells. This work has convinced him, and he's not a stupid individual, that the universe itself is the outcome of some similar repeated execution of simple rules of the type he is studying.

Now, this is not worth much as science, so far, because it doesn't predict anything and can't be tested.

However, one feature of Wolfram's systems is that, while broad areas tend toward entropic crappiness over time, new nuggets of order spontaneously arise and spread out as well. So if the universe is a Wolfram system, then it is not tending toward total entropic disorder. Wolfram's derision about the second law results from his belief that we are extrapolating the law from a small scale, where it works, to the ultimate scale, where it fails.

A Wolfram universe is a universe of infinite extent and infinite variation. It is thick with detail from here to eternity. And this induces the same terror that I am seeing in McCollum's projects. I think I can explain this terror better, having presented the situation at a universal scope.

We are accustomed to thinking of all the things we see as having some meaning. A tree - this means something. A cat, a dog, a man, a woman, a child - all these mean things. A cloud, a brook, a house, a road. All of them are part of a world, sometimes gentle and sometimes rough, but always meaningful. Those parts that are not meaningful in themselves, are meaningful to us, as we behold and consider them.

But how many things can we consider? Ten? Twenty? A hundred - a thousand?

What if there were no end to these things, all of them having distinct and serious human import? Can we stand to admire the beauty of a million clouds? A billion rivers? A trillion men and women? But a trillion is hardly even the foothill of the infinite.

So we have learned to cope with the infinite - with the grains of sand, the waves of the sea, the stars of the sky - by means of the concept of repetition. Repetition collapses the infinite. One grain of sand may be said to be functionally just like the rest of them. The waves of the sea - alike. The stars - alike. We have bounded the infinite prospect with Ptolemy's EMPIREUM or Copernicus's STELLARUM FIXARUM SPHAERA IMMOBILIS. Perhaps we can about choke down infinity if it doesn't really mean anything.

But an infinity consisting of an infinite and non-repeating number of elements just like the elements we know and care about blows us apart. Not only is it impossible for the finite mind to comprehend it, but its very existence forces the finite mind to consider that everything it knows, being alike in kind with so much more that it cannot know, is in fact a useless fraction, a meaningless fraction.

We cannot abide a finite universe, and we cannot abide an infinite but meaningful universe. We need a finite number of meaningful elements and a vast and empty cold surrounding them, a cold we can safely ignore apart from your occasional moment of wonder or dread.

Wolfram's universe, McCollum's universe, by contrast, is a mind-splitting, soul-mocking, terrifying universe.

So why on earth do I like this man and his project, which combines fecundity and sterility in the most unholy of ways? For this very terror I have been trying to convey. It is a specific kind of terror, a very particular formulation of terror, and it has haunted me in the most personal and visceral way my entire life. By some weird chance, it has manifested itself to McCollum as well. For him, it does not seem terrifying. For me, it was so terrifying that I stopped thinking about it, and then forgot about it. Looking at McCollum's work was part of my artistic shock treatment. When I saw his work, I remembered this thing, my own personal terror. McCollum restored to me a part of myself that I had lost.

In many regards, life is a process of forgetting and loss. Art, on precisely the same topics, is often a process of remembering and restoration. In art, we are all moving toward being as whole as we were when we began. I needed something I was missing, and McCollum gave it back to me.


  1. Daniel, I have to say yours is one of the most intellectually interesting artist's blogs I have encountered.

    I'm trying to understand why this endless profusion of variations would be terrifying, as I don't have that instinctive reaction to it. Of course, I'm also not bothered by elongated loops (your June 27 post, "Those Hideous Forms"). I find them rather appealing. So maybe it's just a matter of taste. But what you have to say about it is food for thought.

    Surely an endless profusion of variations does reflect something quite profound about the real world. Clouds or snowflakes or trees or puppies, all of them the world produces in endless profusion, each one unique but none Unique in the sense of absolutely singular, or absolutely perfect. The same extends to common human experiences, to our days, our meals, our dreams.

    Maybe we want to think of things as perfect and permanent and sacred. Remember the Monty Python song, "Every Sperm is Sacred"? Which is true in the sense that each one contains the potential for a whole human life, but which is absurd in the sense that every ejaculation contains enough sperms to repopulate the planet, and the natural order seems to work by the essentially random selection of one amid the wanton destruction of billions.

    Nature is so full of these examples of extravagant wastefulness and arbitrariness that surely we should have to think of our own selves in this way - that our uniqueness and our very existence is purely arbitrary.

    The drive to make art may be our battle against this position of insignificance. We want to produce something new or special or enduring. The history of art proves that such magical works do occasionally come into being. But when you've seen vast numbers of works by vast numbers of obscure artists, you have to conclude that even artworks are, all but a very few of them, just more grains of sand in the endless profusion of variations.

    But note that in nature, the method of profusion with endless variations does seem to give us a world of incredible beauty, evolving fantastic landscapes and magnificent creatures. Even in culture, perhaps we should see the immense ocean of crap culture, pop garbage and bad art as the petri dish or compost pile out of which glorious masterpieces sometimes manifest.

    Perhaps what is horrifying about McCollum's work is that the method seems to be calculated to ensure that all variations are insignificant. Something vital that lives in the similar process in nature may be missing or even specifically excluded from McCollum's process. Perhaps this mysterious element is also missing from Wolfram's generative algorithms - I don't know enough to say this for sure.

    Some materialists argue that if you were to set an infinite number of monkeys banging aimlessly on typewriters, eventually the complete works of William Shakespeare would emerge from the process. I find something intuitively wrong with this idea, and to me that says that a pure materialistic world view is missing something important.

    Endless profusion with endless variation is the way of the world. But something is alive and growing in that process.

  2. Dani. Wow. This is really amazing.

    First, I'm fascinated by your dream of trivial half life in the closet. Just amazing, the human mind, to come up with such a thing. And in sleep, no less!

    I love this: "This is not the universe we now conceive: a universe of varying background radiation, of galactic superclusters, of twisty little garlic knots of spacetime. This universe, too, may prove infinite in extension, although we don't think so. But if it is infinite, it is not uniform. It is thick with detail."

    Your thoughts about coping with the infinite are just fascinating to me. I think I've mentioned to you how I'm drawn to subjects involving incomprehensible scale, both great and small. But this very simple idea of repetition is, well you can see that my vocabulary is far from infinite as I will use 'fascinating' yet again.

    Thank you so much for sharing these things with us. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

    As I did Fred's comment regarding arbitrariness. His comments are always a rich contribution to your blog. And just so things don't continue elevating intellectually, I am compelled to quote the Simpsons yet again in response to Fred's monkey typewriter note:

    "This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon, they'll have written the greatest novel known to mankind. (reads one of the typewriters) 'It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times'?! you stupid monkey!"

  3. OK, so, finally - a reply. Fred, thanks for the thoughtful reply and kind words about the blog. I don't think I've got as much to say back, but I've been mulling over your position on the endless variation, that it is not terrifying - a position shared by a mathematician friend of mine who also reads the blog, although I suspect her lack of a sense of terror about it arises for very different reasons.

    There are two distinct issues you raise: 1. emotional response to the possibility of the endless procession, and 2. emotional response to McCollum's work. Let's consider the first one first. My conclusion is that we probably just have different outlooks, although we may be defining terms differently. What I mean by that, is that you cite things like sperm and snowflakes as examples of an infinite set of variations with which you're comfortable. But that's not exactly what I mean - consider fundamental feelings like love and hate. How many of those are there? Maybe eight or nine. What if there were one quadrillion of them? How much significance could we assign to love and hate in the face of such a deluge of fundamental things? The problem then wouldn't be that we are arbitrary, but that the best we can be, even in our own eyes, is so trivial as to be meaningless. One does not like to think of love and hate as meaningless or trivial. But the mind cannot accommodate both a meaningful love and hate, and the scale of being that I am suggesting. One of them has to go.

    But let's say we actually are using the same words to describe basically the same things. Then we have the difference in outlook. What I mean is this - your work embraces chaos and wrestles form out of it. From this, I have to conclude that you are a rock and roll guy. Rock and roll exists in a universe of chaos, and is comfortable with chaos. It would not be itself if its structures didn't coexist with and interact with chaos.

    I am a classical guy myself. I mean, I can listen to rock, but I just don't rock. I think of everything after the well-tempered clavier as kind of a footnote. This has consequences for my work and my attitude. Sometimes I try to introduce some chaos into my work, but mostly I try to banish it. Even when I don't try to banish it, a feeling of tranquility or balance seems to dominate my work. My attitude is not so much "Never mind the Bullocks" as "Amen" - that I have seen a universe beautiful in its order, and am trying always to discipline my work into reflecting some fragment of that glory. Part of the vision of the orderly universe is the concept that ultimately, however much there is, it can be understood. This is the mighty synthesizing and simplifying project of physics, but it applies just as much to non-physics pursuits as well. And if everything can be understood, then at some level, it must also be limited - limited enough to allow human reason to understand it. Which precludes the endless procession...


  4. Now, this is not the entirety of my personality; and we can all will ourselves to do things out of character. I do it all the time - I force myself to go against myself, because I know that one position is likely to be insufficient. I'm sure I contradict myself constantly on this blog, and I even have a post in mind on the very topic.

    But there is no doubt that a big part of where I'm coming from is this classically rationalistic universe, which is incompatible with the Profusion.

    So let's get to issue 2 - that McCollum's work is designed to showcase thematically insignificant variation. For you, there is a great distinction between living and growing profusions, and hideous quasi-mechanical profusions like the ones McCollum has devised. That's fair, but perhaps you can already see where I'm going: for me there is no essential distinction. There is something hideously quasi-mechanical about profusion itself. There are no happy profusions, not of the love-hate fundamentals. Clouds, sunsets, snowflakes, those are all fine. Let there be an endless number of them. But for god's sake, limit the number of important things to ones we can hope to grasp. Not by making them small, either, but by making ourselves larger. Just not so large as to utterly dissolve...

    So there you go. I've seen a couple of combinatorial arguments about the monkeys. I think there is some doubt about whether they'd get to Shakespeare, but I don't see any particular reason they couldn't, or that it would be unduly upsetting if they did.

    Ed - I'm glad you enjoyed this one! And of course the human mind would come up with the closet while sleeping - what sane person could imagine it, awake? Anyhow, I am very glad to provide material for your own continuing introspection on scale, detail, and repetition. I enjoyed Fred's comment as well! Have you checked out his thoughtful blog and marvelous work yet? It's on my blog roll, under "Drawing Life."

    There is no situation, however good, that cannot be made better with an apropos Simpsons line. Spinoza said that, so it's probably true.

  5. Daniel, you're probably correct about the difference between my temperament and yours, though I do tend to prefer classical music to rock music.

    I still think if you find profusion horrible you are bound to find the world itself quite horrible, because it is astonishingly profuse in reality. And when you say there are only a few fundamental emotions like love or hate, that is certainly true, but every specific experience of love or hate is distinct. The only way to avoid profusion and variation is to think of things only in the plane of Platonic abstractions. Everything that becomes real enters into the realm of profusion and variation.

    If you only imagine paintings, then they can be pure and rational and perfect expressions of harmony. But when you actually paint them, despite all your best efforts, they will be imperfect and specific. Trying to get closer to perfection, you will paint more of them, and before long the work will begin to be profuse! As Homer would say, "D'oh!"

    Maybe rather than classical and rock and roll, you can see it in terms of a Newtonian universe and a quantum universe. Many physicists schooled in classical physics found the randomness of quantum physics extremely disturbing. But of course a classical Newtonian universe is absolutely deterministic, with no chance for surprise or growth. Perhaps randomness, variation, and profusion give the system the openness that allows beauty to be born.

  6. Daniel.

    Wow. What a post. Although I may not use the word "terrifying" to describe McCollum's work, I definitely find him disturbing...in a good way. Kind of. He's the kind of artist I would never put on my wall, but I could gaze at in wonder for a half hour every 3 months or so.

    Anyway, I want to pick apart and expand upon the reasons why you find McCollum so terrifying. As far as I can tell, there are two reasons:

    1) the conflation of fundamental and important opposites (meaning vs. meaninglessness)
    2) the subversion of the mind's instinct to provide meaning to the finite and resign the infinite to meaninglessness.

    To address number 1, suppose the photo of McCollum's Shape Project included items of different sizes as well as shapes. Supposed some of these items were pretty darn big compared to the others. Well, that would make a the project a lot less disturbing wouldn't it? This is because, I believe, that indiviualism of any sort (genius, luck, hard work) is rewarded in this universe, whereas in McCollum's it really isn't. You could be the kind of genius John Stuart Mill describes as crucial for a great society, and it won't make a difference. So this meaning we find in human greatness, accomplishment, individualism? Meh. Meaning? What meaning?

    What McCollum does for me is he forces me to remind myself that he's wrong (again, in a good way), and that we must find syllogisms for the existence of a God of some sort in order to live. All the meaning we can ascribe to ourselves as individuals and to the human race may all end up like Ozymandias one day. But here is something no one can refute: even temporary meaning is something, and something is more than nothing. Hence temporary meaning is our bullwark against nothingness.

    2. Your second reason delves (like many things on this blog) into the biological or near biological. It's like our brains just cannot cope with so many unique stimuli all at once. Such stimuli shut down our natural capacity to assimilate the grotesque detail of the infinite into an easily inhaled aether.

    Can't say I disagree. I would like to add however that there is a sadness that creeps in when one realizes that there are individual things we can never in our lifetimes have time to behold or consider. Read Arthur C. Clarke's The Star for a dramatization of this kind of tragic realization.

    What's different between you and me however is that I think I would grow bored with McCollum before finding him terrifying. He takes us to where the mind meets the infinite, where meaning dissolves into chaos, where science begins to chase its tail and implies quite strongly that nothing is there.

    Such a place is cold and lonely when you don't have a strong feeling in your gut that a God of some sort exists. It's my opinion that these kinds of conundrums are what led Man to invent/believe in/adore God in the first place.

    Thanks for the amazing post.

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  9. Oh, and by the way, whoever told you about rock and roll and its relationship with chaos must be a very intelligent and perspicacious young man indeed!

  10. HI,
    I'm an emerging artist who follows and learns lot from your blog.I read your posts with great interest, first I expend my English language/vocabulary (never ending task for an immigrant); second,I enjoy your explanations and way of finding and discerning hidden nature of things.

  11. Gordana - Thank you for writing! I am glad to play a role in your learning of this wonderful language, and that you find my thoughts on art useful. Good luck with your work, and be well -


  12. Well, here it is Sunday morning, I might as well finally reply to Fred and Chris!

    Fred, I'm sorry my phrasing of the difference between our temperaments miscast your taste in music. And I don't think it's necessary to find the world horrible even if the prospect of a profusion such as I am describing appears horrible. I actually do tend to be a platonist, in some moods; but I think you are equating two things which aren't necessarily the same: 1. the idea that it might be possible to more or less learn everything, and 2. platonism. The reason for this seems to be that platonism reduces the number of things to a manageable list (in this sense, science is also platonistic); so that only platonism really offers a knowable universe.

    But let me respond in terms of your distinction between the general concept of love, and every particular love. I'm not saying that the fact of unknowably many loves produces this horror I am describing (although I am sometimes depressed that I can't be everyone and love every love). No, it does not produce this horror for the same reason that the concept of love, and our own particular loves, allows us to feel sympathy with the loves of others. They are similar enough to partake of the category. The horror only arises from an unknowable profusion of things as important as love. This possibility crosses the line from acceptable ignorance to devastating ignorance.

    If that makes it any clearer...

    As for the Newtonian/quantum distinction, a couple things: people might have felt in the dumps about it, but the deterministic nature of the newtonian universe never seriously kept anyone from acting as if they had free will. Also, I am one of those cusses who thinks that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (the part with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) has a flaw which will be identified when physicists stop screwing around with useless games, as they have been doing for the past forty years. Or, in short, having got the tip of my big toe wet in the vast sea of real science, I am very hesitant to draw any "life lessons" from physics. I am in awe of its beauty, but the newtonian universe, as well as the quantum mechanical universe, seem to me very likely to be laughably poor descriptions of the real; so that we are safer asserting things about free will and beauty on the basis of our philosophical introspections than we are asserting them on the basis of deduction from the current shoddy state of science.

    I guess that's all a very wordy way of saying, "Nyah! Nyah! I can't hear you!"

    I'm sorry, and I hope you don't think I'm being dismissive of your perspective.


  13. Moving right along.

    Chris, thank you for reading over and thinking about the concepts I was considering. I'm glad you enjoyed getting to know McCollum's work a little. Your thought experiment regarding size is very interesting. I actually ran it in my head a little, and I see your point, but I think on its true scale, a full McCollum set with size variations would be just as frightening as one without. Why? Because the distinction between any finite difference, as one approaches infinity, approaches zero. The only way to make a McCollum set with the reassuring size differentiation that you describe is if you have one or a small number of elements that are infinitely large. Then you could say - "You see those five? Those are the important ones." Anything else, and you wind up with a hundred thousand important ones, or a million, or a billion...

    I am in strong sympathy with your point regarding the role of any meaning at all: that it is something, and because it can be distinguished from nothing, its mere being implies that we are saved. How you get from there to God, I don't quite know.

    As for your reason 2, yes, I do have an interest in the biological or neurological origins of many of the phenomena I consider, and your raising of the point here reminds me of a problem with decision-making in a book about decision-making which Charlotte recently read (it was on NPR as well). Apparently we have an analytic decision-center that can only really compare 4 or 5 things at once. More than that and it becomes terminally indecisive (think "good Kirk"). So it's a real problem in the cereal aisle. I'm not saying the same thing is at play here, but I wouldn't be surprised if, in fact, it were. I will look for "The Star," it sounds worthwhile.

    I can buy your God reasoning in the last part of the argument, but I cannot buy a God conjured because it kills us not to. Not having your theism, I will have to tackle McCollum's problem all by my lonesome. But you know me - faith nothing, revelation all.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    As for the individual who told me about rock and roll, he was not only perspicacious and young, but also Apollonian in his good looks and Dionysian in his capacity to invoke a good time. He turned water into wine, and if he wanted to, he could have turned wheat into marijuana, or sugar into cocaine, or vitamin pills into amphetamines. He walked on the water, and swam on the land.

    However, he had a terrible weakness for the overrated early works of Martin Scorsese. Nonetheless, I appreciated his explanation of rock.

    Heh heh heh.