Monthly Archives: September 2017

Contemplation

Dog mourning companion

© La Repubblica, 20 settembre 2017

There have been many thoughts this month that I haven’t managed to commit to words, bits and pieces that wouldn’t coalesce. My mind has been elsewhere, intensely focused on drawing, with no room for reflection, no room for thoughts to take shape as they need to, whether in words or images.

First there was the nth episode of circularity of IT logic – a reprise of the Hole in My Bucket situation. I try to log in to Google mail; PC rejects login, thoughtfully asks if I’ve forgotten my password. I say I must have. PC sends an authorisation code to my email. Dear Liza, what should I do?

Then there was the Guardian Long Read on F***b**k.

Algorithms have retired many of the bureaucratic, clerical duties once performed by humans – and they will soon begin to replace more creative tasks.1

Including, according to the author, the exercise of free will. Naturally, the ‘data scientists’ are delighted; thanks to FB and company, and data sets approaching infinity, social behaviour need hold no more mysteries.

Poveri illusi! Algorithm and PC user, the eternal collusion of salesman and consumer. What worries me is when willing gullibility (free will) becomes apathy, generated by distraction: the inability to concentrate, the unfelt need for authenticity or veracity – too costly, and thus valuable, in emotional terms.

Emotional contemplation of the infinite [actual not presumed]2 is what makes us human or, more precisely, what characterises all sentient beings. It is the thrill of enquiry, the passionate curiosity that seeks (never fully) to unravel the mysteries of existence. Woe betide us if we ever decide we’ve got to the bottom of everything! The aesthetic beauty of natural forms are one such exquisite mystery, as are the subtly different emotional shades of musical keys, and the semantic nuances of syntactic variants. We must be willing to focus our minds on such things and resist any attempt (however well-meant) to crowd out or predetermine our emotional response to them.

Finally, as if on cue, a few days later, the press carried a story of a mongrel in mourning for the death of its companion. Intense pain, borne in silence, undiluted by words.

Like the drawing, it all comes together when I concentrate. But logic has little to do with it.

  1. Facebook’s war on free will. How technology is making our minds redundant. Franklin Foer. Published 19 Sept 2017.
  2. My thanks to friend and colleague, George Roberts for an earlier version of this phrase.