Friday, February 9, 2018

The world as a canvas: Vincent Van Gogh's models of the world

An intriguing post by Ilaria Perissi on her blog "boundaries" where she examines in depth the relation of painting and modeling - the latter in the modern sense of using mathematical tools to describe the behavior of complex systems. She goes in depth into describing how Vincent Van Gogh and how his paintings can be seen as models of the world. An excerpt from her post is below, but do read the whole thing; it is fascinating!

The image of the world around us, which we carry in our head, is just a model. Nobody in his head imagines all the world, government or country. He has only selected concepts, and relationships between them, and uses those to represent the real system – Jay Forrester (1971).

Could these sentences represent also a painting process? Is a painter a sort of modeler?  Following the rational of previous words, most of the painters are interested in reporting an image of the world and the paintings are just models of that images, including both the material world as well as the rapresentation of feelings and situations; they are not models of the whole world, but of a set of selected concepts and relationships used to represent a real material system, which could be a landscape, a still life, a portrait, a situation or event, as wars, battles, a sunset or a ‘starry night’, ‘potatoes eaters’  and representation of feelings as in the painting 'Sorrowing Old Man' or 'Two lovers'.


 Rread the whole post at Ilaria Perissi's "Boundaries"


  1. How about: "The mind as a canvas" the mind being the place where our perception of the world turns into perceived reality?

    Consider how we learn to read. We must learn that certain percieved patterns are information carriers, then learn how to turn these patterns into images and voices in our mind. Postulate that our entire perception of the world is a learned, after all everything is information coming into our mind, how do we know what is sound, sight, smell, our own body and how all this fits into a coherent picture?

    Postulate something I call a Reality Integrator which receives this information parses it, does pattern recognition, orders it, installs frames of reference and then projects the result into the virtual reality we call the conscious mind.

    I postulate that the most crucial programming of the reality integrator is done in childhood and the program is coded in mythic archetypal form, whith these myths establishing our most basic concepts of how the world is ordered. This would mean that higher education is merely icing on the cake with our fundamental understanding of the world being established early in life with the myths and stories absorbed at that time.

    From this I derivered the idea that what we call civilizations are founded upon a coherent body of myth which allow a large group of people to have a coherent understanding of the world and therefore function together. The nature of the myths will determine how that culture will function, its social, political, economic structure, its ethics, its science, its sense of aesthetics and personal conduct, how it will develop and what it will be able to learn about the world. A new culture and civization is born when new mythos is established and becomes coherent among a large population, the civization dies when its mythos decoheres and crumbles.

    Myths are the collective canvas upon which the epic of civilization is painted.

    to be continued...

  2. It is well established that the body works on forecasts coupled with error correction. Therefore, the body is a forecasting mechanism. Lisa Feldman Barrett (How Emotions Are Made) claims that the only thing we ever actually experience is our forecast of the future. I'm not sure I'd go that far...error correction must have something to do with experiencing reality. Nevertheless, we forecast because, in Lisa's words, its too metabolically expensive to base our actions on all the myriad aspects of reality. Which means that we must be using a simplified model ALL THE TIME. It has been proven that an outfielder in a baseball game MUST use a predictive model to catch a fly ball.

    In 'normal life', we are using these models subconsciously and not really thinking much about it. What is different in terms of models with a Capital M is that we insert a pause, during which we consult, perhaps, a computer which has identified some key variables and uses some algorithms to relate them to each other. But when we built the model with a capital M, we picked variables which seemed to us to make some sense. Many people like to throw stones at Economists because they believe that their choice of variables doesn't really make much sense.

    In terms of everyday life, it is not clear to me how the unconscious models can be modified. Hard experience can be a teacher. A friend of mine has a cat who got too close to a rattlesnake, and now gives them a wide berth. But when, for example, we hear some diet doctor lecture on the evils of sugary soft drinks or saturated fat or processed grains, we seem to weigh that opinion against the amount of change that would be required in the ordinary conduct of our lives. If the required change is large, we may well find reasons to ignore the advice.

    Don Stewart

  3. My father was an artist (altho he detested the term). His media were oil paint, water color, pen-brush-&-ink, charcoal.

    He observed that, wherever one looks, there is an amount of “detail” (today we would say “data” or “information”) that utterly surpasses our capabilities of perception. Whether it is finite or infinite is irrelevant. The job of the “artist” (he used the word here) is to select an infinitesimal subset of this detail and use it, present it, for a purpose.

    Doing so is also what scientists and most engineers likewise do. The Euler-Bernoulli beam theory (or formula) does: it neglects higher-ordered terms in the differential equation that relates curvature to strains resulting from moment loadings and deflection resulting from shear loadings, and is amazingly useful in the design and analysis of a wide range of common structures. It fits with my father’s description of art. Like continuum mechanics and Newton’s mechanics, too. When I was in engineering school, I spoke of this to my father while home for the Thanksgiving holiday; he was fascinated. (An uncle, mystified, asked if this was “reality.” I told him, “Reality is an amorphous anomaly.” His eyes twinkling at 400 watts, my father said to me, “That’s the p├Žnultimate quintessence of arcane obfuscation.” Then it was time for another round of martinis.)

    1. Spot on observations and thanks also to Don for introducing LFB and 'forecasting'. I might add that 'perspective' and 'constellation' lend their own take to recognition, comparison and interpretation - we might call it 'scenario-building' these days? And wonder if largely incomprehensible 'reality' can sometimes have its own way of communicating with imagination. Perhaps we should say that 'imagination' is what we experience, and 'will' is the 'us' that pushes the envelope? I was introduced to Schopenhauer only a couple of years ago and still can't be sure I get my head round it. Blake's 'imagination' has long been enough to be going on with.

      I like the story by Jim Corbett about hunting the rogue tiger that had taken to predating villagers. At some point as he was closing he hoped on the beast he realised - wide band-width - that he was not stalking the tiger, the tiger was stalking him.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)