Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Melencolia I and The Great Plan.

The above engraving was cut in 1514 by the German Artist Albrecht Durer.  According to Wiki:

The work has been the subject of more modern interpretation than almost any other print.

The most straightforward interpretation is that it represents the stultifying effects of depression on the human creative spirit:

One interpretation suggests the image references the depressive or melancholy state and accordingly explains various elements of the picture.

…one of those elements is the hour class which tells of time running out whilst the melancholic figure is immobilized by a depressed mood; there is so much to achieve in a world rich with significance and yet apathy hamstrings progress.  Many artists who thrive on the creative effort will know this disabilitating condition.

However, as the Wiki article says interpretations surrounding this work abound, so here is another interpretation offered by the same article. This one focuses on the “I” in Melencolia I:

Instead it seems more likely that the "I" refers to the first of the three types of melancholia defined by the German humanist writer Cornelius Agrippa. In this type, Melencholia Imaginativa, which he held artists to be subject to, 'imagination' predominates over 'mind' or 'reason'.

This interpretation is very apposite in the light of what I will now share. In 1996 I felt inspired to write an essay called The Great Plan, an essay that I would definitely class as one where I allowed my imagination to predominate over reason. This essay can be downloaded from here. I actually have no regrets over this piece of imaginative theatre because imagination is, after all, the fuel of creative production. However - and this is important - the products of creative production must ultimately subject themselves to the purifying fires of criticism. Accordingly, since the writing of The Great Plan I have tried to get its ideas on a more rigorous footing.

The Great Plan flowered out of a software project which attempted to simulate word association, a project which also inspired my excursion into quantum gravity. (See here). This project helped me understand the difference between the procedural and declarative programming models, an understanding which in turn inspired The Great Plan. I consciously and deliberately executed this essay with unbridled imaginative excess – I wanted to give my imagination a free reign to see how far it would go without the potentially destructive effects of criticism.

As well as Melencholia Imaginativa my essay on The Great Plan has another connection with Durer’s print; this is the magic square which can be seen in the top right hand quadrant of the engraving. In my essay I used this square to illustrate the teleological nature of the declarative programming paradigm.

This essay represents a kind of manifesto of the conceptual paradigm I have been trying to develop since the early nineties and I feel the time is ripe to publish it on this blog. This paradigm is in contrast to the default dualist thinking that habitually and unquestioningly contrasts so-called “natural forces” over and against God’s creative power. I have for a long time sensed that something is fundamentally wrong with Western Thought of which dualistic theological categories are the primary manifestation; these theological categories are manifestly present in the thinking of atheist and theist alike. The Great Plan is my attempt to think round and past dualism and break the mold of Western conditioning.

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