“Error would be removed from human life, because each person would do only what they knew and would leave what they did not know to that which did” (Donald Watt)
The piece of work I am currently engaged with, whose product is for my degree show exhibit. Is currently centered around three topics. The plaster work, artificial intelligence and Plato’s Charmides.
Throughout the degree I have experimented with fine white plaster. I discovered by pouring plaster I am able to coat surfaces, allowing physics take over the process. The result can be a smooth, white and fragile surface of eggshell thinness.
The work in progress for the degree show has plaster poured over transparent spheres. Resulting in incomplete surfaces of plaster over the body of the sphere, covering some areas completely, leaving other areas transparent.
Pouring plaster, whilst a conscious action also takes on its own life and trajectory in the small window of time before the plaster sets. I am drawn to it as being analogous to the operation of the manifestation of the internal. It is a natural process that is unimpeded once it crosses that boundary.
There is a simplicity to that surface. It seems to me alike to a single concept and because of that simplicity there is also a clarity. It is a surface that is receptive, to ideas, to projections. There is a quality conducive to contemplation.
I wanted to articulate these ideas as if I was discussing the mind itself or contemplation itself. A state of mind that is ready to receive, but a fragile state, one that I am easily distracted from.
It is that idea of reflecting the mind back on to the contemplation of itself that I found in Charmides, the Socratic dialogue by Plato. The concept of a knowledge of knowledge.
Artificial intelligence (Ai)
‘But as things are,’ I went on, ‘you can see that there is obviously no knowledge like that anywhere.’ (Plato, Charmides, 172a).
My work with Ai started in January 2017 when I was contemplating my focus of art practice. Some of the considerations that arose during this period were;
- Maintaining my focus and interest over the long term
- Satisfy my desire for intellectual challenge
- Give myself the ability to comment and contribute to the contemporary discourse
- Creatively explore the subject
I began with some basic exploration of the subject and I realized that the ability to experiment was within reach. Artificial intelligence in its raw state is mathematics and programming, an applied logic to solve problems.
I spent most of January learning the prerequisites that would enable me to start experimenting with existing code. This took the form of running Python environments under the Linux operating system and trying to deploy existing code and troubleshoot the errors I received during those processes. Each time a problem was solved I had learnt something that allowed me to continue my endeavor.
Alongside this practical development I was also researching the state of the debate from both a practical and a non-practical point of view. The general mathematics and frameworks for problem solving such as convolutional neural networks as well as the views of the media, professionals working in the field as well as general opinion. I watched TED talks and read papers as well as non-scientific journals and articles. I listened to future theorists and chatted with peers. It is an interesting subject and the discourse is wide ranging and lively.
By February I had set up my environment to the extent that I was able to run some basic experiments. The starting point for which focus on Ai learning. One of the key problems that is under scrutiny for those interested in Ai.
Learning is where the idea of neural networks becomes entwined with the subject of Ai. The principles of the mathematics behind solving problems is seen as being in parallel with how the organic human brain operates. Which opens up a philosophical discourse within the subject. To understand how to create Ai we must understand how the human brain functions. This seems to be one of the benefits of Ai that ultimately it may lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.
Socrates: “Supposing self-control were as we now define it, and did govern us completely – wouldn’t everything be done as the various knowledge’s directed? (Plato, Charmides, 173a).
In March I began to discuss my progress and to manifest the progress I had made into the work that was part of the degree show project. The idea of live projection of the Ai code or visualizations of that code onto the surface of the plaster arose quite naturally.
My thinking around the subject was being led by the Socratic dialogue of Charmides. As it seems to fit with both the plaster work and the Ai subject.
Charmides by Plato is a dialogue that attempts to define the Greek virtue sophrosune. During the course of the dialogue the definition ranges from an unteachable quality a type of temperance or self-control to a knowledge of oneself.
During the course of the discussion the idea arises that sophrosune is also a type of knowledge. A knowledge that is a knowledge of itself but no other knowledge. The discussion continues to explore this idea and Plato, although unable to find any examples of this type of knowledge discusses what benefits such a knowledge may have. “Under those circumstances, wouldn’t the result be that we should be healthier of body than now?” (Plato, Charmides, 173b)
I found certain parallels to this discussion and the topic of artificial intelligence and to the contemplation of contemplation itself that arose when working with plaster.
- The requirement for temperance in the face of new technologies appears prudent
- Knowledge of knowledge would seem to be a good descriptor for the pursuit of both neuroscience and artificial intelligence
- The benefits described by Plato of such a knowledge are quite telling. Ranging from a perfectly run state, to the increase of happiness, the reduction of ignorance and error and a healthier populace
I am looking forward to a month of experiments with both plaster works and Ai as I prepare for the degree show. I see the work with Ai as a long term project that continues beyond the degree and any progress made now will be beneficial in the future.
 Alternatively spelt as sophrosyne. Whereas today there are three cardinal virtues. Wisdom, Justice and Courage. The Greeks also included Self-Control.