This is probably one of the most infuriatingly frustrating books I have read in quite a long time. It could have been so much better. And this is the second time, within a short time span, that I feel duty-bound to post a not-so-positive review of a book that has been rated so highly by the overwhelming majority of readers. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also Oh, dear. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also quite brilliant as an art critic, and proficient and knowledgeable as an art historian.
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This is probably one of the most infuriatingly frustrating books I have read in quite a long time. It could have been so much better. And this is the second time, within a short time span, that I feel duty-bound to post a not-so-positive review of a book that has been rated so highly by the overwhelming majority of readers. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also Oh, dear.
It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also quite brilliant as an art critic, and proficient and knowledgeable as an art historian.
But this is also a book that is deeply flawed, riddled with scientific and historical inaccuracies, defined by a questionable methodological approach, and directed at proving an outlandish and utterly unconvincing thesis. The overall thesis of this book is, condensed in a few words, that art manages, in some mysterious way, to pre-cognitively anticipate science.
The author, rather than sharing the commonly accepted view that such new artistic forms of expression were an articulation of the social and cultural upheavals resulting from an accelerating pace of deeply transformative technological developments and its consequent disorienting effects in conjunction with the devastating effects on the social fabric originated from the two World Wars attributes such new art forms to a mystically prescient character of art in general. Is modern art about foreseeing the future of scientific development as the author states , or is it in reality about the deeply introspective psychological rendering of the existential angst and insecurity of modern Man, his new aesthetic sense resulting from a more sophisticated, complex, multifaceted and disorienting cultural and social environment?
Personally, I think that there is no question that the latter is the more fitting answer. Or the equally interesting two-way relationship between the cultural environment in general including the arts and science relationship which is one of the many themes that philosophy of science tries to address. Sadly, there is none of such themes in this book. In order to support his self-proclaimed revolutionary thesis, the author indulges into an exercise of very selective and disingenuous sampling, peppering the book with confusing if not misleading statements when describing physical theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics.
Moreover, he has the infuriating tendency to select the most speculative theories or interpretations, rather than the current scientific consensus, and this is aggravated by the fact that the author does not disclose his peculiar approach. There are also such big logical jumps, and such an overall highly selective interpretation of available facts, that at times this book reads almost like a book of Nostradamus prophesies, or a treatise on Biblical Numerology.
Clearly, the author is no historian. This is a deeply flawed statement: special relativity is fully consistent with the causality principle. If two events are causally connected if one lies within the light cone of the other the causal order is preserved in all frames of reference. Moreover, special relativity does NOT mean arbitrary subjectivity, as each frame of reference can be mathematically translated into another frame with the appropriate Lorentz transformation.
And in any case, of course any agent carrying out any sort of activity "creates reality" - the action of the agent certainly influences it - and so what? It is not possible to be in a rest frame of a photon. Also, I would question how sensical it actually is to consider a case where the Lorentz conversion factor "gamma" goes to infinity — when you get infinity values you have to be very careful before making any assumptions and taking any conclusions.
You can say, in a metaphorical sense, that the photon "experiences no time", but even assuming that this is a meaningful statement we also need to take into account that, within the same considerations, that the photon travels zero distance; so the whole example is very dangerous and prone to misconception. Yes, you can always say that you can assume that you are traveling at speed asymptotically close to "c", but the whole example in any case seems preposterous and very forced. By the way, such examples of "simultaneity" can be seen in the cave paintings of the Lascaux Cave - does it mean that our artistically gifted human ancestors had some form of special relativity pre-cognition more than 20, years ago?
Come on What does this actually mean? Does really a Cubist painting represent in a more informative way, or has more explanatory power, than language, when it comes to the tenets of relativity, such as Lorentz invariance?
In my opinion this statement, in its generality, is virtually meaningless. Has the author ever heard of Stalingrad? Does he not know who was the actual major contributor to the defeat of Germany? This statement demands some serious clarification. It depends on the curvature and topology: the best experimental data available so far points to a flat universe not in a definite way, though. There is also the chance of a universe of very slight negative curvature in which case it would non-Euclidean, non-"closed" or a very slight positive curvature in which case it would be non-Euclidean, "closed".
Here the author is referring to general relativity. I guess the author is here referring to the tidal forces experienced when approaching a black hole. Contrary to popular belief, the strength of such tidal forces is inversely proportional to the size of the black hole. On the contrary, for small black holes the tidal forces would kill even well before the astronaut reaches the event horizon.
Again, the author picks the most outlandish and speculative theories, rather than accepting the current overwhelming consensus that quasars are super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies.
What a load of New Age bullshit, I find myself forced to say here. In what cases? As in many other examples, the author just comes up with these obfuscatory statements without getting into any detail. I imagine he might be referring to the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Just do not take him too seriously when it comes to science or history. His main thesis is utterly unconvincing and the author thoroughly fails to prove it in any meaningful sense, but the book is still worth reading even if just for its "artistic" side , albeit with some caution.
In the preface, Shlain — neither an artist nor a physicist himself — considers how his training as a surgeon lends him a unique perspective on the two fields and their cross-pollination: A surgeon is both an artist and a scientist… Surgeons rely heavily on their intuitive visual-spatial right-hemispheric mode. At the same time, our training is obviously scientific. The need in my profession to shuttle back and forth constantly between these two complementary functions of the human psyche has served me well for this project. Shlain lays out the basic premise of the parallel between the two fields: Art and physics are a strange coupling. Of the many human disciplines, could there be two that seem more divergent? The artist employs image and metaphor; the physicist uses number and equation.
Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light