Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0006, January 26, 2015

(Honorary Dean: Prickles)

Desire or Programming?

A product of desire?

      A computer can be programmed to spew out automatically patterns like the one above by the zillions (actually an unlimited number)and any number of them (literally) will be aesthetically more pleasing than this one. Guaranteed. Any number of them will also be less pleasing, and that's one fact to keep in mind as we delve into the role of desire in the creative process.

      Why is this particular image, out the infinity of possible images, many much "better" than this one, heading this essay? I didn't have time to look at all possible variations, so I just looked at thirty or so and picked one that appealed to me most. Or, rather, I picked randomly one of several that appealed to me most though none decisively more than others.

      Could the computer learn which patterns I like best and automatically pick out those? Yes it could. It could learn that very well so that its choices would be virtually certain to please me, some even more than my own picks. Especially given the fact that my aesthetic discrimination is not a constant but varies with circumstances and sometimes I don't even know what I like. But the computer would, better than I do myself.

      The question is, what does the computer like? It doesn't like or dislike anything. It makes rational choices based on values supplied by its external programmer. Actually, a computer can develop its own experience based set of values to apply in determining the preferable outcomes. But its preference of certain outcomes over others is a matter of rational calculations based on available data and not on any desire or like of its own. No amount of additional processors or parallel circuits can make the computer feel one way or another about its preferences.

      But in my case, it is this feeling of aesthetic satisfaction, of a certain "rightness", of liking that is the ultimate basis of my preferences, of my desire for one thing rather than another. No doubt, I arrive at my choices by means of rational calculation based on available data (admittedly not always) but my ultimate values are rooted in what I feel. Feeling is my ultimate programmer.

      "That's all very well," says Prickles, "but is not feeling just a matter of chemistry? Like hormones or indigestion? Or magic mushrooms?" No, Madame Dean. They are brought about by chemistry but they are a matter of consciousness, of awareness of what is the case. "A distinction without a difference," Mme. Prickles objects. "You end up acting the same, consciously or not. One way or another, your values are rooted in chemistry." Not quite. My values are based on my evaluation of my feelings which has less to do with chemistry than with what I choose to believe. But that's another story.

Why do I like this?

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