Reviewer biography

YLEM Journal: Artists Using Science & Technology
The Dichotomy of Reality

by Loren Means, Editor; Rob Harle, Guest Editor
Vol. 27, Nos. 10 & 12, September/December 2007
YLEM, San Francisco, USA, 2007
31 pp., illus. 23 b/w.
Journal website: http://www.ylem.org.

Reviewed by Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou


YLEM is an international organisation of artists, curators, writers, scientists, educators and art enthusiasts that has been established in 1981, before ISEA began. The mission of YLEM is to “explore the intersection of the arts and sciences” and “bring the humanising and unifying forces of art” to science and technology. YLEM has enabled artists to engage with science and technology in imaginative and pioneering ways outside the limitations of academia and the art-world. The YLEM members include pioneers of computer art, who have influenced art education and the broader context. The YLEM website presents the history of YLEM and an impressive array of initiatives.

The Dichotomy of Reality offers a substantial exploration into the ways in which quantum physics influence our understanding of reality and consciousness, and reveals new challenges for science and visual art. The authors focus on the nature of the “dichotomy of reality” through investigating the conflicts between epistemological and ontological models, and propose ways of resolving this dichotomy. The evolving relationships and the possible interfaces between mind, science, and reality are explored. Those topics are investigated through diverse perspectives in a selection of well-illustrated essays by quantum physicists, artists, doctors, and biologists. The issue contains an editorial introduction and an essay by Rob Harle, essays by Loren Means, Julian Voss-Andreae, Jacqueline Boustany, C.S.Unnikrishnan, George Weissmann, Len Martin’s article on artist Leigh Arnold, and brief introductions to YLEM Forums. The Dichotomy of Reality opens up a number of interesting possibilities for developing promising collaborations between ISAST and YLEM.

In his informative introduction, Rob Harle focuses on the inherent incompleteness and inaccuracy of scientific theories, as they are context-dependent working theories. In particular, neither quantum nor classical mechanics should be perceived as a “complete ontological description of fundamental reality,” as they obscure the complexity of reality and reinforce an arbitrary dichotomy between micro and macro worlds, which are in fact, interdependent. As Harle proposes, that dichotomy has to be resolved for discovering the “real ontological nature of the universe” (p. 2). Weissmann offers a detailed explanation of the “quantum paradigm”, which is devoid of a subject-object dichotomy. The observer’s assumptions and perceptual illusions are exposed, instead of describing an objective reality independent of the act of observation (p. 16). Unnikrishnan reveals the disparities occurring in physics, between the underlying yet undefined “primary” reality, the apparently perceptible and thus, comprehensible reality, the scientific models and theories of reality that involve further approximation of reality. The existence of “unobservables” in physical theories manifests that realism and ontology are disregarded (pp. 4-6). As Unnikrishnan argues, in quantum physics, the issue is not the objective reality of the physical world, but the clash between classical and quantum realities. Quantum ‘reality’ is abstract and paradoxical. It is probabilistic, containing a degree of randomness while lacking causal explanations.

The issue offers various examples on how artists may invent interfaces between the physical world and the abstract domain of quantum physics. Martin’s discussion focuses on Arnold’s artworks in which complex “meta-mathematical structures” are visualised (p.13). Voss-Andreae engages with the quantum ‘reality’ underneath the classical ‘reality’ appearance of matter. In his “quantum sculpture,” he explores how the fuzzy quantum ‘reality’ may be “expressed” in sculpture (pp. 9-12). In his discussion on understanding consciousness and existence, Harle identifies the attempt to visualise what Stephen Adler defines as the dynamic “pre-quantum level of physical fields as yet unknown to physics” within which we are immersed, as an interesting challenge for scientists and artists. Harle proposes the invention of visual metaphors and the use of animated modelling, as the latter has enabled scientific discovery (pp. 2, 21).

Quantum physics encourage new insights on the relationship of the environment to matter, the workings of the mind and robotics. Boustany discusses the role of quantum theories in biophysics in terms of enhancing our understanding of how the environment and culture affect us. In his concluding essay, Means discusses the notion of “group mind” as manifested in distributed communication & group interaction in robotics through “emergent learning and evolutionary breeding.” The ‘translation’ of biological and chemical systems into mechanical ones is used in probabilistic and behaviour-based micro-robot systems. What is remarkable is the manifestation of implicit and unintentional kinds of communication (alongside the explicit and intentional ones), enabled by creating “external memory” through the interaction between robots themselves and the environment. Ultimately, a “group mind” may emerge from a parallel auto-programmable information environment that may generate hybrid entities and realities (pp. 23, 27-8).