Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘James Gleick

Quote of the Day

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I started looking in the trash cans of science for such [fractal] phenomena, because I suspected that what I was observing was not an exception but perhaps very widespread. I attended lectures and looked in unfashionable periodicals, most of them of little or no yield, but once in a while finding some interesting things. In a way it was a naturalist’s approach, not a theoretician’s approach. But my gamble paid off.

Benoit Mandelbrot, quoted by James Gleick in Chaos

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March 21, 2018 at 7:30 am

“Art is a theory about the way the world looks…”

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Self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh

In a way, art is a theory about the way the world looks to human beings. It’s abundantly obvious that one doesn’t know the world around us in detail. What artists have accomplished is realizing that there’s only a small amount of stuff that’s important, and then seeing what it was. So they can do some of my research for me. When you look at early stuff of Van Gogh there are zillions of details that are put into it, there’s always an immense amount of information in his paintings. It obviously occurred to him, what is the irreducible amount of this stuff that you have to put in. Or you can study the horizons in Dutch ink drawings from around 1600, with tiny trees and cows that look very real. If you look closely, the trees have sort of leafy boundaries, but it doesn’t work if that’s all it is—there are also, sticking in it, little pieces of twiglike stuff. There’s a definite interplay between the softer textures and the things with more definite lines. Somehow the combination gives the correct proportion. With Ruysdael and Turner, if you look at the way they construct complicated water, it is clearly done in an iterative way. There’s some level of stuff, and then stuff painted on top of that, and then corrections to that…

I truly do want to know how to describe clouds. But to say there’s a piece over here with that much density, and next to it a piece with this much density—to accumulate that much detailed information, I think is wrong. It’s certainly not how a human being perceives those things, and it’s not how an artist perceives them.

Mitchell Feigenbaum, quoted by James Gleick in Chaos

Written by nevalalee

May 2, 2015 at 7:30 am

Feynman the Magician

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There are two kinds of geniuses, the “ordinary” and the “magicians.” An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they have done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber.

Mark Kac, quoted by James Gleick in Genius

Written by nevalalee

July 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

Quote of the Day

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Written by nevalalee

April 23, 2012 at 7:50 am

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