Commentary: From An Artist’s Perspective:



Things That Puzzle Me


by Ted Seth Jacobs, Artist-Painter

Mes Illusions, La Maison-Musée de l’Artiste

Les Cerqueux sous Passavant, France



When I was nine years old the family rented an apartment on a farm in Stroudsburg Pennsylvania for three years. My older brother and I had to walk two miles through the woods to a one-room schoolhouse. We always took a wide detour when we came to what we called “The stink tree.” A skunk had been there before us.


I was a whiz at math, adding, multiplying, subtracting with lightning speed.


After we moved again to Long Beach, on Long Island, I flunked Algebra twice. What I wanted to understand was why and how the equations worked, but our teacher told me not to bother with that, there wasn’t time, to just memorize the material. I finally switched to business arithmetic, which was at least useful. I did very well at everything else, skipped two years in a row, graduated High School at sixteen, and went straight into art school. The above is all in order to establish my lack of qualifications for the questions that puzzle me.


It occurred to ask myself if it were possible to measure, for example, the area of a circular disk, using a conceptual straight measuring stick. In more recent years in my art school, one of the students had a university degree in Mathematics, and I put that question to him. He said that Calculus dealt with that problem. I asked if he could explain how it worked. He drew a circle on paper. Then he filled it as much as possible with squares. This obviously left spaces between the contour of the circle and the square boxes. He then drew smaller squares, and progressively smaller and smaller, but the problem always remained, just with smaller empty spaces. Square pegs in a round hole syndrome. I would imagine with Nanotech the empty spaces will be small indeed, but just a smaller version of the same.


Another of my puzzlers. As far as I can imagine, any system of measurement can be infinitely subdivided into ever smaller units. To me, that would amount to saying that the method is not measuring the phenomena, but rather the acuity of the measuring device. I may be far out of my depth here, but if there is a continuum, can it be measurable in discrete units? It feels as if there is an incompatible couple in play here.


This next has squeezed my brain for a long time: The so-called arrow of time, and the flight of an ordinary arrow from its bow. Well, if it is moving, is it travelling by separate discrete units, or in a continuous trajectory? If it is by separate units of time, how des it get from one unit to the next? If the flight is continuous, how can it have a starting and ending point? Wouldn’t it have started with the Universe, eventually been part of a tree, waited for someone to cut it down and fashion its arrow form, and so on. Again, if continuous, wouldn’t its arrival at a target be only a moment in its passage to the next state? I mean, if it is continuous, how can it have a start and ending?


You can understand how these things keep me awake nights.


In my simple and uninstructedly layman’s mind, as I understand the famous Heisenberg prncope, a subatomic particle only exists when it is observed. Ok, but to my Neanderthal mind that allows only two possibilities: One, that to be observable, there had to have been a prior existence to be observed, or two, if there was no prior existence, then that is the same as saying that  we are creating it, in order to observe it.


This last seems to me an entirely plausible possibility, that we are constantly creating what we think of as reality, unconsciously making up our own movie as we go.


Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man? Looks as if there have always been types who have had trouble getting to sleep…

Maybe this will seem a bit picky, but…the function of the eyes is to see, sense of sight. The function of the fingers is to feel. Ok, how can we be absolutely sure that what the eye is looking at is the same object as what the finger is touching?

Hope I’m not giving you a headache.


Out of the womb and into the world, for me was into an English–speaking world. The usual, learning words as I grew. In High school, I did pretty well in Spanish. In my early twenties I had a close older friend of Peruvian ancestry, educated in her youth at finishing schools in France and England, she was fluent in Spanish, French and English. I think she felt I needed a little international sophistication, and started teaching me French. At first this solicited some resistance, it sounded sissified to me. Later though, I got really into it. My brother used to say I wouldn’t read an American novel unless it was translated into French. Some years after my mentor had passed away, I had a rather surprising revelation: I would often recall learning a French word for the first time. I could remember the situation at that moment, what was happening as I learned the word. Then, revelation! I realized that new words arrived embedded in a situational context, that each carried with it a sort of mini novella. In addition, that however slight, I had emotional reactions to the situation. It followed then that my situations and reactions connected to each word in my vocabulary carried an emotional charge, or if you like -- baggage.


It further seemed reasonable to suppose that as each human being was a unique individual, so too must their associations and reactions to each word they knew, be also, unique and individual. That too comes down to a question of scale of observation. If examined very closely then, the same word meant something different to each person on Earth, what then was being communicated by speech? Strictly speaking, it was certainly not the verbal contents in one mind to another’s. Perhaps the communication was more of an intuitive sense of the other’s nature, personality.


Are we just making reassuring animal noises at one another? Quack quack, woof woof, cheep cheep. I really don’t know, but as the saying goes, “The Greeks had a word for it,” translated as Breck-a-kek kek, coax coax, Breck-a-kek-kek, coax coax.



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