The other day I was playing around in Photoshop working on digitizing some art that Jen had created on paper with charcoal. Besides converting it to a digital medium, we also wanted to use it in a place that doesn’t lend well to the intricate differentiation of strokes and shading inherent in charcoal art. So I was playing around with cleaning up the design to align better with the medium.
But in doing so, I realized there were tons of little judgement calls to make. Do I make that tiny stroke wider, or do I eliminate it completely? What about this slightly darker shaded section?
There isn’t a correct answer. Even if there are only two possible options, either one could “work”, they’d just look a little different. Not right, not even better, just different.
You might be thinking, duh David, that’s the beauty of art.
And to that I’d say duh, but how often are you exercising that choice between two or more equally valid decisions each of which creates a different but not objectively better outcome?
More and more and more our lives are algorithmically and rationally determined.
Enlightenment rationalism, the school of thought that almost all of our current thinking descends from, is a a way of thinking that questions can be answered in very robust mathematical, logical, “rational” ways and the answer you will come up with will be something close to, if not the, empirical truth.
People dedicate their lives to studying and unpacking this stuff, but let’s just look at one slice.
Chances are extremely good that at some point today you will make a food choice based a rationalization derived from scientific study. Maybe you pass up coffee because of some cancer association. Or you’ll eat a certain food because you’ve been led to believe, by empirical evidence, that it’s cardio-protective.
And that choice, in a real sense, was pre-determined by that rationalization that was provided to you completely external of yourself. You didn’t choose it. The mental model you’ve subscribed to made it so that it was the only choice you could have possibly made – given the evidence.
Here’s another example of faux rationality that is fed to you, that is very topical as I write this email. Every time you login to Facebook you are fed a stream of things that the algorithm has determined, optimized through the precision of mathematics of course, are things you want to see. They are empirically correct by this standard of thinking.
I don’t know about you, but when I login to Facebook most of what I see makes me want to vomit, so that doesn’t seem to be working out so well.
It’s almost like when you optimize for any single thing, through a limited lens, you don’t get an overall, holistic great result.
This pervasive idea of what is “best” or “optimal” is especially endemic to physical training. People always want the optimal program or exercise. The reality is that even if there were an optimal, it would be a moving target that could only be determined in the moment. Biofeedback, incidentally, is the best and most accurate way I know of to get real-time feedback taken as a whole, comprising all the individually indiscernible variables, that you can act on in your training to make adjustments.
But when it comes down to it creating a good program is a lot more art than it is science. There are many many ways to come up with a program that achieves the desired end. Sure, there are best practices that have been studied and we’ve got reasonable certainty that we understand what’s going on with those individual things. But if you tried to piece together a program using only pure rationalism, you’d end up with a garbage program if it was even complete at all.
All of this incredibly myopic thinking is given the veneer of being the closest we can get to the truth, when it fact rationalism only obscures the complexity that’s actually involved!
And so, art and the act of creation in many ways is an antidote to the poison in the dose of only approaching everything through the lens of rationalism.
What I want for you is to explore more art and creativity. Go make things. Learn a new skill as a way to express yourself. It’ll make you better, in every imaginable way.