Thursday 31 August 2017

Medieval Logic, Cybernetics and the art of D.P. Henry

It's a curious thing that I was talking with a friend about curiosity yesterday, a couple of weeks after visiting the British Library and spotting in the display cases a copy of Boethius's "De Institutione Arithmetica" which contained a beautiful picture of the categorisation of number into arithmetic, geometry and harmony. With no apology, I would say that the "harmony" struck a chord with me! There's something about curiosity and "striking a chord" - or rather, looking for a chord to be struck.

I've recently been immersing myself in physics and symmetry, and was about to attend a conference which included contributions from physicists and cyberneticians. What I wasn't expecting was to be presented with very powerful alignments between medieval logic and cybernetics. The presentation by Dino Buzetti sent me off to look for the common patterns between Scotus, Ockham and George Spencer-Brown. What's the key? It's the obsession with what it is to make a distinction.

Dino's references also led me to seek out the work of D.P. Henry. Henry was one of the leading authorities on medieval logic. The epigraph he chose for his book on "Medieval Logic and Metaphysics" from St. Anselm could have been written by many cyberneticians (and particularly by Bateson):

We ought not to be
held back by the way
in which the improprieties
of speech hide the truth,
but should rather aspire
to the precision of the
truth which lies hidden
under the multiplicity
of ways of talking (from De Casu Diaboli)
I'm still digging into the book, but this statement from Anselm seems to me to also be about curiosity: it is a search for the multiplicity of ways of talking.

Henry is less famous today for medieval philosophy than he is for art. He was a champion of machine-generated art, and produced beautiful images like this one:

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