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Preface for the limited edition  honoring George Boole.

The following Preface by Roger Malina was written for the illustrated limited edition on George Boole's "Derivation of the Laws. . .", the 3rd Chapter of  Boole's 1847 classic on the Laws of Thought. Written in 1989-90 this preface identifies issues raised by generative art and the evolution of computers that have changed the face of our culture.  Malina's observations demonstrate his historic insights into emerging futures in the intersection between culture, technology and the sciences.

Roger F. Malina:  For over a quarter Century the astrophysicist  Roger Malina has served as Executive Editor of Leonardo, the major academic journal documenting changing relationships between art, science and technology.  He  has played a major role in documenting and promoting meaningful understanding of emerging inter-relationships between science,  technology and the arts. Through his writings, service on boards, lectures and encouragement of others he has nurtured a healthy growth of cultural intercourse between the arts and sciences.



Mathematics, as the Queen of the Sciences, has long had a tempestuous relationship with working artists and scientists. One of the mysteries of this relationship is that the constructs of logic and mathematics are found time and time again to have a privileged relationship with respect to the real world.

There have been times when the beauty of a logical or mathematical idea has led artists and scientists astray. For there is no rule that the real world must meet our transient standards of beauty. It was trial and error, not theoretical constructs, that led finally to the sublime creations that are the great cathedrals of Europe. And a new age undid the beautiful machinations of Aristotle with the power of ob­servation. Many a bridge and ship, dreams of nineteenth century engineers, collapsed under the weight of the new and poorly understood materials of an optimistic age.

In this century Theodore Von Karman, one of the greatest applied mathematicians of all time, brought the nineteenth­ century engineer into check by reasserting principled alternatives to trial and error and the engineers' rule book. Von Karman, together with my father Frank J. Malina and a group of graduate students, demonstrated that even the behaviour of explosives and rockets is susceptible to the charms of the Queen of the Sciences.

We live in a time when mathematics is at its prime as a device - a tool for perception, understanding, and mastery of the world around us.


This is a book about trial and error. George Boole, with the supreme confidence of his century, assures us that he has no truck with metaphysics: "As respects both the determination of the laws of thought, and the practical uses of them when discovered, we are, for all really scientific ends, unconcerned with the truth or falsehood of any metaphysical speculation whatever."

Roman Verostko, with the doubt of a doubting century, is in unholy conspiracy with Boole's progeny. He takes Boole's prose as fact not fiction, he accepts the computer as his colleague and goes to work. Like the naturalists who would bring the chimpanzee or dolphin into their homes and communicate through sign language or whistles, Verostko teaches this child to paint. In his recent article in the journal Leonardo (23, 1), Verostko exclaims,

I felt somewhat foolish introducing this routine. I had spent long hours developing a routine to make the drawing machine paint with a brush. It seemed clumsy and pointless at first. But through trial and error with the brush mounts, the software, the inks and the paper, a vast untapped potential emerged.

With the software-driven stroke there is a sureness and direct­ness that is almost exhilarating. The software knows precisely where the beginnings and endings are. It remembers the stroke and can improvise with the same stroke in a scalar fashion and do so without failure. This latter capability promises rich ground for development....

(... ) Notice the spontaneous quality of the stroke and how it drags off softly in relation to the tooth of the paper on the upper right portion. This stroke has many of the qualities that are valued in Chinese calligraphy. The stroke shows movement, response to paper texture, dry brush effects and sureness.

Elsewhere, Verostko notes that "the computer gestures do not show the Chinese characters for wu wei, but perhaps the process itself is a form of wu wei." Verostko, if he were a computer scientist, would have described this statement about the painting as the assessment of a Turing test, a test where an unknowing observer is asked to distinguish the task performed by a computer from that performed by a human being. Inevitably on the pages of this book, the work of an artist qua computer scientist confronts George Boole with his hidden metaphysics, his wu wei.


My son, Xavier, is two years old. In the evening, whilst I cook dinner, he likes to be with me in the kitchen. He sits at the table drawing and painting. He is still at the stage of unformed scribbles, scribbles that he tells me signify equally well a dinosaur, San Francisco, or a train.

I have been trying co teach him that although paint tastes and feels interesting, it is only the visual qualities of paint that are to be valued. When I draw the round outline of a circle which I call "big moon," he tries to copy me. He draws a respectable circle by now. His memory is good, but he often does not remember the new shapes I taught him yesterday. I am angry at Xavier whenever he paints on the wall next to the table or on the kitchen floor. I try to teach him the hidden meaning of the edge of a piece of paper. Sometimes he keeps drawing on the same piece of paper until it is a solid mass of paint, with no sense of order or pattern. With repetition, he is beginning to exert some discipline over the lines on the paper.

While I cook and he draws, we talk to each other. His attention span is not very long yet, so he loses interest, climbs on a stool, and starts playing with the water in the sink. Eventually, I much teach him the danger of instant gratification and the value of anticipation.


The computer understands words so easily, but not sounds, smells, sights, or textures. It remembers so easily, that we struggle to introduce spontaneous and unpredictable responses. It never bores of repeating the same task endlessly. It does not understand ambiguity or small talk, and the only surface it draws on is the one we have told it about. It has a vast memory and remembers yesterday's lesson as well as last year's.

Yet, as with a child, we willingly spend hours and hours teaching it the things that will please us and the things that will keep it content. One day computer education will not mean how you teach people to use computers but rather how people should teach computers to grow up.

There is a large literature analyzing the history of technology and its role in human society. We are reminded that we have invented tools to extend or augment our own senses and faculties. The telescope and microscope extend the range of our eyes. In similar ways we have found means to extend and amplify as well our other senses: hearing and touch, taste and smell. With books, films, recordings, and computer disks we have augmented our memory. With automobiles, airplanes, and spaceships we have extended our mobility. With drugs, diets, and medicine we seek to extend our life span.

The computer, if viewed as a living organism, has an evolutionary advantage over our own species. Each generation of computers is much shorter than a human generation, so computer evolution is occurring much more rapidly than human evolution. Computers are mutating and adapting to a changing environment and changing needs.

The computer, as a living organism, started off with the technologies that we had developed to extend and amplify our own senses and capabilities, and we continue to connect computers to new tools as fast as we can invent them. The future of computer evolution will involve the acquisition of features that are inherent to us as humans. Computers will be taught to become self-repairing, self-replicating, and adaptable. The computer in a sense is still in the Garden of Eden, and the hand of the creator is still omnipresent and all powerful. The computer is still made in our own image, and its evolution will continue for some time to encompass more and more human traits.

For independent evolution to occur, computers eventually will need to find a different evolutionary niche to be expelled from the territory that we both now occupy. This is all perhaps too fanciful, but the drawings in this book force me to such musings and make the road from George Boole to metaphysics seem all too short.


I am a working astronomer involved in a project to map the sky in the extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The sky has never been mapped in this color of light, and the human eye is unable to detect it. This light never reaches the ground because it is blocked by the atmosphere of the earth. New telescopes are uncovering a universe largely beyond the scientific speculation of earlier days, when we were confined to the universe that could be observed only in the visible part of the spectrum. We find new parts of the universe in X- rays, radio waves, infrared light, extreme ultra­violet light, and all the other parts of the spectrum inaccessible to the human eye. There have been many connections between the discoveries of astronomy and the philosophical systems we have invented. With each new part of the universe discovered by contemporary astronomers, humanity's place in it is subtly changed.

As we equip the computer with new interfaces, whether a brush or a hypercard, the place of the computer is redefined, just as each new map of the sky reveals a new context for viewing ourselves. The artist, as much as the computer scientist, has a key role in developing the interfaces of the computer and hence in defining what it means to be a computer.

Today is also a time when our respective understanding of the universe on the largest scale, as cosmologists, and on the smallest scale, as particle physicists, are joined together. These connections are made through the mathematical bases of physical laws established over the past few centuries. Cosmology, the study of the structure and evolution of the universe, is a precarious science. There are perhaps no more than two dozen established facts about the universe that cosmologists seek to explain. Mathematics is the most powerful tool we have to guide our perception and under­standing of the universe.

New mathematical systems lead to new conceptions of the universe, whether formulated and applied in the day of Aristotle, Copernicus, or Einstein. Today's computer is heir to work of mathematicians such as George Boole and Alan Turing. Already we see new kinds of computers being developed based on different internal architectures and mathematical descriptions. Artists, with computer scientists, must be involved in developing the cosmologies associated with each of these different kinds of computers.

Whatever the roles played by artists in this "postmodern" era, they surely include working side by side with scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the effort to connect fact and theory within the realm of human understanding.

Roger F. Malina
Oakland, March 1990

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