Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Duane Michals and Schroedinger's Cat
I really shouldn't. The above work, created by Duane Michals, should be left without a comment.
But how can I resist?
First, let's clear up one issue: anyone trying to better understand the Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment by getting acquainted with this work may be misguided. Although the work plays around with the idea of ontological ambiguity, its way, focus, scope seems to be different from that of the famous scientist. Nonetheless, I am sure Schroedinger himself would refrain from saying such a silly thing as "I wish I had never met that cat", had he gotten acquainted with this little beast (and its charming mistress).
Now, would you look at that. At the delightful play with the point-of-viewness (also, under various other circumstances, called perspectivism or sollipsism or more broadly subjectivism), this attitude of turning the object (of the onlooker) into a subject, and the subject (the spectator, the admirer of the work) into an object (the looked-for, if not the looked-at) is not only a development of motives in art and in philosophy, it is an exquisite retro (the work comes from 1998) portrait of a relation.
This relation is based on faith. Were we to know the cat is in the box, we could not feel the bond the way we do. And yet, this faith does not move mountains. It neither saves the cat, or condemns it. It is rather a sort of a "suspended disbelief" kind of faith, when one ponders, but accepts not to question what is impossible to discover. But this faith also includes accepting not to affirm, as a sort of worldly agnosticism. How are we to deal with what we cannot know or control? It comes to no surprise that Duane Michals cites Zen Buddhism as one of his influences.
Of course, the last picture is a light and funny way of escaping the question (into a new question), but the first two remain. And in them, especially in the first one, there is a hidden level. In Schroedinger's example, the cat is either alive or dead. So when Madame Schroedinger wonders if the cat is or is not in the box, she might not expect the box to be empty. So the question becomes: what is it that makes that presence so present?
The further we get away from the first picture into the next ones, the more delightful the experience becomes. But also the least powerful. From an existential inquiry into you-know-what, it turns into a fun - but not too ambitious - looking-outside-of-the-frame. The work looks at us? Yes, we know. Not a particularly new discovery. And to be honest, it doesn't need to be. Less ambitious? Maybe, and then we can always say, "Who needs ambition when there is such a splendid onlooker peeking out of the box?" I would rather say that since there is no way of knowing the answer to picture number 1, we might just as well accept that and move on. To another possible world - and yet another. Ours.
Question: Have you noticed the box on the first picture might fall if the cat is there and moves as a cat that is there might? Oh, Madame Schroedinger, snap out of it!
Question 2: Have you noticed how much bigger the box is in the 2nd picture? (And how it becomes a non-box in the 3rd...)
More about Michals in this great article.
Found the work here.