This Could Be A Chair

Plato's Chair

The chair in Aldwyth's work is most likely an allusion to Plato's "Theory of Form" which he explores in his famous allegory of the cave. The following is a simple summary of Plato's theory:
Plato also thought a lot about the natural world and how it works. He thought that everything had a sort of ideal form, like the idea of a chair, and then an actual chair was a sort of poor imitation of the ideal chair that exists only in your mind. One of the ways Plato tried to explain his ideas was with the famous metaphor of the cave. He said, Suppose there is a cave, and inside the cave there are some men chained up to a wall, so that they can only see the back wall of the cave and nothing else. These men can't see anything outside of the cave, or even see each other clearly, but they can see shadows of what is going on outside the cave. Wouldn't these prisoners come to think that the shadows were real, and that was what things really looked like?

Video: Plato's Allegory of the Cave


In the book there is a quote from Douglas Hofstadter's book Metamagical Themas. Major themes include: self-reference in memes, language, art and logic; discussions of philosophical issues important in cognitive science/AI; analogies and what makes something similar to something else (specifically what makes, for example, an uppercase letter 'A' recognisable as such); and lengthy discussions of the work ofRobert Axelrod on the prisoner's dilemma and the idea of superrationality. The quote used in Aldwyth's book is "Making variations on a theme is the crux of creativity. But it is not some magical, mysterious process that occurs when two indivisible concepts collide; it is a consequence of the divisibility of concepts into already significant subconceptual elements."
Found at to learn more about Douglas Hofstadter visit; to read Metamagical Themas-; to read an essay on variations on a theme as the crux of creativity visit


Could This Be A Chair? (ouside cover)

take the chair (page inside the booklet)

Frame Theory

"Frame theory"--which involves a set of still-tentative concepts known in artificial intelligence, linguistics, and literary criticism--provides a powerful tool for use in formulating imaginative tasks. Computer scientist Marvin Minsky (1986, p. 245) defines " frames " as a sort of skeleton, somewhat like an application form with many blanks or slots to be filled. We'll call these blanks its "frames"; we use them as connection points to which we can attach other kinds of information. For example, a frame that represents a "chair" might have some terminals to represent a seat, a back, and legs, while a frame to represent a "person" would have some terminals for a body and head and arms and legs. . . As soon as you hear a word like "person, " "frog, " or "chair, " you assume the details of some "typical" sort of person, frog, or chair. You do not do this only with language, but with vision, too... Default assignments are of huge significance because they help us represent our previous experience. We use them for reasoning, recognizing, generalizing, predicting what may happen next, and knowing what we ought to try when expectations aren't met. Our frames affect every thought and everything we do. Frames are drawn from past experience and rarely fit new situations perfectly.
According to frame theory, hierarchical mental structures, created through extended experience, make it possible for people to recognize new versions of places, things, relationships, and linguistic forms. A refrigerator is recognized as a refrigerator even if the size, configuration and power source differ from the familiar. Remembered forms are not only quickly identified, they are generally added to by thoughts and feelings currently present. The refrigerator may bring forth thoughts of furnishing a newly purchased house or of having to make a trip to the dump. Most often frames carry sub-frames--a house frame may contain wall and roof frames, for instance. Partial or unfinished frames are inherently unstable; most people feel a need to finish them by "filling in the blanks" or "connecting the dots."
Frames can be broken, and when they are, the results can be humorous, disturbing and even shocking. Analyzing the literary movements of Dada and Surrealism, critic Inez Hedges (1983) shows how artists such as Andr‚ Breton, whose bizarre stories, and Luis Bunuel, whose horrifying juxtaposition of images like eyes and straight razors, jolted the expectations (frames) of their public. On the other hand, she adds "frame-making is a more specifically cognitive activity, relying on strategies of understanding that the perceiver has learned though experience" (p. 39). In general, frames are critical in the projects described below, and "frame-breaking" is often a source of additional interest and humor.

The Treachery of Images (La trahison des images)

The Treachery of Images (La trahison des images, 1928–29) is a painting by René Magritte. The picture shows a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe", French for "This is not a pipe." The painting is not a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe.
La Trahison des Images
La Trahison des Images


Having accepted the picture as being fully (if temporarily) analogous to the existing objects that they designate, the contradiction between the picture and legend forces us to directly confront the inherent ambiguity of matter itself. Which is to say that the drawing and statement refer to a "real" object, a pipe, which we place tobacco in and smoke. And yet, in spite of all of our efforts to so define this real object as being, in its essence, finally and irrevocably, a pipe and only a pipe, this same existing object perpetually (if passively) resists such a categorization by having the potential to be so many more things than just a pipe. To mention a few examples: fill it with triethylamine (which causes a fish-like odor) and it becomes a stink bomb, a tool toward a cheap practical joke; fill it with a powder containing cyanide and it becomes a potential murder weapon of the type favored in murder mysteries; more innocently, for a child who discovers he or she can blow bubbles from it, the pipe becomes a toy, nothing more, nothing less. Even for a pipe smoker who has been using it "properly," but who has stopped smoking for the moment and has set it aside, it can take on a different essence: let us say he or she is sitting at an outdoor cafe working on a manuscript and a wind suddenly springs up, in that case he or she may well suddenly reach for the pipe and use it to hold down the manuscript--in that moment, he or she might not be thinking of it as a pipe at all, but as a paperweight. Even within its normal use, a pipe can carry very different connotations: fill it with tobacco and smoke it and it becomes, for many people, a symbol of elegance and sophistication, for others a symbol of pretentiousness or of cancer-causing vices. Finally, to an alien species of the future that doesn't possess the physical capability to smoke (let us say their breathing apparatus utilizes gills) and who happens to come across a pipe while doing an archeological dig of our extinct civilization, it would either be a meaningless and incomprehensible object or, perhaps, one they wrongly relate to an object of their own devising whose purpose would be equally incomprehensible to us.
Of course, such a distinct, ordered list of possible essences that might encompass the object "pipe" does not literally pass through our minds as we view Magritte's drawing. From the drawing, however, we do sense that an object is somehow always more than what we have made of it--in fact, the incongruity between the pipe and the legend forces us to focus on this fact, which can be rather unsettling. It is this ambiguity inherent in our perception of matter that, we believe, Magritte was referring to when he said that he was trying to show us the "mystery evoked in fact by the visible and the invisible;" we believe Magritte's conception of the invisible to be analogous to the infinite number of possibilities that the object has, and that our finite minds can never wholly capture. (That we can stare matter squarely "in the face," do detailed scientific studies of it, contemplate its essence, and yet ever only partially succeed in defining what it is, creates not only a mystery, but an unsolvable one that also makes the drawing strangely compelling.) Or, to state our position in the terms that Foucault has been using: we do not agree that Magritte's drawing represents a complete rupture with resemblance, but rather that it shows the inherent limitations of resemblance; that the "anchor" of resemblance, the object being depicted, hasn't in fact disappeared (as Foucault would have it) from Magritte's drawing but that instead Magritte has used this "anchor" to remind us just how limited our ability to apprehend the object actually is. Namely, that our categorization of a really existing object with such and such physical qualities is based on habit, custom, and experience, and not because the object is the actual essence we give it (i.e., this object we call a pipe, because it was built in the manner that it was, facilitates the act of smoking but can never be wholly defined as being that and only that). Thus the statement "this is not a pipe" doesn't negate the actually existing object that is depicted in the drawing but rather the essence that we have given it, thus revealing that the object itself simply is -- existing matter wholly indifferent to what we call it or do with it.