Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beat Takeshi Kitano at Fondation Cartier, Paris

Our daughter suggested we go to the special exhibit of Beat Takeshi Kitano's art at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain while we were in Paris. She had been planning to go for months herself, and we were happy to go with her. We enjoyed it a lot, but had no idea he'd be so pertinent to MT.

Beat Takeshi is a very well-known Japanese actor, artist, television personality, filmmaker and much more. He's outrageous, funny, slapstick, pointed, whimsical, quirky and poignant, and the exhibit was all that.

His T Rex piece really hit home (we're hoping the video, including this piece from the exhibit, that we're trying to embed will work, but if not it's here). He'd built an 8 foot tall dinosaur, and surrounded it by illustrations with possible explanations for why the dinosaurs went extinct, including that:
  • They couldn't stop smoking
  • Their front limbs were so short that they couldn't reach to wipe their behinds
  • And they couldn't reach to hit their opponents back in a fist fight
  • They got metabolic syndrome (from drinking soda and eating junk food)
  • They always came out scissors when they played Paper Scissors Rock (their digits are scissors-like)
And so on. It struck us not only as funny and whimsical, but as a commentary, whether intended or not, on the often hopeless search for causation in science. Indeed, they couldn't wipe their behinds and might well have gotten metabolic syndrome, but again, correlation is not causation.

Another piece that was pertinent was the large watch Beat Takeshi had disassembled-- he'd placed the pieces inside a shaking dome and labeled it something like, "The probability of life on Earth is less than the probability that vibration will reassemble this watch."

This is the famous argument by William Paley that a watch is so well-organized that it implies the existence of a watchmaker. The Watchmaker is God, according to Paley. Richard Dawkins made the argument, known as the argument-from-design, famous in modern popular-science culture. Creationists love to argue (smugly) that the hundreds of individual pieces of a watch could simply never be assembled by random chance -- which they erroneously (and by now knowingly) say is the evolutionists' view of natural selection.

Of course, this is a straw man argument by creationists because no legitimate evolutionary biologist means this when saying that selection screens genetic variation that arises 'by chance'; what we mean is mutation happens 'by chance relative to functions it might have', and that natural selection provides the organizing force. How that works is a separate question, but Beat Takeshi's exhibit of a vibrating table with dissassembled watch parts makes the point: in decades of vibrating, the parts are still separate -- they've not (yet) formed themselves into a watch!

Evolutionary theory would actually go several layers better. As Jonathan Swift famously wrote:
"So nat'ralists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller fleas that bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum."
The relevance here is that the parts of the watch themselves would have needed a 'blind partsmaker'. Screws, watch-faces, housing, crystal glass, springs, gears, arrowed hands, and the like themselves do not exist in Nature. They have to have evolved. For an organism, one might say that we have parts (stomachs, fingers, eyes) and they have their own evolutionary history.

The wonder of evolution is that this nesting of 'origins' proceeds ad infinitum. At least, all the way back to the origin of life; the same thing is true even of the molecules acting in a cell. And in a sense it is that ever-nested nature of all aspects of life that makes evolutionary theory (and, we believe, the principles of organization we've written about here and in the MT book) so fascinating and powerful an explanation.

And if that's the story of life, Beat Takashi has put some life into the story.


    amie said...

    It was such a fun exhibit!! Thanks for taking me and then helping put it into perspective. I highly recommend this to anyone who has a little time in Paris!

    Anne Buchanan said...

    Thank *you* for alerting us to the exhibit!