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The algorithm has always been hard currency

Kind of right and wrong again.

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The algorithm has always been hard currency

Kind of right and wrong again. But always in use, the rough compass of memory. Assigns philosophy to antiquity, art preferably to the Renaissance, science to modern times, and technology to modernity. The myth is said to have gone ahead. And now the world is thought to the end, done to the end. And it goes without saying that all of this took place in the European “Occident”.

There were always objections. In reality, things are much more complex. But no criticism, neither of pure nor of practical reason, has been able to prevent the disciplines from drifting further and further apart, and natural science and humanities soon had nothing more to say to one another. Perhaps the implacable camp thinking is due to the exactness.

Maybe you can't program a quantum computer to perform at its best and at the same time start pondering ontologically about insoluble mysteries of being. Maybe progress can only be had with specialization. Anyone who does science does not make art. "Objection," says a large, ambitious exhibition in Frankfurt's Liebieghaus.

Everything very different. In truth, humans have been inventors from the beginning. And right down to supernatural responsibilities, people would have looked for solutions to problems that would make things in life more beautiful and more useful at the same time. Isn't an Olympian like Hephaestus described as a genius armorer and decorator in a profession? So into the "machine room of the gods".

Actually, you are in the art museum. The Liebieghaus is a fantastic collection of sculptures, where you can be guided through all the heydays of sculpture, from archaic sculptures to ivory carvings. "Engine room" doesn't sound like a treasury, but more like an equipment cellar. Only the "gods" put one off, promise an experience of the sublime kind.

The title succinctly and precisely formulates the entire program of the exhibition, which blends smoothly into the existing collection and meanders through the entire building. She is concerned with merging science and art, with proving that the disciplines formed together and that both arose out of curiosity and reflection.

One could think of Aristotle, who not only dealt with heaven and the soul, but also wrote eight thick books of "Physics", which even after two thousand years are still not recommended as bedtime reading. But the start is much more inconspicuous. Suddenly one stands in front of a palm-sized potsherd from Mesopotamia, on which the famous "Pythagorean theorem" is written. Beginning of the second millennium before our era!

If the cuneiform experts have deciphered correctly, then the correct description of the world belongs to the original actions of the world's inhabitants. And there must be a mathematical gene, a special brain disposition that encouraged the earliest cultures to research geometric and algebraic laws and to gain technical superiority from them.

Universalist that he was, Plato taught mathematics at his “Academy”. Thales showed people the right triangle on the circle's diameter and they just shook their heads. While Archimedes was sitting in the sand with a pair of compasses when he was slain by a foolish Roman soldier.

The exhibition tells them all again, the old stories, from the Pritzker Prize-worthy master builder and aerial artist Daedalus, from the outrageous King Ixion, whom they tied to a wheel that circles forever in space, or the bad tale of the drone-like remote-controlled bird of prey , who constantly nibbled at the liver of Prometheus – famous tales, all of which prove the unity of systematic and imaginative action that originated in mankind.

Perhaps it is after all the case that abstraction and sensuality are only two forms of expression of the same cognitive motive. In any case, Vinzenz Brinkmann, the head of the exhibition, is quite sure that solving scientific problems has always been accompanied by the need to make things more pleasant, more pleasing, more beautiful. Or more agile.

A highly plausible example reconstructs a kind of antique flip book. The Roman bronze figure of a boy reaching out to grab a partridge exists in two versions, the minimal differences of which indicate variants of a sequence of movements. When you 3D-print the models into a set and arrange them in a slitted cylinder, the boy actually appears to be making an effort to catch, although without actually reaching the bird. Did the Romans of the imperial era pay admission for this?

The exhibition takes you from one ancient laboratory to the next in a very elegant, vivid manner, without any adult education-like sophistication. And goes far beyond Greece, to Egypt, to the old Mesopotamia, to China. "According to our current state of knowledge," says Brinkmann, "the concept of the researching intellect appears as a discovery of the Asian cultural area."

The concept of the inquiring intellect is probably due to the fact that man has always lay on his back and looked at the sky. Telescopes were not required at all to discover regularities and irregularities on twilight evenings, long nights and comforting sunrises, and to draw correct conclusions from the repetitions. And because the visual space up there has a dome-like shape, the "sphaira", the sphere, had to become the basic element of the description of the world.

What the starry sky has produced in terms of sophisticated equipment with the finest mechanical precision is really amazing. Frankfurt can be particularly proud of the final research report on the mysterious "Antikythera Mechanism". In generations of work, weathered shards that were recovered from the sea off the Greek island have been used to reconstruct a highly complicated apparatus of countless gears, with which almost all calculable events in the celestial sphere can be shown, from the movements of the sun and moon to the orbits of the planets let. You don't have to understand much, the computer animation alone in the exhibition is a sensation.

It's quite possible that it used to be like this: Some enjoyed the best entertainment while vainly catching a partridge, the others stood in front of the bent Atlas, a heavily muscular man made of marble, who - mythical fate, which he has never got rid of - on his shoulders the ball-shaped universe braces itself together with the constellations that slowly passed you when the figure moved in a circle on its roller bearing.

And it is one of the most beautiful points in the history of discovery that a polymath like Aristotle drew the wrong conclusions before the spinning figure. One can clearly see that the Atlas is the axis around which the heavens revolve while the earth remains motionless. It then took another thousand years for the geocentric worldview to finally fade away.

In the long run, the thirst for knowledge could not be satisfied with gears alone and plausible diagrams. It has to do with the animating and mobilizing function of prosperous living conditions that the exact sciences became more and more precise and allowed themselves to be driven by economic needs. Discovery couldn't remain playful, at some point it turned into systematic exploration.

The algorithm has remained as hard currency. Rebellion never did much good. Even Goethe, the master of all classes, was at best mildly smiled at because of his Newton-skeptical color theory. As if he were poaching in an area that had nothing to do with him, the poet.

It may well be that the arts are already establishing a whole new techno-aesthetic future with bots and robots. For the time being, the artistic use of the programmed tools still looks very tinkered. And the "Renaissance 3.0", which the late media art expert Peter Weibel proclaimed as the "base camp for new alliances of art and science", does not really want to begin. In any case, the stay in the "machine room of the gods" promises much more clever charm.

"Engine room of the gods. How our future was invented”, Liebieghaus Frankfurt/Main, until September 10, 2023

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