Higgs Boson and Mistakes

So, not long after the discovery of the Higgs boson and half a century after they predicted its existence, Higgs and Englert win the Nobel Prize in Physics. I don't often relate to advances in science but this one's a biggie. Last year, on news of the discovery, I wrote about how the knowledge gained matches the mythic wisdom behind the Judaeo-Christian tradition and many other ancient cultures. (See "Higgs boson and the Arts".) In it I mentioned that:

"the idea that weightless matter obeys fundamental laws gaining mass only when an error is introduced into the system is the basic idea behind the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve made an error in taking a bite from the Tree of Knowledge and, as a direct result, fell from heaven into a dualistic world where opposites abound."

The New York Times last week put it this way:

"The discovery...affirms the view of a cosmos ruled by laws of almost diamond-like elegance and simplicity, but in which everything interesting - like us - is a result of lapses [my italics] or flaws in that elegance."1

What I, perhaps, failed to point out is the link in the scientific theory not just to ideas behind the Wisdom tradition (John Milton the poet called Adam's error the "original lapse.") but to the actual processes of artistic creation. Regular users will know how often I encourage them to find the artist's primary meaning by looking for "errors", not just within the work of art itself but in art books too. If all was representationally correct, the image would be boring. Mistakes and gaps in mimetic depiction, on the other hand, make an image interesting. It may still not be art but I doubt that there is any true art without it.

Long before I had heard of the Higgs boson, or knew much about religion or myth, I had come to the conclusion that great artists do not make mistakes in their masterpieces, only we do in looking at them. "Errors" which make no sense on the superficial level are usually an opening to the artist's true meaning, an intentional hint that the scene is not mimetic or part of nature but takes place in a different reality, often on two levels. One example out of hundreds on the site is the reclining nude in Edouard Manet's Olympia which is often described as flat and lacking rounded form. Olympia is flat, though, because she is a flat "painting". Likewise the background to Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe is described as sketchy and poorly painted. What critics do not know, of course, is that the background is not a wood but canvas. It is sketchy because paintings are like that, especially when unfinished.

The so-called errors in art are, paradoxically, gateways to the truth. Like errors in the laws of the cosmos, they make art interesting and beautiful. On a fundamental level, errors are essential.

1. Dennis Overbye, "For Nobel, They Can Thank the "God particle", New York Times, Oct. 9th 2013, pp. A1, A3. 

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