All posts by Maxim

How to make good stuff?

This rather technical question is supported (and supports at the same time) by multiple theoretical questions, for instance, what makes stuff good? What type of stuff are we talking about? Is there something in common for this stuff? What is “stuff” anyway? If you look at all different kinds of stuff in an analytical way, trying to evaluate it, you will see a pattern of specific traits which affect your, and everybody else’s, opinion on the stuff. They are the main topic for discussion in the papers given to us (“Taste for makers” by Paul Graham, “Knowledge and the Arts” by Mr. Macknight, the IB’s knowledge framework for Arts), they are represented by the terms beauty (or aesthetics) and taste. Perhaps, they are the key to understanding how to make good stuff?

Beauty and aesthetics are something everyone talks about, but no one really understands. One, looking at a piece of art, may say that it is beautiful, while others may say that is hideous. We can see this practically everywhere, debates on art’s beauty are present throughout both the professional community and regular people who are interested in going to an art gallery from time to time. If anyone can argue about art’s beauty and aesthetics and can have their own opinion which can be criticized, can we then safely say that beauty is subjective?

Many philosophers speculated on the importance of beauty. At the low end, beauty merely provides decoration to make life more pleasant, at the high end, the experience of beauty was thought to elevate the soul toward the heights of purity, wisdom, and (sometimes) religious exaltation.”

“Knowledge and the Arts” by Eric T. MacKnight

If beauty provides nothing more than “decoration”, then anyone can judge it. If beauty is about more than just making stuff pretty and pleasant to the eye, there must be some criteria for analysis. However, we cannot deny that beauty has a subjective part to it, emotion will always affect the knowledge given by the artwork, despite the reason at work. Events happening in one’s life will reflect the said one will perceive an artwork. So there have to be two parts when evaluating an artwork, subjective and objective, such as an “a bridge between personal knowledge and shared knowledge” (from IB The Arts knowledge framework.)

If we have the subjective part, then what makes the objective part? If it is objective, then it can be quantified, measured, determined, It has to follow certain rules. To both create and evaluate art from a technical standpoint, one must be proficient in the art mastery, without which one simply would not recognize the work done and it’s quality.

“’A lot of [applicants to the MIT] seem smart,’ he said. ‘What I can’t tell is whether they have any kind of taste’”

“Taste for Makers”, by Paul Graham

It is then taste which makes the objective part. And while a lot of people will say that “taste is subjective”, I would like to argue that it is… kind of both. To have taste, you must have the technical knowledge to be able to see the mastery behind the work. However, we are human beings, affected by emotion. Life events, while being the subjective part of beauty, cannot affect the technical knowledge given by the reason. Perhaps the analyst has a personal preference for a certain type of painting technique or thinks negatively of electronic piano, because of personal life events. Another knowledge question arises from this conclusion, “How can the knowledge ever be pure from subjectivity?”. Whatever the answer may be, it does not limit taste, and therefore the beauty of artwork from being objective, as the technical analysis always persists.

So, what is the stuff and how do you make it good? One answer is: we don’t know. If we cannot affect the subjective part of beauty, because it is more unique to the one perceiving art, we have to work on the objective part. Yet, no matter how hard we try, there will always be someone whose subjective view covers the way for the objective analysis. So, maybe a different kind of question should be asked, “To what extent can the analysis be made objective?” and “Do we even have to make the stuff good?”. At the end of it all, it’s all about asking the right questions.


Uncertainty and unreliability of historical records

History (‘ἱστορία,’ historia, meaning ‘inquiry’ from Greek) is a study of the past. It is considered to be a humanitarian science. Humans study the events of the past recorded in papers and images coming from even before the invention of writing. History is an important part of human species’ as a civilization, humans even have a sector in their brains to record events of the past. Historical writings are a crucial part of historical assessment, however, they are an unreliable source of information individually and must be examined in conjunction and other historical writings covering the same event.


The reliability of the historical records is a question to be answered. Any historical writing is a way to pass the knowledge of the event to further generations and keep it in existence. History is written by people, people who lived through a life and experienced events which have formed and altered their views on the world and certain subjects.

“REPORTER: How will history look back on your decision to drop charges against Flynn? ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR: “Well, history is written by the winners. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”

—Interview, CBS News, May 2020”

Every historical event that is or not considered important has different sides that can, should and must be examined. Any historical event is a topic for discussion between people with certain opinions on the subject. For example, Nazism was the right ideology from the standpoint of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, while USSR considered communism the right ideology. The conflict between Third Reich and USSR is a big topic for discussion which must be looked at from all perspectives and standpoints. It is practically impossible for a writer to cover a topic without having knowledge about the topic, and thus forming an opinion about it. The only way for a historical event to be recorded without any bias, is for every small detail that has happened to be documented by a 3rd party that does not possess any knowledge about the event, an entity uncapable of forming opinions and emotions – a robot. An artificial mechanism to supervise the event and log all actions, decisions and words as they happen cannot put any bias into the writing because it is not capable of doing anything else other than outputting the events on film or paper. An entity as such is purely hypothetical and cannot exist (at the time of writing) in a physical world, thus, it is not possible for a historical writing to be free from perspective and bias, making History an uncertain Area of Knowledge.


The uncertainty and subjectivity of historical writing raise the question about the reliability of historical records made in the past. The records are essential for analysis and assessment of historical event, which is the main purpose of History.

“Imagination plays too important a role in the writing of history, and what is imagination but the projection of the author’s personality.

—Pieter Geyl”

Events that have happened hundreds of years ago have to be assessed by the records made by the people who have lived through or have first-order knowledge about the events. These people put the bias and their own opinion in the writings, making them subjective, or worse, lied and altered the events on paper. The content is critical to the assessment of the events, altered content may lead to a different result that shows the subject in a better or worse light. The information learned from the writings may be taught to future generations and alter their views as well. Therefore, it is critical for the records to be proven reliable. One way to prove the reliability of a source may be to compare it to other records of the event made in the same time period by different authors. Every author will put their own bias and point of view in their writing, thus by examining different opinions on the subject and finding a common information, we may be able to form a more reliable and objective view of the event.


In conclusion, a historical writing as an individual piece of work done by one author cannot be objective and will always have some perspective on an event that it is covering. The reliability of a historical writing may be assessed by comparing it other works covering the same event made in the same time period. Multiple historical records form a wider and more objective point of view of an event, yet History as Area of Knowledge is uncertain and may never have one exact answer to any question.

Storytelling is not the way

Storytelling is a method of transmission of information, usually in a chronological order, used by people through generations, both in text and images. Humanity uses storytelling to give orders, give explanations, entertain and perhaps most importantly – raise children. For hundreds of years, before the creation of the Guttenberg’s printing press, people have been sharing stories: the first ever book and story to be printed on the printing press is the Latin translation of the Bible.

In the Narrative Science, by Daniel Willingham, he describes how usage of narrative structure to explain the discoveries of Galileo or Marie Curie. According to the extract, students’ comprehension and memory for the information was increased when the same information was presented in a form of a narrative story. He explains it by arguing that science is narrative by nature:

Science lends itself naturally to narrative structure–authors can tell the stories of individual scientists, their struggles, their discoveries, and so on.

While the experiment may have shown the positive effect of storytelling in the education sector, the information transmitted was two pieces of writing, which effectively makes usage of language. Other documents examined try to express information narratively in image format, for example the “electricity explained” image makes an attempt to explain a physical concept (Ohm’s law) by visualizing the 3 properties of the Ohm’s law: Resistance, Current and Voltage in a story, making use of visionary sensors: eyes. One document combined usage of language with an image. All of them combine existing “Ways of Knowing”, such as language or sense perception, or emotion which some stories might create, but not represent any new way of knowing at its foundation.

Reading Mr. Eric MacKnight’s paper on storytelling, he makes a point about people thinking in metaphors:

We cannot think without using metaphors, and the moment we use a metaphor we have begun to tell a story.

While some studies show that metaphorical thinking might be the way humans think, the left/right brain theory suggests that different people think differently, using two halves of their brains. At least 40% people think in images, using their imagination to analyze and predict data, and 60% think in word and language, or mixed with images. The nature of human brain is a mystery to be discovered, but it is a fact that some people have more trouble or success when dealing with a mathematical science, such as Physics, or with human sciences, such as history. These two sciences are different in their core, and so is the type of data they return. For example, explaining historical events in a narrative style would be helpful and effective, because human history is a story, but not describing mathematical models in Physics: going back to the “Ohm’s law” image, while the image represents the base of the concept in the simplest and most understandable way possible, it neglects the scientific depth behind the topic which might reflect negatively on the resultant information understood by the students.

In conclusion, while storytelling might be a better way for some students to learn and analyze knowledge, it mixes the existing ways of knowing such as language, sense perception and emotions, but essentially does not introduce a new way and thus cannot be considered a Way of Knowing by itself. It also might not be as effective for some students who prefer different types of information, or even deform the concepts that the students must learn.

Sources: Page on Metaphores, by Steve Rathje; Article on Laterization of brain function