Thursday, July 21, 2016

David Chang's Unified Theory of Deliciousness

You've probably seen this much-discussed manifesto from David Chang, titled "The Unified Theory of Deliciousness". It stems from a consideration of loops:
"DeLong and Hofstadter both found great beauty in what the latter called strange loops—occasions when mathematical systems or works of art or pieces of music fold back upon themselves. M. C. Escher’s drawings are a great, overt example of this. Take his famous picture of two hands drawing each other; it’s impossible to say where it starts or ends. When you hit a strange loop like this, it shifts your point of view: Suddenly you aren’t just thinking about what’s happening inside the picture; you’re thinking about the system it represents and your response to it.'
It's often observed that wisdom is the ability to tolerate paradox. This is an attempt to reverse-engineer that result. If you can present paradox in an easily-digestible fashion (as Escher famously did), you can convey the beauty of wisdom. As artfully-presented paradox surprises and delights us, we experience the revelatory jolt of a creative person's eureka. We get it, at least for a moment. That's why people sometimes nod their heads affirmatively or burst into laughter while reading or listening to music. Epiphany!

It doesn't need to be as blatant as Escher made it. There are many ways to inject paradox, and all good creation has a whiff of it. Without it, you're merely swapping around building blocks. Paradox makes a whole more than the sum of its parts, and that's the entire delight of humanity. Without that gestalt - that magic - all human pursuits would be dully prosaic.

Paradox can be made digestible in any medium, including the literal digestion of cuisine. This is the basis of Chang's thesis. Unfortunately, he then proceeds to set up rules for the swapping around of building blocks. That's the trap creative people inevitably run into whenever they try to codify a process. As I wrote in my attempt to explain Steve Jobs,
What's the source of Steve Jobs' Shakti? He tried to explain in his Stanford commencement address. Ironically, he condensed it into rules. That's always what happens. Again, the rule's not the thing (must one dutifully obey a command to "Think Different"?). You can't codify it. You just gotta surrender to the Shakti. Simple as that.

See also this explanation on why nearly all human art is nothing more than a clever masking of perfection.

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