Page 412 of “Artful Design” revisits principle 1.15 from the book’s first chapter: design should be grounded in the border values behind our directly visible needs. I like the idea that this relies on an artistic/aesthetic leap, and more importantly, that this leap necessitates attempting to better understand ourselves and others, so here’s a leap of my own: what if an assigned response to “Artful Design” took into account the unique design behind this book? Since, per principle 8.15 of the book, “feeling without doing is powerless,” I’ll attempt the rest of my response in a more disjointed, stream-of-consciousness, artful way.

There is something similar to the halting problem or Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem (mentioned on page 427) in math and physics: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. It implies not just that our human “search for truth” can’t be handed off to a machine because of fundamental limits on proveability, but that this search for truth will never be completed by anyone in our universe because of fundamental limits on aspects of the universe itself. This isn’t a limit on the “observability” of things, as some interpret it, but on these things’ actual state of being. This is equally sublime, but what does it matter for a designer?

There are limits you cannot transcend.

Interestingly, the physics that causes this transcendence-halting “uncertainty” is related to particle-wave duality, and the same problem shows up in Fourier analysis. Sure, there are digital limits to a digital fourier transform, but there are also fundamental limits to the continuous fourier transform itself. As musicians then, do we perhaps interact more than we realize with the fundamental limits of reality?

These are both early memories of interactions I had with family members, and they hint at my interpretation of a balance between means to ends and ends in themselves. While it’s true that work should be put in as a means to the end of “good consequences” for ourselves and others, some actions are simply good, like teaching your grandson how to make a useless little cube drawing. That second memory is one of the first times I can remember enjoying learning, and moments like that are a massive part of why I’m so excited to pursue a career in teaching. Speaking of the process of learning:

Buckets have handles, and I thought for a bit about what this handle might mean. The best I’ve got is that as much as we might build the walls of our buckets or fill them with great things, events will happen that’re outside of our control. A bucket can’t choose where it is poured, and there are limits we cannot transcend. This doesn’t invalidate designing towards the sublime, though. Rather, we’ve always been imperfectly doing just that. Music, visual art, and design have always had the power to point towards the sublime in inspiring, comforting, or other ways, regardless of when it has or hasn’t been recognized in “western history” as described in principle 8.24

For all the sublime perfection that our art points to, I believe perfect art is not possible. We can’t transcend ourselves into making perfect designs, but trying to point towards perfection does result in some deeply beautiful and wonderfully human designs. As a potential counterpoint towards the transcendentalism of many modern thinkers, here’s an album I like with good lyrics about the beauty of ephemerality and human fragility: