Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Little Theory

People always say that art is subjective, that it's impossible to quantify, that two works of art are so different that they can't possibly be compared. Everyone accepts these ideas as a given. Most of our social interactions hinge on the idea that some things just can't be compared, that some opinions are neither right nor wrong.

That's boring. Let's try another idea.

Let's try the idea that perhaps, if we find the right criteria, we can compare these things. That perhaps, if we think about things enough, and whittle them down to their core beliefs and the facts upon which they're based, that we can figure out how to compare two otherwise disparate, abstract concepts.

I don't think there's an absolute standard that we can use to figure out the single greatest work of art created in the course of human history. I don't think we can use a scale to argue that one movie is better than another one. But I do think we can come up with simple (necessarily subjective) questions with yes or no answers, and apply them to a work of art, and get a result out of it that we can use to compare that work to another one, regardless of what common sense tells us we can and cannot compare.

And, as a programmer, I think I only need 8 questions. Yes-or-no questions equate to binary digits, and 8 bits equals a byte. If we arrange those 8 questions in order of most important to least important, and assign each one to a bit with the appropriate relative significance, we can translate our answers into a rating, a number between 0 and 255, that we can use to compare two works.

Maybe it won't help. Maybe it won't work. Maybe it's impossible, and the conventional wisdom is right. But you know what? When I tell this to people, and they disagree and start debating about it, none of us have any facts to throw around. So whether my theory is right or wrong, I'm going to test it. I'm going to test it specifically with film, because that's what I've been going to school for these past three years, so I ought to know a bit about it by now. As I find problems I'll try to revise my questions, and I suppose if I have to revise it after every review that'll be a pretty good indication that my theory is wrong. But god dammit, I'm going to test this idea instead of sitting around arguing in circles about it.

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