Kurt Godel was a celebrated philosopher, mathematician and logician of the 20th century who did for logic what Einstein did for physics (see Wikipedia). In plain English, his “Incompleteness Theorems” showed that it is impossible to effectively identify a set of principles from which all truths governing basic mathematics would follow. Put differently, no matter how many principles one identifies (for instance regarding the set of integers), there will always be some truth that cannot be deduced from that set of principles alone. This theorem has sometimes been viewed as a proof that machines cannot reproduce the human mind, since there will always be some truth that a pre-fixed program cannot derive.

But what has that got to do with Oriental carpets? Like mathematics, decorative arts in general, and Oriental carpets in particular, follow a formal set of principles (e.g. symmetry, repetition, planar projections, etc.) to design a decorative pattern. A machine could then be programed to produce carpets in accordance with these principles. Indeed, it can do so much more efficiently than humans. But whereas a machine will apply the principles unerringly, allowing no deviation from the predetermined program, a human weaver, whether by inspiration, intuition, or revelation, often injects additional content in the design, a new “truth” if you like, that the “incomplete” machine could not have fathomed. It is in essence this additional content which differentiates machine-made from hand-knotted rugs.

January 6, 2019


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