It’s Math, not Physics

Jackson Pollock paintingYears ago, when I heard about Richard P. Taylor’s work quantifying the qualities of Jackson Pollock’s paintings using fractal concepts I was vaguely amused. Supposedly he could discriminate Pollock’s work from that of other drip painters purely algorithmically. It seemed suspicious, but within the realm of plausibilty, and considering he convinced Nature to publish his work I was willing to go along with the idea. During idle chit-chat I’m sure I pulled the topic out of my trivia hat from time to time in the intervening years. Now it seems the reliablity of the fractal method is in question, and the issue is pressing: someone claims he holds a number of undiscovered Pollock paintings that could could be worth millions if authentic. Taylor analysed the works and determined that they show significant differences from know Pollocks. But, a new article in Nature claims Taylor’s work was flawed. So, are the dribbles original or derivative?

I don’t really care. Mostly what I care about is the last word in the headline, “The Case of Pollock’s Fractals Focuses on Physics.” Physics? To an unreasonable extent this pisses me off. What about this analysis is physics? Just because physicists did the work doesn’t make it physics. The mathematics that is used may also have physical motivations and applications, but it still is distinctly mathematics and nothing more. I’m sure my bitterness stems from the fact that physicists seem to get all the glory in the press. And, even though I am now one of those glorious physicists, I will always have much empathy for mathematics. With popular media equating mathematics with the mentally disturbed, will science’s crazy uncle ever get the regard that he deserves?

2 Comments »

  1. Jeremy said,

    December 15, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

    Math should be equated with the mentally disturbed. I know I am, and I can’t think of any mathematician I know that is what anyone would call “normal”, except for maybe you, which proves that you should be a physicist.

  2. James said,

    December 27, 2006 @ 4:54 pm

    I can see the larger point about the connection between math and mental disturbance. But

    1. Jeremy hasn’t been math for years;

    2. Alan is not that normal.

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