Aesthetic Revolutions : The Importance of Aesthetic Revolutions for My Career as a Computer Scientist

Aesthetic Revolutions : The Importance of Aesthetic Revolutions for My Career as a Computer Scientist 

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When I first started this course, I had no idea what I would be gaining from this course as a computer scientist. The course description described that, “this course will allow us to understand the nuanced meanings of this era’s aesthetic revolutions and their significance to modernism”(Syllabus for Aesthetic Revolutions), which I originally had no idea what it even meant, let alone what practical effect it would have on my work as a computer scientist. However, as I conclude my semester, I have recognized one particular vital skill for myself: critical thinking. Kuan Chen Tsai describes the process of critical thinking as “The proposed protocol is the five Es: (a) Expand the horizon, (b) Explore the possibilities, (c) Exchange the ideas, (d) Evaluate the assumptions, and (e) Enact the solutions” (Chen Tsai, 1). In summary, critical thinking is the process of going through the opposing opinions on a particular person, idea, or event and ending with a balanced conclusion. Critical thinking is a necessity for becoming a successful computer scientist. 

Videos of music composed by Arnold Schoenberg were shown at the beginning of the semester. His efficient music created an atmosphere of unease in the room. One of the reactions that stuck with me was, as paraphrased, that the music sounded like a cat jumping around on a keyboard, implying the apparent randomness and unfamiliarity of the music. Milton Babbit wrote about these types of reactions well in his article Who Cares if You Listen, “The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music”(Babbit, 1). If the class was to appreciate this music, then it must be understood by the class that the biases of having mostly listened to popular music would only be one side of the coin; the other side being from a more mathematical perspective of music. After multiple listenings, I was able to understand the beauty of efficient music because I had resolved to think about it from the other viewpoint. This critical thinking creates the opportunity for a better understanding of the music. 

These opportunities are vital for computer science. The structure of a coding program sets up multiple paths for a project to be created. However, most novice computer scientists get stuck in particular routes based on what they have done before. In the official documentation for JavaScript, a leading programming language, it is stated that one of the greatest mistakes of a beginning computer programmer is “picking the first solution.” It is also written in the same documentation that, “While the first solution might be tempting, the good solutions are usually discovered once you start questioning all the solutions that you find” (Buna, Samer). I have experienced multiple instances over the semester where I was trying to figure out homework problems for the Intro to Computer Science course; when I got stuck I used critical thinking to expand my horizon and explore the possibilities beyond my biases. I could take advantage of the new potential paths when I had figured out the most efficient way to solve the problem. 

In her book, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music, Lydia Goehr writes, “it became the custom to speak of the arts as separated completely from the world of the ordinary, mundane, and everyday. The essence of fine art comprised the basic idea of severance from anything associated with the transient, contingent world of mere mortals” (Goehr, 157). She explains that the transcendent property of music allows one to create a barrier from any influence of the artist. This “separability principle” was the focus of an ethical dilemma discussed in class. For the majority of the second half of the semester, the class focused the conversation on critically thinking about this ethical dilemma. An ethical dilemma is where a particular decision which has no clear ethically right choice. Through the process of critical thinking, as defined earlier, the opposing ideas are exchanged and the solutions are enacted. The discussion also created the opportunity of learning how to argue both sides of an ethical dilemma. The instance of this ethical dilemma in the class was of the German composer Richard Wagner. After watching two different documentaries about Wagner’s legacy, the class discussed Wagner and whether his stances on antisemitism should inhibit positive feelings for Wagner’s excellently composed musical dramas. The class split up between the two opposing opinions, whether to have positive feelings about Wagner or not. The philosophies of and against the separability principle allowed for enriched opinions for both sides. Although there was no definitive answer out of this particular conversation about how one should react to music from an artist with negative personal qualities, the discussion itself improved both sides’ knowledge of each side of the argument and the class learned the different philosophies involved in an ethical dilemma. 

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The experience of having a conversation about an ethical dilemma is important for computer scientists that are going to be involved in the data sciences, especially those specifically involved with artificial intelligence. There is a controversial discussion concerning whether or not self-driving cars should exist, because of the Trolley problem. The Trolley problem supposes a situation where one has to decide to either let a trolly kill a group of people who are on the track that the trolley normally uses, or to flip a lever to send the trolley on to a connected track that has not been used in years and it will kill a single person. These types of problems are so important, not only does the article on this topic have over thousands of views, but there is even an interactive website designed by MIT that gathers data from users who “play” the trolley dilemma. As a computer scientist who wants to be involved specifically in artificial intelligence, having experience in the philosophical ideas required to discuss ethical dilemmas is crucial. 

This course has proven to me its worth. I have learned how to think critically: making sure that any idea is understood in its full context because otherwise, the biases of a perspective lacking full context will skew the idea such that it cannot be understood in an absolutely logical manner. I have also experienced this process of critical thinking in the realm of ethical dilemmas. The full gamut of philosophies appropriate for any ethical dilemma is necessary to create a strong understanding of the dilemma, even if it remains inconclusive. Both critical thinking and the usage of critical thinking in regards to ethical dilemmas are crucial for the computer scientist, and I now understand the importance of a student in a computer science major to take this course.

Written by David Lifschitz

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Works Cited 

Beliavsky, Daniel. Syllabus for Aesthetic Revolutions, Yeshiva U, Washington Heights, Fall 2019. https://yu.instructure.com/courses/3https://yu.instructure.com/courses/36126/files?preview =11021466126/files?preview=1102146

Kuan, Chen & Tsai, Kuan Chen. (2013). Being a Critical and Creative Thinker: A Balanced Thinking Mode. 1. 

Babbit, Milton. “Who Cares if You Listen?” High Fidelity, February 1958. 

Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: an Essay in the Philosophy of Music. Clarendon Press, 1994. 

Buna, Samer. “Beginner Programmers’ Mistakes :: The Professional Programmer.” JsComplete.com, JsComplete.com, 4 Sept. 2019, 

jscomplete.com/learn/pro-programmer/beginner-programmers-mistakes#top. “Moral Machine.” Moral Machine, moralmachine.mit.edu/. Lim, H.S.M.; Taeihagh, A. Algorithmic Decision-Making in AVs: Understanding Ethical and Technical Concerns for Smart Cities. Sustainability 2019, 11, 5791.