David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and member of the National Council of the Arts. He is the author of several books and many technical articles, as well as essays, art criticism, and fiction. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed programming systems worldwide. According to Reuters, his book "Mirror Worlds" (Oxford University Press, 1991) "foresaw" the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java"; the "lifestreams" system (first implemented by Eric Freeman at Yale) is the basis for Mirror Worlds Technologies' software. Gelernter is also the author of "The Muse in the Machine" (Free Press, 1994), the novel "1939" (Harper Perennial, 1995), "Machine Beauty" (Basic Books, 1998), and most recently, "Judaism: A Way of Being" (Yale University Press, 2010).
Question: What balance do you strike between your teaching, writing, science, and art?
David Gelernter: Nowadays, I spend my time mainly painting. I have an exhibition coming up. Generally speaking, I spend more time painting than doing anything else, except for writing. I’ve been writing pieces for—some pieces connected with DLD where I got to meet Frank Schumacher, who's been associated with the meeting for some time, and is an editor and publisher at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and a remarkable guy. So, I agreed to write a series of pieces for them and he’s a wonderful guy and I think Europe is more interested in the implications as opposed to the immediate market meaning of technology. I mean, I don’t think people are better educated or more thoughtful or any different, they’ve just got a somewhat different focus. I think growing out of the nature of the European market and the origin of so much of the technology in the United States gives them one degree of remove, which I think is useful. There’s a lot of thoughtful people over there.
Question: What is the focus of your new art exhibition?
David Gelernter: Well, let’s see, this is the latest of a series of exhibits at Yale, which is a good place for me to exhibit. I like to sell paintings, not from galleries, but from a more informal, one-on-one way, and so a non-commercial gallery space in which to exhibit, is, for me, very useful. I mainly—I’ve been trying for many years, I should say for many decades at this point, to figure out what Jewish art is, if there is such a thing. It’s come to seem to me that Jewish art is paintings of words. Not just paintings in which words appear, or words on a wall, but paintings in which the words themselves have meaning and decorative significance and conceptual weight. It’s hard to describe an image, especially one that is somewhat idiosyncratic, but anyway. General idea.
Question: How does Judaism shape your work?
David Gelernter: Genetically, to begin with. When I do think up pictures, my own job description is an image thinker, as many people have been, and what I do is a matter of the images that float through my head. Many people think in images, it’s hard to say how many. Certainly many people think in images some of the time. Many people think in images virtually all the time. When I’m working in software, I’m thinking of the picture that needs to appear on the screen or that needs to appear in the user’s head in order to make sense of the software. In the studio, more directly, I try and take as any painter does, as any artist does, tries to take what is in his head and make it concrete which is a constant—which is a struggle, which isn’t easy, but is what art has always been about.
When I write, I tend to write vividly or try to
vividly, and it’s also a matter of the images that drift through one’s
head. So, this is the way I deal
with the world, picture-wise.
Recorded on April 1, 2010.
It’s obvious to anybody that the mind does much more than solve problems.