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Day 056

centaur 0

godel drawing

Full drawing of Kurt Gödel from today's Lent entry. Like previous exercises, I traced my own roughs, using a variety of Micron pens. As for whether the face looks like a face ... ehh, mostly? Though I am still apparently inflating noses and cartoonishly exaggerating heads with respect to bodies, making Kurt here look like an extra from Men in Black (thinking of Tommy Lee Jone's comically oversized head).

Where I departed here was throwing out several intermediate roughs, as I did on Day 054. I started off with a normal 2B pencil sketch on Strathmore and quickly decided that it was going nowhere:

godel rough 1

Rather than starting over on Strathmore, I switched to tracing paper and tried the following. In some ways I like this drawing more than some of the later sketches - it captures a bit of Gödel's distinctive face - but I rapidly realized I'd again got the macro-architecture of the sketch wrong, shoulders ending up in the wrong place and such. Also, though you can't tell from this crop, it was too small on the page.

godel rough 2

So I started over, producing the following sketch. The face is a bit off here, too wide, looking something like a cross between Mr. Magoo and Joe Biden (if either wore glasses). But I could tell the overall layout was good this time - things were roughly in the right place, and could be corrected with some effort.

godel rough 3

I traced the following directly over the previous sketch, correcting for the shape of the nose and face, but keeping the parts that seemed like they were a good fit. This sketch wasn't perfect either, but it was close enough for me to get started - I had blogposts to write! - and led to the drawing at the top of the page, which I traced over the below drawing, making a few more corrections and allowances for rendering.

godel pencils

The original? Below, from a Nature article (Credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt/ LIFE Picture Coll./Getty).

godel original

My drawing ... sorta looks like the guy? I still think I can do better, particularly in making faces longer and narrower (a problem I had with the Eleventh Doctor as well). But still ...

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Jesus and Gödel

centaur 0

kurt godel

Yesterday I claimed that Christianity was following Jesus - looking at him as a role model for thinking, judging, and doing, stepping away from rules and towards principles, choosing good outcomes over bad ones and treating others like we wanted to be treated, and ultimately emulating what Jesus would do.

But it's an entirely fair question to ask, why do we need a role model to follow? Why not have a set of rules that guide our behavior, or develop good principles to live by? Well, it turns out it's impossible - not hard, but literally mathematically impossible - to have perfect rules, and principles do not guide actions. So a role model is the best tool we have to help us build the cognitive skill of doing the right thing.

Let's back up a bit. I want to talk about what rules are, and how they differ from principles and models.

In the jargon of my field, artificial intelligence, rules are if-then statements: if this, then do that. They map a range of propositions to a domain of outcomes, which might be actions, new propositions, or edits to our thoughts. There's a lot of evidence that the lower levels of operation of our minds is rule-like.

Principles, in contrast, are descriptions of situations. They don't prescribe what to do; they evaluate what has been done. The venerable artificial intelligence technique of generate-and-test - throw stuff on the wall to see what sticks - depends on "principles" to evaluate whether the outcomes are good.

Models are neither if-then rules nor principles. Models predict the evolution of a situation. Every time you play a computer game, a model predicts how the world will react to your actions. Every time you think to yourself, "I know what my friend would say in response to this", you're using a model.

Rules, of a sort, may underly our thinking, and some of our most important moral precepts are encoded in rules, like the Ten Commandments. But rules are fundamentally limited. No matter how attached you are to any given set of rules, eventually, those rules can fail you, and you can't know when.

The iron laws behind these fatal flaws are Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Back in the 1930's, Kurt Gödel showed any set of rules sophisticated enough to handle basic math would either fail to find things that were true, or would make mistakes - and, worse, could never prove that they were consistent.

Like so many seemingly abstract mathematical concepts, this has practical real-world implications. If you're dealing with anything at all complicated, and try to solve your problems with a set of rules, either those rules will fail to find the right answers, or will give the wrong answers, and you can't tell which.

That's why principles are better than rules: they make no pretensions of being a complete set of if-then rules that can handle all of arithmetic and their own job besides. They evaluate propositions, rather than generating them, they're not vulnerable to the incompleteness result in the same way.

How does this affect the moral teachings of religion? Well, think of it this way: God gave us the Ten Commandments (and much more) in the Old Testament, but these if-then rules needed to be elaborated and refined into a complete system. This was a cottage industry by the time Jesus came on the scene.

Breaking with the rule-based tradition, Jesus gave us principles, such as "love thy neighbor as thyself" and "forgive as you wish to be forgiven" which can be used to evaluate our actions. Sometimes, some thought is required to apply them, as in the case of "Is it lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath?"

This is where principles fail: they don't generate actions, they merely evaluate them. Some other process needs to generate those actions. It could be a formal set of rules, but then we're back at square Gödel. It could be a random number generator, but an infinite set of monkeys will take forever to cross the street.

This is why Jesus's function as a role model - and the stories about Him in the Bible - are so important to Christianity. Humans generate mental models of other humans all the time. Once you've seen enough examples of someone's behavior, you can predict what they will do, and act and react accordingly.

The stories the Bible tells about Jesus facing moral questions, ethical challenges, physical suffering, and even temptation help us build a model of what Jesus would do. A good model of Jesus is more powerful than any rule and more useful than any principle: it is generative, easy to follow, and always applicable.

Even if you're not a Christian, this model of ethics can help you. No set of rules can be complete and consistent, or even fully checkable: rules lawyering is a dead end. Ethical growth requires moving beyond easy rules to broader principles which can be used to evaluate the outcomes of your choices.

But principles are not a guide to action. That's where role models come in: in a kind of imitation-based learning, they can help guide us by example until we've developed the cognitive skills to make good decisions automatically. Finding role models that you trust can help you grow, and not just morally.

Good role models can help you decide what to do in any situation. Not every question is relevant to the situations Jesus faced in ancient Galilee! For example, when faced with a conundrum, I sometimes ask three questions: "What would Jesus do? What would Richard Feynman do? What would Ayn Rand do?"

These role models seem far apart - Ayn Rand, in particular, tried to put herself on the opposite pole from Jesus. But each brings unique mental thought processes to the table - "Is this doing good or evil?" "You are the easiest person for yourself to fool" and "You cannot fake reality in any way whatsoever."

Jesus helps me focus on what choices are right. Feynman helps me challenge my assumptions and provides methods to test them. Rand is benevolent, but demands that we be honest about reality. If two or three of these role models agree on a course of action, it's probably a good choice.

Jesus was a real person in a distant part of history. We can only reach an understanding of who Jesus is and what He would do by reading the primary source materials about him - the Bible - and by analyses that help put these stories in context, like religious teachings, church tradition, and the use of reason.

But that can help us ask what Jesus would do. Learning the rules are important, and graduating beyond them to understand principles is even more important. But at the end of the day, we want to do the right thing, by following the lead of the man who asks, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

-the Centaur

Pictured: Kurt Gödel, of course.

Day 055

centaur 0

momoa sketch

Quick sketch of Jason Momoa, the reference for my Jesus sketch earlier. That sketch I started from scratch and only loosely used Momoa's mug to touch up some details; it still didn't come out great. Also, I sketched it on the Cintiq in Photoshop. This is also a quick sketch, but on Strathmore 9x12 with a Faber- Castell "B" Pitt Artist Pen Brush - and just that. Given that it was pushing 4am, I wanted to try using a simpler technique, to see how much I could extract out of just one pen (well, brush) for the render. As for how much the face looks like a face ...

momoa mug

Not ... terrible, but the proportions are still off, and my sketch gave him way too big a schnoz. Jason Momoa is a good looking guy, and unfortunately my sketch makes him look more like a rejected villain from the Princess Bride. Ah well. Perhaps I'll eventually be able to sketch good looking superheroes ...

... if I keep drawing every day.

-the Centaur

What is Christianity?

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rough sketch of jesus

tl;dr: Christianity is following Jesus.

I know, I know, that seems obvious: His name is on the tin. Jesus Christ - Christianity, right? But it's surprising to me sometimes how non-obvious that is, or how often people who claim to be Christians don't seem to be putting that first.

I grew up in the South. I've seen fundamentalists claim to be Bible-worshipping Christians; what about Jesus-following Christians? I've seen Baptists challenge each other about following doctrine - what about following Jesus? I've seen Catholics rant about following Church dogma - how about following Jesus?

Now, a fundamentalist might tell you that you need to turn to the Bible to know Jesus, and I've had Baptists tell me there's only one true interpretation of the Bible which determines the correct doctrines, which sounds very Catholic in its curation of official doctrines collated as dogma.

But in the violent arguments that sometimes follow, the participants rarely seem to come back to the name Jesus. They'll argue that you must read your Bible, or that belief in evolution makes you an atheist, or that breaking from church teachings cuts you off from grace and makes you an apostate.

Where is Jesus in all that? He's not.

Even in church board meetings, when we're worrying about our tight budgets, supporting our ministries, and our fellowships with other churches, I frequently find that the discussion rarely comes back to Jesus. Even though drawing people to Christ is in our mission statement, we get bogged down with details.

When it's my turn to speak, I bring up Jesus's name in a way that's relevant, and let the Spirit guide me through the rest. Think of it as a high-powered version of What Would Jesus Do, but instead leading to questions like, "If this budget exists to draw people to Jesus, how would He want us to use it?"

Which leads to the question, what does following Jesus mean?

That's a big question, but first off, Jesus says "Be not afraid!" Actually, he says that quite a bit, more than a dozen times in the New Testament. He also says, "Repent!" over a dozen times - meaning, change your mind to change the way you live, breaking your commitment to the things you're doing wrong.

Change is scary, because we're often surprisingly committed to the things that we're doing that are wrong. We find it hard to give them up, which is one reason why Lent is important - it asks us to give things up temporarily, to help us build up the muscles we need to quit things forever.

So following Jesus involves fearless repentance. But what is wrong, and how should we turn to the right, and how do we manage the scary thought that the things we're doing may be things we should abandon? Well, to me, the reason Christianity is named after Jesus is that He's the answer to all three questions.

Jesus Christ isn't the typical "first name - last name" combination familiar to modern Western audiences. The "Jesus" part is His actual name, but in that's actually a twice-removed transliteration to English through Greek of the original Hebrew "Yeshua", which roughly means "God saves".

The "Christ" part is a title - which is why sometimes you hear of the man referred to as "Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth" as "Christ Jesus". Christ originally meant "the anointed one", but in Christian theology it came to mean the "messiah", or Savior.

So Jesus Christ means God saves, twice over. But what does that mean? Jesus saves who from what?

Well, He saves us from the consequences of our bad choices. In Christian theology, our sins merit punishment, but Jesus's death on the cross was a sacrifice which blots all that out - so there's no need to be trapped in sin for fear that you won't be forgiven: repentance comes at no cost, thanks to Jesus.

That manages the fear, but what are we doing wrong? Jesus said the two greatest commandments are loving the one God and loving your neighbor as yourself. In practice, I think this means putting nothing above doing the right thing, and making sure we treat others as we wish to be treated.

Jesus says all religious laws are ultimately derived from these foundations. This gets tricky in practice, because there are many rules written down in the Bible and put forth by churches and passed into law by the hands of man, and its hard to follow them all. In fact, sometimes they don't even seem to be just.

That's where Jesus comes in again. Over and over in the New Testament, people ask questions of Jesus about how different rules and laws conflict. Again and again, He responds not by picking one rule over the other, but by asking the question of what principles are at stake, and what outcome is good?

That's how Jesus outwitted the challengers who asked whether it was legal to heal someone on the Sabbath: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?" Again and again, Jesus asks basic questions like these, using an almost scientific mindset applied to ethics.

In fairness to my Christian brethren, I got to this understanding by reading the Bible to find out who Jesus was, by debating doctrine with my Baptist friends, by learning Catholic dogma, and by ultimately coming to my own conclusions in the Episcopal tradition, combining scripture, tradition and reason together.

But I think these principles are universal. Whether you're a Christian or not, you can look honestly at what you're doing, decide whether it's right or wrong, and put aside the wrong in favor of the right. You shouldn't be afraid to do so, because choosing to do the right thing is its own reward.

There always is a better way, and you're always free to choose it.

To me, that's following Jesus, and is the bedrock principle of Christianity. Of course, there's more: Christians believe in Jesus as a divine member of the Trinity, one God in three Persons. But I don't think the principles of Christianity are true because Jesus said them; I think He said them because they're true.

-the Centaur

Day 054

centaur 0

What, did you think I was not going to do Drawing Every Day just because I did a Photoshop graphic for the Lent entry?

steamgoggle sketch

So, today's exercise was something very difficult for me: abandoning a failed rough and starting over.

You see, many artists that I know will get sucked into perfecting a drawing that has some core flaw in its bones - this is something I ran into with my Batman cover page. I know one artist who has worked over a handful of difficult paintings for literally 2-3 years ... but who can produce dozens of new paintings for a show on the drop of a hat. But it's hard emotionally to let go the investment in a partially finished piece.

This is tied up with the Sunken Cost Fallacy Fallacy, the false idea that if you've decided a venture has failed you should cut your losses despite your prior investment in it. This is based on the very real ideas of sunk costs - costs expended that cannot be recovered - which should not be factored into rational decisions the same way that we should prospective costs - costs that can be avoided by taking action. The "Sunken Cost Fallacy" comes in when people don't cut their losses in a failed venture.

The "Fallacy Fallacy" part kicks in because in the real world costs do not become sunk as a result of your decisions. When a self-proclaimed "decider"(1) chooses to proclaim that a project is a failure, the value invested in the project doesn't magically become nonrecoverable based on that decision and the classical Sunken Cost Fallacy does not apply. I have seen a private company literally throw away a two million dollar investment for a dollar because the owner didn't want to deal with it anymore.

Fortunately, most artists are better businessmen than that. Deep down, they know any painting could be the ONE that gets them seen; deeper down, each painting is an expression of their creativity. Even if the painting has flaws, one never knows whether the piece will be fixable, even ultimately excel. I have seen paintings go through years of work and many difficulties, only to finally turn up amazing. Drawings, paintings and novels are like investments in that way, always tantalizing us with their future potential.

But, deep down, I feel like it's possible to do better than that. That by painting or drawing more, and being more ruthless earlier in the process, that it's possible to recognize wrong turns and truly sunken costs and to start over. Once a huge canvas has covered with paint over many months, or a large manuscript has been filled with words over an equal period of time, it represents an investment in images and ideas that can potentially be salvaged ... but a sketch or outline, now, that you can throw out straightaway.

You may not get the thirty minutes doing the sketch back, but at least you'll be starting in a better place.

In my case, I was starting here, the cover for Steampunk Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos I had lying about:

I started what I intended to be a quick sketch, and got partway into the roughs ...

steamgoggle failed rough

... when I decided that the shape of the face was off - and the proportions of the arm were even further off. I started to fix it - you can see a few doubled features like eyes and lips in there - but I decided - ha, decided - no, stop, STOP Anthony, this rough is too far gone.

Start over, and look more closely at what you see this time.

That led to the drawing at the top of the entry. There were still problems with the finished piece - I am continuing to have trouble with tilting heads the wrong way, and something went wrong with the shape of the arm, leading to a too-narrow, too-long wrist - but the bones of the sketch were so much better than the first attempt that it was easy to finish the drawing.

And thus, keep up drawing every day.

-the Centaur

(1) I'm not bitter.

What is Lent?

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Lent

Twenty-Twenty, man! A year that sucked, followed by a year that sounds like "Twenty-Twenty Won" (and don't get me started on the third act of the trilogy, "Twenty-Twenty Too" ... not even the Sharknado team could have come up with the plots of the Twenty-Twenty franchise).

As we're recovering from last year - recovering from January of THIS year - the normal rhythms of life have been quietly reasserting themselves. Elections are followed by inaugurations. Winter weather will soon be followed by spring plantings. And Ash Wednesday will soon be followed by Easter.

"Two thousand twenty-one" in our calendar marks two millennia, give or take, since the birth of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, the world's largest religion. Today, "Ash Wednesday" in the Christian calendar marks the beginning of Lent, the solemn observance of Jesus's Crucifixion.

You can follow the links to find out what Lent and Ash Wednesday and Christianity and the Crucifixion mean to other people. But what I want to tell you about what they mean to me. Lent has always been a time for me to reconnect with my own faith, and each year I do that a slightly different way.

Lent celebrates Jesus's Resurrection, when He turned death into new life - and turned failure as a regional preacher into success at creating a world-spanning church. Prior to His death, Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days, which Christians emulate by giving things up for Lent.

Well, the pandemic has knocked a loop for most of the things that I normally give up for Lent: giving up meat (I'm mostly eating vegan), giving up alcohol (I try to avoid drinking at home), giving up soda (long story). While I've been blessed to not be starving this pandemic, it's still been a time of deprivation.

That got me thinking. I once heard someone suggest, "Give up Something Bad for Lent!" (as opposed to the normal giving up something good). Well, what about flipping it on its head entirely? What about, rather than giving up something bad for Lent, why not take on something good for Lent?

Normally I try not to talk about what I've given up for Lent - on the principle Jesus puts forth in Matthew 6:5 that praying for show is its own reward - that is, no reward at all. But again, flipping it on its head entirely, if I've taken on something good for Lent, why not take on something to share with everyone?

So, like my Drawing Every Day series, for the next forty days, I'm going to blog about what Lent means to me. And the key meaning of Lent, for me, is reconnection - dare I say, Resurrection? Christianity is supposed to be a "catholic" religion - catholic, meaning "universal," a religion for everyone.

The universality of Christianity means that it's for everyone. Everyone has free will. Everyone can screw up. Everyone can feel a loss of connection to God. And Jesus's role was to light the way - taking on our screwups in His death, and washing them away in His Resurrection.

SO, in the coming weeks, I hope to show you what I'm trying to connect back to every Lent. For some of you, this will be bread and butter; for others, this will be alien. Regardless, I hope I'm going to be able to leave you with an understanding of why every year I walk the path of Lent towards the Resurrection.

-the Centaur

Day 053

centaur 0

sketched face

Sketched faces from tonight's Write to the End session. No comparison photos, because my fellow writers deserve their privacy (especially since I used a screen shot which caught one of them in a scowl and the other while speaking), but I know enough to rate this as "meh". The face above expands the hair and squashes the lower face - same mistake from Spock yesterday, so it wasn't just head tilt - and a little of that's going on with the face below, though the biggest problem there is the mouth is too narrow.

sketched face

The ultimate goal of these drawings is to rekindle my love of my art and to sharpen my abilities to the point where I can once again resume f@nu fiku, finish my science fiction comic projects, and move on to other comic ideas I have scattered through my notebooks.

My inspiration for this project comes from a young psychology student who took a drawing class just as he was about to graduate, and, inspired, put off medical school with a crash course to break in to the comics field in just one year. He succeeded, and his name is Jim Lee, now Publisher of DC Comics.

I don't expect success in a year - I have a day job and a novel-writing career, not to mention a family - nor do I want to be Jim Lee. But I do want to be Anthony Francis. And Anthony Francis, by day, builds intelligent machines and emotional robots, and by night writes science fiction and draws comic books.

I've built intelligent machines. I've worked on emotional robots. I've written and published science fiction. But the comic books, other than my short stint on f@nu fiku, have eluded me. Connecting thoughts and images is a huge part of my creative expression, yet I seem to have let it fall by the wayside.

But I'm bringing it back by drawing every day.

-the Centaur

 

Day 052

centaur 0

spock sketch

As Spock says: it's 2am, but if it was an hour earlier I'd have done another whole sketch before rendering. The side to side tilt is right, but I've leaned his head way down from what it is, making his face look bashed in. This is sort of the opposite problem from what I was having earlier, so ... yay?

spock picture

One of the things about learning is that regular, immediate feedback is important for progress. That's why, when I have reference material for what I'm drawing, that I post both of those here so I can compare and judge what I've done, looking for things to improve.

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Day 051

centaur 0

mount tabor sketch

Mount Tabor, sketched to commemorate the transfiguration of Jesus, that moment when Jesus is transformed on a mountaintop as he communes with Moses and Elijah, and Peter somehow loses a screw and decides it's a great time to start building houses. As Reverend Karen of St. Stephens in-the-Field and St. John the Divine memorably said in today's sermon, this was the moment that the disciples went from knowing Jesus only as a human teacher they admired to seeing him as touched with divinity. (And speaking as a religious person from a scientific perspective, this is a great example of why there always will be a gap between science and religion: even if the event actually happened exactly as described, we're unlikely to ever prove so scientifically, since it is a one-time event that cannot be probed with replicable experiments; the events of the day, even if true, really do have to be taken purely on faith. This is, of course, assuming that tomorrow someone doesn't invent a device for reviewing remote time).

Roughed on Strathmore, then rendered on tracing paper, based on the following shot taken in 2011:


צילם: אלי זהבי, כפר תבור, CC BY 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons (Author: Eli Zehavi, Kfar Thabor)

I mean, look at that. That mountain is just begging for God do something amazing there. And if God doesn't want it, the Close Encounters mothership and H.P. Lovecraft are top of the waitlist.

It really is proving useful to ink my own rough sketches by hand, then to trace my own art. It is interesting to me though how I vertically exaggerated the mountain when I drew it, which probably explains why a few things kept not lining up the way that I wanted them to. Still ...

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

P.S. And yes, I accidentally drew the Ascension rather than the Transfiguration, which I guess is fine, because the Mount of Olives looks harder to draw. Check out that 2,000 year old tree though.

Day 050

centaur 0

Xiao from Fanu Fiku

As it says on the tin: a quick sketch of Xiao from f@nu fiku, my quasi-defunct webcomic. I forgot how complicated her character design is, and I left out a lot of it. I mean, I had forgotten that she carries a damn water bottle with her. Knowing the comic, that was probably meant to be plot significant:

xiao from f@nu fiku

I didn't make her easy to draw, and her outfits only get more complex as the series progresses.

Ah well. Here's hoping those sketches and thumbnails once again turn to webcomic pages.

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur