The Dome of Michelangelo

  • Magnus Florin
Part of the Artificial Intelligence and Society book series (HCS)


What does instinct mean to Diderot? His entry in the Encyclopaedia is a critique of Descartes’ notion of instinct as the mechanistic, automatic, and uniform nature of the animal (an argument used to support Descarte’s case for a fundamental separation of mind and body, man and beast). For Diderot, instinct is rooted in experience: it is a series of engravings in the memory of reflections and sensations. The training of animals is possible due to their memories. Remembered responses, reinforced by repetition, become habitual responses. La Hire has shown by the use of geometry that the vault of Michelangelo’s dome, aside from its aesthetic qualities, also had the curvature of the highest supporting capacity. How, wonders Diderot, could Michelangelo choose from all his sketches precisely the one that combined elegance and solidity, without the help of La Hire’s geometry? His answer cites calculation and experience as of equal importance in solving the problem: “If the one is well-founded it must correspond to the other.” The conflict in Bo Goranzon’s project Education- Work-Technology is between calculation and work or practice: the transfer of skills in the process of doing or making something. In Rameau’s Nephew Diderot moves us from the completed into the coming-into-being. The conversation between moi and lui becomes a play of possible meanings and directions: unable to hide behind calculation from the outside, we participate in this ongoing play and become subjects of continuous experience.


Brick Wall Continuous Experience Chess Player Safe Position Supporting Capa 
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© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1992

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  • Magnus Florin

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