June 13 – Happy Birthday, Leon Chwistek

Posted on June 13, 2016

According to Leon Chwistek, there are four kinds of reality:

First, there is popular reality...also known as common sense. The sun comes up in the east and sets in the west – everyone knows that!

Second is physical reality...this is what we know from physics. For example, the Earth's rotation on its axis makes it seem as if the sun “comes up” and “goes down”...but the reality is that our planet is spinning around as it moves around the Sun.

Third, we have phenomenal reality...this is the impressions we get from our senses. For example, the nighttime sky gets steadily lighter, and there is a brightness in the sky on one particular spot on the eastern horizon. Clouds are rimmed with gold, and everything seems to be hushed in expectation. And then, suddenly, the sun flashes into the sky, quickly climbing onto and then above the horizon. And the birds begin to sing.

Fourth, and last, there is visionary reality...this is what we think we know from dreams, religious revelation, hallucinations. For example, you could dream that each day there was a brand new sun, rising dripping gold from waters surrounding the world, and plunging to its death at night.

Did Chwistek think that all of these kinds of reality were equally...real? Probably not. This Polish man, born on this date in 1884, was a university professor of logic, and he explored the philosophy of science as well as mathematics. 

But he was also an avant-garde painter and a critic of literature and art. 

And his four types of reality mapped onto four types of painting:

1- Primitivism

Henri Rousseau, 
In a Tropical Forest Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo

2- Realism

Jules Breton, The Song of the Lark

3- Impressionism
Berthe Morisot, The Cradle

4- Futurism
Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity

In other aspects of his all his various sorts of work, Chwistek defended common sense and physical reality over the claims of metaphysics and religions. To point out that people use the word “real” and “reality” in these various ways doesn't mean that all of these things ARE real!

Here are a few of my favorite Chwistek pieces:

City Factory

It's unusual to have a mathematician / logician / philosopher who is also a painter / art theorist!

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