Sixty odd years ago, when I was a young philosopher "coming up," as we said in those days, there was an argument circulating among philosophers of art imported from Gestalt Psychology. Since I was then totally uninterested in the philosophy of art [which was generally looked down upon by real philosophers, who wrote everything with a backwards E], I cannot now recall what the technical term for the argument was, but the idea was simple enough. Psychologists had discovered that when you show a drawing to a subject in which a bit of a line has been left out, the subject feels an "objective demand" to fill the missing line in. For example, you could show the subject a circle from which a small arc was missing and the subject would pick up a pencil and complete the circle. You get the idea. This fact was used by some aestheticians to demonstrate that judgments of beauty are objective, and not just "subjectively universal," as Kant had said in the Third Critique. [Don't ask me how they got from the filled-in circle to that conclusion. As I say, philosophy of art was not my thing.]
I thought of that old argument this morning as I filled in the last number of a "difficult level" on-line Sudoku puzzle and sat back waiting for the raucous cheers of approval programmed into the game. I am a compulsive crossword and puzzle solver. I do the NY TIMES puzzle every day of the week [Friday is the hardest, Thursday is always quirky and imaginative, Sunday is not hard but very big and therefore time-consuming.] Then I do both Ken Ken puzzles [although I will in all honesty admit that sometimes I screw up the 6x6.] When Susie and I travel, we pre-board the airplane because Susie uses a wheelchair in airports. As soon as we are seated and my briefcase has been shoved under the seat in front of me, I pull out the Airline magazine and look for the puzzles. The crossword, if it has not been defiled by a previous traveler, is my first stop. Now, the crossword puzzles in Airline magazines are dead easy, and not really any fun at all to do. But I feel a compulsion [an "objective demand"] to fill them in, preferably before the instruction comes to lock the tray tables and secure seatbelts.
When I have completed a puzzle, no matter how easy, I feel a rush of satisfaction [a secretion of endorphins?] accompanied by the faintest sense that a voice in my head is saying "good boy." Since the filling in of a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku matrix is a perfectly pointless accomplishment, it is difficult to see why this should be so, but I figure the first rule of blogging is absolute self-revelatory honesty [or a plausible simulacrum of same], so there you have it.
Come to think of it, a good deal of life is the filling up of empty spaces [stomach, brain, whatever], none of which ever seems to stay filled for very long, so maybe the long arc of evolution has prepared us for crossword puzzles. I find that somehow rather comforting. Now to tackle the TIMES puzzle, an easy one, alas, since this is only Tuesday.