Monday, December 24, 2012


This was done in the nineties but went well with the essay about faces

Face Gazing

Anyone who has been in my class has probably heard me say, “You have
an interesting expression on your face” as a way to solicit the idea I
saw brewing there. One student even made a T-shirt with that written
on it and then the class talked about how it functioned as a way to
open conversations. Being able to read faces is essential knowledge to
living in a world of people. Face expert Paul Ekman says it’s key to
determining the danger or safety of our surroundings. We see how
people feel about what they see behind us. Others broaden our
perspective with what we can’t see for ourselves. We see a certain
expression and know from the inside what that means. Powerful response
instincts geared to survival are hard wired in. So we see and respond
to facial expressions unconsciously even where they are not and it
affects our assessments. A while ago there was a study looking at how
people reacted to the different grills of cars which until the study
tended to have shapes that were wider in the middle and slanted down
from there. When they reversed it and had grills that slanted up at
the outside, more like a smile people judged the car as better made.
They generally weren’t aware of the facial expression quality but just
got a better feeling from it. The knowledge we gain from faces is
applied in other contexts often unconsciously and inappropriately.
Being aware of this influence helps us interpret non-verbal
information more accurately.

When it comes to right hemisphere knowledge, nothing matches the
sophistication of facial expressions. We recognize thousands. Visual
understanding is very specific. The advice to spend lots of time face
gazing with newborns makes sense now that we understand how dependent
seeing is on what we’ve seen before, knowing what we’re looking for,
having inner templates for recognizing the outside world. It’s what
babies are looking for and why they’re so entertained by people making
faces at them. They’re learning a way of relating to the world packed
with information. Making faces at a baby lays a foundation for better
reading of this important resource throughout life.
The differences in others perspectives afford us a view not available
where we stand. We construct a more accurate picture when we take more
views into consideration. We’re coming out of an age of right and
wrong and into a time when we value the difference in point of view as
enlarging our own perspective. We so often wall ourselves up in the
themes playing out in our heads. The holidays are an opportunity to
drink in the available non-verbal information available in the faces
of our friends and relatives. There’s so much to be seen in a face.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Skateboarding and the Brain

Recent studies have shown that squirrels are smarter than dogs. Researchers suggest this may be due to the inner representation necessary to building the world as they live it. The 3d map in their heads includes not just horizontal territory but vertical space. Extra skills are necessary, like assessing whether a branch will support them or the best path to navigate among the tops of trees. The way they use their front paws to hold and manipulate things, how their tails can be a roof in the rain or a way of keeping balance, the huge range of positions they can take on trees, and remembering where they put nuts requires lots of neural space for such a big inner image of their reality. Their way of being in the world is far more complex and self-sufficient than the world of dogs. The brain grows in accommodation to the experience we live. Dogs have more social intelligence, are interactive and bond oriented.  But that’s not what’s measured in problem solving oriented intelligence tests.
The neural benefits of adapting to such complex surroundings seen in squirrels makes me think of the skateboarders I see around monuments, like the one at Mt Royal Ave. and Cathedral St. with irregular steps that creates an interesting skateboard challenge. It’s experiential physics, cultivating deep understanding of speed and trajectory, angles, distance and gravity that’s rooted in the body. Not to mention physical agility and balance. It didn’t occur to me until recently that the perceptive intelligence of students who carried skateboards might not be coincidental. Even though their verbal smarts could be quite different from each other, reflecting the quality of their education, what they shared was insight, an ability to get to the heart of things, seeing the patterns that matter in a circumstance. One person I emailed about it said that every urban environment is seen as a different obstacle course. Like squirrels they have a broader range of physical assessments in how to interact with the world and so create a bigger inner representation of ways to move in their surroundings. They learn how to gauge possibilities and what’s the best fit for a given situation. Another mentioned the power of danger for sharpening focus. Like with acrobatics, the risk involved in skateboarding forces a level of attention not required in mental challenge. A current student described it as one of the most intensely meditative activities available, saying “Skateboarding is living in the moment”.

Skateboarding schools the body intelligence that George Lakoff describes as the underpinning of our conceptual structure, the basis of many metaphors. Using the body in novel ways gives us more patterns to structure ideas and analogies. Being aware of the importance of physical experience to thinking has been central to continuing my practice of T’ai Chi and Yoga. Anything involving balance and assessing the best path develops nuance in applying those metaphors. As David Bohm emphasized, “All of our concepts and explanations…have at their core the perception of a totality of ratios and proportions.” Perception is key to understanding. Like the arts, skateboarding extends the sensitivity of right brain knowing and the vast realm of non-verbal intelligence. With so much life being experienced through machines, it’s important to keep the body tuned and give dimension to our reasoning.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Web Bouncing

The computer is a powerful tool for visual thinking because decisions are largely spatial. We surf the web, go to a site, and choose an icon. All are metaphors for embodied experience, like cruising the mall, finding a store and choosing products. Unlike verbal thinking, one word at a time, a screen is a whole that attention moves within, making choices, aware of surroundings. It’s more like behavior in space. An essential feature of visual thinking is being conscious of the context. Instead of reading an article, going to You Tube reveals aspects of an event that an article leaves out and takes up much less time. Facial expressions reveal key aspects of the meaning in what someone says. Gestures and self-representation contribute understanding of motives and values. Each individual watching it may find a different aspect interesting. Accidental discoveries can happen in the most unexpected places. During the Arab Spring I went to Israeli National Radio to get their perspective on what was happening in Egypt and was surprised by a story of a UFO sighting over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with pictures. The ability to then follow up and look at the videos by the tourists in different locations offered a unique unfiltered picture without the bias of screened commentary. Instead I got the multiple perspectives of random people who were filming at the time. One woman with a group of tourists was heard to say, “We see those things all the time back home in Mississippi.” (I couldn’t find these recently, the search was glutted with less interesting and hoax oriented stuff. The sooner something happens, the fresher the perspectives.)

Moving around the web on your own may not be first hand experience, but it’s closer and more personally relevant than a corporate media reporter’s select facts.  Having so many choices for finding out more about anything offer ways for the individual intelligence to experience itself and grow in a unique way. Doing searches on specific subjects offers the chance to look at different points of view instead of simply following a favored news source.

Because the interface is visual, attunement to imagery enlarges perspective, with many possible meanings and new connections sprouting from the particulars observed. There’s energy and dopamine stimulated by moving from site to site, the novelty and discovery propelling more curiosity, more questions, so the word ‘bounce’ suits the action. It depends on what interests us about where we land that determines the trajectory to the next spot. Every landing offers new choices making discovery part of everyday experience. It enables us to pull away from the fetters of time, where focus is on a particular destination.

It’s a new kind of disembodiment. Many times I’ve thought of the jump in human intelligence that occurred when we started using tools and wondered what was happening to our minds right now, with such complex tools at our disposal. It’s a crossroads where the choice is entertaining ourselves to death or getting fully involved in a creative use of the new possibilities. John Lilly observed how much more could be learned in float tanks when the mental resources weren’t used up staying balanced while moving around. Exciting things can be happening on a computer while the body is mostly immobile. Who knows what kinds of mental restructuring might occur. We may suffer a species wide depression to varying degrees while awaiting a better perspective so bouncing around the web, not getting caught in one thing, could build skills of navigation in an unfolding picture. It’s a way of experiencing choices we didn’t know were there and seeing ourselves in action, demonstrating who we are and what we care about. In the process larger patterns may emerge that point in specific directions.

With information changing so fast, the skill of navigation will matter more than the information itself. We need the ability to discern significant relationships and understand how to apply them to unfolding events. Looking for the “difference that makes a difference” as Gregory Bateson defined information, we learn to constantly adjust our model in a world of fast-paced change.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



Being oppressed by time is a sure sign of being caught in the story we tell about our life in the world. Narration is about ‘before’s and ‘after’s, about how long it takes to do something or go somewhere. We align it fluidly with our other mental concepts like distance; don’t think twice about answering the question “How far?” with the amount of time it takes to get there. It seems so pervasive, we think it’s real.  It’s an example of an idea that’s been reified, being treated as though it’s an external independent thing. And to the extent that it’s a contract we make regarding the calendar, and an essential measurement in science, it has powerful influence. What we actually experience is much more flexible. Henri Bergson drew attention to the neglected concept of duration where inner experience expands beyond conventional ideas of time. Stepping free of the thin stream of linear cause and effect, he sees everything as always acting on everything else. Every one of us is a feature of the picture. Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience when her left narrating hemisphere was disabled by a stroke was of a timeless merging with everything. The self in time would appear to be a feature of the left hemisphere, dominant due to the focus on words and symbols in our culture. When one of my students questioned the importance of visual art, he said he couldn’t think of any painting that changed his life in the way that books and music had. I couldn’t help but wonder if this had to do with our conditioning being oriented to stories, that being locked into stories in time, other time based art would be the best at elucidating experience. But this could leave us thinking we’re only our stories. Throughout the narration are reverberations interacting with others that affect other action. We live in a constant flow of imagery with currents flowing in and out from many directions that affect us without words. Because we don’t pin it down we often don’t recognize this rich visual realm consciously. In his brilliant book, “The Alphabet and the Goddess” Leonard Shlain describes how the visual culture of the goddess was displaced by the patriarchal linear narration which included laws that bound one to the story. Noting the shift from books to screen, he ends his book with a section about the two most influential images of the twentieth century. One was of the exploding atomic bomb. The vividness of its destructive power was what kept people from using it once they saw it. Likewise the photo of our planet from outer space, all blue and white and brown is clearly seen as a place we share with no separation between countries except natural boundaries.

Attachment to the story binds us to time with self as protagonist headed to a future destination. But when something really interesting is going on the focus is outside the self, attentive to what’s happening in that moment. This is the center of meditation, to experience consciousness without narration. Everyone is more emancipated from time than they realize. The deeper the focus the more unaware of time we are. Seeing the next step or the answer to a problem can be instantaneous.

There’s no linear time in a painting. It’s the stone dropped into the pond, center of the ripples in the changing inner state. Maybe the Great Age of Visual Art is yet to come. It’s the only art that’s free of time.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012



One of the insights of happiness research and particularly
Csikszentmihalyi’s revolutionary ideas in his books “Flow” and “The
Evolving Self” is the brain’s need of direction. Left to its own
devices the available mental energy pushes along habitual paths. With
some kind of purpose, even a small one, it can be organized and used
in a self-vitalizing way.

I find myself thinking about this in relation to ideas about
depression and inspiration. Thinking of the mind as an open system
with an organization that keeps adding new knowledge and experience
until eventually the organizing system can’t hold it anymore. The
system breaks down and there’s disorder until it reorganizes into a
system sufficiently complex to hold the new weight of information.
Insight and inspiration often accompany the new order that offers a
new outlook on previously unconnected information and understanding of
previous experience that wasn’t clear before. But the time of disorder
is dangerous, confusing and dark. We may doubt the things we cared
about before and not understand where the excitement came from. I read
somewhere that the purpose of depression in animals was to keep them
close to home in times of weakness. This fits our situation too.

It might help the negative phases to think that a reorganization is
taking place that our inertia and lack of focus have a positive
purpose in allowing these mental transformations to take place. Rather
than think about the mood itself, find direction in small things,
keeping the focus off the misery and biding time with small goals like
cleaning, walking, catching up with friends until the new
understanding dawns. Too often the temporary loss of purpose can be
alarming and focusing on the doubts and uncertainties produces more
doubts and uncertainties. Relinquishing focus altogether regarding
where we’re headed allows a diffuse attention conducive to the
emergence of new patterns. It’s the same dynamic seen with research of
all kinds. An existing theory will hold until new discoveries call it
into question and new theories must be developed to accommodate the
new information. I’ve found that the low periods are easier to bear
seeing them as part of necessary rewiring. It’s a natural consequence
of having an appetite for new information, particularly when it calls
some long standing assumption into question. Temporary loss of
direction may be unpleasant but the resulting increase in wisdom as
the scope of perception increases completes a cycle of growth. A
broader view opens new choices for the next direction.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Creative Mapping

What you know is your territory. If I mention David Foster Wallace,
you’ll know right away whether you recognize the name or not.
Metaknowledge refers to our overall awareness of what we know, that
keeps us from searching for an answer we won’t find. We know what
we’ve seen and where it happened. Circuits are like paths through an
overgrown field. We have an inner representation of the paths and
landmarks in our territory. The ones more traveled are the clearer
paths, so we get to the information we’ve been over a few times faster
than something we’ve only heard once or twice. We know what’s part of
our territory without having to think about it. William Faulkner put
it poetically in his book, “Light in August” writing, “Memory believes
before knowing remembers.” We feel the connection before we can
actually bring it to conscious awareness. And it applies to attitudes
that reflect the underlying point of view. If I say something someone
feels to be true, then it’s something they’ve observed within their
domain, something they already know but haven’t necessarily noticed
specifically and articulated. What I try to do here is point to
something that’s been there all along in a way that can be grasped and

Your acquired knowledge is a map of where you’ve been, what you’ve
experienced and what you’ve learned. It controls what you trust, what
feels right and what you feel to be true. It guides what you expect
from where. Since mapping is one of the basic organizational
structures ordering the relationships of facts and ideas with memories
and strivings, we might find more uses for this valuable perceptual
tool as a technique to understand all kinds of things. It is based on
correspondence of form and structure that begins with the hippocampus
as the brain’s hub of what we know.

Visually more than just boundaries and routes, territory is also
mapped by importance and lastingness. The word is growing in usage
because as information gets more complex, mapping it is more
practical, a guide to moving around the territory and comparing
significant features. The U of C Santa Cruz has an online “Atlas of
Global Inequalities”. Data must be "distilled into something
understandable," said Computer Science Professor Suresh Lodha,
describing the process as "visualization of information" in an article
on their site.

A new book on maps points out that anything can be mapped. For
instance, you could map the universe of people you know (more than
saying hi). You are the sun. The planets closest to you will be the
people you see every day in your house and neighborhood. Designate a
person’s importance with the size of the planet, so your mother across
the country might be like Jupiter. Consider how easily you know how to
place things. After you map everyone, the artist in you might go on to
characterize the different planets in some way in terms of the health
of the relationship or the sense of the danger or safety of the
planet. Decide what information you want to understand better and
think of the variables that matter. Create a universe, or flow chart
or rhizomatic web. The visual representation of knowledge is much
better suited to the complexity and highly nuanced reality we live in.
This is an effective way to practice it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012



Expectation is part of every perception and its reason for being. The
meaning of things is in what we expect to happen in conjunction with
what we’re seeing. We’ve seen it before and know what it does or what
it can be used for. When we ask “What’s wrong with this picture?”
something in the whole doesn’t match our expectations and has
triggered a state of unease that leads us to search for a cause. Our
sense of reality is an image in our head that can anticipate events in
a pattern and discern a missing element. We generally don’t recognize
what we’ve never seen before and if we do it’s often because it’s been
described so vividly that we see it in the mind’s eye. When we do
creative work we’re guided by what will best fit the pattern as we see
it. We’ve been building this inner model since the beginning of life
and the focus of our understanding is how things move. Modeling our
environment, we know where things are and what to expect from them.
Neurophilosopher, Patricia Churchland says it’s why we evolved brains
to begin with. To move around in the world requires an interior
representation. All knowledge overlays our model of the functional
relationships between ourselves and the things in the world. Where the
function is different, the meaning is different. A tree means
something different to a bird than to a dog. Constants in our models
create understanding between those who share them. Gravity, force, and
trajectory are assumptions built into the right-brain perception of
the whole picture. As we gain more experience moving around in our
environment, more templates of expectations are constructed that we
apply to similar relationships. We make mistakes and get into trouble
when we apply our expectations to those with different values and life
experience. Too much reliance on left-brain categories ignores the
more important role of movement. Any heavy object could be a weapon
regardless of its intended use. And we’d be surprised and caught off
guard because it didn’t match our expectations. We’ve lost the thread
of meaning because by focusing on identities and definitions, we’re
looking in the wrong place. Labels give the illusion of control, of
keeping things within neat borders. Boundaries are a fact of any
living thing and our expectations in relation to having a boundary
shape how we apply the concept to other areas. When our boundaries are
broken we are exposed and vulnerable. But to grow, old skin must be
shed to make room for the new. Boundaries are expanded by letting them
go. Writer Thomas West in his book “The Mind’s Eye” said the ability
to revise and change our model of reality will be one of the most
important abilities in a future where amounts of information are
growing dramatically. Understanding the implications of the new
discoveries and adapting our model of reality and expectations
accordingly will be more useful than clinging to any fixed idea of

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Acrobats and Mirror Neurons

What I loved best, at the DNA Theatre this past weekend, was watching their focus. In an aerial show, mistakes can be serious, so their focus was complete and beautiful to watch. I came home and had a wonderful couple hours drawing. Inspiration is often stimulated by excellence in other spheres. Just like when I’m watching tennis, I appreciate what spurs me to push my boundaries and the great brain chemistry that goes with it. My mirror neurons have had a trip like they haven’t had since Cirque du Soliel. And again like with tennis where I end up actually twitching and leaning, it went beyond my mirror neurons and into some odd physical positions of my neck and shoulders. My more cerebral capacities have been improved as well, my concepts refined in relation to twisting, bending and synchronizing motion in relation to gravity, because they were all doing things that I can’t do, but in witnessing it becomes part of my model of possibilities. In the firing of mirror neurons I grew circuits for understanding new kinds of expressive movement. Maybe this was part of the heavy blast of dopamine I got from the performance, such a novel experience waking up new mental territory. I heard recently that high dopamine lowers skepticism and increases the urge to explore, a definite plus for making art. Ideas shouldn’t be filtered by anxieties about judgment. Whatever comes up can be refined and edited later. Armed with my burst of dopamine I invented a new effect in my drawing and opened new choices in my own work. Uncertain about what I’m doing, my concentration increases. Involved more deeply, the pleasure increases. There was much to admire in the production. Their use of the full theatrical experience, lights, sound, and projections was imaginative, surely benefiting from the different arts in the backgrounds of the performers. Use of shadows and silhouettes showed an understanding of perceptual illusions that added magical and dramatic effects. To perform an aerial show requires years of training the body in order to make difficult and strenuous moves with control and grace. And the excitement grows when there’s that tinge of danger.
I’m grateful to the performers and creators of DNA Theatre for providing an inspiring and enjoyable theatre experience. Each performance was sculptural, a cross between dance and circus. But it was seeing their complete immersion, absolutely necessary to swinging around on ropes in a small space, that I found uplifting. When people give their all we are all improved by it. Artistry and acrobatics is a fabulous combination, with the wow factor in the service of beauty. Admiration of the physical mastery and the discipline it requires reinforce positive qualities in the viewers. Maybe it’s part our appetite for the arts, to feel that quickening and urge to improvement. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012



Embodiment is the universal starting point. Everything with a body is experiencing being in a particular place with whatever interface is available. Not just among humans, the fact of inhabiting a body is the shared element of all living things. We are consciousness experiencing the material realm and we’re all in it together. The perspective of each enriches the whole. As a portal we have several inputs. It begins in the senses. Our eyes tell us where we are. Smell, sound and the physical touch of things layer on their respective qualities, but the primary consciousness in a human body is not just how we are but where, self as location. This is the basis for the universality of art. Everyone knows how it feels to be in a tight place, understands weight as a physical property and as a metaphor for a heavy situation. We understand above and below in the physical action of stooping or reaching and use both of those words metaphorically all the time. The understanding of vision is based on our relationship to surroundings or situations, so using the language of embodiment in a spatial image communicates directly to our understanding of position and change of direction and the dominant motion within the space. Our eyes move around within the space of a painting and our bodies react to the meaning of the movement. The meaning is what we feel about it, what the relationships show. It grows from an understanding of the whole circumstance. It couldn’t exist without the experiencing body. What we know is a record of what we’ve seen and felt, a map of our experience over time as a body in motion. The way thinking is structured compares and analogizes in relation to the actions of embodiment. With our eyes, we find our way. Sight understanding underlies anticipation and prediction, recognition and navigation. Sight precedes the more cemented understanding when we grasp.

Every point-of-view, every vantage point from which to have experience has a truth. The differences in view are probably molded by the shape of our original location. A person from Maine has a different concept of coastline than a person from Florida or China. How could one idea be thought of as right or wrong? Pooling our views we gain a broader picture of the whole and how particular life circumstances creates a way of seeing. People trust their first person understanding and there are as many ways of understanding as there are of moving around in the particular landscape one travels.
Visual thinking emancipates you from categorization and identification. You are part of the action because whether you’re conscious of it or not your body is always responding to changes in the surroundings.

Visual intelligence is not concerned with right and wrong but with the meaning of the picture, the particular context. External codes may or may not fit a given circumstance.
Wisdom depends on perspective. We build a larger landscape of ideas when begin to see our common starting point. The skill of the future won’t be having the right answer but understanding how to navigate the terrain of an issue and respect the advance in understanding represented by seeing experience through a different window and adding more information to what we already have.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Attention and Illusion

The popularity of illusions has persisted throughout human history because they make people pay attention, and paying attention feels good. Most often the word illusion is connected to magic, the range of stage and parlor tricks that fool people into thinking something has disappeared or appeared in a new place. Amazement stimulates dopamine, which stimulates more interest and alert involved awareness that tries to puzzle out what really happened. In their book “Sleight of Mind”, neurologists Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik write, “Magic tricks work because humans have a hard-wired process of attention and awareness that is hackable.” What this means is that if you understand how to trigger visual processing that occurs on an unconscious level you can get people to believe something about what they’re seeing that’s not actually true. Stages of processing are hierarchical. Something getting bigger really fast on your visual field will instigate a dodging motion before you know what’s going to hit you. EEG’s show a spike when we see a forty-five degree angle even if we know it’s just a streak on the wall. We look at anything that seems to be in motion. We freeze in order to avoid attention. Large-scale motion is just one of the first level signals for immediate action. The smell of smoke will hold attention until the cause is found. Anything signaling a threat to survival sits at the top of perceptual priorities with fast automatic action and attention. From there extends a spectrum of perceptual priorities that find boundaries, separate objects, establish point-of-view and eventually cross into conscious awareness. Understanding these perceptual priorities allows us to intervene at levels of processing that are still unconscious to direct the audience or viewer’s attention without their awareness. Controlling attention is the essence of any kind of illusion and requires skillfulness to actually accomplish. It depends on understanding the unconscious priorities, what is hard wired to draw attention and undercut conscious control. All illusion, whether trompe l’oeil drawing and painting or stage magic, depends on manipulating preconscious attention. The magician has you watch one hand while the other is setting up the result. In the business they call it misdirection. In drawing it’s more a matter of truth to the retinal image. What we see has undergone many levels of processing. Finding and using the signals not consciously noticed stimulates more brain activity guiding expectations in the direction wanted. 

The practice of illusionistic drawing trains attention and ability to focus. They are the necessary skills to keep a viewer under your spell. Watching people looking at work in the gallery, the ones that held attention like magnets were intricately detailed deep space fantasies amazing in the level of skillfulness. The investment of attention reaped an investment in the viewer. Whether a person likes that kind of work or not it has the ability to fascinate. And it can be put to work to draw attention to any subject, idea or feeling an artist wants. Pulling people out of their heads and into a different world is a power that benefits everyone.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Negative Space

All You Already Know

It’s taken me all my life to get to the point where I can express what I understand visually with words that have some hope of communicating what I see. This is probably true of many. Since conventional communication is usually in words, the intelligence of the visual minded often goes unnoticed. People are often unaware of the depth and breath of their personal intelligence when insight is perceptual, as most insight is. The culture’s emphasis on words can give the mistaken impression that not-verbal is not-intelligent. From the very beginning our information was visual, reading and mimicking facial expressions finely tuned to understand the danger or safety of our surroundings. Before we knew what we were seeing, we knew what others felt about what we were seeing, understanding the meaning of vigilance in the body, the whole flow of readiness, apprehension and every shade of expectancy as our bodymind registers the meaning of our place in unfolding events.

     Years ago I had a friend who was very wise about human emotions and the dramas we could build around ourselves. After sharing his perspective on some problem I’d confided he would end with, “I’m just reminding you of something you already know”. It’s a strange truth. There are many things we see and understand but never put into words. And saying it is realizing it in a different way. It sets the realization out in front to be contemplated. Having a representation allows it to be reinforced in memory as a symbol. Always it felt like he was right but that I’d never before articulated what had always been a visual understanding. There is so much we all know but don’t consciously express in words. Insight is seeing what’s important in a big picture and can be present without ever being described or narrated. There’s a day-to-day wisdom that never gets verbalized even inwardly.
So much of our inner life is imagery yet people don’t think of themselves as imaginative.
Daydreaming is a form of planning. A vague posing of possibilities, and though sometimes it may be verbal thoughts and prayers, more often it’s envisioning ourselves doing something wonderful, having a romantic evening, making a discovery, being in the spotlight, real or metaphoric. Our inner world is a stage. Sometimes we’re re-enacting scenes from our past, sometimes dramatizing a possible future.

    Words are deceptive by their very nature, extract a sliver of a situation and impose a judgment about importance by that choice and what’s left out. Images depend on context, the meaning in the action, what’s going on, not how we label and describe it. This is why evolving more visual mindedness will help us make better decisions. Relationships can be shown. Meaningful qualities illuminated. For example, if you make a diagram of your personal solar system with you as the sun and planets distributed according to emotional closeness, and the size of the planet, representing importance. It’s easy because its all stuff we know subconsciously. Just by making those choices you get a perspective that you knew inside but didn’t represent as a structure. Looking at art trains sensitivity to structure. As philosopher Susanne Langer wrote, “Art looks like feelings feel.”  And since feelings are connected to the whole circumstance, art tunes our sensitivity to meaning in the whole, develops that hemisphere of the brain that is in the gestalt.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reflections of Consciousness


Most people I know think of consciousness as something within,
specific and enclosed in our bodies. Many of them think that it’s
always manifested in words. But we are conscious even in the absence
of inner narration. If our toe hurts we’re conscious of it whether we
think, “My toe hurts.” Or not. Watching something, observing
carefully, we can be intensely aware. We have what neurologist,
Antonio Damasio calls a “core consciousness” that we share with
animals, all beings conscious of moving around in space that’s moving
around us and knowing where we are in relation to the external world.
Thinking of consciousness as localized in our individual being is also
an assumption worth questioning, more of a mental habit than a proven
fact. There’s no more evidence of a personal consciousness than for an
overall consciousness that flows through everyone. Scientists have
never found a pilot in the mind. Why is it so hard to consider that
what we experience as awareness might be something that looks through
us as a resource for gathering knowledge? Just as the wave juts up
into the air but remains part of the ocean, consciousness uses our
senses and experience in the world to grow in knowledge that becomes
part of the larger consciousness. Our being is a specific location in
the whole, a portal to that region of spacetime, but never was it
separate. Our life experience and personality are like individual
qualities in the lens through which material reality is experienced.
Awareness is immortal because it was never of the body but using the
body. Things come to us when we need them. We connect to others that
matter to us because the field of consciousness is entire and
simultaneous, just as our body knows where the immune responders need
to be. Quantum physicists, most prominently David Bohm and Erwin
Schrödinger suggest the evidence is much stronger for a single unitary
consciousness. They see the unbroken continuum at the quantum level
and realize that boundaries creating separate things don’t exist at a
certain point. We are part of a continuous field. The anomalies of
science, like electrons once correlated remaining so no matter what
the distance, suggests there is no distance within an overall
consciousness. Messages don’t travel from one part to another since
they’re within a consciousness that includes all parts at once. All is
known and individual experience is knowledge contributed to a larger
Allen Watts spoke of incarnating the spirit as full attention to the
present moment. Let go of the idea of a separate ego-self and step out
of the drama of the personal life story and into the world as it is,
alive and available to attentive consciousness. Consciousness
recognizes and acknowledges its presence in others. Love is the
natural result. On this wonderful video of a cat and dolphin getting
to know each other there is such pleasure in witnessing the
universality of loving connection.
)Three species enjoy endorphins as a result of the connection, the
cat, the dolphin and the human that watches. The more different on the
surface the deeper and more profound seems the connection. The
possibilities are all around us.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


These are two summer experiments with water color on paper, embroidery floss and graphite on duralar

Tennis Treatment

When school ends I’m often plagued by a feeling there’s something I
should be doing. Multiple projects compete for my newly released
attention but I’m wary of pouncing on anything too fervently just yet.
I see it as like the rebound effect after a relationship breaks up
where there’s a tendency to be too quick to grab a replacement.
So I’m grateful when along comes Wimbledon, tennis on a lawn, the
pinnacle of the sport where with all the rest of the highly refined
skills, adaptation comes into play, grass less predictable than a
manufactured surface.
And quickly I’m saying Wow! And Geez! Just like a kid. I’m pulled out
of my head and immersed in admiration. My endorphins and dopamine are
flowing with the pleasure of witnessing outstanding athleticism, the
beauty of one-on-one contests between the best in the world. Seeing
the best inspires me do my best, to feel the pleasure that always
accompanies involvement in a challenge, resonating with capability in
action. Just like beauty guides us to rightness with proper
proportions and balanced alignment, watching excellence brings out the
best in us. Here the sport becomes art, physically like dance but
mentally more like jazz in that the skills must be mastered and
thoroughly internalized before the artist can play.
Watching Pironkova threaten Sharapova (Maria won) and Rosol threaten
Nadal (Rafa lost) is seeing the new blood rising and pushing the
accomplished to greater heights. When the underdog wins, it inspires
the younger players with a sense of possibility Different opponents
stretch the game in new directions and push champions into new
I’m still disoriented but now I’m happy. Vicarious excellence brings
out the urge to cultivate it in myself, to build skills and craft and
press the edges of possibility. I’m addicted to working because how
else will I find out what I’m capable of. And the great brain
chemistry proves that evolution supports an attitude like this as good
for survival. I remind myself of Michael Faraday’s advice to aspiring
scientists, to start anywhere- you get everywhere important
eventually- its not the specific project, but what’s learned through
the work- building new mental circuits and experience to draw on in
the future. It doesn’t matter much what skill we’re building, it’s the
extension of our power that makes the difference.
SO. We’re in the middle weekend of Wimbledon, the run up to the finals
next Saturday and Sunday, a week of opportunity to get batteries
charged by excellence. Pay attention and be amazed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Questioning the Pyramid

So many of the problems that face us now could be seen as too few people having too much power. Major money movers can devastate whole territories, climates and lives, pollute the area, close the factory and defend the ruination caused saying it’s good for their stockholders. Power brokers in front of and behind the scenes make decisions with negative effects on large populations and dismiss it as the cost of doing business. Just a few people weren’t destined to have so much power. In the history of kings and emperors are myriad selfish decisions that disregarded the harmony of the whole in favor of competing for more control and resources. The pressure to keep up was bad for them too, a kind of slavery to the contest. An executive involved in large scale fraud, being interviewed on “American Greed” CNBC, said he felt so much more free in jail than he did locked into the complexities of a many layered deception that disregarded entirely all the people they were defrauding of their life savings. We have to question a worldview that puts so much more value on money than human individuals and the ecosystem we all share. The growth of a new elite society of the rich may be behind the increasing use of the phrase “little people” and “small people” by the media and celebrities. It shows how distant the elite feel from the rest of humanity. The biggest person in my life’s memory was a woman named Katy Phair, a person who saw into the depths of people and could love them with all their flaws and make them feel seen and accepted, a connecting force for everyone around her. What inspires love is far more important to the world and it’s future survival than competition to have the most money and power. That seems to bring out the worst in people, and we have choices about which aspects of our character we choose to cultivate. I think the “Little Man” referred to in Wilhelm Reich’s book with that name refers to the ignoble and petty instincts in us all that require strength of character to resist. As the “I Ching” says in many ways, character is not a given, but needs to be developed by strengthening positive qualities. Looked at this way, the struggle for money and power can be seen as a form of weakness. The word “decentralization”, has been popping up lately, most recently I heard it on NPR in regard to the size of banks. The small community bank once felt a more personal responsibility to the people it served. Some of my husband’s best memories from his childhood were when he and his father would go out fishing with his father’s boss. Virtue is the by-product of connection. We get endorphins from both. The days when the company was like a family weren’t bad for business (unless business is only defined by profit), and it was a way of life where people mattered. It’s not really an unreasonable idea to set limits on how big a corporation can be, how much money an individual can make. It would eliminate the competitive greed that’s been tearing up world economies. The maxim, “it takes a village to raise a child”, is one expression of a value system within a community where everyone’s aware of and concerned about every other member. It’s a structure where each person has a role, and is attentive to responsibility within the whole. The organic structure builds on our innate sense of what creates harmony and pain and how to fit into unfolding events. Our current culture of experts at the top telling us what’s good for us interferes with cultivating awareness and personal judgment based on that instinct. Just as the Internet has shown how well decentralization of information can work and provide a medium for growth, we can find smaller, more organic models that are attuned to the regions they inhabit and the expertise of the people involved. There’s talent out there being crushed by the pyramid. It will take all of us working together to build a new image.

Friday, May 25, 2012


This is a painting I did in 1992 that seemed to go with the written post.


The struggle to be on top is part of the hierarchical model. Competition is lauded as a positive and exerts unconscious influence on every area of life. When it stimulates doing the best you possibly can, like in sports, or developing a product, it’s beneficial. But it’s invaded every area of life interfering with personal and social relations. People compete in conversation, making points and striking down other points, in friendships, how many and who they are as well as material possessions. Though competition is implicit in status, I’ve seen people compete in virtue, vice, and even piety. The closer to the top the more control one has, and control is important to the health of the immune system. The lower one is on the pyramid the more helpless one feels, one of the worst emotions for health. An executive of Goldman Sachs said the golden rule there was, “he who has the gold makes the rules”. The flaw in the system shows in the statement. Having the most money doesn’t make people more sensible in other areas, they would likely make rules that would make them more money- required safety features, unnecessary medicines and tests. He also said everybody at the firm was in competition to make more money than “the guy next to me”. When making money is the goal and ultimate good, the greediest win, and the greedy are not known for their scruples. Everyone else suffers. When a company that makes something and employs people, is bought out by a financial firm that sells all the assets and closes the firm to put the money in the stock market, they are doing real harm to society for the sake of making more money. They’ll point to the balance sheet and say they’re winning. And they won’t be wrong. The problem is the underlying model. Competition interferes with the pleasure in the process. If there is something to be won, then attention is directed to the outcome. Instead of paying attention to the thing you’re doing, you pay attention to results and to how you’re doing in relation to how someone else is doing compromising attention to what’s being done. Here are the roots of envy, jealousy, resentment and the other deadly sins that come with a competitive attitude. In their book, “The Mark of Cain”, Marguerite and Willard Beecher point out how jealousy makes a person feel like a nonentity because attention is on the object of jealousy. They write, “Keeping up with the Jones’s makes for a sterile, destructive condition, not unlike slavery.” And suggest that “addiction is a purposely engineered incompetence” making it impossible to compete. It’s hard to maintain a sense of community and connection to others when you look at those you’re engaged with as competitors. All the satisfaction that comes with involved activity is undermined by a mindset that heaps up individual accomplishments like points on a scoreboard. The actual experience is reduced and abstracted by the cultural obsession with quantification. When time is reduced to units on a clock there’s never enough. Yet the single moment, truly experienced, expands in all directions. The organs of community, society and region work best in cooperation, using true expertise to make common sense decisions instead of control from a top less knowledgeable and more prone to corruption.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This is a still from "CAVE", an interactive psychological adventure I finished in 2002

Negative Models

An image in the mind can have deep influence. When we hear about Mitt Romney at eighteen with all his friends behind him, holding down another teenager and cutting off his hair while the boy cried and screamed for help, we see it in our mind and it is the same, in character, as the images of bullying the media currently decries. Mean is mean. We know it when we see it. And meanness in a president could be very ugly. The video that went around the Internet not too long ago, showing a judge beating his daughter, is an example of why this country has such trouble with violence. If he’d been hitting a stranger on the street or even a non-family member in his home he could have been arrested for assault. Yet hitting a child or in this case a young woman brutally with a belt is justified as discipline. Even mistreating an animal in this way would get onlookers upset. In contrast, a student in my class said he was never punished as a child but never misbehaved because he had so much respect for his mother. This reminded me of another student from over ten years ago telling me that his father’s violence with him made him lose respect for the man. They say violence is the language of the inarticulate but it’s more than that. It’s a way of dealing with problems that has been modeled by generations of parents, a personal mental image that allows a man who is damaging his child on many levels to blind himself to his culpability. And unless she becomes an artist, the rage that builds in that young woman will either be turned against herself or she’ll release it in the culturally sanctioned practice of beating her own children. Parents are agents of the culture, embody the cultural standards for behavior and often use fear to coerce their children into behaving as their image of what a child should be. Violence is an expression of disrespect, and studies have been done that show self-esteem sinking as physical punishment increases. Having their noses rubbed in their powerlessness builds a pressure to assert power through violence themselves and looks for any outlet. People who bully have probably been bullied themselves in their homes, but that’s rarely part of the discussion. The title of one of Alice Miller’s many books on negative parenting, “Banished Knowledge” refers to this avoidance. The image of do-what-I-say-or-else is woven through every level where power differentials exist. The national tendency to bully other countries into doing what we say and being like us creates anger and outrage all over the world. Demonizing an outer enemy creates a target for all the unexpressed rage. The pose of righteousness is supposed to excuse the very behavior it condemns as we project our inner worldview on the other. Replaying the role of the childhood oppressor activates the need to punish. The beaten child will feel justified as an adult when waterboarding an offender, fueled by the rage at powerlessness in the face of cruelty. Changing the image at the onset, by banning violence against children by anybody, will eliminate the perverse exception for violence inside the family. This is where the model’s constructed. Parents should be required to attend classes with prenatal care and be shown the many ways their actions mold their children’s minds and future behavior. The way to set up a child for fulfilling life is to show them love and respect from the start by paying attention to who they are. As we create models that demonstrate connections to others, show willingness to see and understand, and find ways to further each other’s interests, we enjoy the pleasure of helping and learning from different points of view that could heal violence without “fighting” it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Picture World

Each year when I talk about how artists use photographs in my Illusionism class, I’m struck by how our relationship to pictures continues to change. Today it’s natural for people to communicate by sending each other pictures or links to pictures. We’re always showing each other things. It’s efficient, communicating lots of information quickly with all the nuance and subtlety that makes the whole so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Visual imagery is more important than ever before as photos find their way into every aspect of life. The level of immersion in photographic imagery that we experience today is unprecedented. Among the drawbacks are the limits set by the photo, on how much we can see. The choice about which direction to look and what remains hidden is already made and if we didn’t take the picture we don’t know the larger context. Since we’re not really there we can’t look deeper into the situation and because so many of the images were produced by others we’re often being led by second hand perceptions. Other hazards come from advertising, which bombards us with highly crafted images that not only overlay real situations and people, but create a culture aimed at making everyone feel flawed and deficient by comparison. The goal is to create shame and then offer its remedy in the form of products that would have no real value if people weren’t made to feel flawed the way they were. The repetitive homogenizing of what is to be considered beautiful does emotional violence to the majority of the population each of whom has their own version of beauty to offer. The painter, Francis Bacon, emphasized that so much of what we see now has been influenced by the pictures we’ve already seen before, and that it changes the way we see reality. In some cases the repetition of the image replaces our mental record of actual events. Look back at a memorable childhood trip or event and you may find yourself recalling images from photos or videos instead of images from the actual experience. Maybe when you remember a person in your life what you’re seeing is a favorite picture of them or a particular facebook photo. The way the 2d imagery of a place or event takes the place of the actual reality creates a danger. One reason squirrels are smarter than dogs is because they have such elaborate mental maps that include up and down dimensions as well as the movement on the ground that includes hiding places for nuts. Modern life experience includes the world on the screen for a big proportion of most people’s time. When we refer to life experiences we’re as liable to reference a TV show or movie or videogame as to something that actually happened to us. If too much life experience is reduced to two dimensions we risk losing a dimension to our conceptual reasoning. What surfing does is skim across the surface. We’ll be more balanced if we spend more time in the water, exploring beneath the surface. Being aware of the danger offers the opportunity to address it. Being out in nature, playing with children and animals, walking and running outdoors, seeing and navigating the whole physical world around us cultivates our three dimensional intelligence and stimulates the brain chemistry that always accompanies self-improvement. Mindful of the hazards, the enlargement of our right hemisphere thinking releases us from the confinement of categories. Seeing patterns and trajectories we can participate with the world in motion. Whether on a variety of screens, or in print media, surfing a sea of imagery is part of our day-to-day world. This has the positive effect of making it natural to use images to understand and communicate. With the richness of pictorial availability and the wisdom of gestalt reasoning, we can consciously evolve as a species.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Rebalancing the Worldbody

Homeostasis refers to the body’s ability to maintain a state of
balance. Like a thermostat set for an optimum temperature, the
multiple systems of the body are always adjusting for the changes made
by contact with the world, digesting food and information. It’s a
principle on every level of the organism, from cells to the
integration and communication of body and mind through the
pituitary-hypothalamus link. Our physical self is a dynamic interweave
of different functions working for the same goals, the health and
balance of the whole. When problems come to conscious attention, our
rational faculties are there to deal with it. Interdependence is
This continuous adjustment and readjustment responds to changes,
internal and external that provides an image-model for the worldbody.
First and foremost everything should be properly nourished and care
taken to avoid harmful toxins at every level. Recently someone on the
radio said, “Money is the toxin that’s killing American democracy”.
Our conscious awareness should likewise be part of the world’s
balancing act. With awareness comes responsibility. When we see a
destructive influence it’s important to look at the multiple factors
that feed it and everything affected by it. We’ve gotten into trouble
with a machine model that simply fixes the defective part, the final
result of a confluence of factors. The Bible didn’t say money was the
root of all evil, but that love of money is the root of all evil. It’s
the prevailing attitude toward money that needs revising. The TV news
recently gushed over the youngest billionaires in the world as though
this is something we should all bow down to, whereas I see individuals
having that much money as obscene. And the way money drives its own
accumulation makes it the ultimate selfish meme. Competition to have
the most money drives greed. We’re too often enslaved by the products
of our own creation. The dark and egotistical qualities in human
beings are not only tolerated, they’re celebrated.
Saving the planet depends on changing the way we see. Wiping away
forests removes an important element in the planet’s sensitively
evolved ecosystem. Over fishing, monoculture, fracking and drilling
are just a few more things that erode the worldbody’s ability to heal.
Water is contaminated, dolphins are sick, bees are disappearing;
symptoms of world sickness are everywhere we look. The obvious benefit
of treating the world more gently, with an overview of the whole,
would show clearly were not single-minded focus on profits involved.
Profits are not more important than people, and before the entire
planet has been ravaged, it would be a growth in wisdom to pause and
evaluate what’s necessary for a healthy world. Overeating disorders
are often connected to feelings of emptiness within and the desire for
fullness, but the thing that would satisfy is not material, but to tie
oneself to the whole with a sense of individual purpose, contributing
whatever each does best. We need to feel our connection to the world
body to heal the emptiness. The 1%’s avidity for profits is an
overeating disorder that doesn’t address the emptiness within.
Undereating disorders resist having a particular way of being shoved
down their throat, and control their lives in the only way that seems
open to them. The resistance of the Occupy movement refuses to digest
the values that are destroying the worldbody, sees the turbulence and
upset, planetary fever and chills, and knows that very few people
having all the money is an imbalance that needs to be changed. They’ve
begun the process by spreading awareness and demonstrating better
values that can change direction from within.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Body Meaning

It may have been the taste of cake and tea that prompted Proust’s
stream of memories, but for me the trigger is more often an action. I
was shaping an old flat sable brush with a sharp knife, and a cloud of
memories unfurled from deep in my past. As I pressed the flat side to
my worktable and scraped the side, I was back in a friend’s dining
room and an intense bearded man was demonstrating how to renew the
brush there at the table after dinner. Then the image shifted to the
friend who had the dinner party, who was himself the hub of a wheel of
memories associated with Maryland Institute, as we called it then. A
very specific action spurred my memory to an extensive network of
associations. I often think of the body like a pliable tuning fork
that depending on the position resonates with and evokes imagery of
the past that is associated with being in that position. As bodies in
motion it makes sense that our habitual ways of moving would reinforce
certain attitudes in our minds. And there are psychological treatments
based on the idea, change the body to change the mind. One of these is
the Alexander Technique, which addresses the amount of tension that
accumulates in the body over time. Its underlying philosophy points
out the correlation between the beginnings of bad posture in childhood
and the first awareness of what others expect of us. Clearly there’s a
deep connection between how our body expresses its uncertainty and our
sense of others’ expectations. The body contracts with anxiety and
confusion where mixed messages or coercion are involved. The treatment
offers corrective motions to help pull the body out of its habitual
positions and release that accumulation of tension that drains energy.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a judo master who had a similar idea. He thought
people were frustrated and unhappy because they’d never learned to use
their bodies properly, thought too much energy was lost to wasted
movement. His books and methods educate people on how to recognize
self-defeating body positions and provide exercises that demonstrate
better ones.
New research has shown how exercise is good for the mind as well as
the emotions. Chemically there’s the increase in dopamine and BDNF
that’s been shown to promote growth of new neurons. In addition, our
conceptual structure is built on the foundation of embodiment, the
body’s experience of the world. From our travels we know what
obstruction is and apply it not just physically but also to what gets
in the way of our mental progress on a task or project. Most of our
conceptual understanding and scientific reasoning depends on physical
experience of weight, balance and movement. Hundreds of years ago
Leonardo da Vinci emphasized that exercise was not just important to
health and vitality but to the improvement of mental functioning.
Continuing to extend bodily experience is especially important in a
time when so much daily activity is done sitting in one place.
The signals of core wisdom begin in the body. As we adjust to our
circumstances the feelings we experience reflect the meaning we attach
to that adjustment, the overall assessment of the physical or
psychological environment. Understanding the meanings of the body can
provide a path to psychological understanding and help us sort out
contradictions in our thinking, the wasted mental activity that drains
our energy. Development of our mental and psychological health
requires physical participation.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Building Energy

Images of Health

What attracts me about Christian Science, and why I continue to read Mary Baker Eddy, is not so much the healing, but the attitude toward health. She stresses that where the mind focuses leads the body. Focusing on sickness and death give them power. In regard to the practice of testing everything just in case there’s a sign of future sickness, and making decisions based on numbers so prevalent in today’s medicine, I say, “Why go looking for trouble?”
It’s not denial. That kind of vigilance is a fear based attitude that in itself can be the seed of illness. Tests are symbols of distrust regarding the body’s ability to communicate what it needs. An attitude that feeds on fear of death will create more stress chemicals that in turn take a toll on the immune system.
I’ve been very grateful for the knowledgeable interventions by doctors when serious sickness hits. I appreciate and respect the practice of medicine, but worry about healthy people going to a doctor and coming out with three prescriptions. It’s an obvious conclusion of visual comprehension. Someone goes to a checkup with a spring in his step and comes out sagging and depressed. Something is wrong with this picture, of giving up living to build walls against inevitable death.
A person’s condition is an expression of something about them, age, wear and tear, involvement in life. It has meaning. It is not a problem to be solved but an image to be understood. My childhood experience with our family doctor made a deep positive impression. His diagnosis depended on what he saw. I remember him telling a woman her chronic pain was because her girdle was too tight (you could hear him through the door). That’s probably why when I have a physical pain of some kind the first thing I look at is how I sit when I’m drawing, perhaps with some inner tension, how I may have created that pain. I don’t think of it as external or random. The metaphors of illness speak to me directly. When I’m having stomach trouble I wonder what I can’t digest or haven’t the guts for or where my intestinal fortitude isn’t up to the job. Negative emotions pathologize if they can’t get attention any other way. People get into trouble when they ignore the signals of the body. Unlike the Christian Scientist, I take an aspirin if something hurts because my body is communicating with my conscious mind and cooperative action requires attention to those messages. If I get really sick I’m glad to have my doctor and her expertise.
To focus on health is an active practice. Exercise can help you appreciate having a body. The physical self is our vehicle for experience and every system works hard non-stop. They deserve our positive attention and not just worry and complaint when something’s not right. Music and art can assist the achievement of harmony, were used to that effect in ancient Egypt where the place of healing was called Temple Beautiful. Beauty has a long history as guiding principle. I turn to Beethoven or Gregorian chants when I’m in pain and it helps. How can there be any doubt about the bodymind’s intelligence. It deserves our trust.
Happiness research has shown the importance of having goals, even small short term ones. The focus of mental attention on something to be accomplished is an integrating influence. Having challenges results in good brain chemistry and increased skills, and keeps that most toxic of emotions, frustration, at bay. We need challenge to focus and coordinate body and mind, to feel alive. Like a plant reaching toward the sun, if we’re living we’re not dying. It’s a better image for health.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012



The metaphors that surround our common embodiment highlight the
problems created by the right/wrong, either/or model. The cult of
opposition that so much of the world is locked in not only is out of
step with global interconnectivity, it’s dangerous. In the image of
our world as a body of interconnected and interdependent systems, this
internal opposition should be seen like an autoimmune disease, parts
of the organism attacking itself. Trying to control or appropriate
parts of the body begins with the erroneous mindset that is
disconnected from the whole that supports it.
Likewise the disproportionate enlargement of one part of the body,
a few absorbing all the resources meant to nourish the whole, can be
seen as a tumor, a malignancy intent on serving its own interests.
Enormous wealth in just a few places is the image of a badly diseased
whole. In our physical body, surgery would be necessary to rescue the
whole from the parts that have run amuck. To limit the damage created
by the excess wealth tumor why not add three more tax brackets at the
upper end? The ones we have are out of date. By dramatically taxing
higher as the numbers get more excessive there wouldn’t be as much
incentive to be greedy. Make it impossible for the tumor to grow past
a point where it drains the energy of the whole.
The “Occupy” movement has made clear that this is an area of
common ground. The 99% sees an article in the Wall Street Journal,
“Living Very Large”, with a picture of an obscenely large mansion, and
feels sick, the natural reaction to disease. We feel our connection to
the world body and sense what’s out of balance, where proportions are
way off. Conscious awareness of that kind of belonging could break the
habit of oppositional attitudes with the realization that cooperation
is the way of the body, growing through our contribution to the
flourishing and evolution of the whole. Though competition may offer
an adrenalin rush, helping others stimulates endorphins, the natural
opiates meant to reinforce beneficial behavior. If we help someone
else, offer our attention to a cooperative goal, we feel good. It’s
meant to encourage us to keep doing that, mindful of the wellbeing of
the whole. Scanning the world body with an eye to the health of all
the systems, attending to sickness and imbalance with the
participation of the areas affected is the only way to get back in
balance. Through our embodiment we understand that excess is
unhealthy, it overloads the system and strains connected systems. Our
ability to limit, both consciously and through what the body rejects
on its own, is one of our most highly evolved powers.
Restraint enables us to accumulate energy. It keeps reactive and
instinctive behaviors subdued until they can be thoughtfully
considered. Limiting the size of corporations, the size of individual
wealth, limiting any area given to excess, is following the example of
the human body. It’s a model sufficiently complex to hold the
multivariable modern world, a reasonable frame for approaching the
problems created by an overloaded machine.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Through the Shell

Underlying Images

A belief system is a structure that organizes thought. It may have
been planted by religion or by a culture. It’s an inner image with a
system of relations that can be easily visualized. In this way every
philosophy is visual, details can vary but relations between them hold
the meaning. If we aren’t aware of the underlying structure it still
shapes our thinking unconsciously.
Take hierarchy. The pyramid. The image beneath most of the world’s
organization. Even within a seemingly simple structure there can be
tremendous variation but the will of the top is always running the
show. All of the talent and creativity of the lower layers is
subordinated to the top. It can have a group at the top or a single
individual or god, can have variable numbers of vice presidents or
bishops with many layers and numbers of individuals at the bottom
supporting the upper and led by their dictates. If the underlying
belief/image is hierarchical, incoming information and how it’s
integrated into the rest of a person’s knowledge, involves fitting it
into the hierarchical structure, looking to the authority and where
the information stands in relation to it. Authority is the filter.
When information contradicts the authority it’s rejected. Power
struggles dominate. Control is essential because whatever deviates
steps out of its place in the hierarchy, threatening the entire system
of order. Its balance is undermined by lower levels getting out of
line. What knowledge is available can’t be integrated and augmented by
related knowledge in other areas because the parts are stratified and
compartmentalized. Nowhere is there knowledge of the whole, because
even at the top, especially at the top, the mass at the bottom can’t
be seen. Too many layers beneath intervene. Movement is difficult if
not impossible.
In complexity theory when the organizing structure becomes too
overloaded, it either collapses or reorganizes into a structure that
can support all the new factors. A better underlying image might be
the homeostatic action of the body. If we think of ourselves as part
of the same body our attitude toward the health and well being of all
others changes dramatically. With the model of the body organizing our
approach to life we think of what’s best for the world instead of
what’s best for the authority. Instead of the purposes of a few making
use of the many, control of activity is decentralized and
interconnected, directed by the goal of growth and well being for the
whole. An open system that is always taking in the outer world, as
food, beauty or ideas, finds places for everyone in supporting the
health of the system, always adjusting to find balance for the whole.
Every person is a sensor to their own web of connections and is always
contributing that unique outlook. Every individual adds to the picture
and the big picture is available to all. It’s an image that can
demonstrate the increase of consciousness happening on many levels.
Attuned by our common biological heritage we understand the common
good. The information is integrated and relationships clear. The
judgments and decisions of each contributing part are the result of a
unique position in the web. Creativity can flourish anywhere. All new
information benefits the whole. All of the modes of action have a
role, and benefit from the growth of all other areas. Thinking of our
world as a body, it would be natural to care for it. It would be
unnatural to do violence to any of its parts, and cooperation would be
a natural mode of interaction.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Self Help

I never really thought of what I was writing as self-help until my
independent student saw it as fitting that category. Her insight got
me thinking about knowledge as self-help, appealing to us not just for
the new information and increased perspective, but because so much of
it is concretely useful in navigating the world. Maybe that’s why
philosophers say pursuit of knowledge is the greatest happiness. It’s
not just how understanding increases with a broader point-of-view, but
how the new piece of the puzzle changes the picture and how that bears
on other ideas. What I’ve studied about the brain has been so useful
to me that I want to spread that knowledge around, along with the
connections I’ve made in how to apply that information. As one
neuroscientist put it, “Neuroanatomy illuminates psychology.” Learning
how different regions of the brain relate to each other demonstrates
their neural significance and how we can utilize it. Knowing more of
the map offers more flexibility about how to get where you want to go.
As our models of reality expand so do the choices we have about what
the possibilities are and what we want to accomplish.
By spending a long string of days cleaning and sorting through
all the piles of papers that have been accumulating for months I not
only got rid of the burden on my workspace, I stimulated lots of
reward chemicals for the activities along the way. It was the thing
that helped the most after my dad died. Using executive functions like
sorting and problem solving, how to better organize, drew my mental
energy to the front of the brain, site of the most connections to the
reward areas. That’s why journals are so helpful, putting thoughts
into words involves areas in the front. Comprehension is farther back
near memory, which is more associated with negative moods. Any action
helps you feel better because it moves the energy forward in the
brain. It affirms a sense of agency, the opposite of the helplessness
associated with depression. The beauty of mundane activities like
cleaning to fight unhappiness is they have concrete results as well as
the beneficial brain chemistry. It doesn’t really matter what the
action. It happens in the present and is organized by a purpose, moves
mental energy forward and stimulates dopamine production. Action is
rewarded because it’s good for survival.
Knowing what the brain has evolved to do clarifies how to develop
its capacities. Most dramatic of the still untapped potential is the
power of visual intelligence. Cultivating the wisdom of the big
picture as understood by the right hemisphere could be key to solving
some the problems mired by an old way of seeking solutions. Treating
the universe and everything in it as a machine is an outdated
orthodoxy that ignores the multiple variables of actual experience.
Since vision is central to understanding it makes sense to visualize
and represent our situation in ways that illuminate important
underlying patterns. The ability to see patterns in complexity is a
function of the visual right side of the brain. Imagination and
insight are among our highest powers. Naturally they’re at the front
of the brain, which is why its so exhilarating to create and invent,
explore and discover.
People are largely unaware of the power of art to help them do
just that. They think that art is something you do or don’t do, when
it’s always been more about what you see and feel. Just looking at the
art that draws your attention activates personal emotional themes that
can function as a mirror held to the inner world. Art resonates with
emotional patterns. It stimulates feelings and the ideas connected to
them. Since we’re attracted to what shows something we need to see,
it’s an opportunity to reflect on the personal inner reality. This is
where the wisdom of personal experience lives. Building visual
intelligence starts with seeing your feelings. Find artists you like
on the Internet or in books. It’s never been easier to find
sensibilities that speak to your own emotional core. For some fun
self-help give art books as presents. Look at them with friends. Enjoy
the conversations stimulated and the endorphins that reward new