Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Future Skill

Waiting for my car in the shop I picked up a Wired Magazine and was quickly involved in an article about a college curriculum for the future. What really got me excited was the hypothetical course “Applied Cognition” which was basically aimed at making brain science useful. It was described as “beginning with a sequence on neuro-rhetoric”. A class concerned with how to see through advertising and other forms of persuasion that are already making use of the relevant science. Even more important among the course objectives, “We’ll learn how emotion influences reasoning and how language influences emotion.”  Emotion is best represented visually. The feeling at the sight of the space around us is a response to its overall meaning so understanding visual perception is useful not just for awareness of how our inner image of reality is organized but for becoming aware of the emotional responses attached to overall visual patterns. This is one of the reasons art can be so important to training the brain because art trains sensitivity to emotional patterns that will lead conscious thought.

As synchronicity would have it I’d already started this essay when I read the article because as I was preparing for my classes, I was thinking about illusionism as a skill for the future, part of a large-scale use of skills developed that make practical use of all the newly available knowledge about the brain. The brain is our first tool, and now we know it’s endlessly programmable, and knowing how it works facilitates better use. Books are written about how video games train important brain functions like problem solving and navigating new areas while learning the rules of a place. This is much more useful than being able to remember lots of information; navigating the information is the more important and efficient use of our cognitive potential.  The brain has very specific expectations about what counts as real. If it gets what it expects that sense of reality can be applied to what’s imagined. You see how early layers of processing, long before you’re conscious of the mechanisms behind them, create assumptions that can actually interfere with accurate seeing. The particular discipline of illusionistic drawing and painting has the most available information because the science began with the gestalt psychologists of the mid twentieth century who focused on perception, how the brain constructs our image of the world. This image is the home to what psychologists call “tacit knowledge”, knowledge that’s difficult to express in words and is best shown, from riding a bike to a surgical technique. As a skill, illusionism enables one to communicate complex and specific information about relationships and qualities.

The fact that I’d been thinking about the importance of learning and applying brain science concurrently with other people absorbed in the topic reminds me that the patterns were emerging in the larger consciousness and I was tuned to the frequency to pick it up. That’s another skill for the future, creating opportunities for synchronicity to happen. I never take a book with me when I have to wait any more. Like at the car shop, a doctor’s waiting room recently provided me with an interesting article on the high priced art market and the stars that are now forgotten. Consciousness is always prodding us with what advances our explorations.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hidden Forces

The Image of God

One of the last conversations I had with Kris Hjelli before he died has particularly influenced many of the thoughts I’ve had since. He believed that beneath all the problems we face in the world is human anthropocentrism, the species wide self-absorption that sees everything else on the planet as existing for our consumption. It begins with the idea of a single God in charge of all there is. The hierarchy is reproduced from top to bottom and implies control over what’s below. Separation and status on the pyramid are implicit in all aspects of the metaphor. At the pinnacle the image gives us a bigger version of ourselves, the ultimate judge of our behavior and controller of everything. The metaphor itself puts us down. Many people turn to Buddhism to find a more enlightened view of reality that is connected and compassionate, that’s respects the environment and every being as part of a connected whole. All contributions are important to the underlying intelligent consciousness that learns about material being through us. We all have a Buddha nature, the same Self beneath the separate selves, and have only to realize it. Likewise, a system based on that metaphor, that recognizes and utilizes all human gifts, could cope with the complex developments of the current global situation.

I remember hearing of a scientist who when asked if he believed in God, said
“No. What I believe is much bigger than that.”
The crisis of religions is a crisis of image. As a noun, the word ‘God’ objectifies, reduces and personifies in a way that clashes with the modern zeitgeist. So much religious art envisions God as a glorified human male, forcing a set of metaphors based on the power of an ultimate single authority that punishes deviance from his laws. But people have discovered that they don’t need an authority to be good people. Being good feels good because it connects us to others. The positive brain chemistry rewards and promotes virtuous behavior because we’re societal beings connected in myriad ways. With an image of a unified consciousness that flows through everyone, helping others is helping our own deepest self. Visionary artists to a great extent are trying to express these connections and find new ways to represent the divine flow of energy. We’re part of continuous unfolding manifestation. As artists what we show is the trail of our inquiry into underlying patterns. A recent student created a triptych that represented spiritual qualities as pure continuous energy, pulsing at many frequencies without a deity or any sense of separation. Each artist offers a fresh vision of the primal intelligence reflected in the elegant order of our material reality. It will take many different images reflecting the insights of many different minds to help people see their embeddedness in the unbroken continuum of waves and frequencies bearing the patterns of information and intelligence. Humans didn’t invent the relationships that science measures and describes, and description can get in the way of understanding by limiting what is described, thus separating it from the whole. Everything acts on everything else.
Likewise the descriptions in story-based religion can limit our conception of the underlying intelligence that needs to be visualized in a way recognizable to modern consciousness. Imagery can guide contemplation and reflection, be the finger pointing to the moon. With multiple artists working to envision divine intelligence we can build a multidimensional personal sense of our connection with the fundamental consciousness we share and harmonize with the universal flow.