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.