Thursday, October 31, 2013

Evolving Minds

Looking at the persistence of illusionistic art throughout history,
regardless of what was fashionable, suggests it had a useful
evolutionary purpose, that it strengthened powers good for survival.
Reward chemicals come into play, a sure sign of evolution’s
encouragement. From elaborate murals in mansions to street art,
illusionistic graffiti and the Chalk Guy (Julian Beever) people like
to wonder at what catches them by surprise. There’s something
satisfying about being fooled. Even when we’re mildly chagrined or
embarrassed about being wrong, evolution adds a dose of pleasure with
discovery of something new. Our interest quickens. Our prefrontal
cortex comes to life. How else could we learn a better theory or new
way to a better result? We count on our inner idea of reality, might
never let go of a theory that worked for us, were it not for the
intrigue and the neurochemicals urging us to investigate. One of the
best feelings we have available is the “Eureka” sense of the new
theory falling into place.

The power of drawing and painting to create a perceptual reality that
contradicts what’s expected somehow feels more true to life, opens
settled terrain up for questioning. We’re always making up theories
based on available information then revising them as new facts arrive.
Protecting a particular mindset keeps new information out. One of the
things that has been pointed out  by people like philosopher Jack
Flynn is that, not only is the information we deal with daily more
extensive than ever before, each generation gets smarter, is capable
of more sophisticated mental reasoning that shows on IQ tests. In his
Ted talk, Flynn points out that not so long ago people couldn’t think
with hypotheticals. If something did not occur, it made no sense to
imagine that it did. This made it hard to see life from another
person’s perspective, to imagine being in another’s place. So moral
responsibility evolves as well. Life includes multiple perspectives
and changing conditions. Like the cubism of Picasso that felt true
because it was not limited by one perspective, looking at art can
extend the scope of perception on many fronts. The contradictions of
M.C. Escher feel like an intellectual truth. An impossible space stirs
the right frontal cortex, stimulating pleasure chemicals designed to
make us investigate, look closer. The brain rewards our recognition of
mistakes. Illusionistic art creates the conditions for both the
mistake and the realization of the mistake.

Researchers have suggested the pleasure we feel at trompe l’oeil
painting and visual illusion is a phenomenon of  humor. Humor, like
magic, is about defying expectations. Often the method of humor
involves a shift of contexts. We start out thinking we’re talking
about one thing that then flips into something else.  It involves
regions primarily in the right frontal lobes that manifest uniquely
human qualities, particularly the ability to step back from our
prevailing mindset. Humor is said to build flexibility in thinking.
The similarity in sense of humor is most often cited as key to
successful relationships.

Though the increase in intelligence may be natural to each generation
growing up within such complexity, developing the right hemisphere’s
capacity for insight is available to all of us. Seeking out what is
funny and what we love best in art is a joyful route to building
visual intelligence and big picture thinking.

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