Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Encroachment. (in progress)

Art for the Mind and Body

In his recent column in the New York Times, “The Power of Art in a Political Age”, David Brooks’ spoke of art as a balancing power to the ever “shallowization” (his wonderful word) driven by technology, and “politicization of everything”. His column celebrated art’s power to stimulate the depths, feel our feelings and see into the mind of another, enlarging our range of experience. The science supports what he writes. Two new books to support what he writes. How Art can change your life by art historian Susie Hodge emphasizes the emotional connection we make to art. The just released Your Brain on Art is based on neuroscience specifically devoted to how all of the arts are processed and what that reveals about their importance that is the focus of the new science of of neuroaesthetics. The authors Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross cover all the arts and the sensory structures associated with experiencing them, how the arts improve health and recognition of deeper layers of feeling. The importance of feelings should not be underestimated. New research in neuroscience shows that emotions are the organizing force for all areas of cognition. Brain scans reveal that emotions have interconnections with multiple areas in the brain, demonstrating the breadth of their influence. As an indicator of how much something matters, emotions are a register of what we care about and how much. That extra concern is what shows in the emotional signals picked up by lie detectors. All emotions are laced with personal significance. Being able to recognize emotions is key to best use of the mind. Otherwise, they can run the show. Art is an outstanding tool for building the capacity to see what you’re feeling. What we’re drawn to in art shows something about the current state of our feelings that we might not have noticed. The thoughts that arise could add important information about unrecognized underlying feelings. Those shadow feelings, hiding in the depths, need to be put somewhere. Life on the technological surface puts too much emphasis on the surface differences, the labels, and categories that translate easily into posts. Social media becomes a habit, even an obligation. Personal feelings not consciously acknowledged are projected onto an easily identified target. More awareness of the feelings below the surface would allow empathy to surface. Connecting to art, music and performance of all kinds resonates in a place without surfaces. Art can soften the rigid boundaries of too much reliance on the separating effects of words. What seems very different on the surface can touch the heart and show how artificial the surface distinctions are. Art connects to the deepest part of us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Considering Consciousness

“The universe appears as a single undivided whole whose patterns and forms emerge out of a ground, are sustained for a time, and then die back into the field. Consciousness, too, can be considered to arise out of a deeper ground that is common to both matter and mind.” Physicist David Peat As much as scientists have learned about the brain, they don’t know where to look when it comes to consciousness. The underlying perspective on reality matters. This is the starting model for building how we think, an armature to structure our ideas. If our starting model is based on machines, looking at everything as an organization of small parts, consciousness is expected to be found somewhere in the parts. But what if it isn’t? They are just the particles. It’s time to consider the wave nature of reality. David Bohm suggested that a more accurate way of approaching the universe would be as a continuous field. Connected within a field of consciousness, individuals might be like sense organs adding our knowledge and perspective within a larger consciousness that likewise influences each individual. An image that takes the wave nature into account might help us see beyond the limits of the machine model and open new ground for speculation. Just like science fiction can anticipate and inspire scientific investigation, there are many artists who are trying to include this interconnectedness in images of webs and networks that suggest what has influence but can’t be seen. How we might be embedded in intelligence that includes but goes beyond our own is an idea that cannot be properly communicated in words. Words can be the finger pointing to the moon, not the moon itself. Art is not the moon either but is a portal that allows insight to develop that stimulates a deeper sense of the possible. Different modes of organization, relationship, and influence could be visualized more easily than described. We might be neural nodes of a universal mind, local inputs participating in an overall awareness, threads within a larger tapestry of mind. The Net of Indra is a beautiful image from Buddhism tracing back to Hindu that envisions cosmic unity and our interconnectedness as a net of reflective jewels, each of which reflect the whole and are reflected in all the others. There are many wonderful artists’ conceptions of this on the Internet. The net metaphor pervades the modern world, so it feels natural to the reality of being in a web of information. Looking at the natural order and enlarging the metaphors to include fields of influence and repeating patterns could illuminate new possibilities.

Sunday, January 22, 2023


Finding Direction

In “The Sorrows of Young Werther” Goethe expresses the “the unbearable burden of aimlessness”. He’s harsh on the people he judges, who just make the choices given by their culture. We are each born into a web of expectation created by immediate caregivers, and the growing circle of people as our sphere of experience grows. Media and culture also tell us how to be. Sorting out what really matters can be hard. The currents of what’s always happened make the decisions. And if aimlessness is bad then having an aim would be an equivalent good, a direction. One of the tenets of chaos theory is that that chaos combined with direction produces complexity. Michael Faraday, writing to a young student who wanted to know where to start to go into science said to start anywhere, he’ll get to everything he needs eventually. This accords with ancient wisdom. The I Ching often advises having somewhere to go. A purpose is a direction. Once a personal direction is chosen, we know what to do with our time. Margo Jefferson’s book “Constructing a Nervous System” is not a scientific account of it like I originally thought, but better. Her book provided an example of how we build our minds from the things we connect to emotionally. Following our heart interest is how we find direction. Hers is an emotional history, first memory the fascination with the close-up of Bud Powell’s face on the cover of his album when she was nine years old. From there, curiosity brewed a network of connections to his music and his story. Her memories accumulated the artists who moved her. In each of the stages of her life it was the emotional depth reached by artists that articulated the inner self and paved the way for the next place to grow. The fascination with different musicians as she grew older invented an area of expertise that could, once an adult, be a profession, writing about musicians and writers. Whether it’s music, literature, theatre, dance, or visual art, when art leads, we gain access to more of ourselves. The book “The First Idea” describes how “PET scans show that emotionally meaningful experiences are associated with many areas of the brain at the same time in comparison with impersonal tasks.” The more richly interconnected brain is more resilient, has more routes to get around if it starts losing the less used ones. To include the feeling in the idea feels more accurate to mental life. As the authors say in “The First Idea”, emotions “coordinate and orchestrate the rest of cognitive abilities. Each of us can do this. After reading the book I traced my route through my father’s Ella Fitzgerald and Rhapsody in Blue records to Led Zeppelin and the Doors. These were my soundtrack to Tanguy, Escher, Kay Sage, and Judy Chicago. Thinking about the last two I realize how much influence they have on my work now. The wide mesh of circuitry created by our path through the arts shows personal choices and can guide future direction.

Thursday, December 22, 2022