A&O 2020 CLASS NOTES February 4


TUESDAY February 4, 2020


Last week, January 28, these were IDEAS THAT STOOD OUT FOR YOU (from end-of-class check-in mind-maps):

  • Dream (2) 
  • Brain chemicals
  • ethology
  • embodied cognition

In my e-mail I attached a PowerPoint presentation that displays several diagrams that I’ve used over the years to crystallize ideas we talk about in art, ethology, and teaching/learning.



The one on brain function in a dream state in particular, opens a door that will bring art and science into much more intimate relationship)

note especially what happens in the forebrain — and then consider how RANDOM percepts can be organized into the best story possible.





I also want us to stretch toward graphical representations of ideas – making Mind-maps is a great start.




This seems to be the way the brain works to make information memorable and useful …  The “best,” recall from Tuesday involves both methods of reality testing working together:  CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE.   (and—to keep things interesting—remember that the “best” story is not necessarily the “true” story)  

Oliver Sacks observed,

“that the need for a narrative is absolutely primal. Children understand stories long before they understand trigonometry.”

But it continues throughout life: Jean Paul Sartre also observed that each of us is

“always a teller of tales, [we] live surrounded by [our] stories and the stories of others, [we] see everything that happens to [us] through them….”

But –where do they come from? Start with Coleridge (1816):

The imagination… organizing (as it were) the flux of the senses… gives birth to a system of symbols. . . consubstantial with the truths of which they are the conductors.”


“A warp in the simian brain….made us insatiable for patterns‑‑patterns of sequence, of behavior, of feeling‑‑ connections, reasons, causes:  stories.”  (Kathryn Morton 1984)


Look at A&O Web-page on KNOWLEDGE and TRUTH


And think about stories (such as hypotheses, or myths, or narratives—forms of communication (including art?)) in terms of their PRODUCTION: the creation of stories from those you tell yourself to those you wish to tell other people.   AND—moving into interesting territory—WHAT STATE OF MIND HAS PRODUCED this work?   What can we learn from disordered states of mind


Look at A&O Web-page on OUTSIDER ART and PATHOLOGY as a window on “normality”  (“outsiders” are “outliers” — is there something we can learn from them about creativity? about the functions of expression and the limits of expressive capacity?) 


So learning more about the “state of mind” of an artist (including yourself at your most creative or inspired) is interesting:   Now read about the evolution of the capacity for states of mind we are interested in:  What can we infer about PALEOLITHIC ART?    Read an essay by Ewen Callaway in Nature, last December 11th (“Is this cave painting humanity’s oldest story?  Indonesian rock art dated to 44,000 years old seems to show mythological figures in a hunting scene”).    (there is more at the A&O site if this captures your imagination:   DEEP-evolution-paleolithic-Neanderthal-art/ and Review A&O READING ON PALEOLITHIC ART.  This topic is also much in the news recently since a recent AAAS meeting and The SCIENCE cover article (23 February) suggesting Neandertal cognitive competence for symbolic behavior.  (see Tim Appenzeller’s “In Depth” article with highlights of the research and continuing controversy).