A&O 2020 CLASS NOTES January 21


TUESDAY January 21, 2020


Last week, January 14, these were IDEAS THAT STOOD OUT FOR YOU (from end-of-class check-in’s):

  • DEEP
  • Eye contact psychology and biology
  • Connectedness in general; and within subconsciousness
  • How art changes us and our biology changes how we make art
  • The cross-overs between art and biology
  • Improvisatory discussion



  • ART as COMMUNICATION (expression, medium, reception), that were connected to other ideas that involved apparent dichotomies:
  • NATURE/NURTURE  (congenital/acquired)
  • SENTIENCE/SAPIENCE   (feelings/thoughts)
  • DEGREE of AUTHENTICITY in COMMUNICATING (is it “heart-to-heart” and/or a “meeting of minds”)
    • “free association” and Stream of consciousness
    • Looks like a spider web anchored on ideas about art and science BUT in which you are at the center (helped by remembering a quote from Henry James: “Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider‑web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air‑borne particle in its tissue.”) (link to complete essay)



WHAT DID YOU THINK of Marina Abramović’s 700 hour performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (marina-abramovic-at-moma-in-2010



Let’s stick with the spider web/mind-map metaphor – your web—the web with you at the center.   You are a kind of predator (an “infovore” –read about this: at A&O notes on infovory)  


Okay, so our process for exploring ART is anchored in three ideas, echoing the key concepts in the ethology of communications:

  • EXPRESSION (of art; creation (deliberate or not) representing thoughts or feelings)
  • MEDIUM (the way information is communicated (an art form: visual, auditory… etc)
  • RECEPTION (perceiving & integrating thoughts or feelings)  


AND our process for exploring its biology begins with the NATURAL HISTORY of ideas

BY NATURAL HISTORY I mean the perspectives embraced by DEEP ETHOLOGY:   

·     DEEP is an acronym for four main perspectives of biology (Development, Ecology, Evolution and Physiologists) and

·     ETHOLOGY is comparative psychology with a (very) strong emphasis on behavior expressed in a natural environment. 

Our interest in human behavior appreciates that at any level of organization (from cell to society) our behavior-of-interest occurs at the INTERSECTION of the four disciplines.  That is, to most fully understand the causes and consequences of any behavioral pattern we must be able to appreciate its development, ecology, evolution, and physiology.
To see how this way of looking at behavior articulates with our class and discussions take a look at some recent writings on EXISTENTIAL PHENOMENOLOGY.  Unlike traditional academic philosophy, this species attempts to look at REAL PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLD—not idealized.  In this, it is like ethology, looking at “real animals” in their “real world” (as opposed to “lab animals” in cages).   There is a good use for lab research with inbred animals in artificial environments, but the preoccupation for control has led to some terrible misunderstandings. 
Look again at the our A&O website on CONNECTIONS

To understand the problems and possible solutions we will play and/or wrestle with in class,  I hope we can become familiar with some ideas from both art and science (as traditionally viewed) that have stood out to me over the years. (“over the years” = we have to be wary of getting stuck in the past: knowledge has a half-life, like drugs in the body or atoms undergoing radioactive decay)


BUT HOW ARE WE BIASED?  At our last class meeting  I spoke of how the idea of DEEP ETHOLOGY will provide the biological “backbone” for our reading and discussion this Spring …  And then  I tried to emphasize the importance of CONNECTIONS, the problems with (and the power of)  WORDS (and the value of new words, with some examples).    I now want to discuss how EXISTENTIAL PHENOMENOLOGY structures some of our thinking in class–these intimidating terms are actually quite simple.   We should appreciate how WEIRD we are–how a collection of key biases that has permeated scholarship in psychology.  (Read  how WEIRD we are at BIASES – Congenital and Acquired) (much of psychology is based on a specific demographic that is Weird: “Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries.”)


Withe respect to MEANING (I hope what we say has more-or-less meaning, but is the meaning the same for me?  i.e., how well do we understand each other?) … to push this, let’s read Mark Johnson on “meaning and the body.”


Of course, all this is about the problem of communication (a special form of “connecting”) … and so this is at the root of what it means to participate in a culture  (such as that of ART or SCIENCE), from observing artists or scientists or their works and being affected (or not) by information being communicated — to integrating these experiences with previous experiences (now nicely tucked someplace in your brain, but eager to be corroborated and/or to be enlarged), and hos this new you will ACT in the world.  (More soon when we discuss COGNITION and INPUT-INTEGRATION-OUTPUT model that structures communicating from cells to civilizations –an how that works in us as individuals)


Speaking of Communication: I think the FIRST order of communications with one’s self –tucking new information into your “text” (think of weaving a textile) and creating the most satisfying connections:  Read an excerpt from Oliver Sacks’ writing on memory, narrative, and personhood



KNOWING-to-REALIZING [Visit “the parable of the two French philosophers.”] –this is a vocabulary issue about the depth of one’s consciousness about a phenomenon. (Art is often judged by the depth from which it was retrieved within the artist and the depth to which it can penetrate within the observer.)  The way I’ve used the term (after some research into convention & tradition) builds on the distinction.  So that is what I did in a recent publication where it refers to a phenomenon in education theory called “transformative learning.

“An awareness of a change in one’s worldview that imparts a sense of mastery of new ideas; a conscious accommodation of new information, rather than mere assimilation (sensu Piaget); a paradigm shift from merely knowing course content to realizing its relevance in one’s personal and professional life (Greenberg et al., 2015 and also in a new book by my research team)

We can talk about “accommodation” versus “assimilation” in class next week: it’s a key distinction in child development theory but (I think) can obviously can occur throughout one’s life.  Also, you can see that It is a little like an epiphany—the  “AHA!” or “EUREKA!” experience of sudden understanding.  You might be searching for such understanding  or it might suddenly occur unbidden.  Also, many artists use the term (as in “this project I’ve been working on is now fully realized”—“It’s finished”) and it seems connected to the idea of “making real” (as opposed to merely hypothetical).  (we can talk later about whether works of art are ever really “finished.” … Is a research project a “work of art?”) (philosophy majors: this bears on the famous dichotomy between “IDEAL” and “REAL”) (just to kick off a possible conversation on this, one artists perspective was developed in a statement at his blog: https://rynoswart.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/ideal-v-real/  –think about the implications of painting from nature or from memory—we will have important information on the biology of memory later)



INFORMATION.  Sometimes we will look at a work of art and consider the biology; sometimes we will look at biology and  consider how it affects the creation or perception of works of art.  In particular the paths that information follows as it flows in and out of us…and what happens to it along the way.

STIMULI (sensory exploitation): read notes on the INPUT of information: sensations, perceptions.


MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING:  We MIND-MAPPED “ART”  –from a core of shared meanings, our PERSONAL meanings were much mor sophisticated.   (This underscores the difficulties of established definitions versus personal meanings).  The imperfections of communicating with words, then, will get us more deeply into PHENOMENOLOGY (where it is closely related to the idea of “intersubjectivity”).  We will try to not get lost in the “Fog of Philosophy.”