A&O 2019 CLASS NOTES – 6th meeting – February 19

A&O CLASS MEETING # 6  February 19, 2019


OPEN with CHECK-IN (#1 and at least two others):

  1. Catch up with “book covers” … come up with tentative project topic
  2. WHAT STOOD OUT from last week?
  3. METAPHOR for class
  4. What is your WEEKLY WONDER? 
  5. Personal example of “epiphany” or “AHA!” or “transformative learning experience”


  • Any follow-up on implications (for A&O) of Jill Bolte Taylor‘s experience after her stroke?


  • A few weeks ago I think our MIND MAPS of ART said something important about unique meanings of shared words. 

MIND MAP OF ART:   Each map is a definition rooted in YOUR experience combined with SHARED experience: clearly none of us share the identical definition … what is shared and what is unique …

Point being: we each have a DEFINITION based on a combination of OUR EXPERIENCE and our SOCIAL GROUP’s DEFINITION:

In A&O, we speak of art in a very broad way, including both the EXPRESSION of an object or experience as well as its RECEPTION.   (Adapting terms most commonly used te decribe common aphasias)  

We argue that ART is a form of communication that may have its roots with r efforts to communicate with OURSELVES. 


There seems to be a threshold of meaningfulness on the part of the creator and/or the audience:  As a form of communication (even communication between levels of an individual) we can distinguish input of information (stimuli, sensory perception), its integration into an individual’s psyche (conception), and the output (actions or feelings that guide actions).  


As communications, what are we learning about what we see and how is that affecting us?    When we speak about senses we are speaking of aesthetic experience.  A few years ago, Slobodan Marković of the University of Belgrade (Serbia) tried to deconstruct the idea using an interdisciplinary (psychology/biological) approach [see Marković (2012) “Components of aesthetic experience: aesthetic fascination, aesthetic appraisal and aesthetic emotion.”   i-Perception. 2012;3:1–17. doi: 10.1068/i0450aap. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref] ].


His ideas made clear progress but also identified areas needing more investigation if we are to ever have a clear and satisfying meaning for aesthetics.  One implicit theme in his essay involves “levels of organization,” a core theme in Art & Organism as well. 


 At some level we often seem to know that aesthetic experience can be informed by the intention of the creator (maybe that helps us focus on our own intentions in paying attention to it).  Can great art be UNINTENTIONAL? –An ARTIFACT of activity? (sometrhing that meets a NEED other than communicating with others?   RELATED: … are phenomena in nature (a beautiful sunset?) “works of art?” 

 We are trying to find our way into the heart of art—its meaning in anyone’s life—and began by thinking of it in biological terms. 


(in some views, the biological approach constructs a scaffold—a temporary (cognitive) structure that enables the construction or assembly of a self


But in BIOLOGY as in ART there is a core element: so read A&O notes on ABSTRACTION (and an excerpt from Eric Kandel’s recent book on “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science.” Linked therein.)


With respect to the integrative biology of behavior, ALL detectable behavior occurs at an intersection of the DEEP perspectives of ETHOLOGY.  These range from very subtle to very dramatic: from  a muscle twitch or a dilating pupil to the creation of a work of art (EXPRESSIVE art) or the appreciation of a work of art (RECEPTIVE art).  The first audience for many actions is your self, next other people.  (in PHENOMENOLOGY, the idea of INTERSUBJECTIVITY implies that individuals act in relationship to others, from ancestors to their sociocultural milieu to descendents.  Consciously (or not) we are barely (if at all) “human” apart from sociality. (as Aristotle teaches, “One who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because they are sufficient for themselves, must be either a beast or a god.”  (Aristotle, Politics bk. 1: 1253a: 27-9) [i]


AS we steer into ART and AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE per se, see the ATTRIBUTES of ART, derived from evolutionary and developmentally adaptive traits [note: some traits are adaptive at one time and place and not at some other]


Informed by “COMMUNICATIONS” between two individuals (or two levels of organization with us?) , we can think of ART              as more-or-less overlapping concentric circles which has the (unattainable?) “true self” at its center.  Following the         principle of “we seek to KNOW and BE KNOWN,”  we want the message to originate and to penetrate at the deepest   levels.  A “heart-to-heart” conversation.   We already know that “the best things can’t be told”    


“Meaning is more than words and deeper than concepts.”

(Johnson 2007)


DIAGRAM of two isolated concentric spheres communicating within and between nested spheres and each other

But we may never be able to get what is deepest:  The skeptic Gorgias spoke to this:  (Nothing exists … Even if it did exist it could not be known … Even if it could be known … it could not be communicated.” (Gorgias spoke sarcastically)

DIAGRAM of bell curve with NOW as a vertical ordinate with memory and imagination on either side.  Ordinate on side of degree of VALIDITY [see essay on memory and imagination in the brain]  (discussion started with “still-point”)


Review on VALIDITY of BELIEFS related to TRUTH (which exists only within us and is…) tested by cognitive processes of  CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE (corroboration and context cues and how satisfactory is the story into which it more-or-less fits)




Time:   Last week we spoke of “NOW” (“Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm—an  arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.” (Saul Bellow 1915, In George Plimpton Writers at Work (1967) 3rd series, p. 190) [such stillness is a precious “momentary stay against confusion,” as Frost called it.]   And there is time, past, present, future … and the stillpoint in Burnt Norton: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/11/18/t-s-eliot-reads-burnt-norton/ ) (As Ellen Handler Spitz put it, the aesthetic ideal dissolves categories of time and space and absorbs into itself past memories and anticipation of the future (1985:142).

So follow up with “in the “River of Consciousness,” and “How long is NOW” (see A&O notes on TIME)

THEN,  more about TRUTH:

Where is “TRUTH?”   Dostoyevski’s moment of truth and Ecstatic epileptic seizures: a potential window on the neural basis for human self-awareness. (Picard F1Craig AD. In Epilepsy Behav. 2009 Nov;16(3):539-546.)

“The anatomical correlate of epileptic seizures with ecstatic auras has not been established. We document precise descriptions of the ecstatic seizures experienced by five patients, all of whom reported intense feelings of well-being and a heightened self-awareness. We propose here that the descriptions by these patients, together with the neurophysiological and neuroradiological evidence, support a theoretical framework for understanding ecstatic states based on hyperactivation of the anterior insula, rather than the temporal lobe. Epileptologists who have access to patients who experience episodic feelings of ecstasy and heightened self-awareness have an opportunity to provide insights that might help clarify the neural basis of consciousness.”

You already know about AGNOSIA — so what is HYPERGNOSIA ? … and then there is NOT KNOWING that you don’t know: ANOSOGNOSIA


          And COMMUNICATIONS (within and between levels)

LEVELS of ORGANIZATION:  when we spoke of ART as being COMMUNICATIONS (within and between two individuals) information flowed from more-or-less deeply within the artist (expressive art) TO more-or-less deeply within the artist’s audience (receptive art) … (Between deepest levels, we could call it “heart-to-heart” communications … or “eye-to-eye”)


ABSTRACTION: at its simplest it is selective attention to the most relevant elements of stimulus … but to study this objectively in the brain is not simple: see https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-notes-on-abstraction/



Steering into PHYSIOLOGY and the nervous system, SOME ASPECTS of BRAIN FUNCTION serving CONSCIOUSNESS

     For individuals, fore each of us, at every second, there are THREE STREAMS of information about the world outside of consciousness:

     ● INPUT:  Proprioceptive (information from the body by means of sensory neurons in the inner ear, stretch receptors (spindles) in striated muscle and tendons (Golgi tendon organ)  ● Interoceptive  (information from internal organs conveying information such as pain, hunger, cardiovascular and respiratory activity) ● Exteroceptive (information from outside the body involving visual, auditory, tactile, chemical—olfactory and gustatory) 

  • INTEGRATION: points from Jill Bolte Taylor’s STROKE of INSIGHT
    • Embodied Cognition:  At the highest level of organization are the connections we can discover between knowledge and its place in our lifeworld—ability to meet our needs—that provides meaning: and, in Mark Johnson’s (2007) incisive terms, “Meaning is more than words and deeper than concepts.” The central thesis of Johnson’s book is consistent with our operating assumptions about cognition. And they bring another dimension to this idea: not only is “what we call ‘mind’ and what we call ‘body’ not two things, but rather aspects of one organic process.” Johnson goes on to emphasize that “all our meaning, thought, and language emerge from the aesthetic [emphasis added] dimensions of this embodied activity. Chief among those aesthetic dimensions are qualities, images, patterns of sensorimotor processes, and emotions. . . . Coming to grips with your embodiment is one of the most profound philosophical tasks you will ever face.”
  • OUTPUT –to levels of organization within your own body; to actions.  Sometimes automatic (controllable or not) sometimes intentional…  We can also communicate by non-verbal communication and mirror neurons.
    • Positive symptoms of a mental disorder expressions of a behavior which most people do not ordinarily experience but which are observed in a specific example (e.g., hallucination); 
      • procedures which increase activity in a specific area of the brain might be
    • negative symptoms are those which most people experience but are not present or distinctly diminished (e.g., apathy)
      • procedures/processes which diminish activity in a specific area of the brain might be
        • local anaesthesia
        • intentional exercise is avoiding stimulation
        • chemicals, drugs
        • impaired activity due to (for example) stroke (Jill Bolte Taylor’s “stroke of insight”(strokes are attributable to neuron damage because of trauma, swelling, oxygen deprivation…) IMPAIRED ACTIVITY and the balances in the CEREBRAL SYMPHONY:  and in the hall of mirrors (speaking of mirrors, consider recursions such as mis en abyme)  (A&O Notes on Mis en Abyme)


     “Hall of Mirrors?” In the nervous system, understanding different ways of modulating specific areas in the brain —facilitating and inhibiting a specific site– is often confusing because functions of one specific area often augment or inhibit activity in another. For example, diminishing the activity in one site might enhance the activity of another site that is ordinarily “held in check” by the first site’s actions. Many pathways and areas in the brain maintain a balance of influences on specific functions. “The Cerebral Symphony.”


ORDER from CHAOS:  the neurons are typically “on” and on the edge of chaos.  Anything useful is done by coordinating their actyivity… chaos is incredibly sensitive to slight perturbations (such as the proverbial butterfly’s wing or sensory input) and these can begin the cascade that result in PERCEPTS and CONCEPTS that REPRESENT the perturbation: a sensory input (representing the world outside of consciousness) or a chance constellation of random or accidental internal perturbations (hallucination).  Look in on Charles Bonnet Syndrome. (link)  





[i]. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster (rather than Boris Karloff’s) became a beast because he was deprived of sociality: “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy—and, when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture, such as you cannot even imagine. . . . I was nourished with high thoughts of honor and devotion.  But now vice has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. . . . “ And his vice?  His appearance invited fear and unjust rejection, shunned and unbearably lonely, the nineteen year old Shelley’s monster was born. (See Steve Gould’s “The Monster’s Human Nature” in Dinosaur in a Haystack).