A&O Class Notes For February 5, 2019

A&O Class Notes – February 5, 2019

reposted in April to improved formatting 



  • WHAT STOOD OUT from last week?
  • What is your WEEKLY WONDER? 
  • What is the most interesting example of meeting a BIOLOGICAL NEED last week—how was it adaptive?

REVIEW of Feb 5:

MIND MAPS OF “ART” (that you made Jan 29):   Each map can be thought of as a DEFINITION rooted in your PERSONAL experience combined with your SHARED experience. Clearly none of us share the identical definition … what is shared and what is unique is a theme always revealed when we look carefully.

  • Someone asked, “suppose you knew something you could not share with any other person?” Would you really know it? ... so CONNECTIONS to other class themes emerge right away, such as
  • the tension between INDIVIDUATION versus SOCIALIZATION
  • “To KNOW and to be KNOWN
  • TO KNOW is a motivation (we were nicknamed “infovores”) and the pursuit of new information is now known to be pleasurable in proportion to the complexity of threads that converge on an idea.
  • internalization of caregivers and social referees (Alan Ginsburg’s “listening angels”)
  • ART is an attempt to communicate and is most affecting when it is from from the deepest part of the ARTIST to the deepest part of the AUDIENCE (“heart-to-heart“) –but it can be a two-way street, the response of the audience informing the artist. (we can ask however, is the artist in touch with their deepst selves? Knowing one’s self motivates many people (part of self-actualization?)
    • well maybe it is also communication between different levels of organization within an individual: deep ideas transferred through levels of consciousness such as preverbalization to verbalization (thinking, speaking to one’s self … to others…)
  • TRUTH? see A&O notes on TRUTH and BEAUTY …

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... 
even if it could be communicated, it would not be understood 
     --Gorgias (d.about 380 BC)
 KNOWLEDGE.  "A writer who keeps a personal diary uses it to record what he knows. In his poems and stories he sets down what he doesn't know"  observed by the Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski in his memoir[ii]

What stood out LAST week (jan 22 2019) ?  multiple Check-in points.

  • Parts & wholes
  • PERCEPTION – Senses unknown to us
  • TS Eliot
  • Dialectic
  • CHANGE-disintegration and renewal
  • SCIENCE as an artistic medium that creates HEALTH
  • Cameras in the way of really seeing
  • Always becoming—never are
  • TS Eliot-Stillpoint
  • CHANGE-disintegration and renewal
  • TIME is stressful / boundaries and limits
  • Information flow
  • Knowing/unknowing; fluid/fixed
  • Pleiotropy/polygenes
  • Sonder
  • Stimuli

TIME: “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.]

[iii] [iv]   And there is time, past, present, future … and the stillpoint in “Burnt Norton”: (worth reading, go to 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).

Returning to our personal (mind-map) “definitions” of ART that there can be  some very different meanings for the same term.  In A&O, we speak of art in a very broad way, including both the EXPRESSION of an object or experience as well as their RECEPTION.

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?  Pursued to meet a NEED other than communicating with others?   Is it a WORK of ART oran ARTIFACT … are phenomena in nature (a beautiful sunset?) “works of art?”

About WORDS.  The countless we’ve heard or read these words converges on what they mean (to us)—they have implicit meaning and you would expect them to be at least slightly different for each of us.

But each word also has more or less baggage from its etymology:  so for example,

A&O –power of words … WE TALKED ABOUT WORDS: here are a couple that remind you to use them with insight as to their meaning, because implicit meaning is likely to come through:  e.g.

  • ENTHUSIASM (early 17th century (in enthusiasm (sense 2)): from French enthousiasme, or via late Latin from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthous ‘possessed by a god, inspired’ (based on theos ‘god’) (link);
  • AMATEUR (late 18th century: from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator‘ lover’, from amare ‘to love’. To act from love, not for money) (link)
  • SAUNTER (  ) Muir: “I don’t like the word hike. I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”  This fits Thoreau’s view: “derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre”; but Muir and Thoreau are minority views—it can also mean “homeless,” but maybe also “at home anywhere” (Wiktionary & discussion)

SO, about words–some have unusual power to communicate thoughts and feelings beyond mere definitions: we only touch on LINGUISTICS briefly (although arguably we have cut to its core with what we’re discussing) … You might want to check in on ideas about IDEOPHONES (words that evoke feelings because of how they sound when uttered). A nice essay that describes great ideophones but also uses them to argue for a theory of the evolution of language is by David Robson in AEON: “Words as Feelings”. Another important idea is the extent to which the gender connected to a noun affects its extended meaning: an idea researched by Lera Boroditsky and described nicely in her TED talkhow language shapes the way we think?

[i] Along with Protagoras was Gorgias (c.485-c.380 B.C.E.), another sophist whose namesake became the title of a Platonic dialogue. … His most well-known work is On NatureOr On What-Is-Not wherein he, contrary to Eleatic philosophy, sets out to show that neither being nor non-being is, and that even if there were anything, it could be neither known nor spoken.  Finally, Gorgias proclaims that even if existence could be apprehended, “it would be incapable of being conveyed to another” (B3.83). This is because what we reveal to another is not an external substance, but is merely logos  … . Logos is not “substances and existing things” (B3.84). External reality becomes the revealer of logos (B3.85); while we can know logos, we cannot apprehend things directly. … the [mental] representation is different than the thing itself. In its summation, this nihilistic argument becomes a “trilemma” (quoted).

I adapted it for A&O class: Nothing exists! … Even if it did exist, it could not be known … Even if it could be known, it could not be communicated … Even if it could be communicated, it would not be understood

[ii] Quoted by Charles Simac’s review of Without End: New and Selected Poems and Another Beauty  by Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish … in NYRB   Volume 49, Number 8 · May 9, 2002

[iii].  “Robert Frost, in the preface to his Complete Poems ( 1949 ), defined a poem as “a momentary stay against confusion” and defined poetry as an artistic medium which reflects stability and permanence encompassed by the moment of the poem. In his own work, he wanted to preserve his most common poetic subjectsCCthe fading New England country life and dialect, and rural landscapes and historyCCby fixing them indelibly in an immortal poetry, for Frost always retained something of the notions his mother taught him as a child: that a creative act is one inspired by God, that the impulse to write is divine, and that poetry could express dimensions of immortality. When he matured as a poet, Frost relied on Emerson’s thoughts regarding the “godly artist” to corroborate his mother’s teaching; later still, when asked to introduce the anthology New Poets of England and America (1957), America’s foremost poet alluded to his early belief that poets enter a meditative “state of grace” while composing.”  From “The Enduring Robert Frost,” By Samuel Maio (first published in The Formalist, 1990).

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshness;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is…
– T.S. Elliot, Four Quarters

[iv]. From Seldes’s  The Great Thoughts p 223

February 5, 2019. By now you may think (with some justification) that our seminar is like a giant mystery game in which you receive seemingly random clues and use your own experiences and resources to create a coherent narrative –sometimes the story is clear and suddenly there’s a bit of new evidence that changes everything.  I’m asking you (as every artist and scientist is asked) to tell the best story you can with the best evidence you have.

Today, after check-in, lets have as much clarity as possible about NEEDS and how they drive ADAPTATION and its relationship to EVOLUTION.

·        NEEDS” – WE have translated Maslow’s need hierarchy, famous in humanistic psychology into biological terms.  There are five of them and they weave though all DEEP ETHOLOGY and at every LEVEL OF ORGANIZATION:

·         ADAPTIVE – referring to an identifiable trait (again, at every LEVEL OF ORGANIZATION), that helps an organism COPE with change in its internal or external environments that affect NEEDS.  Important in all of DEEP ETHOLOGY with special emphasis in PSYCHOLOGY and EVOLUTION (! And in an EVOLUTIONARY sense, may have helped our ancestors cope or we might not be here)

·        LEARNING is short-term adaptation in that it copes with environmental (or internal bodily) change. [dissonance reduction by means of assimilation or accommodation]  One of our particular gifts is LEARNING (all organisms LEARN – they change their behavior as a result of experience —  Do CELLS learn? –if so, how?

o   DIVERSITY In ways of meeting NEEDS:  for example, learning styles of humans (at least WEIRD humans) can be characterized by the “Learning Style Inventory” (LSI):  Link to A&O notes on the LSI

 OUTSIDER ART   The great 19th century French author, Emile Zola said “Art is a fragment of nature seen through a temperament.” –if temperemnet (personality?) is the outcome of a delicately balanced assemblage of processes, what happens when that balance is upset (or reconfigured)?

“Sonal Khedkar, a co-chair of Brain Awareness Week for the Advancement of Neuroscience Club visited class to recruit interest in this year’s project:  They will host a variety of events throughout the month of March, including an Art Gallery exhibition starting on Monday, March 19, 2018. We would like this gallery to include mainly student work as a showcase of creativity on our campus. The main goal of the gallery is to obtain an individual perspective of what Neuroscience means to each individual–this can manifest in many ways and there is no limit on the forms this can take! Some examples include: depiction of the brain, drug addiction, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia etc.).


Build on NEEDS:   Connect INDIVIDUATION (contrasted with SOCIALIZATION) to NEEDS  Then   You need to know about the NEED to KNOW!  

·             OF COURSE we are all individuals with unique endowments of genes (and selective attention to memes) but HOW MUCH OF WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE IS ACTUALLY YOU?  Look into the A&O website on SELF

·        WHEN we spoke of “what is NORMAL” I mentioned the mantra of information flow: INPUT « INTEGRATION « OUTPUT

·        Oliver Sacks (again):  “every pathological malady of the mind is a complex clinical extreme of a core human tendency that inheres in each of our minds in tamer degrees. By magnifying basic tendencies to such extraordinary extremes, clinical cases offer a singular lens on how the ordinary mind works…”  This is related to SHADOW SYNDROMES (not mentioned in class but worth a look: link)

·        I identified clinical terms for INPUT and OUTPUT disorders (which might be secondary to INTEGRATIVE problems): RECEPTIVE problems (aphasias, with respect to language) or EXPRESSIVE problems  (apraxias)

We could select MUSIC as the medium for art that we can look at more closely:

o   Do we hear with more than our ears?  Read this Aeon essay: “Getting in the Groove”  and then read Walt Whitman’s meditation on whether music might be the “purest and profoundest expression of nature” at BrainPickings : (link to Walt Whitman on Beethoven)

o   RESONANCE: associated with music but SO much more: is it the inmost dimension of MUSIC that as a process reaches most deeply into my SELF?

During check-in, YOU have identified a piece of music or a genre of music that (presumably) has affected you:  But say more about that!  When? Where? How did it make you feel? Some science: DESCRIBE the music (key, cadence, etc) Then describe a specific episode it in developmental, ecological, evolutionary, and physiological terms (That is (for example), how old were you? Where were you? Are there memes involved? Did you experience heart pounding, hyperactivity, anxiolysis, frisson?)