A&O Class Notes for Feb 12, 2019


notes for February 12, 2019 

(reposted April 11)


REVIEW of Feb 5

Amongst the “things which stood out” that you identified on Feb 5, were TRUTH and GESAMTKUNSTWERK.

GOOD! “Truth” leads to a core idea in A&O. Does a better understanding of our principle biological means of “reality testing” (correspondence and coherence) allow us to more fully trust our senses? Suppose our entire social group (family, community, nation, humankind) had distortions in their internal representation of the external world? Can our senses be guarded from exploitation? how can an apparent PERCEPT or CONCEPT be distinguished from a HALLUCINATION?


A significant collateral idea is that of EMBODIED COGNITION .

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

  1. WHAT STOOD OUT from last week?
  2. Word that has  interesting back-story: etymology (compare to examples last week)
  3. METAPHOR for class
  4. What is your WEEKLY WONDER? 
  5. “Cover Art” for your personal book
  6. What is the most interesting example of meeting a BIOLOGICAL NEED last week—how was it adaptive?


  • After check-in, we will open with the Jill Taylor video I may have referred to last week after someone brought up “left-brain/right-brain” ideas … so, what was Jill Bolte Taylor‘s experience after her stroke, when a cerebral bleeder interrupted the normal functions of her left hemisphere?

REVIEW LAST WEEK (Feb5)   MAP of ART says something important about using words to communicate. 

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?” 

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.      

DIAGRAM of two isolated concentric spheres communicating

But we may never be able to get what is deepest:  The skeptic Gorgias[i] 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”)

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


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.][ii] [iii]   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).

MORE 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 wordsWE 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)





TIME: About the stillpoint; the “River of Consciousness,” and “How long is NOW” (see A&O notes on TIME)


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.”

And HYPERGNOSIS (a feeling that it is “more true than true.”)


AGNOSIA: not knowing … then there is NOT KNOWING that you don’t know: read about ANOSOGNOSIA


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:

               REVIEW Jill Bolte Taylor’s STROKE of INSIGHT


     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); negative symptoms are those which most people experience but are not present or distinctly diminished (e.g., apathy)

procedure which increase activity in a specific area of the brain might be

procedures/processes which diminish activity in a specific area of the brain might be

      • local anaesthesia
      • 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…)
      • intentional exercise is avoiding stimulation


     “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.”



[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)

[ii].  “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

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

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