A&O – CONNECTIONS

ART AND ORGANISM

Connections

A connection is a relation between two things, apparently attributable to more-or-less shared qualities or one’s influence on the state of the other.  

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“The connectedness of things is what the educator contemplates to the limit of his capacity. No human capacity is great enough to permit a vision of the world as simple, but if the educator does not aim at the vision no one else will, and the consequences are dire when no one does. . . . The student who can begin early in life to think of things as connected, even if he revises his view with every succeeding year, has begun the life of learning.” –Mark Van Doren

 

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

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BUT–what about the DEVELOPMENT of CONNECTIONS?  read about

IS there an ECOLOGY of CONNECTIONS, an EVOLUTION of CONNECTIONS?  PHYSIOLOGY (if the brain is more than just a metaphor, read on)

From the TOP-DOWN view (energized by our passion for CAUSATION),

All things seem connected. John Muir’s observation epitpmizes this view: “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” (in My First Summer in the Sierra (1911:110) (read about Muir).    (if something is not or cannot be connected, is it really a thing? – how about “black matter?”)

CONNECTIONS are our opening to the deepest meaning of “meaning” –recalling at every step that (in Mark Johnson’s phrase, “Meaning Is More Than Words and Deeper Than Concepts.”    (Mark Johnson (2007)  (in: The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (p. 1)  Read an excerpt from Johnson’s book about meaning and the body

AND ART can be the great facilitator of MEANING:  In his own words, Mark Johnson is…

“following in the footsteps of John Dewey, who argued in Art as Experience (1934) that art matters because it provides heightened, intensified, and highly integrated experiences of meaning, using all of our ordinary resources of meaning-making.  To discover how meaning works, we should turn first to gesture, social interaction, ritual, ritual, and art, and only later to linguistic communication.…  I pursue Dewey’s insight that the arts are a primary means by which we grasp, criticize, and transform meanings. … [he ends up] with the idea that philosophy will matter to people only to the extent that it is built on a visceral connection to our world.” (Johnson 2007).

Well okay, Dewey is agreeable, but art, while providing heightened and intensified experience, is not always integrated—and in fact may provoke a powerful impulse to TRY to integrate— or further integrate— experience … we need—as Aristotle put it—to know…and as the observations of Biederman, & Vessel (2006) suggest, the more complex the strands we weave into this thing called knowing, the more we stimulate the reward systems of our brain.]

The emphasis on “heightened and intensified experience” resonates with Ellen Dissanayake’s view that at its core, ART “makes special” (read an excerpt from Homo Aestheticus)  … it is  short step from here to the neuroscience of arousal and selective attention.

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The “visceral connection to the world” is also our introduction to EMBODIED COGNITION.  (minds do not work alone: look in on A&O’s page on embodied cognition); even within the mind we can compare co-constitutive structures that underlie sapience and sentience and how they are connected.



 


HOW WE THINK ABOUT CONNECTIONS. 

Of course there’s a deep BIAS to find connections between phenomena, creating a narrative that may be easier to store in memory but also can provide predictive templates.  (In our search for enhanced coherence we also seek corroboration which can lead to bias such as “the confirmation bias.”)

AND, we tend to think about physical connections: the threads holding parts of a mobile together.  BUT they are not always physical.  At least not in the direct way we think: in RESONANCE. things are connected by usually imperceptible vibrations or waves that may be mechanicalacousticelectromagnetic, and even quantum wave functions.  Our first thoughts are usually of sympathetic resonance in acoustics: the force that makes drone strings vibrate as in a sitar or zither).  In all cases, resonance seems evoked by some sort of quality that connects the sender and receiver.

IN THE BRAIN, “Short-lived, high-frequency oscillations in the brain called ripples have been implicated as substrates for memory formation.” New research has demostrated “ripple oscillations occur before successful memory retrieval” in humans. Find out more HERE (Science, this issue p. 975; see also p. 927).


 

 


In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else. We think of a dictionary as the repository of meaning, but it defines words only in terms of other words. I liked the idea that a piece of information is really defined only by what it’s related to, and how it’s related. There really is little else to meaning.  There are billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? Just cells. The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected. –Tim Berners-Lee, in Weaving The Web : The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web (1999), p. 14


“The connectedness of things” seems to point toward HOLISM, the view that systems function as wholes and that their functioning cannot be fully understood solely in terms of their component parts (Wikipedia link). This is “the idea that natural systems of all kinds[1] and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts.” Is this true or is the continual experience of connectedness an artifact of how the mind works, which as David Hume says, “connects things that are experienced together or that look alike, and generalizes to new objects according to their resemblance to known ones” (David Hume, from his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748)[2]. Dreams are no different: arguably the tiny spontaneous flickers of activations within the cortex of the sleeping brain are connected—often in fantastic ways—as we wake by the brain’s efforts to create the best possible narrative whole of the random fragments, to make this interior experience coherent. In other words, are connections the “true nature” of things or an order that is imposed upon things because it is highly adaptive in enabling us to meet our biological and psychological needs. Holism may reflect an intrinsic tendency or bias for simplifying the world. see also systems thinking.


The idea complementary to holism is reductionism, and indeed, as a reflection or projection of the processes that enable our being in the world, the complementarity of holism and reductionism may best reflect the “true” state of affairs—or at least the state that has evolved because of its effectiveness in meeting needs. We tend to think that the simplest explanation for a phenomenon or state of affairs is the simplest one.. This tendency, guided by the venerable heuristic of Occam’s Razor, lies behind the search for a grand unified theory of the universe (A&O NOTES on THEORY of EVERYTHING) (link needs repair)


BUT WAIT!  What things are not connected to each other?   What do you mean by a “thing?”


HOW DEEPLY CAN YOU DIG? Or the paleopsychology of consciousness. Dig deeply enough into any phenomenon and the connections, hidden and unsuspected, must be revealed: shared fundamentals emerge. This is also the reasoning behind the “we are stardust” philosophies of Carl Sagon, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Joni Mitchel, and The Highwaymen.[3] The deeper we dig, the more we feel encouraged by the evidence that supports the holistic bias.

And then poetry makes the great leap: “All truths wait in all things” –Walt Whitman

 

DO CONNECTION EVER END?

“It is our biological destiny to exist — and then not. Each of us eventually returns their stardust to the universe, to be constellated into some other ephemeral emissary of spacetime. Eventually, our entire species will go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo and the Romantics; eventually, our home star will live out its final moments in a wild spin before collapsing into a white dwarf, taking with it everything we have ever known — Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and the guillotine and the perfect Fibonacci sequence of the pine cone.

Meanwhile, in this blink of existence bookended by nothingness, we busy ourselves with survival and with searching for beauty, for truth, for assurance between the bookends. The feeling of that search is what we call meaning; the people who light our torches to help us see better, who transmit our discoveries from one consciousness to another, are what we call artists. Artists are also the ones who help reconcile us to the fragility that comes with our creaturely nature and strews our search with so much suffering. Suffering — biological and psychological, in private and en masse — has always accompanied our species, as it has every species. But we alone have coped by transmuting our suffering into beauty, by making symphonies and paintings and poems out of our fragility — beauty that does not justify the suffering, but does make it more bearable, does help the sufferers next to us and after us, in space and in time, suffer less, in ways the originating consciousness can never quantify in the receiving, never estimate their reach across the sweep of centuries and sufferings.”–Maria Popova’s introduction to  today-another-universe-jane-hirshfield-ledger-jasmine

 

 

It is useful to remember here that we seem wired to find maximal satisfaction in “the best story we can tell with the best evidence we have.” This is our bias for inventing or discovering COHERENCE, ONE OF THE critical qualities of cognition that participates in REALITY TESTING.  BUT the evidence is always at best a fragment of what likely exists. For example, all our theories of the physical universe from quantum through cosmic are based on about 5% of the evidence that is theoretically available—the rest is termed “dark matter” or “dark energy”.

So perhaps we are wired to dig deeply (=have a congenital disposition”): curiosity and exploration provide us with information that is adaptive: enhances our biological fitness.

  • But to return to a key question,  how deep can we go? How deep is the ocean–a metaphor for unmeasurable. [note 1]
  • What is beneath whatever is beneath us? “It’s turtles all the way down!” [note 2]
  • The deepest SELF is, arguably, at the epicenter of a set of shape-shifting concentric circles that represent to levels of organization that characterize all organisms, and self-conscious ones most poignantly

There may be no end of difficulties in thinking through connections because AMONGST the properties any pair of connected phenomenon manifests, there are simultaneous connections between different levels of organization. CONNECTIONS ARE MANIFEST WITHIN AND BETWEEN EVERY LEVEL OF ORGANIZATION. CONNECTEDNESS is so pervasive in our thinking and understanding … that it may even emerge as a candidate for “the meaning of life” –the source and the destiny. (or is this assertion an artifact of my holistic bias?)


COMMUNICATIONS: Implicit in connectedness is communications …

  • RESONANCE. Originally conceptualized in acoustics, “resonance phenomena occur with all types of vibrations or waves: there is mechanical resonanceacoustic resonanceelectromagnetic resonance, nuclear magnetic resonance(NMR), electron spin resonance (ESR) and resonance of quantum wave functions. Resonant systems can be used to generate vibrations of a specific frequency (e.g., musical instruments), or pick out specific frequencies from a complex vibration containing many frequencies (e.g., filters).” (Wikipedia on resonance)
    • The Music of the Spheres incorporates the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or “tones” of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.[1] In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum (orbital resonance) based on their orbital revolution,[2] and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.[3] Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as “twinned” studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.[4] (Wikipedia on the music of the spheres)

COLLECTING

Collecting and connecting are related. In our pursuit of connections, collecting may provide unexpected clues. Whatever is collected, they are connected by some shared attribute, if only in the mind of the collector –but that, of course, teaches as much about minds as it does about what is being collected. (See A&O notes on COLLECTING)

A COLLECTION of QUOTES ON CONNECTING


MOLECULAR

Connections at the molecular scale bring us close

to the definition of life itself!

“researchers increasingly are trying to map protein-protein interactions throughout the cell. This map of the C. elegans interaction network, or “interactome,” links 2,898 proteins (nodes) by 5,460 interactions (edges).” (reprinted by The Scientist 21 June 2004 with permission from Science, 303:540-3, 2004.) [more]


CELLULAR

Cell communication is the bedrock of function for all levels of organization above (visit). Arguably the most extraordinary function is that of consciousness, seemingly dependent upon connections between the almost incomprehensible number of neurons in our brains and their connections to the body (embodied cognition) outside world and our actions (situated cognition) . Now that cell morphology and the anatomy of brain is within reach, research is now applying major resources to the connections between neurons and seeking correlations with function.


THE HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT  

https://neilgreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/CNS-Connectome-300x225.png

The Human Connectome Project aims to provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data, an interface to graphically navigate this data and the opportunity to achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.

“The NIH Human Connectome Project is an ambitious effort to map the neural pathways that underlie human brain function. The overarching purpose of the Project is to acquire and share data about the structural and functional connectivity of the human brain. It will greatly advance the capabilities for imaging and analyzing brain connections, resulting in improved sensitivity, resolution, and utility, thereby accelerating progress in the emerging field of human connectomics.

Altogether, the Human Connectome Project will lead to major advances in our understanding of what makes us uniquely human and will set the stage for future studies of abnormal brain circuits in many neurological and psychiatric disorders.” — NIH BLUEPRINT for NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH

 

BUT WAIT! It is not just neurons!

Connections between neurons are products of evolution and of development: organisms have evolved a basic plan but it is more or less trimmed or embellished by experience. BUT neurons do not do this all by themselves—glial cells, once relegated to a minor supporting role in brain function are crucial. For example, “Astrocytes are vital for conscious thought, because they help to strengthen the connections between neurons, called synapses. Their tendrils (see image) are involved in coordinating the transmission of electrical signals across synapses.” (from New Scientist)

“Information is transmitted at synapses between neurons in the nervous system. Beyond the importance of neurons, evidence indicates that astrocytes, a type of glial cell, also contribute to information processing in the brain. Indeed, astrocytes detect neurotransmitters released during intense and sustained neuronal network activity (Fellin et al., 2004Latour et al., 2001 and Pasti et al., 1997) and, in turn, modulate synaptic transmission (Fellin et al., 2004Henneberger et al., 2010Panatier et al., 2006Pascual et al., 2005Pasti et al., 1997Perea and Araque, 2005 and Serrano et al., 2006) by releasing neuroactive substances termed gliotransmitters (e.g., purines, d-serine, and glutamate) (Halassa and Haydon, 2010 and Volterra and Meldolesi, 2005). The regulation of synapses by astrocytes is largely based on intracellular Ca2+-dependent processes and results from receptor activation, in particular, group I metabotropic glutamatergic receptors (mGluR) (Cai et al., 2000D’Ascenzo et al., 2007Fellin et al., 2004Honsek et al., 2010 and Porter and McCarthy, 1996). From this emerged the concept of the “tripartite synapse,” which proposes that glial cells are functional components of synapses (Araque et al., 1999).” (Panetier et al 2011)


Arguably, an individual’s consciousness is the nexus of all connections

We can look for connections, or connections can find us — we create them just as they create us: we look around and see how things are put together, we tinker & tweak … a little reverse engineering to see if we really understand how something is put together (and thereby take to ourselves the power of creation)

 

TEACHING and LEARNING

ALL LEARNING involves changes in behavior as a result of experience.  Sometimes change is unusually penetrating and might even be termed “TRANSFORMATIVE” and much of a nurturing teaching environment involves efforts to create the best possible TEACHABLE MOMENT.

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 The teachable moment is a rare opportunity for a transformative learning experience.  It is at such moments that inner and outer environments are aligned–in ways unique for each individual–to allow an extraordinary, unusually penetrating learning experience.   In traditional teaching we are too often and too easily satisfied by traditional metrics of successful teaching–usually memory of facts. At such times, we may neglect the higher calling of our profession: to engender meaning. [This is done by creating connections that result in course content being realized beyond mere knowing.  A realization that is owned by the student in ways that enable its creative applicability in other contexts. The difficulty is in the fact that meaning for us and for each individual student are never exactly the same. But as teachers we can launch students into the world where they can grab hold of the abstract knowledge we want them to realize by finding, in their own depths, the ties that bind content to life and foster a life of creative connections. Enabling students to do this is our self-actualization, this is our greatest legacy.”  (adapted from Chap 2 of The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning (Routledge 2019) Chap 2, p.29) 

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NEXUS

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CONNECTIONS CREATE, CONNECTIONS CHANGE (Phenomena have MEANING to the extent they are CONNECTED; they can alter the way in which cognitive processes (such as those in ART and SCIENCE) are coordinated). What about CONNECTIONS between INDIVIDUALS?

TEACHABLE MOMENTS, a PERFECT STORM: a SYNERGY of CIRCUMSTANCES that enables TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING, an EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE

CHANGE (all change involves connections and all changes in connection involve STRESS; the balance between disintegration and renewal) These have meaning to the extent they are COMMUNICATED.

COMMUNICATION (…involves CREATING CONNECTIONS within and between individuals) information must be transmitted.  When information is communicated within or between levels of organization (as in within or between individuals) and coordinated with change, learning occurs.   Communication involves transmitting and receiving information.  Sounds like “teaching” and “learning.”

TEACHING/LEARNING (learning involves coping with STRESS; resolving cognitive dissonance; error detection and correction))

TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING (some learning experiences are deeply affecting and we move from KNOWING to REALIZING)

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notes:

note 1: “How Deep Is the Ocean” –How much do I love you? / I’ll tell you no lie / How deep is the ocean? / How high is the sky?—Irving   Berlin in 1932  (Billie Holiday performance. 1954)
note 2:  Stephen Hawking  tells a story: “A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”    A nice introduction to “the infinite regress problem in cosmology posed by the “unmoved mover” paradox.”  Also represented by the Hindi noun for “nothingness” employed as Anavastha in Indian philosophy, and refers to the defect of infinite regress in any philosophical argument.” (Wikipedia