ART AND ORGANISM
“Art is an act of communication within and between individuals.”
In the A&O notes on CONNECTIONS, we read that 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” (1911) .
- FURTHER, it seems that 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)
- As pointed out in CONNECTIONS notes, there is a “visceral connection to the world” –an idea that opens on to EMBODIED COGNITION. Percepts and concepts are not simply defined by their connections … but there is the issue of defining one’s self? NOW we are nibbling on the problem of CONNECTEDNESS to OTHER SELVES.
“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 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). 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. I suspect every percept is thus co-constituted. We tend to think that the best 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?”
Our A&O notes on CONNECTIONS also asked, “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. 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
Earlier notes on CONNECTIONS introduced THE HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT –all about the massive undertaking of defining the connections within the human brain … But I confess that when I first saw the phrase, I thought of how HUMANS are CONNECTED TO EACH OTHER.
Which brings us to the huge issues of how and why we connect to each other–from parents to partners, neighbors to foreigners to alien species, we often seek connection. Perhaps we build on dispositions-congenital cognitive tendencies to maximize our own prospects BUT in the light of INDIVIDUATION and SOCIALIZATION–a tension that begins at conception and engages growth, disintegration, and renewal in cycles of change that persist all our lives.
THESE lines of thinking bring us inevitably to considerations of how we — our individual consciousness — is connected to others. The reductionist component of our thinking brings to mine “MIRROR NEURONS”–a phenomenon that is energizing thinking about imitation and connectedness between individuals at nonconscious levels since the 1980’s (See Ramchandran’s TED talk on the topic and thenthe Wikipedia entry on mirror neurons will bootstrap deeper inquiry)
ART & ORGANISM: All our notes and musings bear on the this page’s epigraph by Eugene Delacroix: it says, in essence, that ART CONNECTS MINDS. And now we can appreciate the larger meanings of the ideas of SYMPATHY and COMPASSION and EMPATHY–our experiences of others and what they imply for us…for each other.
Definition of empathy:
1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner also : the capacity for this
2: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
“Sympathy and empathy are closely related words, bound by shared origins and the similar circumstances in which each is applicable, yet they are not synonymous. For one thing, sympathy is considerably older than empathy, having existed in our language for several hundred years before its cousin was introduced, and its greater age is reflected in a wider breadth of meaning. Sympathy may refer to “feelings of loyalty” or “unity or harmony in action or effect,” meanings not shared by empathy. In the contexts where the two words do overlap, sympathy implies sharing (or having the capacity to share) the feelings of another, while empathy tends to be used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that one does not actually have.
In general, “ is the broader word: it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain:
INTERESTING ANGLE: one of the meanings of EMPATHY (above) is “the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.” But also in some states of consciousness I believe that artists attempt to merge with their topics–, pursue their spirit, imagine how their subjects “feel.”
Theory of mind is usually thought of as one’s ability to take the cognitive perspective of another individual–to the extent inference about another person’s state of mind is possible, this ability is first manifest early in child development. It is often compared to emotional perspective-taking–empathy.
Amongst the influences on development, ART is arguably very potent. Kidd and Castano (2013; see excerpt in box below) make a case for the importance of literary fiction.
Considering the converging internal (ontogenetic) and external (environmental) developmental phenomena that converge, understanding faulty development may be important in understanding sociopathy (link)
TEACHING and LEARNING.
Connections beyond individuals and their care-givers and social referees that are of special interest to me are TEACHING and LEARNING. I believe we teach ourselves first, then look to examples to IMITATE –hopefully good examples provided by caregivers … but many caregivers are eager for their charges to surpass them (arguably an element of biological fitness) … and then we deliberately learn from others–social referees and teachers/mentors/guides…
Much learning from others in incidental–inadvertant, serindipitous. But sometimes we seek out other individuals (infants look to their social referees; adults look to critics). Sometimes we are sought (teachers motivated to attract and hold students). The motivation (or absence thereof) to be available as a model or teacher varies greatly (see Greenberg 2007)