A&O – CONNECTIONS between INDIVIDUALS

ART AND ORGANISM

Connections

between individuals

 

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.  

 “…painting, that is to say the material thing called painting [is] no more than the pretext, than the bridge between the mind of the painter and that of the spectator.”–“Eugene Delacroix (1850)

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“Art is an act of communication within and between individuals.”

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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[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.  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.[3] The deeper we dig, the more we feel encouraged by the evidence that supports the holistic bias.

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And then poetry makes the great leap:

All truths wait in all things” –Walt Whitman

 

DO CONNECTION EVER END?

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?)

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(review John Muir’s observation that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” (at A&O notes on CONNECTIONS) …  and then look again at the A&O notes attending Whitman’s line, All truths wait in all things

 

 

 


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 compassion

sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

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

Definition of sympathy

1aan affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other

bmutual or parallel susceptibility or a condition brought about by it

cunity or harmony in action or effect

2ainclination to think or feel alike emotional or intellectual accord

bfeeling of loyalty tendency to favor or support

3athe act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another

bthe feeling or mental state brought about by such sensitivity

4the correlation existing between bodies capable of communicating their vibrational energy to one another through some medium   [here I often speak of “resonance”]

 

Sympathy vs. Empathy

“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, “Compassion 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.”  

 

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“The man, the art, the work–it is all one.”

(Eugen Herrigel, Zen and the Art of Archery)

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Lovely, but I’m a skeptic … such unity is unlikely to succeed, but the attempt is everything. Remember Browning? “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp…”) .

 

 

DEVELOPMENT.  Imitation may begin very early, but THEORY of MIND is an interesting landmark closely connected to brain development.  (Quick overview of neural mechanisms)

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.    

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF A THEORY OF MIND  (I’ve condensed the excerpt and added the boldface emphasis)

“A Good Read

Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires. The currently predominant view is that literary fiction—often described as narratives that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects’ inner feelings and thoughts—can be linked to theory of mind processes, especially those that are involved in the understanding or simulation of the affective characteristics of the subjects. Kidd and Castano (p. 377, published online 3 October) provide experimental evidence that reading passages of literary fiction, in comparison to nonfiction or popular fiction, does indeed enhance the reader’s performance on theory of mind tasks.

Abstract

Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM and cognitive ToM compared with reading nonfiction, popular fiction, or nothing at all.  Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagement with works of art.

The capacity to identify and understand others’ subjective states is one of the most stunning products of human evolution. It allows successful navigation of complex social relationships and helps to support the empathic responses that maintain them. Deficits in this set of abilities, commonly referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM), are associated with psychopathologies marked by interpersonal difficulties. Even when the ability is intact, disengagement of ToM has been linked to the breakdown of positive interpersonal and intergroup relationships.

Researchers have distinguished between affective ToM (the ability to detect and understand others’ emotions) and cognitive ToM (the inference and representation of others’ beliefs and intentions). The affective component of ToM, in particular, is linked to empathy (positively) and antisocial behavior (negatively). It is thus not surprising that we foster ToM in our children by having them attend to the emotional states of others: “Do you think he is happy or sad as a consequence of your action?” Such explicit encouragements to understand others usually diminish when children appear to skillfully and empathically engage in interpersonal relationships. Cultural practices, though, may function to promote and refine interpersonal sensitivity throughout our lives. One such practice is reading fiction.

Familiarity with fiction, self-reported empathy, and performance on an advanced affective ToM test have been correlated, and limited experimental evidence suggests that reading fiction increases self-reported empathy . Fiction seems also to expand our knowledge of others’ lives, helping us recognize our similarity to them. Although fiction may explicitly convey social values and reduce the strangeness of others, the observed relation between familiarity with fiction and ToM may be due to more subtle characteristics of the text. That is, fiction may change how, not just what, people think about others. We submit that fiction affects ToM processes because it forces us to engage in mind-reading and character construction. Not any kind of fiction achieves that, though. Our proposal is that it is literary fiction that forces the reader to engage in ToM processes.”

(READ the complete article:  Kidd and Castano (2013): Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind in SCIENCE 18 Oct 2013:377-380 )

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Considering the converging internal (ontogenetic) and external (environmental) developmental phenomena that converge, understanding faulty development may be important in understanding sociopathy (link)

 

 

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“The man, the art, the work–it is all one.”

(Eugen Herrigel, Zen and the Art of Archery)

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Lovely, but I’m a skeptic … such unity is unlikely to succeed, but the attempt is everything. Remember Browning? “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp…”) .

 

 

 

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…  

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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)

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  consider the BORG… an imaginative description of the HIVE MIND

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NEXUS.

  • CONNECTIONS between INDIVIDUALS
  • 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)
  • CHANGE (all change involves connections and all changes in connection involve STRESS; the balance between disintegration and renewal) These have meaning ti 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)