“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


’Tis education forms the common mind,  Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.

Alexander Pope

Change is a “Maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal.” Marshall Berman


“The adaptive process is one of continuous assimilation of internally mediated consequences of the organism’s action on the environment and the resulting accommodation of these action schemes into the previously formed structure” (Piaget 1980)


The INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY of BEHAVIOR involves the coordinated activities of four broad areas (as biologists study them): DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY and how they are brought to bear on BEHAVIOR (“DEEP ETHOLOGY”


DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY is concerned with the changes that an organism undergoes throughout its lifespan — the form of cells (morphogenesis), their progressive expression of more specific processes (differentiation) and their integration with other cells. Ultimately, “genotype” (and all the pleiotropic genes therein) manifests as “phenotype” (and all the polygenic traits manifest)  –that is, the latent potential of genes has guided the manifest structure and function of the cell.  Cells are created and destroyed throughout development: while progressive growth seems to dominate our view, programmed cell death (“apoptosis“) or regression is also important: many cells develop and function in a temporary manner (think of scaffolding as a temporary structure enabling the construction of something else).   (for example, the web of tissue between fingers and toes dies as those structures mature and the programmed death of excessive neurons and “pruning of synapses” in the developing brain is crucial for healthy development) 

The brain–final pathway for all expressions of cognitive processes, sentience, sapience, and all actions–preoccupies us:

“Brain development is a protracted process that begins about 2 weeks after conception and continues into young adulthood 20 years later. Brain development that occurs during the prenatal months is largely under genetic control, although clearly the environment can play a role; for example, it is well known that the lack of nutrition (e.g., folic acid) and the presence of toxins (e.g., alcohol) can both deleteriously influence the developing brain. In contrast, much of brain development that occurs postnatally is experience-dependent and defined by gene–environment interactions.”

But we most remain mindful that the brain works closely with the body (“embodied cognition“) and even with elements of the world we have constructed (“extended cognition“).

  • The Butterfly in the Brain”  You have likely heard of the “butterfly effect”— the dependence of the current state on a very small change in a previous state.  In other words, small changes can cascade and be amplified in subsequent states.  In recent years, partly considering the interplay of  nature and nurture, after the relatively small contribution of genetics to subsequent behavior in humans (see about the science of individuality),  Geneticists such as Robert Plomin at King’s College London argue that much of the remaining variation is the result of chance events as our brains develop in the uterus. As [neuroscientist David] Linden* puts it: “The wiring diagram of the human brain is so enormous and complicated that it cannot be specified exactly in the sequence of an individual’s DNA. Subtle random changes in the position or movement of cells within the developing nervous system can cascade through time to produce important differences in neural wiring and function.” (read about this idea in context in a book review of Unique in newscientist

*(David Linden is author of Unique: The new science of human individuality; reviewed in New Scientist, 12 Dec 2020.)



RESOLUTION of Change. It is significant that developmental change is typically studied by comparing “snapshots” of change, not the processes of progress.  The “real” process is usually inferred.  But this is changing thanks to new thinking about levels of temporal resolution.  For example, the “microgenetic method” as applied (for example) to cognitive development.  Siegler & Crowley (1991) observe that the most direct method would speak to “… not whether the design is longitudinal, but rather is the density of observations during the period of change relative to the rate of change of the phenomenon.” (p606). (read the entire essay from American Psychologist: Research Gate copy)


Watch a single cell develop into an embryo

Similar & still amazing: SQUID coming to life


About a specific trait, you might ask, “when is the trait first expressed?  how does its expression change as the organism matures? how does the developing organism and its environment interact? There is genetically programmed development — but the developmental path is always more or less open to environmental influence, even as the environment changes as a result of the changes in the developing organism.  Easily modified genetic “programmes” (sequences of activation) are often called “open” genetic programmes while those more resistant to environmental influence are “closed programmes.  The degree of openness (or closedness) are themselves open to developmental and evolutionary modification.  [see the DEEP ETHOLOGY GLOSSARY entry for EPIGENESIS also experiences of one generation can affect subsequent generations by transmitting DNA altered in a way that affects offspring by selectively impairing or enabling the activity of specific genes–an EVOLUTIONARY phenomenon: look in on the DEEP ETHOLOGY NOTES for epigenesis].

OK, so every experience has more-or-less lasting effects — is essentially a communications within and between various levels of organization–and like all communications succeeds (or fails) depending on the sender, the medium, and the receiver.  An an effect, if any any, can change the receiver as well as possessing continuing influences–ripples that may not have its full effect until a later time (“some day you’ll be old enough to understand this”) 

Now read an excerpt from Rene Dubos essay on  the Lasting Effects of Early Influences

(an aside about TRAITS: they are distinctive “manifest morphological or behavioral attributes of an organism.” A trait can be observed, described, and defined; it is a variable in the life of the organism as it presents itself to natural selection.  “TRAIT” can be described at every level of organization from biochemistry and physiological to social and ecological. The organism possesses millions of trait, hierarchically organized and more-or-less interconnected. See the DEEP ETHOLOGY GLOSSARY entry for TRAITS  https://neilgreenberg.utk.edu/Pages/Glossaries/ethological.aspx#T )

The outcome of this interaction of genes and the environment is an organism that is more or less susceptible to ongoing change at different ages.  Experience is key and one of the most powerful dimensions of this is learning!  [specific concepts in development as it applies to A&O (link needs repair)].  What we can learn and how we learn it changes as we change.  Some of these are more notable than others because the rate of change is also a distinctive variable.  For example, the dramatic changes in brain connectivity (synaptic pruning) at specific stages in development and the changes in adult brains such as …  and adult neurogenesis. (read more)


Particularly dramatic changes (metamorphosis) have inspired many of the greatest narrative efforts in humankind’s efforts to understand change.


(Particularly dramatic changes have inspired many of the greatest narrative efforts in humankind’s efforts to understand change: A relatively sudden change—metamorphosis  is particularly dramatic and deserves extensive development—as a trope in art and a phenomenon in biology it needs a good “history of an idea” essay (Wikipedia is a good place to start).


The changes humans undergo are relatively predictable, following a programmed morphogenesis which can, nevertheless, be reprogrammed depending on experience—a congenital disposition to imitate, learning, training, upbringing.  

“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.” –Henry James , Partial Portraits (1888) “The Art of Fiction”
We “collect” experience … categorize & recall … all in the stirred in the”womb (or cauldron) of pia mater” …  collecting, selecting … it is what we do … who we become.  see Collecting

Teaching and learning









































Development of powers of expression follow a predictable but not inflexible trajectory.  They track, in many respects the development of powers of sensation and perception. 

Ultimately, the countless and often unpredictable experiences of the developing organism, interacting with the congenital competences and potential brought to the situation by the organism, create a unique consciousness.  The term Umwelt used by von Uexküll is a convenient way to refer to the unique sensory world of a specific organism or species. 

This uniqueness affects immense ongoing efforts in philosophy as well as psychology:  The inner world created by the sensory world is almost inaccessible not only to others but to ourselves — the pursuit of self-knowledge is not trivial (indeed it is the preoccupation if not obsession of many of us).  In this pursuit, feedback from the consequences of our efforts to convey our discoveries about ourselves (and about others as they are represented within us) is essential. 

Our senses are activated before we are born, and we begin accumulating experiences that structure our brains quite early.  And “as the twig is bent . . . ” according  to the old expression, our competences develop.


 Thomas Wolfe’s evocation of these earlest moments in Look Homeward, Angel


A&O spends much of its time considering these experiences and their interaction with congenital dispositions.  Artists and scientists continue to invest effort in attention to details of their environments, experiences of them, both sensual and intellectual, and their implications.    Like the predictable changes in child development (Piaget’s “stages,” for example), the habits of artists and scientists follow patterns that seem to track the changing abilities (with biological development) and life experiences.




BRAIN and BEHAVIOR:  Neuroplasticity enables behavioral plasticity: the play of congenital, integrative, and expressive behavior in a specific enabling and responsive cellular, organismic, and social ENVIRONMENT is the central DEVELOPMENTAL and PHYSIOLOGICAL basis of behavior (more on neuroplasticity):

 Art can be regarded as a punctuation mark in an unfolding narrative that is the life of the artist.    Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “It is known that Whistler when asked how long it took him to paint one of his “nocturnes” answered: “All of my life.” With the same rigor he could have said that all of the centuries that preceded the moment when he painted were necessary. From that correct application of the law of causality it follows that the slightest event presupposes the inconceivable universe and, conversely, that the universe needs even the slightest of events. (“Gauchesque Poetry” (La poesía gauchesca) in Discussion 1932)



The BRAIN CHANGES THROUGHOUT DEVELOPMENT… at any moment its ADAPTIVE STATE represents the outcome of thousands of generations of natural selection and the entirety of an individual’s experience.  

Given this history of EVOLUTIONARY (congenital) and DEVELOPMENTAL (acquired) CHANGE, the brain effectively provides the best possible accommodation for whatever circumstances at that moment it may find itself in.  It is fair to think of the brain the way Heraclitus (as quoted by Plato) considered the river: “Everything changes and nothing stands still … You could not step twice into the same river.”

Evolutionary change is often termed “nature” to contrast it with developmental change, “nurture.” (or genes (inherited from parents) and memes (acquired from experience))

“Every acquired reaction is,” as William James put it, “as a rule, either a complication grafted on a native reaction, or a substitute for a native reaction which the same object originally tended to provoke.” (William James, TALKS TO TEACHERS: Native Reactions and Acquired Reactions;   p. 20).


RECEPTION, INTEGRATION, EXPRESSION.   This Jamesian approach to nature/nurture  is part of the reasoning for understanding real or potential changes in the activities of neural centers throughout development as a kind of enabling or constraining what receptive, integrative, or expressive behavioral correlates are possible.  (Reception, integration, and expression, refer to the relationship of the brain (or a particular part of the brain) to stimuli:  received  from outside, integrated with other parts of the brain or stimuli from other sources as represented in the brain, and the expression of these processes, especially actions that are a consequence” –from A&O class notes)

EMBODIED COGNITION.   The brain is not the only receptive structure –many stimuli are detected first by the body.  The state of the body, perpetually monitored by the brain can be integrated into potential responses. (see EP&E notes on EMBODIED COGNITION).


Progressive change within individuals also involve:

  • “Epigenesis”—Our  “genetic program” interacts with specific stimuli in the environment, energizing (or suppressing) specific genes. (more)
  • “Social Constructivism”—As social organisms we are part of one another’s  environment.  A startling example of this is seen in the function of relatively recently discovered MIRROR NEURONS.
  • Imitation
  • “Social referencing”—trusted “caregivers” resolve and focus ambiguous feelings. But this can be extended to a trust in the views of “more knowledgable others” (MKO’s) throughout life: spiritual advisors, critics… (see Vygotsky on the idea of MKO)


Maturation.   The artist’s work—or the expression of any expert—can be appreciated in terms of changes, partly purely developmental—throughout maturation the brain changes, sense organs change and their access to stimuli change.  Organisms can control some, but not all, of the processes in play.  For example, we can control—intentionally or not—input, the stimuli surrounding us, as well as its integration.  Think of an athlete (—a golfer, a gymnast, a weight lifter—) or a performer(—an actor, a comedian, someone being interviewed for a job—) and the value of preparation, selective attention, state of mind can be more fully appreciated.  The internalizing and automatizing of these cognitive functions enables you to cultivate other functions that participate in future expressions. 



CHANGE is the essence of LIFE

CHANGE is experienced at many levels of organization from basic biology to a culturally embedded existential experience

we may thnk of it as “A maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal” and in relation to the “stillpoint,”

BUT we live with the loss & replacement of billions of cells in our own bodies?

(see infographic excerpt from Scientific American)

then consider the paradox of The Ship of Theseus (a problem discussed since 500 BC in the metaphysics of identity: “if an an object that has had all of its components replaced over time is it the   same object?” (even the youngest Star Trek fans consider the implications of the transporter)

see complete note with connections: development-disintegration-renewal-and-the-ship-of-Theseus/

EXAMPLE males and females internalizing perceptions and expectations:

The complexities of human DEVELOPMENT in cultural context is possibly most dramatically manifest in the differences between the sexes.   As individuals passively or actively imitate those around them or are in certain circumstances guided by social referencing (see A&O notes on DEVELOPMENT).

Simone De Beauvoir’s views (as explicated in Elaine Blair 2019[i])  argued “…that the human consciousness housed in a female body in twentieth-century France is, in certain consistent ways, checked from early childhood in its attempts to project and to act, and is instead pressed to identify with perspectives other than its own—to perceive itself from the outside.

Beauvoir’s notion is akin to W.E.B. Du Bois’s racial double consciousness, the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” that he had described forty-five years earlier in The Souls of Black Folk. Beauvoir’s was the first attempt to show how consciousness of one’s lower status, of one’s deviance from the norm, can affect women. Though earlier thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had made the case for women’s rights, Beauvoir went beyond advocacy: her deep study of the philosophy, psychology, and history of female alterity opened up entirely new channels of thought. With The Second Sex, the modern feminist polemic was born.” (p.40) … 

The second volume of The Second SexLived Experience, follows woman through all the phases of life, from childhood through old age. The intimacy Beauvoir achieves on the page is sometimes startling. “During the first three or four years of life,” she writes in a chapter called “Childhood,” “there is no difference between girls’ and boys’ attitudes…boys are just as desirous as their sisters to please, to be smiled at, to be admired.” But soon, boys are pushed toward emotional independence, a process that may look—and feel—harsh:

Little by little boys are the ones who are denied kisses and caresses, the little girl continues to be doted upon, she is allowed to hide beneath her mother’s skirts, her father takes her on his knees and pats her hair.

But “if the boy at first seems less favored than his sisters, it is because there are greater designs for him.”

The girl, meanwhile, is headed for a fall: When her acquaintances, studies, amusements, and reading material tear her away from the maternal circle, she realizes that it is not women but men who are the masters of the world….  This is, of course, a portrait of the educated, professional man’s daughter.”


[i] Elaine Blair (2019) “A Woman’s Work.” Review essay of Becoming Beauvoir: A Lifehttps://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thneyoreofbo-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1350047171 by Kate Kirkpatrick and Diary of a Philosophy Student, Volume 2, 1928–29, https://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thneyoreofbo-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0252042549by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Barbara Klaw et al., translated from the French by Barbara Klaw  (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/11/07/simone-de-beauvoir-womans-work/ )


DEVELOPMENT of ART  of PLAY? [link needs repair]

HOW IS DEVELOPMENT CONTROLLED?  “The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms. “ (Oscar Wilde “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review London, Feb. 1891)


Development is always a balance of biological development and experience.  and can be expected to affect communications.  In endocrinology, cells sensitive to stimuli that evoke hormone-secretion can be said to be “prepared” for this function by prior exposure to the activating stimuli (an “organizing” effect).  The responsiveness will then be there –it has been organized–  all that is needed for the hormone-secereting cells to play their role is the stimulus, which may not be presented to them for many years.


The effectiveness of any particular bit of information received is highly contingent on (one’s mind) being in the right place at the right time

 “In most lives insight has been accidental.  We wait for it as primitive man awaited lightning for a fire.” (Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy , quoted by Rico, 1983:35)

 Recall the adage, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.”  Well, often the teacher is often always there.  Countless observers of the creative process, of genius, have noted that a particular gift is often recognizing the significance of something never noticed or appreciated before.



As with all living tissues, neuronal tissue and the organs constituted therefrom CHANGES THROUGHOUT DEVELOPMENT… at any moment its ADAPTIVE STATE represents the outcome of thousands of generations of natural selection and the entirety of an individual’s experience.  

Given this history of EVOLUTIONARY (congenital) and DEVELOPMENTAL (acquired) CHANGE, the brain effectively provides the best possible accommodation for whatever circumstances at that moment it may find itself in.  It is fair to think of the brain the way Heraclitus (as quoted by Plato) considered the river: Everything changes and nothing stands still … You could not step twice into the same river.”

It is interesting to compare this with another great metaphor: Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits … A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective lifeAs the brain-changes are continuous, so do all these consciousnesses melt into each other like dissolving views. Properly they are but one protracted consciousness, one unbroken stream. (William James, 1890)



    • RECEPTION, INTEGRATION, EXPRESSION.   This Jamesian approach to nature/nurture  is part of the reasoning for understanding real or potential changes in the activities of neural centers throughout development as a kind of enabling or constraining what receptive, integrative, or expressive behavioral correlates are possible.  (Reception, integration, and expression, refer to the relationship of the brain (or a particular part of the brain) to stimuli:  received  from outside, integrated with other parts of the brain or stimuli from other sources as represented in the brain, and the expression of these processes, especially actions that are a consequence” –from A&O class notes)
    • EMBODIED COGNITION.   The brain is not the only receptive structure –many stimuli are detected first by the body.  The state of the body, perpetually monitored by the brain can be integrated into potential responses. (see EP&E notes on EMBODIED COGNITION). 
  • HOMEOSTASIS.   When we view the outcome all the processes in play, the perpetual reconfiguring of a multiplicity of influences on expression—not just the brain and body, but each part of the brain and the body—the uniqueness of anyone’s expression seems inevitable.   It is dynamic  in that every part is in motion and articulates through more-or-less direct pathways with every other part.  The physiologist’s term for the dynamic balance of multiple systems is homeostasis, and this term is appropriate for any delicately balanced system.  It is often used in reference to the ecosystem.   





“Highly active in the brains of infants are the occipital cortex, in the rear of the brain, which guides attention to the visual world, and the parietal cortex, which helps one adjust to new events. It’s not surprising to learn that magnetic imaging shows both these cortices light up in adults while they are engrossed in watching a movie (at the same time, the prefrontal lobe goes dormant). The suspension of disbelief and the swift orientation to a passively received bombardment of unexpected visual stimuli may approximate aspects of the infant’s state of being.  

Gopnik speculates that early childhood prepares us for both the appreciation and creation of art: imaginary play among children hones the ability to entertain counterfactuals—the alternative worlds out of which art, and invention of any sort, are primarily made. It requires discipline to stay in the imaginary role one has assumed, to project psychologically what it means to be a mother, a firefighter, a soldier, a prisoner. If it doesn’t feel real, the game falls apart. Imaginary play is a rehearsal for understanding the minds and intentions of others, a basic survival skill.

These are far-reaching claims, but Gopnik makes a good, and sometimes impassioned, case for them. Almost all of the 100 billion neurons in a human being’s nervous system are in place at birth, and in early childhood the synapses—the points of contact between neurons that fire memory and sensation—are vastly overproduced. To a large extent, maturity is a neural pruning process, an uncluttering of consciousness so that what is most useful for getting through a day—driving to work, for instance, or negotiating the supermarket—is readily, and unconsciously, available. Our lives are far more organized around repetition than novelty. Less useful neurons weaken and die, a form of forgetting.

Gopnik reminds us that, to accommodate their rapidly shifting attention, babies’ brains generate enormous amounts of cholinergic neurotransmitters, which are released to different parts of the brain as they process specific information. For anesthetics to be effective they must act on these transmitters, which may explain the relatively high concentration of anesthesia babies require to be knocked out before surgery. Gopnik offers the captivating idea that children are more conscious than adults but also less unconscious, because they have fewer automatic behaviors.”


FROM: ‘What Babies Know and We Don’t” by Michael Greenberg (2010) essay review of “The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life” by Alison Gopnik in NYRB   Volume 57, Number 4 · March 11, 2010   http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/mar/11/what-babies-know-and-we-dont/   http://www.nybooks.com/authors/14834                        



[link needs repair]

PLAY: The DEEP ethology of play emerged from the study of development with detailed descriptions by a master ethologist (Gordon Burghardt) in multiple contexts that implied developmental and evolutionary connections as well as physiology.  The ART & ORGANISM seminar (2021) was joined by Dr. Burghardt for a session:  [drop box VIDEO of Dr. Burghardt’s presentation, including Power Point, from March 16, 2021]  coordinate your watching with the video: “THE POWER OF PLAY” .

(This video is available with a University sign-in.  If you are not affiliated with UT and have Amazon Prime, it is free through Amazon Prime Video: https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B089NTYCFB/ref=atv_dl_rdr?autoplay=1 ; If you have a VPN that can be set to Canada. you may be able to view it from CBC:  https://gem.cbc.ca/media/the-nature-of-things/season-58/episode-12/38e815a-01033501556)


PLAY and ART: which came first? another attempt to dichotomize a unity (from whence this bias in disposition?).  ART and it’s simplest is MAKING SPECIAL (Dissanayake) and PLAY is CURIOSITY and EXPLORATION, by which objects may be found to deserve special attention.  (See The Beast at Play: The Neuroethology of Creativity (Greenberg 2004)


IF EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING ELSE,  EVERYTHING CHANGES in RELATION to EVERYTHING ELSE … our great task is to capitalize on strengths and weakness, directness and circuities of our connections.


Neuronote: it is the contiguity and overlap of neurons and their fields that are responsible for memory

The easiest conceptually (albeit most challenging in detail) is “DIALECTICAL CHANGE:    Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves.   These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration” (Levins and Lewontin 1985:3)





Role models are important, social referees are important, but moderation in all things (so to say) is important, not least our veneration of the classics.


“The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms.” (Oscar Wilde “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Fortnightly Review London, Feb. 1891)


LOOKING AT ART: In his influential book, Ways of Seeing, based on his BBC television series, John Berger (1972), in support of his view that the art of the past has lost its authority, states that “a people of class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history” (p33).  His argument is essential one of politicizing art as technological culture has removed it from the context of the magical, sacred, highly privileged caves, castles, cathedrals, and palaces of the ruling class.  BUT what I have learned with a peculiar mix of poignancy and urgency from a sage of mediated learning (Reuven Fuerstein) and close indigenous friends (Lorna Williams, Larry Emerson) is that being disconnected from one’s past is a uniquely painful deprivation that speaks not to who you are, but who you and your descendants could be based on the qualities and accomplishments of your ancestors. (There are certainly some clues from the continuity throughout the generations of physical and physiological traits, but the highly flexible adaptive traits attributable to your development in varying contexts is one of the most profoundly important traits our species enjoys. 






“Not long ago, [Michal Hofmann] translated “Aging as a Problem for Artists” by the German expressionist poet and essayist Gottfried Benn, written a couple of years before he died, in 1956, at age seventy. There is not much literature on the subject, Benn says, apologizing for his magpie methods, before, with impressive assiduity and imagination, he stuffs paragraphs with examples of artistic longevity and finds individual instances in which age and artistry stand in interesting relation to one another. He talks about the idea of late style, or late work: in Immanuel Kant, in Lorenzo Lotto, in Edward Burne-Jones, in Hokusai, in Hugo von Hofmanns-thal and Beethoven and Leonardo. “In Hokusai (1760–1849),” he writes,

I found the following: “From the age of six, I was mad keen on drawing. By the time I was fifty, I had published a great many drawings, but everything I did before my seventy-third year is worthless. Approaching the age of seventy-three, I began to understand something of the true nature of animals, plants, fishes, and insects. By the time I am eighty, I shall have progressed further, with ninety I shall be able to see through to the secret nature of things, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything of mine, be it no more than a line or a dot, will be full of life.”   [Read the essay, The Lion in Winter by Michael Hofmann (NYRB   JUNE 8, 2017)]





Habit and the automatization of responses to stimuli LIBERATES us from the need to consider all stimuli equally:

“Habit,” William James tells us “is thus the enormous fly‑wheel of society, its most precious  conservative agent…. it dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon  the lines of our nurture or our early choice…”  (Wm. James, Principles of  Psychology I:121, 1892)

It is an error, Alfred North Whitehead tell us, to cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing, “The precise opposite is the case.  Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” ( (1911 Introduction to Mathematics ch.5.)


SO PERHAPS we have some insight here about

Why we so often cannot see what is right before us?


Wittgenstein: “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. – And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.” (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953, No. 129) 

Coleridge:  Samuel T. Coleridge wrote in  the following passage: “Mr. Wordsworth … as his object, [was] to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.” (Chapter XIV of his autobiography, Biographia Literaria)

Thoreau adds to the argument to be more discriminating: “It is only necessary to behold the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair’s breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance … To perceive freshly, with fresh senses is to be inspired.”                                



ART involves COMMUNICATION — a phenomenon of interest when information transmitted or received changes the person transmitting  or receiving in some way — affecting their development and ultimately their biological fitness.

kitsch is to wisdom as toys are to tools: Meryl Streep once recalled a neighbor girl who was always mean to her – when she was “banned from the club,” she stood in hallway of the little girl’s home and looked “at a framed needlepoint sampler that read, ‘You must not judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.’ Streep said, “This little piece of craft store kitsch was like an epiphany for me.”   (Streep’s lecture at Princeton in Nov 2006)  In my parent’s house one of the first things I read without help were the words engraved on a wooden door-knocker: “knock gently friend what ere betide, the kettle’s on so come inside.”  I was proud of mastering  a couple of new words , repeated them proudly albeit too often, but somehow their spirit became part of me.  The few times I didn’t welcome a stranger I soon felt ambivalent and then ashamed and remembered the phrase.




Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.

(In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind).

Louis Pasteur, Lecture, University of Lille,  December 7, 1854)



So, as it is said “the child’s toy may be the man’s tool.”   In other words, there may be different ages,  each with their  for different levels of understanding (characterized by the sense of where new knowledge can and cannot be usefully employed or applied).   And something learned in childhood might not be understood for many years.


“The imagination is a deep-sea diver that rakes the bottom of the poet’s mind and dredges up sleeping images. . .  If we go deep enough, we may discover the secret place where our key images have been stored since childhood.”  –Stanley Kunitz





Omne ignotum pro magnifico est

“anything we haven’t seen before is marvelous”

(Tacitus, De Vita et Moribus Iulii Agricolae, 30)



“The most interesting thing about babies is that they are so enormously interested; the most wonderful thing about them is their infinite capacity for wonder.”

See “The Scientist in the Crib”



Einstein and Picasso both lamented the loss of the child’s view of the world — the view before experience ossified categories, the view before the mind, swimming in sensations, perceptions, symbols learned to exclude or ignore those that were not obviously relevant to whatever human need seemed most salient at that moment. Others were more or less bludgeoned into insensibility by our social referees, caregivers and critics, that have other priorities — such as enforced corroboration of their own beliefs by as many other people as possible.


EXPRESSION, the externalization of an inner phenomenon (thought, idea, belief, feeling), the rendering corporeal of a psychic urge is a critical means by which we construct ourselves– we are artists, we selectively represent percepts of potential importance, for our own edification before we seek to communicate with others and secure their feedback (our caregivers are our first social referees) . 


We write in order to understand: Our expressions are beliefs expressed as theories— coherent beliefs about relationships– and we test them relentlessly.


Some interesting related ideas:

    • “For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.  (Anselm of Canterbury (1033––1109), British philosopher, theologian. Proslogion, ch. 1 (c. 1077-1078). 
    • Robert Frost’s comment: is related:  “I am a writer of books in retrospect. I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.”  (Quoted in Daniel Smythe ed Robert Frost Speaks Twayne 64).
  • Kierkegaard also: “It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards.  But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” (entry in his Journal for 1843 – cited by Richard Wollheim (1984 The Thread of Life. Harvard University Press)












































“necessary intermediate temporary structure that facilitates the development of a more permanent structure, , to be dismantled or abandoned once the permanent structure is complete”


( approaching truth by successive approximations. In each new approximation, recursive, successive models can exclude as well as focus ideas) 

In social constructivism (sensu Vygotsky), the “more knowledgable other” (MKO) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) are key (ref)












































*COVER of SCIENCE; 19 April 2002: “A mouse embryo 10.5 days after conception stained to show the expression pattern of two proteins, HNF3b (blue) and neurofilament (green). A microscopy technique based on optical projection tomography generates a three-dimensional image (foreground) from fluorescent images of the embryo at multiple stages during rotation (background).http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/296/5567/541[Image: J. Sharpe and U. Ahlgren]




Glossary of terms in A&O



CHANGE | DEVELOPMENT | EVOLUTION | Art and Time | transformative change  | “The Essential Tension” | “prematurity and Uniqueness” | “Theme and Variation” | “unity in variety”notes: ///85257F020066BD1F/E972592203C877EF8525676B005DED2D/B02E579086BA789185256DEF005EFFEE | Dialectic


2013/2016/2017 / updated slightly 2018 



Connecting to

CONCEPT CLUSTER:  CHANGE | DEVELOPMENT | EVOLUTION | Art and Time | transformative change  | “The Essential Tension” | “prematurity and Uniqueness” | “Theme and Variation” | “unity in variety” | Dialectic


last update: 5-17-2020