to our seminar




ART & ORGANISM began life shortly after I came to the University of Tennessee as “The Art and Science of Art and Science.”  This was a course that explored these two great cultural themes.  These are treated here as shorthand for the two constellations of cognitive functions that dominate each of theme individually and yet in their varying proportions co-constitute all human enterprise. They are necessarily separate because their representions in our lives are separated by the chasm in understanding created by the inadequacy of reason on one hand and the ineffibility of feelings on the other.  

  (Einstein [i] )


We are sapient in that we can reason, sentient in that we feel, and any hesitation in appreciating the centrality of the entwining of these two dispositions to the meeting of human needs can go beyond the manner in which they enrich our lives to the core existential importance to our health and well-being–the state that precedes and then enables all human undertakings. 


ARGUABLY, SCIENCE and ART are WAYS of KNOWING … but actually, each is a PART of the only way of  knowing, not all of which is consciously accessible


Humans want to KNOW and BE KNOWN.   [see individuation and socialization]    In A&O—the most important outcome of a favorite exercise—the  psychosemantic mind mapis  to help us master the appreciation of where we (do and mostly do not) “overlap” in our personal understanding of the meaning of a specific idea.  The likely prospect is that where we do overlap we find leverage to combine our insights and to evoke a fuller/richer meaning for the idea.  This builds on the phenomenon important in communicating creativity–that we use shared understanding as an opening to new or unique understandings

(there is always a more-or-less accessible bridge from past to new insights: “Never forget what I believe was observed to you by Coleridge,” said William Wordsworth, “every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.” (cited in notes on the hazards of prematurity and the uniqueness of ideas)  

AND the ever-changing context of considering ideas—which includes our present state and more-or-less recent experiences—affects our understanding AND explorations and thus enlarge the possibility of experiencing a spark which will kindle a stream if not cascade of ideas that may lead to extraordinary places. [as in epileptic aura or psychomotor seizures, sneezing or orgasm, the seemingly trivial irritation or small stimulus becomes trapped in a positive feedback loop and may instantiate a trajectory that can be of outsize significance.]   SO, I do not hesitate to repeat myself when there is any chance that THIS time, my words–in a new context–may trigger an epiphany.   [we swim through stimuli—they are the air we breathe—and inspiration is always latent. In the right context, anything can be everything.  A WORD can be such a tipping point (see scratching-the-itch-postponing-the-premonitory-urge/). Consider the angle of repose—a cascade awaiting even a tiny tipping point to begin … and, of course, Whitman’s observation that all truths dwell in all things…

Also, keep in mind that All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.”  (Goethe).[i] )  AND “A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it” (Goethe (Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt)[ii]  But love has a curious intensely poignant quality: It seems that “We love only what we do not wholly possess.” (On n’aime que ce qu’on ne possède pas tout entier.”—Marcel Proust)] 

Think this through in the spirit of Franz Wright’s “radiantly obvious thing I need to say, though quite what that might be escapes me at the moment, as it always has, and always will.” (2006)[iii]  The idea of any thing being the gateway to all truths recalls [Freud’s] “great strength, though sometimes also his weakness, was the quite extraordinary respect he had for the singular fact… When he got hold of a simple but significant fact he would feel, and know, that it was an example of something general or universal, and the idea of collecting statistics on the matter was quite alien to him.”  (Ernest Jones  The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol 1, 96-7.).  He was, I believe, intuiting each fact’s connection to all other facts–the connections that confer meaning–even the meaning of life. 




ART & ORGANISM (also known as “The Art and SCIENCE of ART and SCIENCE”)  aspires to provide a scaffold for the best possible approximation of who we were, are, and could be.  The resources to provided hopefully encourage the exercise of sentience as well as sapience– feeling as well as thinking, in the belief that only in concert with each other can we ever really know anything worth knowing.   

THE PURSUIT: We are a tangled mass of overlapping, intersecting, interpenetrating motives, each speaking to a specific biological need.  At a particular poignant level of organization, we seek knowledge, but anything we might known is realative other things–most simply we seek to know and be known. 


“Seeking is the goal and the search is the answer”


RESOURCES:  Each A&O website provides an abundance of resources to exemplify DISCOVERIES in art and biology and CONNECTIONS between art and biology.  But the seminar is really about DISCOVERING more than discoveries, and CONNECTING, more than connections. 

  • Nothing is known–indeed nothing is real (in the most real sense of the word) except insofar as it is connected.  And the discovery of connections within and between each other is a key part of what we are all about.  To give form to this amorphous agenda we will look closely and the BIOLOGICAL perspectives on behavior exemplified by its most liberated domain– that of ART.



The sense in which I intend SCAFFOLD is as a temporary structure that enables the development of a more enduring structure.  Think of a scaffold in construction of buildings… 

ART is considered as “EXPRESSIVE” (or CONSTRUCTIVE or PROJECTIVE) and “RECEPTIVE”  and we seek to use biology as a way of better understanding the nature, nurture, and expression of creativity and of perception.  Our use of a “clinical” vocabulary (such as those used to describe types of aphasia) frees us from the everyday ambiguity and baggage of the traditional vocabulary while confering some of the patina of therapeutic legitimacy.  

BIOLOGY emphasizing the causes and consequences of behavior (“ethology”) utilizes the heuristic of DEEP ETHOLOGY (mnemonic for “Development,” “Ecology,” “Evolution,” and “Physiology”)

  • All of these are connected firmly to the meeting of Biological Needs, engaging the interplay of sapience and sentience, knowing and feeling: 


Our engagement of topics is creative in that once a key idea is firmly grounded, it functions as a home-base for free exploration–you are encouraged to digress and map the connections you can find (the pathway is the destination):   


That is the way the course works for me.  But further, my ambition on your behalf is to “enable you to find the connections that trigger creative urges, unleash, reveal…and evoke the holy passion that energizes and illuminates your intellectual and emotional selves … triggering the enlightening epiphanies that make a SELF worth having and exploring.”

A former student asked me to warn those of you that explore the website to watch out for “easter eggs” and “rabbit holes.”  They are not all accidental. 




ELEMENTS of CONTENT – another slightly expanded view emphasizing what we  try to do:

First, OBSERVE and DESCRIBE phenomena, ideas, narratives, whatever, and consider mindfully from different perspectives: 

  • TIME: PAST«FUTURE (memory imagination)
  • LEVELS OF ORGANIZATION [we exist as organisms at a specific level, and can look beneath and above our level at subordinate constituents or constructs of which we are a part.  We can look towards the imperceptible small on one side or the incomprehensibly vast on the other.  [we walk this narrow ridge as though an abys on either side, two realms we seek to describe and understand by analysis and synthesis…]
  • ART:  EXPRESSIVE«RECEPTIVE  [selective attention to process or product and its subsequent communication within or between organisms, especially other people, involving a mastery of a medium of communication that addresses one or more specific senses.] 
  • SCIENCE: to start at our level of organization as organisms, we utilize integrative BIOLOGY with an emphasis on BEHAVIOR = DEEP ethology: DEVELOPMENT«ECOLOGY«EVOLUTION«PHYSIOLOGY  

HOW DOES ALL THIS FIT INTO WHAT I WANT TO DO? … for that matter, “What do I want to do…?”  Look at the converging perspectives: what-should-i-do ?



“A probable contender for a Nobel Prize at the age of eighty-one, Vera Rubin had been asked if she was troubled by the near-infinite expanse of human ignorance. The question was not gratuitous. Rubin’s eminence as an astronomer rested on her finding in the universe five, maybe ten times the mass of energy dreamed of in the cosmologies of Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Not only was the universe more infinite than previously imagined, but the newly discovered bulk of it was composed of dark matter destined to remain unknowable because not formed of the same atomic fairy dust as all things animal, mineral, and vegetable, celestial and terrestrial, to which mankind gives the names of nature ceaselessly creating itself.

     To Rubin’s examiners, the discovery of a never-to-be-seen abyss was news unfit for man, machine, or beast. Was the dear lady not aghast? She was not. To the contrary. She stands in awe of her unknowing as if in Xanadu before the stately pleasure dome of Kubla Khan, where runs the sacred river Alph through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea. Isn’t that kind of the fun, the looking into the vast darkness ripe with wonders that will never cease? The limitless expanse of human ignorance Rubin sees as the fortunate provocation that rouses out the love of learning, kindles the signal fires of the imagination. We have no other light with which to see and maybe to recognize ourselves as human.–Lewis H Lapham [1]  (italics mine)

[read Lapham’s entire essay, “Homo Faber.”  Preamble to Lapham’s Quarterly issue on “discovery,”  Spring 2017 pp12-21 https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/discovery/homo-faber]


[i] Einstein’s comment is from his 1921 lecture on “Geometrie und  Erfahrung”  appearing as part 2 in his Sidelines on Relativity.  Tr  GB Geffrey and W Perrett (London Methuen 1922) endnote IX:81 in JT Fraser  1975/1990 On Time, Passion, and Knowledge.



[i]   [“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought, what is necessary is only to try to think them again” (Guterman trans of “Proverbs in Prose” (Spruche in Prosa … also there: “Doubt grows with knowledge”)  …   “New inventions can and will be made; however, nothing new can be thought of that concerns moral man. Everything has already been thought and said which at best we can express in different forms and give new expressions to.”  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Conversation with Joseph Sebastian Grüner (August 24, 1823).  http://www.poemhunter.com/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe/quotations/page-4/  SIMILAR:  “The most original authors of today are original not because they create something new but because they are capable of saying such things as if they had never been said before.”  –Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German poet, dramatist. Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, Reflections in the Spirit of the Travellers (1829).

[ii]. Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt‑‑ Goethe. [complete:  “Man lernt nichts kennen, als was man liebt, und je tiefer und vollständiger die Kenntnis werden soll, desto kräftiger und lebendiger muß die Liebe, ja Leidenschaft sein.”  (Goethe in einem Brief an Jacobi, 1812)] 

One learns to know nothing but what one loves, and the deeper and more complete the knowledge is to become, the stronger, stronger and more alive must be love, even passion.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  (1749 – 1832), source: Goethe, letters. To Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, May 10, 1812

[iii].  From Langdon Hammer’s review of  ‘God’s Silence: Poems,’ by Franz Wright:=   “In Pursuit of Revelation” (orig title in paper was “To Live is to Do Evil”) (NYT Sunday May 14, 2006, p38.

“What kind of apocalypse does Wright imagine in his new poems? He is not waiting for the Rapture, but he is a Roman Catholic devotional poet of mystical hope. He is impatient with the real and visible (“concrete things stand for / invisible things=), and he pushes past them toward “real reality,” a higher unseeable / life, inconceivable / light / of which light is mere shadow.” This impatience extends to people C “a human face” is “the mask / of some being no one can see” as well as to language. Wright describes a moment of past vision in which “The mask was gone,” “There was no / I,” and there was no text, only what the words stood for; and then what all things stand for. 

Wright’s poems pursue this state of revelation, as if there were a word just out of reach, beyond the words on the page. He calls that goal “some radiantly obvious thing I need to say, though quite what that might be escapes me at the moment, as it always has, and always will.”



OVERVIEW of notes on TOPICS (closed link)