IDEA – TRANSCENDANCE

ART & ORGANISM

useful ideas

“TRANSCENDANCE

and notes touching on

EPIPHENOMENA, EMERGENCE, and the limits of DEVELOPMENT

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TRANSCENDENT EXPERIENCES involve an awareness of experience sufficiently outside of the routine or mundane that emotion is evoked–usually (but not always) a distinctive pleasure.     Personal growth is a process of self-transcendence… 

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For example, boundless nature is always outside our bubble of daily life in which stability is valued to predictably support our most basic needs.  More-or-less controlled ventures outside this bubble–curiosity, exploration, invention–is important to maintain readiness to enable coping with the inevitable events that are outside our control.  A kind of homeostasis of experience–a dynamic balance of controlled and uncontrolled circumstances is maintained.  We venture outside to exercise our competence and enhance our resilience when confronted with the unexpected .  So nature is a primary source of experience that  encourages and exercises going beyond routine experience and going beyond our personal physical or competence

See, for example, Bethelmay & Corraliza (2019) (Transcendence and Sublime Experience in Nature: Awe and Inspiring Energy in Front. Psycholhttps://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00509 )

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see A&O notes on Sublime 

 

 

IN ART

ART is a consequence of actions that–in Dissanayake’s terms–“go beyond”  boundaries set by circumstances 

    • (Read AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: C:\Users\Greenberg\Dropbox\NEW NOTES\A&O\A&O – AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE.docx  ( Link) (which includes For example, Marković (2012)[i] definition of aesthetic experience in terms of: fascination (high arousal and attention), appraisal of symbolism (high cognitive engagement), and a feeling of unity with the object of fascination and appraisal.)  …  and Dissanayake’s view of “going beyond”)[ii]

 

 

 

I find a poignant reminder of our relentless urge to “go beyond” in popular music—most recently a You-Tube of Subway riders recruited for an unexpected sing-along of  Over The Rainbow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xctzp0dp9uc&feature=youtu.be   (birds fly over the rainbow. Why then o why can’t I?)

 

 


[i] Marković, Slobodan (2012) Components of aesthetic experience: aesthetic fascination, aesthetic appraisal, and aesthetic emotion i-Perception. 2012; 3(1): 1–17.          Published online 2012 Jan 12. doi:  10.1068/i0450aap  PMCID: PMC3485814   complete article at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485814/    This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

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Abstract.  In this paper aesthetic experience is defined as an experience qualitatively different from everyday experience and similar to other exceptional states of mind. Three crucial characteristics of aesthetic experience are discussed: fascination with an aesthetic object (high arousal and attention), appraisal of the symbolic reality of an object (high cognitive engagement), and a strong feeling of unity with the object of aesthetic fascination and aesthetic appraisal. In a proposed model, two parallel levels of aesthetic information processing are proposed. On the first level two sub-levels of narrative are processed, story (theme) and symbolism (deeper meanings). The second level includes two sub-levels, perceptual associations (implicit meanings of object’s physical features) and detection of compositional regularities. Two sub-levels are defined as crucial for aesthetic experience, appraisal of symbolism and compositional regularities. These sub-levels require some specific cognitive and personality dispositions, such as expertise, creative thinking, and openness to experience. Finally, feedback of emotional processing is included in our model: appraisals of everyday emotions are specified as a matter of narrative content (eg, empathy with characters), whereas the aesthetic emotion is defined as an affective evaluation in the process of symbolism appraisal or the detection of compositional regularities.

In this paper aesthetic experience is defined as an experience qualitatively different from everyday experience and similar to other exceptional states of mind. Three crucial characteristics of aesthetic experience are discussed: fascination with an aesthetic object (high arousal and attention), appraisal of the symbolic reality of an object (high cognitive engagement), and a strong feeling of unity with the object of aesthetic fascination and aesthetic appraisal. In a proposed model, two parallel levels of aesthetic information processing are proposed. On the first level two sub-levels of narrative are processed, story (theme) and symbolism (deeper meanings). The second level includes two sub-levels, perceptual associations (implicit meanings of object’s physical features) and detection of compositional regularities. Two sub-levels are defined as crucial for aesthetic experience, appraisal of symbolism and compositional regularities. These sub-levels require some specific cognitive and personality dispositions, such as expertise, creative thinking, and openness to experience. Finally, feedback of emotional processing is included in our model: appraisals of everyday emotions are specified as a matter of narrative content (eg, empathy with characters), whereas the aesthetic emotion is defined as an affective evaluation in the process of symbolism appraisal or the detection of compositional regularities.

Keywords: aesthetic experience, fascination, appraisal, emotion, narrative, composition

1. Introduction

Aesthetic experience is one of the most important but also one of the vaguest and most poorly specified concepts in the psychology of art and experimental aesthetics. The purpose of the present paper is to provide a more explicit definition of this phenomenon and to propose a tentative model of underlying motivational, cognitive, and emotional processes and dispositions.

Generally, aesthetic experience can be defined as a special state of mind that is qualitatively different from the everyday experience. According to Cupchik and Winston (1996), aesthetic experience is a psychological process in which the attention is focused on the object while all other objects, events, and everyday concerns are suppressed. Similarly, Ognjenović (1997) defined aesthetic experience as a special kind of subject-object relationship in which a particular object strongly engages the subject’s mind, shadowing all other surrounding objects and events. In both definitions, aesthetic situations and objects of aesthetic interest are specified as fundamentally different from everyday situations and objects of everyday use. Perhaps the best example of this contrast is Picasso’s famous Bull’s Head, an artistic construction made of a bicycle seat and handlebars. Seen from the everyday (pragmatic) perspective, the handlebars and the seat are experienced as parts of a bicycle with specific functions (for seating and governing). Also, as with all other objects of everyday use, they can be judged as more or less beautiful, elegant, well designed, and the like. However, only when they lose their everyday pragmatic meaning (as bicycle parts) and transcend into the new symbolic level of reality (combination into a new whole, a bull’s head), does the aesthetic experience emerge.

According to Apter (1984) the distinctive feature of aesthetic experience is that it is not goal directed (ie, pragmatic), but focused more upon the activity itself (ie, self-rewarding). In their neuroimaging studies Cupchik and collaborators (Cupchik et al 2009) have shown that distinct cortical areas were activated when the observers were oriented to the pragmatic and aesthetic aspects of the same paintings. They found that pragmatic orientation was associated with the higher activation of the right fusiform gyrus (this area was associated with the perception of specific categories of objects, including faces; cf Kanwisher et al 1997; Martin et al 1996; McCarthy et al 1997), whereas the aesthetic orientation corresponded to a higher activation of the left and right insula (these areas were involved in emotional experience; cf Paradiso et al 1999; Teasdale et al 1999; Lane et al 1997) and left lateral pre-frontal cortex (this area plays a role in the cognitive control and the higher-order self-referential processes; cf Burgess et al 2007).

In our opinion aesthetic experience does not belong to the same class of phenomena as aesthetic preference, liking, the judgment of beauty, and so on. Unlike aesthetic experience, which is an exceptional state of mind, liking and the judgment of beauty belong to the domain of everyday experience with everyday objects (eg, human faces, bodies, clothing, buildings, etc). However, beauty can be a generator of aesthetic experience, but only if it transcends its biological, psychological, and social functions and gets new ‘aesthetic’ meanings in the symbolic (‘virtual’) reality. Namely, in aesthetic experience the object of beauty is not seen as a tool for the satisfaction of bodily needs (eg, appetitive and mating functions; cf Ramachandran and Hirstein 1999), but rather as a provocation of the higher level pleasures, such as pleasures of the mind (cf Kubovy 1999). In other words, to be a part of an aesthetic experience, beauty must transcend from its extrinsic (pragmatic) to intrinsic (aesthetic) values—that is, a beautiful object must become an object of beauty. According to this, even ugly things can elicit aesthetic experience (eg, aesthetic fascination with deformation, monstrous, grotesque, morbid, horrible, and other kinds of ugliness; cf Eco 20042007).

In order to specify the distinctive characteristics of aesthetic experience, it will be useful to consider other similar phenomena of the exceptional or transcendental states of mind. In the following paragraphs these phenomena will be shortly presented.

Aesthetic experience is similar to the phenomenon referred to by Czikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow or optimal mental processing (Csíkszentmihályi 19751990). Flow is defined as an effortless mental energy flow caused by the awareness of congruence between incoming information and our goals. During this state of mind people are intensively immersed in what they are doing, with strong involvement in the process of the activity. Similarly to aesthetic experience, in this mental state attention is highly concentrated on a particular object or activity, which induces a distortion of the sense of time and a loss of self-consciousness (Csíkszentmihályi 1975; Csíkszentmihályi and Rathunde 1993).

Aesthetic experience is also closely related to Maslow’s concept of peak experience (Maslow 1968). In peak experiences, attention is fully engaged and focused on a particular object, while the object is seen as detached from its everyday purpose and usefulness. Like in the state of flow, the person is self-transcending, self-forgetful, and disoriented in time and space. Generally speaking, peak experiences can be identified in all states of mental focusing on meditation, such as mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn 1998; Teasdale 1999). Also, it is close to spiritual transcendence, which is the feeling of connectedness and unity with other people, life, nature, and the like (Piedmont 1999). Like in peak experience, in spiritual transcendence persons focus the world from a larger perspective, losing the immediate sense of time and space.

Aesthetic experience can be associated with the concept of absorption proposed by Tellegan and Atkinson (1974). Absorption is the disposition of having episodes of amplified attention that fully engage the subject’s mental (perceptual, representational) and executive (motor) resources. For instance, absorption can emerge when a person is watching movies or theatre shows, reading novels, listening to music, observing paintings, and the like. In these situations he or she loses awareness of the surrounding environment and becomes fully engaged in the symbolic (virtual) world, experiencing himself or herself as a part of this virtual world. While Tellegan and Atkinson (1974) were interested in the individual differences in absorption, some studies were focused on its stimulus constraints. For instance, Troscianko and collaborators (Troscianko et al in press [this issue]) found that big screens improved the viewer’s feeling of being immersed, or feeling of ‘presence’, in a movie. The term presence was defined as the illusion of being ‘in the movie’ (ie, virtual aesthetic world) rather than in the cinema (ie, real environment).

Koestler (1970) put aesthetic experience in the framework of creative processes emerging in art, science, humour, and playing. According to Koestler, the creative act happens when apparently incompatible conceptual frames are associated in a completely new whole, as when, for instance, the bicycle handlebars and seat are brought together in the Bull’s Head. Koestler held that in the arts ‘incompatible’ frames are juxtaposed (tolerance to ambiguity), in science they are fused into a new larger synthesis (apparently conflicting data become concordant within a new general theoretical paradigm), and in humour and jokes they are reversed (unexpected transitions from one to another framework). These processes correspond to a ‘self-transcending’ tendency in art and a ‘self-assertive’ tendency in humour, whereas in science these two tendencies are balanced. Finally, these states are accompanied with exceptional feelings, such as the so-called Aha experience in intellectual insights and scientific discoveries (also known as the Eureka experience), Ah experience in art appreciation, and Ha-ha experience in humour (cf Koestler 1970).

1.1. Aesthetic experience: summary of preliminary definitions

In the preliminary definitions of aesthetic experience and similar phenomena, three characteristics can be identified as crucial and distinctive.

      • (1)

The first characteristic refers to the motivational, orientational or attentive aspect of aesthetic experience. During the aesthetic experience persons are in the state of intense attention engagement and high vigilance; they are strongly focused on and fascinated with a particular object. They lose their self-consciousness, the awareness of the surrounding environment, and the sense of time.

      • (2)

The second characteristic refers to the cognitive, that is, semantic, symbolic, and imaginative aspect of aesthetic experience: a person appraises the aesthetic objects and events as parts of a symbolic or ‘virtual’ reality and transcends their everyday uses and meanings (eg, we ‘see’ the bull’s head, not the bicycle parts; in theatre we are worried about the characters, not the actors, etc).

      • (3)

Finally, the third characteristic of aesthetic experience is affective. It refers to the exceptional emotional experience: a person has a strong and clear feeling of unity with the object of aesthetic fascination and aesthetic appraisal.

Continue article at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485814/ 

 

[iii] “Arguably, our lives are devoted to transcending our constraints. They are also a fact of life that haunts us. Even the most hardened logical positivist or existential phenomenologist might pause to ask with Dorothy as she entered the land of Oz, or with Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole (2010) as he sang, “Birds fly over the rainbow/Why then, oh why can’t I? This, of course, is sentimental, romantic, and an arrow to the heart of what it means to be human. Such questions, when aesthetically framed, highlight the profound influence, if not priority, of prereflective thought on more conscious cognition.”  (from Greenberg, K., B. Sohn, Neil Greenberg, Howard Pollio, Sandra Thomas, John Smith (2018/e-book 2019)  The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice in Higher Education.  New York: Routledge. 222 pages  DOI https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351245906  eBook ISBN 9781351245906   Chapter 2 “Getting DEEP”)

 

IN PHILOSOPHY:

“In philosophytranscendence is the basic ground concept from the word’s literal meaning (from Latin), of climbing or going beyond…” (Wikipedia)

 

IN SPIRITUALITY:

“In religious experience, transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence, and by some definitions, has also become independent of it.” (Wikipedia)

 

IN WISDOM

“Michael R. Levenson (Levenson et al., 2005) argues that the core of wisdom is self-transcendence. A self-transcendent individual is independent of external self-definitions and therefore able to perceive others and the world as they really are, without a need for self-enhancement or self-confirmation. Therefore, self-transcendence encompasses caring relationships and feelings of union with others.” (cited by Judith Glück, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition), 2015)

 

IN DEVELOPMENT and EDUCATION:   

This in the service of higher education.  (by higher I mean cognitive functions beyond those of training reflexes and motor patterns…):  from my chapter in  The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning (2018)[iii]

“Arguably, our lives are devoted to transcending our constraints. They are also a fact of life that haunts us. Even the most hardened logical positivist or existential phenomenologist might pause to ask with Dorothy as she entered the land of Oz, or with Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole (2010) as he sang, Birds fly over the rainbow/Why then, oh why can’t I? This, of course, is sentimental, romantic, and an arrow to the heart of what it means to be human. Such questions, when aesthetically framed, highlight the profound influence, if not priority, of prereflective thought on more conscious cognition.” 

The attaining of competencies beyond one’s current situation?   

  • In the 1920’s, the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, “said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself. …

… Vygotsky’s theory of childhood development contrasted sharply with those of his Western counterparts. William James had a complete disdain for the study of inner speech, because, to him, it was a ghost: impossible to observe. The French developmental psychologist Jean Piaget insisted that private speech signified simple inability – it was the babble of a child without capacity for social communication with no relation to cognitive functioning at all. Through much of the 20th century, Piaget seized the reigns of child development, insisting that children had to reach a developmental stage before learning could occur. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Vygotsky said that learning occurred, then the brain developed. Piaget said the brain developed, then learning occurred.” (Jaekl 2018)[i] 

Now, of course we know it is both.  

 

SCHOLARSHIP and RESEARCH

Transcendence refers to the realization that we can never see a thing from all sides or perspectives at once, so the full essence of a thing can only be appropriated in transcendental or pure consciousness – in some sense abstracted from the perception of the experiential world.  (From: International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition), 2010)  (from sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/transcendence)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] The inner voice (From a very early age, children learn to talk to themselves. That voice in your head is the thing that makes you, you) Philip Jaekl (2018)  https://aeon.co/essays/our-inner-narrator-gives-us-continuity-and-a-sense-of-self