ART and ORGANISM
‘penser c’est toujours sentir’
(“to think is to feel”)
Embodiment of cognitive processes (“embodied cognition) refers to the always present involvement with body functions. Often neglected are the internal sensory receptors of the viscera (“enteroceptors”) and the musculature (proprioceptors), as well as countless specific chemicals that have more-or-less access to the brain where they participated in organizing and initiating (or suppressing) action, including learning (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).
A potent phrase from Mark Johnson: “Meaning Is More Than Words and Deeper Than Concepts” (in: The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (p. 1). Univ Chicago 2007) . In A&O this clearly resonates with abstract art that has no obvious symbolic or semantic meaning–but is still connected through the way it makes one feel.
[i] Condillac (d.1780), friend of Rousseau and helped introduce Locke’s ideas (made fashionable by Voltaire) in French intellectual circles. (“By far the most important of his works is the Traité des sensations, in which Condillac treats psychology in his own characteristic way. He questioned Locke’s doctrine that the senses give us intuitive knowledge of objects, that the eye, for example, naturally judges shapes, sizes, positions, and distances. He believed it was necessary to study the senses separately, to distinguish precisely what ideas are owed to each sense, to observe how the senses are trained, and how one sense aids another. He believed that the conclusion has to be that all human faculty and knowledge are transformed sensation only, to the exclusion of any other principle, such as reflection.”) John Locke’s idea that all knowledge was founded in experience was taken further by a,: ‑‑: preconceived notions of relationships between sensory data had to be discarded if clear analysis of feelings were to be had. Shortly after Condillac’s death (1780) IMMANUEL KANT popularized his system in Europe: physicians, functioning in a world of appearances, should examine their own prejudicial ways of perceiving carefully. Kant then went further: We understand the world because there are certain concepts embedded in our brains: time, space, causality. Thus there were no laws in nature, but that mental constructs set up by these embedded concepts. His follower, Friedrich von Schelling (Physician in Bamburg) developed Kant’s ideas into Naturphilosophie: Man was once at peace with nature, but his ability to reflect had alienated him from it. (German science sought basic laws ‑‑and for the next 40 years concentrated on microscopic phenomena. At the same time the French concentrated on careful observation and data available to the senses, largely because of the events of 1789 and a shift from actions guided by philosophical, theoretical beliefs to those guided by empirical evidence.
(This was crystallized in some part by the shift in medicine. Before the Revolution, Physicians in France were, like others in Europe, a powerful elite serving the aristocracy. After the Revolution, Doctors‑‑members of upper classes‑‑were to be reeducated, but surgeons were craftsmen and elevated by the new ideology. Since 1743, surgeons were allowed in University, but still greatly resisted by physicians: advice from the university faculty: “let hospitals be your library, and cadavers your books.” Physicians went to war with potions, lists of symptoms and a bedside manner; surgeons went prepared for trauma, and they learned much: about infections; about treating for shock before surgery; about relaxing muscles (with nicotine & alcohol) before setting broken bones; about the fallacy of wind death (replacing it with knowledge of massive internal injuries caused by tiny bullets). Hospitals expanded and by 1807, Paris had 37,000 beds while all Britain had only 5000.)
[iii] Andrew Beatty (2019) The Emotional Lives of Others. AEON 8 July 2019 (https://aeon.co/essays/what-does-anthropology-say-about-the-emotional-lives-of-others?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm) Beatty is an anthropologist. He is interested in psychological anthropology, life writing, and literary approaches to ethnography. His books include two narrative ethnographies, (2009) and (2015), and (2019).