Aesthetics, Choreography Of Consciousness
Artwork makes the fleeting immanent join hands with the eternal transcendental
A brand new 21st. century has, all of a sudden, dawned upon us. When we hopefully look back at the ledger in contemplation of our harvest for the past millennium we feel deceived that we put all our stock in the scientific methodology account, that we acted in utter disregard for centuries of accumulated experience regarding the limitations of rationality in solving the essential problems of existence. How can any objective thinker ignore the self-evident fact that non-rational forces lurk at the foundation of all creativity and of reality itself? The past 20th. century has been mired by the blinding spotlight of the pre-Socratic neo-Apollonian forces of logical order, as exemplified by the mind-boggling technological advances witnessed. Meanwhile, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and the existentialist warning caveats are faintly heard as a whisper coming from the far away desert of ‘oblivia’. But, almost three years into the new millennium, it is becoming increasingly evident that logic has turned the tables on man! The quest for knowledge, that noble human endeavor, is becoming justified only in so far as it serves the interests of that very life that made it possible, first things first! We certainly need not gyrate 180 degrees and turn our backs to the panoply of accumulated logical representations of existential reality, be they the linguistic, anthropocentric metaphors / metonyms of our models, systems or other ‘universal constants’. All we have to do is to always keep in mind two things: that their truth value is contingent upon the reliability and constancy of their source of origin and the general, higher life purpose they must serve to justify their presence. Once we apprehend, through deep introspection, and ponder about the hierarchical positions of life itself vis a vis the fruits of its living activity is that we can focus on the arbitrariness of human experience. Our ‘truths’ ultimately result in convenient self-serving conventions / strategies driven by an unconscious urge for biological-psychic-social (bps) survival in our environmental niche. Repose, security and consistency are optimized to guarantee perpetuation of the human species by reproductive activity as the ultimate principle of the universe. Fichte, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and many others keep reminding us, across centuries of experience, that bps activity is “..a mindless, aimless, non-rational urge at the foundation of all of our instinctual drives, and at the foundational being of everything there is..” in the physical world we are integral part of.
We need not and we know not, what guides human activity in its compulsive and inevitable search of strategies for its own perpetuation but we suspect the answer is hidden, perhaps irretrievably so, inside his ‘irrational’, non-logical world. We know that the continuation of universal life (see Insensible Life, Telicom 1999) beyond conception, whether comfortably floating inside the womb or as a newborn on your nursing mother’s lap, is all about multimodal sensations all about you. From then on the ascent of man is predicated on how successfully the genetic baggage he brings along copes with the changing dynamics of the ecological niche he did not choose to survive on. It all starts with an original encounter with that apparent labyrinth of sense phenomena in the external physical world of objects, their attributes and relational events. We have described how, with the help of his inherited endowment (amygdaloid complex), he starts –early on- to learn about his future cultural abode as translated by nursing mother’s baby talk and facial expressions. Soon thereafter his proto-linguistic organ (temporal cortex, amygdale, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex) become readied to transform the protective reflex life into a more sophisticated interactivity with the external chaotic world of sensations out there, beyond mother’s lap. Sense receptors become selective, only that portion of reality with survival value need accessing the brain. Then a small fraction of that reality converges into our sense receptors that transform the university of chaotic sensations first into monadic action potentials which are then funneled into the rest of the brain to be transformed, as time goes on, into richer quality perceptions which finally all emerge as part of a concept adapted to the circumstantial event of pertinence. The latter will thereafter guide the execution of adaptive survival strategies, a linguistic narrative or a memory thereof, not necessarily in that order. We have described these events in previous writings. Biological survival is getting a good footing on life which guarantees later on a viable reproductive transfer to succeeding generations. Is that all there is to human life? Except for the concept formation activity and its expression as a narrative language of communication, how is life different from that of other subhuman species?
What we really do not know is what happens with that portion of the outer world intuition (objective physical reality) that either the sense receptors excluded or, if not, could not find its way into a logical sequential narrative or a sequence of adaptive motor response activity? What happened to that portion not processed by the logical, ‘talking brain’ Turing machine? Is it there in the brain?, if so, how do we know it? Is that all there is to existence, the eternal changing of hats from homo-sapiens to homo faber? How does artwork fit into that dyadic view of existence?
The transition sensation (object) à perception à concept we just described is by and large a unidirectional vector describing ‘a grosso modo’ how we form (and store) mental ideas (ideal objects) about physical objects in the environment in their absence. We have described how may sense-phenomenal consciousness work as a bio-psycho-sociological (bps) survival strategy, and more recently, how free will may, when guided by the ‘talking brain’, may also become just another more sophisticated survival strategy This has been the ‘easy’ part in the development of the bps model because, in principle, their fundamental tenets can be arguably reduced eventually to sentential or symbolic language and translated into a complex artificial intelligence computer program sans qualia. What is not so easy is to understand, least to explain!, is the role and bps importance –if any- of the non-logical, non-linear, irrational part of the brain, the one we will attribute with the generation of aesthetic activity. We believe that the aesthetic object provides an insight into the workings of that irrational aspect of existence. Art expression, in its many manifestations as the traditional fine arts of music, architecture, sculpture, painting or poetry, becomes amenable to our analysis if we premise its justification as the result of an inevitable human urge to communicate universals, that which gets lost in the day to day, crisis to crisis logical business of adaptive survival in the ecological niche. Is art practical, common, does it have a bps survival value? If not, what is it then good for, pleasurable delight only? We don’t know and wish to learn more about this unique human activity.
We suspect the aesthetic object is intimately related to the important human subject à physical object reciprocal temporal relation, now and always. This intuition may result difficult to assimilate for a physicalist frame of mind whose parishioners may not have the required objectivity to see through and rise above the ordinary world of objects in the space-time domain. It is never easy to wear a scientific hat and simultaneously state that there is no reason in the world why existential reality should be exclusively translated into scientific, mechanical and causal terminology. Is that all there is to life? If that is the conclusion of the reader, he should stop here and continue reading elsewhere with his hard-science horse blinders because the worst blind wishes not to see! For there is yet another aspect about the truth of existence not present in the outer spatio-temporal domain construct and which requires for its efficient apprehension the kind of epistemological sensitivity to establish a communion with aesthetic, analogical, expressive and metaphorical entities for their proper discernment.
Any good objective observer of human life in the metropolis is justifiably mesmerized by the recent advances in the biomedical and quantum mechanical fields of research endeavor. Not as obvious to the researcher is the discernment of a bps pattern seen as an inevitable human social behavior across history, one that finds man trying to conquer the secrets of his physical environment à of his own internal environment à the resources of other humans. According to philosopher Adorno, such consistent historical behavior is patognomonic of an irrational fear of the unknown as expressed in his assertion: “Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized". We may know what we all carry in the genetic baggage of conception but we don’t know in what airport we are going to land at birth. "Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown.”, he continued. There are two ways to de-mythologize the content of our empirical, physical world of sensations, the logical approach of scientific methodology that brings order according to the resolution of our sense organs our combinatorial brain capacities to categorize and sort out the contents of our brain data-base; the other way reckons with the other world of sensations outside and their inside equivalents in our heads, those that remain un-expressed by the talking, logical brain processor? Is it because of their lack of survival adaptive value? Is bps survival all that is important to the human species? What about spiritual survival? What is that?, the materialist would undoubtedly choreograph! The answer is an easy one, unless you are in denial about your extra-physical experiences, if you had none.., you don’t know what you are missing!
Unfortunately for those lacking an open mind, not many people inside our global economy are able to enjoy the state of mind tranquility that propitiates the aesthetic perception in its full dimension, either because of the syndrome of cultural attention deficit disorder or that primitive urge for the vicarious enjoyment of the ubiquitous virtual violence in TV. In reality, it takes more abstract intellectual prowess to attain and maintain a state of pure aesthetic perception (not measurable in IQ tests!) to access and transform the universality of concepts into expressible art form. The artist processing sequence is the reverse vector of subject à object relation found in the viewer. The artist transforms the spatio-temporal domain of the empirical world into the mind’s ideal object(s) domain guiding the execution of the motor transduction that creates the artwork object.
For those bored physicalists that still remain reading this far, it is fitting to underline the fact that, in our opinion, the work of artist, while attempting to express an universal predicate quale (love, beauty, pain, etc.) embodied in his chosen object(s) his artwork also represents simultaneously an embodiment of the quintessence of his emotional life. We try real hard as scientists to describe and explain phenomenal consciousness (qualia), the artist does the next best, for those able to translate the message. The artistic inspiration describes a process by which the bps existential content undergoes a depuration, a de-individualization until what remains is no longer the artistic narrative of Joe Blow’s individual pathos, but that of the universality of men, an aesthetic phenomenal consciousness akin to the high order metaphysical abstraction attained by cosmologists during their contemplation of infinite progressions.
The antecedent expresses the content of the most successful artistic expression, the pure form, the universal of all times in the context of real time, that belonging to the existential circumstances of the artist. As philosopher Ortega used to say, “man is both him and his circumstance”.
In the real world of galleries and symphony halls we can obviously distinguish also what we may call a ‘committed’ art where content undergoes only a partial purification and form takes second place to an intellectual content, usually political in nature. This in an obvious conflict between the Apollonian universal and the Dionysian now and here, the pre-Socratic logic and modern irrational, emotional mind sets, as exploited by Hegel and Marx, forcing art, in our opinion, to lose its autonomy forever. This fact of political history ties aesthetics to the social component (s) of the bps model in that it provides an empirical handle (emotions) to penetrate logically into the structure of ‘committed’ art. But, in addition, this historical turn of events brings serious problems to the classical view of art as a reservoir of universal truth-value contents. Whose truth, we now ask? We arbitrarily chose to call it an average truth in a moment in history, a delimited universal of sorts. In this respect, when comparing the spontaneous creation of a work of art to the deliberate act of studiously creating a mathematical or physical model, we consider the truth content in artistic expressions as more reliable accounts of cultural anthropology and history than the corresponding textual scientific literature accounts, however dialectical, discursive, graphical, acoustical or non-propositional the former may tend to be. The real challenge to the art critic or historian is never an easy one, he must be able to link the universality of the object (artwork) represented to the transient flux dynamics of the socio-historical context in which the artwork finds itself. Form and content have their independent dialectics. Bps equilibrium is the only invariant in this existential scenario. The net result will always be that aesthetics is out of phase with the ongoing social conventions yet, paradoxically, its most reliable hallmark and thus its magnetic appeal to the fine human intellect, like telling us “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. The eternal object and the transitory subject joining hands in one instant in time, always contrasting the existential “is” with the utopic “should be” and creating the illusion they can ever coincide. The essence of life and consciousness is change; the challenge of the artist is to identify the form the universal entity of interest must assume to harmonize with the ongoing position of the existential kaleidoscope. A compromise way of finding an optimal relationship of the given genetic past at birth (b) with the social future (s) in the present psychic existence (p). The studious must not lose sight of the fact that artwork is epistemology’s representational way of providing transitory meaning to the adaptive efforts universals (joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, etc.) display in expressing their content during various stages of history, ranging in form from the sketches inside primeval caverns to Andy Warhol’s decorated boxes in the middle of contemporary New York City. Art is choreographed consciousness! In a very special way, art is a metaphor expressing man’s inexorable search for his identity, origins and destiny, i.e., his essence in the context of his existence as Heidegger would put it.
To the extent that aesthetics transcend the sensory experience to become amalgamated with the social context in which it presently exists, it becomes part and parcel of the Kantian transcendental aesthetics, a way of correlating the experience into the totality of knowledge of the artist initially and the viewer at the museum later on. As we outlined elsewhere (Concatenation of Different Levels of Cognitive Processing, Telicom 2002), the objects, their attributes and their dynamic interactions in the contextual background, as an integrated sum of sensations get coordinated from an external 4-d manifold into a perceptual brain analog isomorph. In a subsequent stage the percept evolves into a concept according to its match with other categories of thought. To differentiate this parallel, non-linear, non-propositional processing from the classical sequential Turing processing in the ‘talking brain’ module we’d like to call it ‘transcendental logic’. How this analog representation at the occipito-parietal cortex (V1 to V5) becomes accessed by other relevant consumer systems, e.g., limbic, amygdaloidal, hippocampal & prefrontal during the formation of the mental image is unknown and it is not clear at present whether it precedes and guides the elaboration of the adaptive motor response (basal ganglia, cerebellum, premotor, area 4) or is contemporaneous with the motor activity. Same tandem processing can be described for any of the sense modality sensations, whether taste, odor, sound, kinesthesia, temperature gradient or even a code-phenomenal memory initiating the transition percept à concept inside the brain. This way the various elements of the blooming apple tree in the yard get grouped and integrated to the wet-ware apple tree analog isomorph inside the brain for identification purposes before new codelettes are added as the process advances into the form of a perception as we explained before. (Phenomenal Consciousness as a Survival Strategy, Telicom 2003). This description constitutes the transition phenomenology à epistemology, what makes knowledge to happen. The net result is that nature’s chaos of sensations become transformed into a concept, ready to be articulated as a poem, a painting, a symphony or a performance, all with a thrust of intentionality, semantic content, purpose and action. It is now the role of the viewer at the museum to differentiate this marvel of unit integration creation presented to his senses. For the viewer artwork intuition is now subject to a reverse processing, one of association by contiguity in 4-d space-time, similarity, recency, frequency, intensity and above all, by the meaning the scene has as it individuates into the viewer. We believe that the artist unconsciously selects, from a universe of sense modalities present in the external object, those best suited to become integrated into the concept he has in mind to express. Out of a myriad of colors, shapes, animations, etc., only those fitting the mind mold get access to the perceptual or conceptual stage probably by selective inhibition of attention, as mediated by reticular activating system (ras). Surprisingly, the brain determines the content of physical reality! For the artist the external world intuition ends with the construction of the concept to be expressed; for the artwork viewer the process is reversed, a deconstruction. When both artist and viewer share the same culture, integration = differentiation. For viewers of dissimilar cultural backgrounds the challenge of the author is to preserve the universal content of the artwork unmasked by the variant elements of context, the form may change but not the its universal semantics.
At this point it is important to realize how the logical brain imposes a-priori modes of perception to organize and provide meaning to sensations coming in from sense receptors. Reality is in the brain, not the scenery. Our brain activity has invented the concept of dimensionality to be able to catalogue all modes of sensations; they will now exist in time (a measure of the object’s change in attributes) or in a volumetric space (location). Therefore we do not find an explicit demonstration of anything exceeding 4-d space; hyperspace remains a concept to be inferred as Kaluza-Klein work demonstrates. This way the brain controls the outer world content, as it molds the sensations originating therefrom into the universality of space-time structure. We have discussed in previous publications how a ‘proto-linguistic organ’ (plo) may incorporate audio-visual and other modality codelettes of communication into an integrated algorithm amenable to generate a concept, a thought or a memory readily accessible from a language consumer system. Unfortunately we have not developed the equivalent of a generative grammar to guide the transition sensation à perception à concept (art). This order and unity is neither to be found in the external object or its functional states, it is the human mind and intellect that imposes order and unity, something John Locke could not apprehend when he wrongly sentenced: “There is nothing in the intellect except what was first in the senses.” The modern equivalent would be to explain qualia exclusively on the basis of neurotransmitter activity, as suggested by recent observations on drug-induced hallucinatory states. It has even been suggested the co-existence of two qualitatively different conscious states from EEG data (Fred Travis, “Beyond Ordinary Consciousness”). We would be blind and deaf to audio-visual sensations unless there is in place beforehand a concept (algorithm) to assign them a semantic content. Things in nature cause the generation of conceptual thoughts and the latter give meaning to the former. Science and metaphysics are thereby inseparable, something the staunch physicalist wishes not to admit, a myopia by adoption! The natural world of our experience is a mind manufactured article! We have a tendency to blame the poor resolution of our sense receptors for not being able to capture the totality of attributes of the ‘thing in itself’, the Kantian ‘noumena’. The artist’s mind compensates by making a representation in the form of a ‘meta noumena’ essence by preserving the universality negated to ordinary sense experience or to the logic mind processors, creating in the process a special transcendental dialectic.
Professionals of the hard sciences tend to look down upon artists, especially in HiQ societies. Perhaps they do not realize that, as scientists, they can never work hands on, directly, with the invisible, inaudible ‘things’ their rigged instrument transducers digitally or analogically represent. Their claim to have subdued and tamed nature by ‘their direct’ measurement and analysis is unwarranted. All too frequent, when they try to extend their grasp beyond the appearance of things, they free-fall in a vacuum of antinomies, as when trying to explain infinite regressions or progressions, the ontology of consciousness or first causes. The artist does not have such problems, for time and space do not exist out there in the natural world of his intuitions except as an unconsciously imposed structure by his brain to experience and extract the semantic value therein hidden. The ‘meta-noumenal’ essence is nothing less than the existential ontology of the object, another way of expressing its circumstantial semantic content, now and later on, a mind’s view of ‘objective’ reality.
When we try to apply the same analysis to theological intuitions or alleged revelations claimed by people of faith we come to the interesting conclusion that the absolute truth of theology, just like that of the constitution of matter in the hard sciences, can not ever be demonstrated by theoretical logic and paralogisms appear as frequent as antinomies when we stubbornly try. It could well be that, just like our minds imposes a logical structure on objective reality -as such or as represented in memory- we can make sense of its presence by linguistic sequential or artistic non-linear , non-propositional processing exclusively. When we filter the content of non-objective reality, as experienced in a revelation, there is no alternate known way of processing other than a logically mediated narrative or artwork. Another possibility is that, like the ‘noumena’ of the physical object, the ontology of theological entities are not accessible to available brain logic filters for processing, we have not even identified the sense or non-sense receptor that initiates the process! A reasonable compromise might be to conclude that religion may rest safer on the foundations of the practical reason of the moral sense than the logic of the theoretical reason.
Art has been equated with civilization’s storehouse of felt values. It is not an exaggeration to say that, of all human endeavors, art resists best the passage of time. Not a big surprise either because some elements of the human experience are invariant regardless of how cleverly its form may seem to change when finding its expression in the context of concomitant historical existence. When one takes a brief look at the salient moments of recorded western history, whether in Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Baroque, Classics, Romantics or post Modernists, there is one common denominator, man’s psychic world of reality as manifested in his observable and recorded behavior. Man has always felt desires (appetites, impulses, instincts), expressed emotions (ambition, spirit, courage) and cultivate knowledge (thought, intellect, reason) all by a combination of uncontrollable strategies that make him acquisitive, jealous, erotic or combative, as skillfully exploited in the narrative gems of Shakespeare, Goethe and Dante, among others. Man’s psychic like is the invariant, the universal as it finds a voice in an ever changing Heraclitean scenario of history. It would seem as if his sense of enjoyment of his inalienable right to be free tempers and determines the content of the psychic expression. Thus we can contrast, e.g., Platonic art exalting order, control at the expense of liberty, the very soul of art. Yet Plato is a dreamer with a goodly endowment of fervor, passion and ‘push genes’, the cultural revolutionary that gave birth to The Republic. Aristotle enjoyed the order that Plato, the Athenian hot blood, had to work for, and his Macedonian psychic calm gave him more leisure to ponder on aesthetics to realize it springs from a natural impulse and craving for an emotional expression of what the external social restraints and circumstances mean to man internally. But always stressing that those feelings, while providing the harmonies and sequences (form), was not enough, for it needed the intellect to guide the structure and development, the backbone unity of the finished work. Thus art is a sublimation of social energies of restraint, a form of purification by an intellectually guided catharsis. Yet we do not see yet in Aristoteles the clashes of inner conflicts and personalities we see in the tragedies when the socio-political scenery was rapidly changing.
It is of historical interest that France and England, both willing heirs of the Greek tradition produced pragmatism in England (Bacon, Hume, Locke, Berkeley) and, in France, a period of Enlightenment lead by no other than the raucous 18th. century Voltaire, “a creature of air and flame!, the most excitable man that ever lived! The phlegmatic Hume would say of artwork: “If reason is against man, he will turn against reason.” Voltaire’s version of same would be: “Dialectic is the art of proving anything and believing nothing.” Rousseau would preach in exaltation of instinct and feeling above intellect and reason, “Education makes man clever, not good.” (La Nouvelle Heloise). These two examples show same cultural background inheritance as perceived by the Gallic and Anglo-Saxon perspective.
Finally we will mention briefly one of the most prolific historical hiatuses in art expression, the relatively short Romantic period, and how it was impacted by the Germanic perspective by contrast. In plain 19th. century we seem to have returned to late Greece with Nietzsche and his disdain for the rational, pre-Socratic influence in art. (Thus Spake Zarathustra). Schopenhauer, Nietzsche’s mentor toed the same line. One could fill volumes talking about this period whose unquestionable leader was France who had the power and intellectual sensibilities to execute the virtual animation of the image the motionless effort of the Germans had perfectly conceived in their minds earlier.
In this author’s opinion, the prevailing western intellectual and artistic trend during the new 21st. century will have its roots in the emerging European Union while deeply influenced by Asian philosophies percolating in through the smaller Indo-European member republics. It all started before with Kant of Scottish and German descent who nicely balances the intellectual with the non-rational forces. His critique of pure and practical reason masterpieces have inspired this bps model; his life theme summarized his vision of all of reality which we willingly incorporate by adoption; he was committed to save religion from reason and the latter from skepticism.
If architecture is, as Goethe conceived it, “frozen music” , plastic arts symmetry is static rhythm, dance is an animated eulogy to freedom, color is the beauty encasement of form, then aesthetics, in general, is the choreography of a liberated consciousness.
End Chapter 19