Beauty beyond evolutionary adaptation

An article in the New York Times reports that a biologist is challenging his peers to consider the appearance of beauty as exceeding the bounds of evolutionary success, i.e., sometimes beauty just happens without reference to reproductive success. Hurrah! Here is link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/29/science/evolution-of-beauty-richard-prum-darwin-sexual-selection.html.  Richard Prum studies birds and so understands pretty well that the song and plumage of male birds as well as the nests of bower birds are important factors in female selection of mates. Given the exigencies of natural selection, we assume that such male traits and behaviors provide reliable signals about the viability of the genes the male contributes to the next generation. Of course genetic viability is difficult to assess, so I think that our assumption is just that and the question of whether the best genes for survival also promote the best signaling is still an empirical one. Anyone know of research into this? And not just for birds, but for guppies and lightning bugs and . . . .

Even humans. Do the most attractive people (somewhat culturally determined) pass on the better genes? If so, are our half humorous stereotypes of the dumb (but handsome) jock, the vacuous beauty and all the other good lookers simply wrong? External signaling may fail to convey information about mental prowess (and presumably the genes that carry that forward) and I am sure that some nerds make great mates. We humans, though, find beauty in places besides evolutionary viability, and though I certainly believe that both the apprehension and the creation of beauty through art is a positive evolutionary development and that it contributes greatly to our species’ humanity and success, even that Picasso’s or Einstein’s or Spike Lee’s genes are quite important in that regard, I think that much happens on Gaia and in each life that bears little connection to reproductive success. So I applaud Dr. Prum’s prodding his colleagues on this point.

To develop a line of thinking that runs through my blog, artistic work seems to come two ways, both an expression of an individual, thus dependent upon the lonely self and its social expressiveness. The first is Dissanayake’s ‘making special’ where, akin to ‘signaling’ cited above, we mark our tools and objects and surroundings as special, e.g., a craftsman forms a tool of elegant shape for its function or adds designs to enhance its beauty or we bring flowers into the house or otherwise decorate our surroundings (see post 5/16/16). This I call art as incidental. Then we have art that is more central to its own intention, art for art’s sake in modern terms, though earlier art served a religious or spiritual purpose, which also seems a special class of intent. The difference is one of degrees perhaps, but the first is an expression of self (signaling the self’s specialness) and the second is an expression of the self’s experience (a symbol communicating some import of felt life, following, as always, Susanne Langer).

The NYT article cites a question by physicist Manu Prakash, “Why is there so much beauty?” How to answer? Just the way the cookie crumbles? Gaia only rolls that way? Or humans, and maybe other animals in their own way, notice patterns, and some patterns ‘speak’ more. I remember years ago reading about Paul Dirac, who shared the 1933 Nobel Erwin Schrodinger (see previous post) for his contributions to quantum theory. Dirac’s equation predicted the existence of anti-matter, and while many initially were skeptical, Dirac said he knew his equation bore some truth because it was “beautiful.” (For the record, Dirac seems to have operated on the genius end of the autistic spectrum). Another pattern are Fibonacci numbers, a curious set of integers where each one in the progression is a sum of the preceding two. Mathematicians have found various properties to these and biologists have discovered that they seem to operate in a variety of ways in nature; consider some genetic patterns and flower patterns like this chamomile flower with the Fibonacci pattern marked out for us.

FibonacciChamomile

By User:Alvesgaspar:derivative work: RDBury (Mother_and_daughter.jpg)

Now I am back in a period of reading books by and about James Joyce, so of course his aesthetic theory based upon Acquinas (at least that old guy got something right) comes to mind: beauty has 3 properties, integrity (unity), harmony (coherence of parts in that unity) and radiance (the light shining through the form illuminating the artistic import). The first two are well known in Gestalt Theory, e.g., the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but the third now, what about radiance? Consider this photograph:

cloudsocean

What’s it to be, luminous or numinous?

A cloud of billowing integrity composed harmonically of statically floating water condensation and, when I first saw it, a beautiful vision. We perceive (and some create) patterns; to some we bring radiance and thus we apprehend the beauty in nature and in our own artifactual creations. If there is a lot of beauty around, we bring it there ourselves (oh humans, and the converse as well).

Finally, back to evolution and the ocean of life. Last year we saw a beautiful (oh yes, there it is again) film, Tangerines, about an old man, Ivo, caught up in a civil war in eastern Europe who helps others without question and who, it turns out, has lost his son in the war and his family has left him to move back to Estonia and escape the violence, while he remains to help a friend with his tangerine harvest and to tend his son’s grave. The film’s artistic import centers around Ivo’s heroic effort to lead a good life in a world torn by war. And evolution? What do an old man’s tears over losing his family and home have to do with evolution? A koan for modern times. Linger here awhile before traveling on.

What is life? Schrodinger asked.

Erwin Schrodinger won, along with Paul Dirac, the 1933 Nobel Prize for his wave equations that furthered the development of quantum theory. He developed the notion of ‘superposition’, whereby two outcomes or states are mathematically superimposed into one event, and ‘entanglement’, whereby two particles are somehow connected so that measurement of one determines the measurement of the other (I think in an opposite direction. At least this is what I can glean from my spurious readings in the development of quantum theory—this is way above my pay grade). Schrodinger is also famous for his thought experiment to illustrate superposition involving a cat in a box that may be alive and dead at the same time because quantum phenomena are very weird. His mind operated with a particularly high level of genius.

Erwin_Schrödinger_(1933)

Erwin Schrodinger in 1933

In 1944 he wrote a book based on a lecture series entitled What is Life?, in which he hypothesizes about the large molecules that might compose a genome, and he wrote with prescience. James Watson and Francis Crick both said this book motivated them to search for the chemical structure of the gene and they discovered the double helix of DNA in 1953. Schrodinger’s book is very interesting still today (though the second half of the book on mind and consciousness is perhaps pedestrian). He approaches his study as a physicist and not a biologist. He figured out that all of the genetic material in our body, if isolated and gathered together, would amount to a tablespoon of material. He also figured out that the energy difference between isomers (same constituent atoms assembled into different shapes) would play a role in organic processes, and Monod and colleagues would demonstrate that this is so a decade later as they initiated molecular biology.

Schrodinger analyzed life as countervailing entropy, i.e., that the ongoing deterioration of the universe into disorder due to entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, was abated by life’s negentropic processes. (Monod would champion this in his book Chance and Necessity with reference to Schrodinger.) He wondered at the lasting power of life’s chemical structures, i.e., the soma, and analyzed the invariance and invariance in terms of quantum theory. He cites crystalline structures as a prime example of stable molecular arrangements and he considers that biological molecules, e.g., proteins, genes, etc., are also crystalline, not periodic ones like salt where the molecules repeat themselves to form the crystal, but aperiodic ones where the structure and shape of the molecules is similarly stable but not repetitive. Life, then, is based upon aperiodic crystals (and again, Monod found this to be exactly so).

Schrodinger’s short book is a worthy read as he considers life and its biological chemistry in light of known physics (and who knew more?) He writes, “There is just one general conclusion to be obtained from it, and that, I confess, was my only motive for writing this book. . . . living matter, while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown, which, however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of this science as the former.” Vital processes are indeed a mystery that is solvable and that will involve a new understanding of physical principles analogous to, he says, how Einstein’s theories modified Newton’s theories, and how quantum theory modified Einstein’s.

He focused on how life sustains itself in contravention of entropy, i.e., the 2nd law of thermodynamics.  “What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.”   Remember Schrodinger wrote this 4 years before Claude Shannon published his book, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, that gave information theory a jump start and elevated ‘entropy’ and ‘negentropy’ to key concepts in modern science. So in answer to his question, what is life?, Schrodinger suggested that the invariant molecules composing the genome maintained their form contravening entropy through their replication down generations of somatic reproductions, that each somatic vehicle developed from the chemistry of its tablespoonful of genes and lived by feeding upon negentropy to resist entropy, then died when it could no longer prevent the progression to “maximum entropy which is death”, as he put it, with the genes continuing their procession down through the ages. Wow! So explaining that is why he wrote this book. I am not sure if other scientists, physicists or biologists, concur with his statement that this elucidates other new laws of physics, but the scientific revolution accelerates even now in any event. Travel on.

a bit of speculation

Many of you have already seen reports of Homo fossils recently discovered in Morocco.  (NYT:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/science/human-fossils-morocco.html).  It is interesting for a few reasons.   One is that it pushes the origins back another 100,000 years to around 300,000.  The history of paleontology seems just about always that new discoveries push timelines further back, e.g., people in the Americas, use of fire.  These early Moroccans used fire, ate antelope and shaped arrow-spear heads using stone from 20 miles away.  Another find is that I used the plural, ‘origins’ indicating that scientists now think Homo arose not just in eastern Africa but in several areas, e.g., south Africa and now northwest Africa.  Still another is that the researchers say these fossils represent Homo sapiens, an assertion that will paleontologists will debate a good deal, I am sure.  The faces were flat like ours and some other features were similar.

512px-Craniums_of_Homo

We are #6, Moroccan closer to 5.

The interesting find is that their brains were about the same size relative to their bodies but were longer and less rounded in shape; our brains have some larger posterior areas that give height and round out our brain’s shape.

Lobes_of_the_brain

parietal in yellow, temporal in green, where they meet anteriorly is the place to be seen

Here is my speculation:   These areas still to develop probably included the parietal lobe and the part of the temporal lobe.  Consider what these enlarged areas help to accomplish.  On the left side the P-T (parietal-temporal) junction helps to maintain skilled motor patterns enabling handedness and motoric praxis, (this for right handed people) and just below that is an area involved in lexical memory, i.e., the ‘dictionary’ of words our brain relies on for comprehension (and some for production).  On the right side the P-T junction is where Empathy Central lies, or what academics call Theory of Mind.  This area supports our social insights and knowledge of others, and this in turn supports social praxis, i.e., socially skilled interactions.  These would seem paramount in our functioning and so the later evolution of this neurological substrate fits into this speculative hypothesis.  Finally, remember that the long cortical fasciculi, most notably the arcuate fasciculus (see several posts here about that fiber bundle) have their posterior origin in this area and their anterior origin in the frontal motor areas.  On the left we know this tract enables verbatim repetition, i.e., mirroring the words heard, and the right I suspect is involved in the empathic mirroring of emotional expressions.  Both types of praxis and mirroring are critical in the development of human intelligence.  Pretty cool, huh?  Well, much more to do today so I will travel on.

What is life? Schrodinger asked

Erwin Schrodinger won the 1933 Nobel Prize for his wave equations that furthered the development of quantum theory. He developed the notion of ‘superposition’, whereby two outcomes or states are mathematically superimposed into one event, and ‘entanglement’, whereby two particles are somehow connected so that measurement of one determines the measurement of the other (I think in an opposite direction. At least this is what I can glean from my spurious readings in the development of quantum theory—this is way above my pay grade). Schrodinger is also famous for his thought experiment to illustrate superposition involving a cat in a box that may be alive and dead at the same time because quantum phenomena are very weird. His mind operated with a particularly high level of genius.

In 1944 he wrote a book based on a lecture series entitled What is Life?, in which he hypothesizes about the large molecules that might compose a genome, and he wrote with prescience. James Watson and Francis Crick both said this book motivated them to search for the chemical structure of the gene and they discovered the double helix of DNA in 1953. Schrodinger’s book is very interesting still today (though the second half of the book on mind and consciousness is perhaps pedestrian). He approaches his study as a physicist and not a biologist. He figured out that all of the genetic material in our body, if isolated and gathered together, would amount to a tablespoon of material. He also figured out that the energy difference between isomers (same constituent atoms assembled into different shapes) would play a role in organic processes, and Monod and colleagues would demonstrate that this is so a decade later as they initiated molecular biology.

Schrodinger also analyzed life as countervailing entropy, i.e., that the ongoing deterioration of the universe into disorder due to entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, was abated by life’s negentropic processes. (Monod would champion this in his book Chance and Necessity with reference to Schrodinger.) He wondered at the lasting power of life structures, i.e., the soma, and analyzed the invariance and invariance in terms of quantum theory. He cites crystalline structures as a prime example of stable molecular arrangements and he considers that biological molecules, e.g., proteins, genes, etc., are also crystalline, not periodic ones like salt where the molecules repeat themselves to form the crystal, but aperiodic ones where the structure and shape of the molecules is similarly stable but not repetitive. Life, then, is based upon aperiodic crystals (and again, Monod found this to be exactly so).

Schrodinger’s short book is a worthy read as he considers life and its biological chemistry in light of known physics (and who knew more?) He writes, “There is just one general conclusion to be obtained from it, and that, I confess, was my only motive for writing this book. . . . living matter, while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown, which, however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of this science as the former.” Vital processes are indeed a mystery that is solvable and that will involve a new understanding of physical principles analogous to, he says, how Einstein’s theories modified Newton’s theories, and how quantum theory modified Einstein’s.

He focused on how life sustains itself in contravention of entropy, i.e., the 2nd law of thermodynamics.  “What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.”   Remember Schrodinger wrote this 4 years before Claude Shannon published his book, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, that gave information theory a jump start and elevated ‘entropy’ and ‘negentropy’ to key concepts in modern science. So in answer to his question, what is life?, Schrodinger suggested that the invariant molecules composing the genome maintained their form contravening entropy through their replication down generations of somatic reproductions and that each somatic vehicle developed from the chemistry of its tablespoonful of genes, lived by feeding upon negentropy to resist entropy, and died when it could no longer prevent the progress to “maximum entropy which is death”, as he put it. Wow! So explaining that is why he wrote this book. I am not sure if other scientists, physicists or biologists, concur with his statement that this elucidates other new laws of physics, but the scientific revolution accelerates even now in any event. Travel on.

the opposite of detecting false beliefs

My last post was about detecting false beliefs (and what that actually might mean); this post is about promoting false beliefs, you know, lying. While writing the earlier post, I thought about when someone gives another person false information and then monitors whether the other believes the lie, and that brought to mind my old clinical work where sometimes the patient’s or others’ prevarications were relevant to treatment. Lying is natural and oftentimes normal, even a social grace as when I give someone the impression that I enjoyed, being a friendly if grumpy old guy, their company when it was actually quite tedious (at best). Misleading others is an trick; watch young dogs at play and soon enough you will see a feint, communicating one intent before acting on another in the effort to gain some advantage, a common motivation for lying. Or walk in our meadow and watch a meadow lark fly as if they have a broken wing and lure some predator (not me, for sure) away from their nest. Sometimes we lie to play a humorous trick, inculcating a false belief and laugh when the deceit is revealed, as in ‘April fools!’

But sometimes lying is a common behavior signaling dishonesty and pathology. Consider the infamous used car salesman who says the car was driven only on Sundays by a little old lady when actually it was pulled out of a flooded lot. In my clinical work with court involved youth I often had to differentiate two different ways of lying. The first was the anti-social, psychopathic sort of lying. Here the person is trying to gain some advantage in order to cheat the other. The psychopath usually does this in a skilled fashion, incorporating just enough truth for a veneer of credibility; they do not want to be caught because then their scam will not work. When caught in the lie, they will cover up, make excuses, and try to disappear. An important feature here is that such a person actively, keenly monitors the other person’s reactions to their prevarication, the better to pull one over on them.

The second sort of lying derives from an attachment disorder. I saw much of this in my work with children whose parenting had not been adequate enough to facilitate a stable parent-child bond and attachment. Without proper attachment a child grows up lacking the healthy ability to regulate their own emotions, to reason fully with cause and effect and so do not learn from the sequential analysis of their actions.   And the development of empathy is stunted, even to the degree that they do not read another’s emotions or response because it is irrelevant to them. In the end they do not judge their own expressed thoughts as inaccurate when faced with contradiction, even evidence, because their wish dominates any formation of truth, and another’s opinion on the matter is so incongruous that they cannot understand why someone would say such a contrary thing. (Remember the old Disney saying, “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” People with attachment disorders live in an impervious dream they take for reality). A common example was when a parent, often adoptive, saw the child do something wrong, confront them lovingly in the effort to shape development, only to be met with firm, naïve denial. “But I saw you,” “No you didn’t, I did not do that,” was often how the narrative went. When diagnosed early, intense therapy was needed to counteract the effects of a negative or disorganized attachment.

Such children grow up and carry on some of these behaviors. They have a different version of the truth so their lies are your problem; the world is black and white and relates only to their self-appraisal; they can turn on a friend, like they did with their foster parents, who has violated their expectations, by belittling them or viciously accusing them of some heinous, albeit imaginary, insult. These people may be intelligent, academically and professionally successful. And their friends and familiars can go crazy trying to relate in a straightforward way. They are not really psychopaths because they do not really care if they are caught in a lie, but they are like psychopaths in that they do not care if they hurt someone, the difference being that attachment disordered people do not care because the other’s feelings are irrelevant to their world (in their dream everyone wants what is best for them) and a psychopathic person does not care because they rationalize that no one cares about their feelings so they are acting just like the rest of the world.

I do not claim to have elucidated this distinction rigorously here, only to have described a clinical rule of thumb. I do so to illustrate the thought from the previous post on discerning false beliefs and to provide another frame to the seeming incoherency of our political discourse. In our ‘polarized’ civics, and I wonder if that term is more a creation of the pundits’ narratives to help themselves have a job, each side detects the other’s false beliefs; each side’s beliefs are seemingly impervious to rational exchange. Political lies used to be characterized as social niceties needed for deal making; consider, for example, LBJ. Certainly those who push patently false narratives do so for self-aggrandizement and with political ill-will. Nowadays we are seeing more of the dream state where objective reality matters naught. The elected politician assumes everyone endorses his fantasies of power and that their ideology contains no false belief to detect. All too often the constraints imposed by the need for pragmatic effective action are dissolved in a pool of licentious rhetoric fed by demagoguery. Reality testing to ensure rational actions before hand and to develop improvements later on becomes unimportant and a political nuisance. Some politicians lie in an anti-social manner in the effort to get one by the public; some lie in a disordered attachment manner so that to the extent we participate in their egocentric dream, they will exploit their office for their own power and wealth until they meet external limits. Of course, some do both, but some only lie in a normal, healthy manner; they even promote a pragmatic truth filled effort to govern intelligently with compassion.

Some have made the case that democracy is an intelligent outcome of cultural evolution as it promotes social engagement and justice. One factor in its success, it seems to me from this biological perspective, is its citizens’ discrimination of false beliefs and their capacity for pragmatic rational action based upon intelligent assays of reality. Species, cultures, and nations come and go; they evolve and devolve into and out of existence with no surety except for their resilience and adaptability to change, and one factor in that history shows to be the citizens’ ability to detect false beliefs. So now I am beginning to seriously worry.

A good study so why quibble?

Because it is fun and improves my mind.  Here is an excellent example of social praxis demonstrated in simians:  PLOSone has a report of another experimental studies designed to investigate whether great apes, e.g., chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans, can distinguish another’s ‘false beliefs’ and act upon that discernment to help them. The researchers used procedures adapted from human studies that demonstrated some understanding of another’s false beliefs at 18 months of age and good understanding by age 3 or 4 years old. The researchers were very diligent in their design and implementation in order to ensure validity and reliability; I will give only a bare outline before going on to deeper issues. You can read for yourself at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0173793

The basic set-up is this: Actor A comes into the room and puts an object in box 1 and then leaves the room. Actor B comes into the room and switches the object to box 2 and then leaves. Actor A returns. Which box does he go to? The subject has watched this whole scenario knows the object is in box 2 but also, if socially cognizant, knows that actor A believes the object to be box 1. In some protocols the visual gaze preference is measured, i.e., how long the subject looks at agent 1, box 1 and box 2, the assumption of this measure of passive action being that gazing more at box 2 shows awareness of the false belief. A more robust protocol is for the subject to move and help actor A open the correct box. And indeed the results show that young humans and the great apes move to show actor A the true location of the object, trying to help by correcting the false belief. More on this in a bit.

The basic set-up is also modified so that after placing the object in box 1, actor A stays in the room and watches actor B come in and move the object to box 2. I really like this variant; it shows the ingeniousness of scientists in clarifying the data’s interpretation.. When actor A goes to box 1 and tries to open it, little humans and great apes try to help him open box 1, seeming then to understand that actor A knows where the object is but wants to open box 1 for some other purpose. In another variation, if actor A opens box 1 and looks puzzled at not finding what was desired, subjects helped focus on box 2 and so retrieve the object.

chimpanzee-personality

Now when was the last time you had your keys?

I think this is a great study along the lines Frans de Waal calls for to help us understand how smart other animals are, and I have some quibbles and want to think about further examples of distinguishing false beliefs from human cultural and symbolic behavior. My first quibble is that in the abstract the researchers state that their results demonstrate that this type of social cognition and understanding, which had been thought to be exclusively human, might now be found in other animals. “Great apes thus may possess at least some basic understanding that an agent’s actions are based on her beliefs about reality. Hence, such understanding might not be the exclusive province of the human species.” If you have followed this blog at all, you know what my challenge will be. What anthropodenialist (see 4/8/16 post on de Waal) and all too precious human assumed (do I detect a false belief there?) this was to be found in humans only? Not good, especially in this day and age when we understand that human evolution includes no discontinuities with our ancestors. Research like this is not really changing our view of who we are (or at least it shouldn’t be) but rather reveals how the biological roots of our humanity grew our species.

Secondly, here is perhaps an obviously semantic quibble: Why call this false ‘belief’ when a much better word would be ‘assumption’, thereby reserving the word ‘belief’ for some thought formed with less ties to sensory data? Consider two known features here, mirroring and the kinesic communication of intent (a basic form of empathy). Mirroring cells in at least the primate cortex are motor cells that fire when the animal sees another perform an action (see many posts here about this, especially my most popular post of all time on the arcuate fasciculus, mirror cells, and memes). In the experiments described above, the subject animal, be it human or great ape, would respond through mirroring to the reappearance of actor A when approaching a box. Further, some studies have suggested that mirror cells are sensitive to the other’s intention, e.g., seeing the other pick up a cup, different cells fire when the other is going to drink from it as opposed to doing some other unrelated task. So the subject animal needs only mirroring and basic empathy coupled with environmental object mapping (quite evident in the rat brain) to identify the false assumption; the impulse to help would be again a basic empathic action that forms the incipient base of social praxis. (Remember watching somebody struggle to do something and your impulse to grab the object and do it for them?) The mirroring system may go a long way in offering some understanding of this social cognition, and the assumption of continuity in the perceptual world along with communicated intent is a basic, so that belief is not really a construct needed to understand this.

bonobo2

I always thought god was a bonobo, and now you tell me . . .

What about the broader, deeper phenomena of detecting (and responding to) another’s perceived false beliefs, real beliefs about abstract matters rather than perceptual data? We humans, at least, seem to have a talent for apprising others of their false beliefs. You know, like someone just knows I am going to hell because of my false beliefs? Or an example of more consequence, people who deny scientific findings because why? The false beliefs of scientists, of course, thereby exposing their own false beliefs, also called ignorance, about the nature and process of science. So much of our world, the human Umvelt, is dominated by symbolic information displaced in time and space, abstracted from experience and formulated with, at times, great creative license, that finding agreement rather than parsing others’ mistakes might seem the challenge. That, of course, is a function of culture, however, and oh, wait, is that part and parcel of the scientific method, and I hasten to add, the basis of democracy? Now, about the emperor’s new clothes . . .

art: solitary and social

I am reading Richard Ellman’s 1948 biography of WB Yeats. I have read smaller pieces before but this is more comprehensive and details his life events in relation to his literary output. Good stuff. I was struck by JB Yeats, Willie’s father, and the cogency of his philosophizing about art. JB made a go of it as a portrait painter. His paintings were well received but his family was continually poor because he completed so few commissions as he fussed over perfection. Yeats and siblings spent much time in Sligo with his mother’s family, the Pollexfens, who were well-to-do. JB gave his son much advice and direction, most of which was later spurned, while mostly educating him himself at home. It is telling that Willie did not attend Trinity College as his father planned because he seems not to have been able to pass the entrance exams.

JB thought about art and psychology a good deal and imparted that to Willie along with his disbelief in religious objects, e.g., gods. Ellman quotes JB as saying, “Art is the social action of a solitary man.” And this resonated with my biological view of art. I work here from two perspectives of artistry, one involving everyone who makes art incidentally as they live life where art is ancillary to any role and the other where the life is of an artist, where the role is to make art. I have written before of Ellen Dissanayake’s notion that the origin of art is “making special”, i.e., we make an object beautiful less from a symbolic aesthetic and more from giving that object our own special flavor (see post 5/16/16).  Art here is perhaps more decorative but it is also an expression of an individual self’s vision or inspiration. Art is an accompaniment to the person fulfilling his or her roles, so we have a person acting socially but giving it a personal touch, e.g., a worker decorating his or her tool, beautifying the home, or even painting a mural on a wall.

This is distinct from a person’s role as an artist, i.e., someone making art for art’s sake, as it were, professionally, or at least as central to their intent and not incidental as in ‘making special.’ The role of an artist is somewhat exotic in its seeming lack of utility. Art here is not made in fulfillment of a social role yet it still contributes to society. It is more the expression of an individual’s inspiration to render their experience aesthetically (thereby using the tools of art according to their aesthetic purpose) and so share a complex understanding of life with others. The role of artist is isolated from utilitarian life yet the aesthetic production participates fully in the cultural life of the group. Art here is a social action of a very circumscribed scope from a solitary perspective because it is so intimately involved with one self and that self’s aesthetic, i.e., symbolic expression of a presentational sort and not discursive, following Langer (as always; try posts 2/17/16 & 9/13/16 for example).

somabrainm1-e1495106206341.jpg

Given my construct of a soma with a brain and its MEMBRAIN (see posts 5/17/15, 8/11/15 & 4/17/17), we can see the self develop through three stages. At the level of the soma, the self develops through a sense of agency. Somas do things to sustain themselves, including reproduce to continue their genetic line. With the development of the brain the self develops through its retention of experience, i.e., the soma’s autobiography (this rises to a new level with the hippocampus; search for many posts like 5/27/16, 9/8/14, 12/24/15, 5/31/16 & more). With the development of the MEMBRANE (posts 11/14/14, 4/7/14 & 1/8/15) the self becomes socially defined in divers ways: through the empathic understanding of one’s own subjective domain and the objective mystery of the other’s subjective domain, the intimate roles of family, the familiar roles of cooperation, and the social mores regulating transactions with those known only through commerce and joint projects. Within each MEMBRAIN some activity is personal, i.e., self-involved, and some impersonal, i.e., defined solely by the roles characterizing the interaction or about abstract information. We mark this difference when we talk about wisdom vs. knowledge. We learn differently about death when a loved one passes from learning about numbers or metabolic processes; the former is self-involved, the latter not so much. An artist, by sharing a personal, subjective, and individually constructed symbolic work, acts socially in an intimate manner outside of any of the usual roles and relations. To paraphrase JB Yeats, an artist is a solitary person acting in a most social and intimate manner by sharing the symbolic rendition of a self’s deep experience. That is a special role indeed and not far afield from a spiritual realm.