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Amira Skomorowska's notes

"Everything you can imagine is real."— Pablo Picasso



Age of information
Artificial intelligence
Cognition, perception, relativity
Cognitive science
Collective intelligence
Human being
Mind & Brain
Science & Art
Self improvement
The other


A Box Of Stories
Reading Space




Van Gogh’s Shadow by Luca Agnani (Paintings In Motion)

"Luca Agnani, an Italian designer and animator, has taken the classic works of Vincent Van Gogh, and brought them to life. He’s created a short film called Van Gogh’s Shadow which shows over a dozen of Van Gogh’s paintings suddenly filled with life and movement, perhaps giving us an insight into how the artist may have seen the world he lived in.” source

"To calculate the exact shadows, I tried to understand the position of the sun relative to Arles at different times of the day and, according to my calculations, even the river [in The Langlois Bridge at Arles] should flow in that direction," Agnani told The Creators Project over email. "If the video was projected over his paintings, my interpretations would superimpose perfectly, like a mapping of a framework. (…)

Agnani has become somewhat of a phenomenon over the past few years. Since 2011, the Italian artist’s visual mapping and design projections have transformed the faces of some of Europe’s most celebrated religious structures, including the Sanctuary of San Michele (a piece commissioned by UNESCO) and the Catania Cathedral in Sicily. When French musician Yann Tiersen played Ancona, Italy, he asked Agnani to design a projection for his opening night concert at the Mole Vanvitelliana: an artificial port-island that houses a 19th century Leprosorium-turned-art gallery.” The Creators Project, Aug 8, 2013


1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
8. Bedroom
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
11. Restaurant
12. First Steps (after Millet)
13. Self-Portrait

Music: Experience - Ludovico Einaudi

Luca Agnani, Van Gogh Shadow, 2013


Found poetry

                                                            Click image to enlarge

unlock the moonlight,
forge a chain,
bring your candle to glitter again.

Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated: changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original.

Franze Stenzel describes the Dadaism movement with its readymade philosophy as a predecessor for the practice that later became found poetry. Dadaists like Duchamp placed everyday practical objects in an environment that was aesthetic and in so doing called into question that object as art, the observer, the aesthetic environment and the definition of what is art.

Stylistically, found poetry is similar to the visual art of “appropriation” in which two- and three-dimensional art is created from recycled items, giving ordinary/commercial things new meaning when put within a new context in unexpected combinations or juxtapositions.” (Wiki)

                                                               Click image to enlarge

Silver sigh
and flames of dust:
you forget me.

I hesitate, pressed,
drumming answers of knives
into the night.

Illustrations above: Itti

                                                    Click image to enlarge Source: danidrastic


                                                    Click image to enlarge Source

                             Illustration: Dog-Eared Poetry: Three Works by Erica Baum


The Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. We are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture

"For most of the last century, America’s cultural landscape—its fashion, art, music, design, entertainment—changed dramatically every 20 years or so. But these days, even as technological and scientific leaps have continued to revolutionize life, popular style has been stuck on repeat, consuming the past instead of creating the new. (…)

The past is a foreign country. Only 20 years ago the World Wide Web was an obscure academic thingamajig. All personal computers were fancy stand-alone typewriters and calculators that showed only text (but no newspapers or magazines), played no video or music, offered no products to buy. E-mail (a new coinage) and cell phones were still novelties. Personal music players required cassettes or CDs. Nobody had seen a computer-animated feature film or computer-generated scenes with live actors, and DVDs didn’t exist. The human genome hadn’t been decoded, genetically modified food didn’t exist, and functional M.R.I. was a brand-new experimental research technique. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had never been mentioned in The New York Times. China’s economy was less than one-eighth of its current size. CNN was the only general-interest cable news channel. Moderate Republicans occupied the White House and ran the Senate’s G.O.P. caucus. Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (…)

During these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. (…)

Madonna to Gaga

20 years after Hemingway published his war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls a new war novel, Catch-22, made it seem preposterously antique.

Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion’s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012. (…)

Nostalgic Gaze

Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past. Our culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. It’s the rare “new” cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before. Which means the very idea of datedness has lost the power it possessed during most of our lifetimes. (…)

Loss of Appetite

Look through a current fashion or architecture magazine or listen to 10 random new pop songs; if you didn’t already know they were all things from the 2010s, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me with certainty they weren’t from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s or even earlier. (The first time I heard a Josh Ritter song a few years ago, I actually thought it was Bob Dylan.) In our Been There Done That Mashup Age, nothing is obsolete, and nothing is really new; it’s all good. I feel as if the whole culture is stoned, listening to an LP that’s been skipping for decades, playing the same groove over and over. Nobody has the wit or gumption to stand up and lift the stylus.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.

If this stylistic freeze is just a respite, a backward-looking counter-reaction to upheaval, then once we finally get accustomed to all the radical newness, things should return to normal—and what we’re wearing and driving and designing and producing right now will look totally démodé come 2032. Or not. Because rather than a temporary cultural glitch, these stagnant last couple of decades may be a secular rather than cyclical trend, the beginning of American civilization’s new chronic condition, a permanent loss of appetite for innovation and the shockingly new. After all, such a sensibility shift has happened again and again over the last several thousand years, that moment when all great cultures—Egyptian, Roman, Mayan, Islamic, French, Ottoman, British—slide irrevocably into an enervated late middle age. (…)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose has always meant that the constant novelty and flux of modern life is all superficial show, that the underlying essences endure unchanged. But now, suddenly, that saying has acquired an alternative and nearly opposite definition: the more certain things change for real (technology, the global political economy), the more other things (style, culture) stay the same.

But wait! It gets still stranger, because even as we’ve fallen into this period of stylistic paralysis and can’t get up, more people than ever before are devoting more of their time and energy to considering and managing matters of personal style.

And why did this happen? In 1984, a few years after “yuppie” was coined, I wrote an article in Time positing that “yuppies are, in a sense, heterosexual gays. Among middle-class people, after all, gays formed the original two-income households and were the original gentrifiers, the original body cultists and dapper health-club devotees, the trendy homemakers, the refined, childless world travelers.” Gays were the lifestyle avant-garde, and the rest of us followed. (…)

Amateur Stylists

People flock by the millions to Apple Stores (1 in 2001, 245 today) not just to buy high-quality devices but to bask and breathe and linger, pilgrims to a grand, hermetic, impeccable temple to style—an uncluttered, glassy, super-sleek style that feels “contemporary” in the sense that Apple stores are like back-on-earth sets for 2001: A Space Odyssey, the early 21st century as it was envisioned in the mid-20th. And many of those young and young-at-heart Apple cultists-cum-customers, having popped in for their regular glimpse and whiff of the high-production-value future, return to their make-believe-old-fashioned lives—brick and brownstone town houses, beer gardens, greenmarkets, local agriculture, flea markets, steampunk, lace-up boots, suspenders, beards, mustaches, artisanal everything, all the neo-19th-century signifiers of state-of-the-art Brooklyn-esque and Portlandish American hipsterism.

Moreover, tens of millions of Americans, the uncool as well as the supercool, have become amateur stylists—scrupulously attending, as never before, to the details and meanings of the design and décor of their homes, their clothes, their appliances, their meals, their hobbies, and more. The things we own are more than ever like props, the clothes we wear like costumes, the places where we live, dine, shop, and vacation like stage sets. And angry right-wingers even dress in 18th-century drag to perform their protests. Meanwhile, why are Republicans unexcited by Mitt Romney? Because he seems so artificial, because right now we all crave authenticity.

The Second Paradox

So, these two prime cultural phenomena, the quarter-century-long freezing of stylistic innovation and the pandemic obsession with style, have happened concurrently—which appears to be a contradiction, the Second Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. Because you’d think that style and other cultural expressions would be most exciting and riveting when they are unmistakably innovating and evolving.

Part of the explanation, as I’ve said, is that, in this thrilling but disconcerting time of technological and other disruptions, people are comforted by a world that at least still looks the way it did in the past. But the other part of the explanation is economic: like any lucrative capitalist sector, our massively scaled-up new style industry naturally seeks stability and predictability. Rapid and radical shifts in taste make it more expensive to do business and can even threaten the existence of an enterprise. One reason automobile styling has changed so little these last two decades is because the industry has been struggling to survive, which made the perpetual big annual styling changes of the Golden Age a reducible business expense. Today, Starbucks doesn’t want to have to renovate its thousands of stores every few years. If blue jeans became unfashionable tomorrow, Old Navy would be in trouble. And so on. Capitalism may depend on perpetual creative destruction, but the last thing anybody wants is their business to be the one creatively destroyed. Now that multi-billion-dollar enterprises have become style businesses and style businesses have become multi-billion-dollar enterprises, a massive damper has been placed on the general impetus for innovation and change.

It’s the economy, stupid. The only thing that has changed fundamentally and dramatically about stylish objects (computerized gadgets aside) during the last 20 years is the same thing that’s changed fundamentally and dramatically about movies and books and music—how they’re produced and distributed, not how they look and feel and sound, not what they are. This democratization of culture and style has two very different but highly complementary results. On the one hand, in a country where an adorably huge majority have always considered themselves “middle class,” practically everyone who can afford it now shops stylishly—at Gap, Target, Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks. Americans: all the same, all kind of cool! And yet, on the other hand, for the first time, anyone anywhere with any arcane cultural taste can now indulge it easily and fully online, clicking themselves deep into whatever curious little niche (punk bossa nova, Nigerian noir cinema, pre-war Hummel figurines) they wish. Americans: quirky, independent individualists!

We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle—economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation. I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles that tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years. So maybe we are coming to the end of this cultural era of the Same Old Same Old. As the baby-boomers who brought about this ice age finally shuffle off, maybe America and the rich world are on the verge of a cascade of the wildly new and insanely great. Or maybe, I worry some days, this is the way that Western civilization declines, not with a bang but with a long, nostalgic whimper.”

Kurt Andersen, American novelist and journalist, to read full essay click You Say You Want a Devolution?, Vanity Fair, Jan 2012 (Illustration by James Taylor)

See also:

Neal Gabler on The Elusive Big Idea - ‘We are living in a post ideas world where bold ideas are almost passé’
Infinite Stupidity. Social evolution may have sculpted us not to be innovators and creators as much as to be copiers


Jason Silva on singularity, synthetic biology and a desire to transcend human boundaries


"That’s what we do with all of our art. A beautiful cathedral, a beautiful painting, a beautiful song—-all of those are ecstatic visions held in stasis; in some sense the artist is saying “here is a glimpse I had of something ephemeral and fleeting and magical, and I’m doing my best to instantiate that into stone, into paint, into stasis.” And that’s what human beings have always done, we try to capture these experiences before they go dim, we try to make sure that what we glimpse doesn’t fade away before we get hungry or sleepy later. (…)

We want to transcend our biological limitations. We don’t want biology or entropy to interrupt the ecstasy of consciousness. Consciousness, when it’s unburdened by the body, is something that’s ecstatic; we use the mind to watch the mind, and that’s the meta-nature of our consciousness, we know that we know that we know, and that’s such a delicious feeling, but when it’s unburdened by biology and entropy it becomes more than delicious; it becomes magical. I mean, think of the unburdening of the ego that takes place when we watch a film; we sit in a dark room, it’s sort of a modern church, we turn out the lights and an illumination beams out from behind us creating these ecstatic visions. We lose ourselves in the story, we experience a genuine catharsis, the virtual becomes real—-it’s total transcendence, right? (…)

This haunting idea of the passing of time, of the slipping away of the treasured moments of our lives, became a catalyst for my thinking a lot about mortality. This sense that the moment is going to end, the night will be over, and that we’re all on this moving walkway headed towards death; I wanted a diversion from that reality. In Ernest Becker's book The Denial of Death, he talks about how the neurotic human condition is not a product of our sexual repression, but rather our repression in the face of death anxiety. We have this urgent knot in our stomach because we’re keenly aware that we’re mortal, and so we try to find these diversions so that we don’t think about it—-and these have manifested into the religious impulse, the romantic impulse, and the creative impulse.

As we increasingly become sophisticated, cosmopolitan people, the religious impulse is less relevant. The romantic impulse has served us well, particularly in popular culture, because that’s the impulse that allows us to turn our lovers into deities; we say things like “she’s like salvation, she’s like the wind,” and we end up worshipping our lovers. We invest in this notion that to be loved by someone is to be saved by someone. But ultimately no relationship can bear the burden of godhood; our lovers reveal their clay feet and their frailties and they come back down to the world of biology and entropy. 

So then we look for salvation in the creative impulse, this drive to create transcendent art, or to participate in aesthetic arrest. We make beautiful architecture, or beautiful films that transport us to this lair where we’re like gods outside of time. But it’s still temporal. The arts do achieve that effect, I think, and so do technologies to the extent that they’re extensions of the human mind, extensions of our human longing. In a way, that is the first pathway to being immortal gods. Particularly with technologies like the space shuttle, which make us into gods in the sense that they let us hover over the earth looking down on it. But then we’re not gods, because we still age and we die.

But even if you see the singularity only as a metaphor, you have to admit it’s a pretty wonderful metaphor, because human nature, if nothing else, consists of this desire to transcend our boundaries—-the entire history of man from hunter gatherer to technologist to astronaut is this story of expanding and transcending our boundaries using our tools. And so whether the metaphor works for you or not, that’s a wonderful way to live your life, to wake up every day and say, “even if I am going to die I am going to transcend my human limitations.” And then if you make it literal, if you drop this pretense that it’s a metaphor, you notice that we actually have doubled our lifespan, we really have improved the quality of life across the world, we really have created magical devices that allow us to send our thoughts across space at nearly the speed of light. We really are on the cusp of reprogramming our biology like we program computers. 

All of the sudden this metaphor of the singularity spills over into the realm of the possible, and it makes it that much more intoxicating; it’s like going from two dimensions to three dimensions, or black and white to color. It just keeps going and going, and it never seems to hit the wall that other ideas hit, where you have to stop and say to yourself “stop dreaming.” Here you can just kind of keep dreaming, you can keep making these extrapolations of Moore’s Law, and say “yeah, we went from building-sized supercomputers to the iPhone, and in forty-five years it will be the size of a blood cell.” That’s happening, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to stop.

Q: Going through your videos, I noticed that one vision of the singularity that you keep returning to is this idea of “substrate-independent minds.” Can you explain what a substrate independent mind is, and why it makes for such a compelling vision of the future?

Jason Silva: That has to do with what’s called STEM compression, which is this notion that all technologies become compressed in terms of space, time, energy and matter (STEM) as they evolve. Our brain is a great example of this; it’s got this dizzying level of complexity for such a small space, but the brain isn’t optimal. The optimal scenario would be to have brain-level complexity, or even higher-level complexity in something that’s the size of cell. If we radically upgrade our bodies with biotech, we might find that in addition to augmenting our biological capabilities, we’re also going to be replacing more of our biology with non-biological components, so that things are backed up and decentralized and not subject to entropy. More and more of the data processing that makes up our consciousness is going to be non-biological, and eventually we might be able to discard biology altogether, because we’ll have finally invented a computational substrate that supports the human mind. 

At that point, if we’re doing computing at the nano scale, or the femto scale, which is even smaller, you could see extraordinary things. What if we could store all of the computing capacity of the world’s computer networks in something that operates at the femto scale? What if we could have thinking, dreaming, conscious minds operating at the femto scale? That would be a substrate independent mind.

You can even go beyond that. John Smart has this really interesting idea he calls the Transcension Hypothesis. It’s this idea that that all civilizations hit a technological singularity, after which they stop expanding outwards, and instead become subject to STEM compression that pushes them inward into denser and denser computational states until eventually we disappear out of the visible universe, and we enter into a black-hole-like condition. So you’ve got digital minds exponentially more powerful than the ones we use today, operating in the computational substrate, at the femto scale, and they’re compressing further and further into a black hole state, because a black hole is the most efficient computational substrate that physics has ever described. I’m not a physicist, but I have read physicists who say that black holes are the ultimate computers, and that’s why the whole STEM compression idea is so interesting, especially with substrate independent minds; minds that can hop back and forth between different organizational structures of matter.  (…)

With technology, we’ve been doing the same thing we used to with religion, which is to dream of a better way to exist, but technology actually gives you real ways to extend your thoughts and your vision. (…)

The mind is always participating in these feedback loops with the spaces it resides in; whatever is around us is a mirror that we’re holding up to ourselves, because everything we’re thinking about we’re creating a model of in our heads. So when you’re in constrained spaces you’re having constrained thoughts, and when you’re in vast spaces you have vast thoughts. So when you get to sit and contemplate actual outer space, solar systems, and galaxies, and super clusters—-think about how much that expands your inner world. That’s why we get off on space. 

I also get off on synthetic biology, because I love the metaphors that exist between technology and biology: the idea that we may be able to reprogram the operating system, or upgrade the software of our biology. It’s a great way to help people understand what’s possible with biology, because people already understand the power we have over the digital world—-we’re like gods in cyberspace, we can make anything come into being. When the software of biology is subject to that very same power, we’re going to be able to do those same things in the realm of living things. There’s this Freeman Dyson line that I have quoted a million times in my videos, to the point where people are actually calling me out about it, but the reason I keep coming back to it is that it’s so emblematic of my awe in thinking about this stuff—-he says that "in the future, a new generation of artists will be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses." It’s a really well placed analogy, because the alphabet is a technology; you can use it to engender alphabetic rapture with literature and poetry. Guys like Shakespeare and Blake and Byron were technologists who used the alphabet to engineer wonderful things in the world. With biology, new generations of artists will be able to perform the same miracles that Shakespeare and those guys did with words, only they’ll be doing it with genes.

Q: You romanticize technology in some really interesting ways; in one of your videos you say that if you could watch the last century in time lapse you would see ideas spilling out of the human mind and into the physical universe. Do you expect that interface between the mind and the physical to become even more lubricated as time passes? Or are there limits, physical or otherwise, that we’re eventually going to run up against?

Jason Silva: It’s hard to say, because as our tools become more powerful they shrink the buffer time between our dreams and our creations. Today we still have this huge lag time between thinking and creation. We think of something, and then we have to go get the stuff for it, and then we have to build it—-it’s not like we can render it at the speed of thought. But eventually it will get to the point where it will be like that scene in Inception where he says that we can create and perceive our world at the same time. Because, again, if you look at human progress in time lapse, it is like that scene in Inception. People thought “airplane, aviation, jet engine” and then those things were in the world. If you look at the assembly line of an airplane in time lapse it actually looks self-organizing; you don’t see all of these agencies building it, instead it’s just being formed. And when you see the earth as the biosphere, as this huge integrated system, then you see this stuff just forming over time, just popping into existence. There’s this process of intention, imagination and instantiation, and the buffer time between each of those steps is getting smaller and smaller. (…)”

Jason Silva, Venezuelan-American television personality, filmmaker, gonzo journalist and founding producer/host for Current TV, A Timothy Leary for the Viral Video Age, The Atlantic, Apr 12, 2012.

Turning Into Gods - ‘Concept Teaser’ by Jason Silva

"Turning Into Gods is a new feature length documentary exploring mankind’s journey to ‘play jazz with the universe’… it is a story of our ultimate potential, the reach of our intelligence, the scope of our scientific and engineering abilities and the transcendent quality of our heroic and noble calling.

Thinking, feeling, striving, man is whatPierre Teilhard de Chardin called “the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis.”… today we walk a tight-rope between ape and Nietzsche’s Overman… how will we make it through, and what is the texture and color of our next refined and designed evolutionary leap? (…)

"We’re on the cusp of a bio-tech/nanotech/artificial-intelligence revolution that will open up new worlds of exploration. And we should open our minds to the limitless, mind-boggling possibilities.”

Why We Could All Use a Heavy Dose of Techno-optimism, Vanity Fair, May 7, 2010.

See also:

‘To understand is to perceive patterns’, Lapidarium notes
Wildcat and Jason Silva on immortality
☞ Jason Silva, The beginning of infinity (video)
Kevin Kelly on information, evolution and technology: ‘The essence of life is not energy but ideas’, Lapidarium notes
Kevin Kelly on Why the Impossible Happens More Often
Waking Life ☞ animated film focuses on the nature of dreams, consciousness, and existentialism. Eamonn Healy speaks about telescopic evolution and the future of humanity
Mark Changizi on Humans, Version 3.0.
Science historian George Dyson: Unravelling the digital code
Technology tag on Lapidarium notes


Are We “Meant” to Have Language and Music? How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man


"We’re fish out of water, living in radically unnatural environments and behaving ridiculously for a great ape. So, if one were interested in figuring out which things are fundamentally part of what it is to be human, then those million crazy things we do these days would not be on the list. (…)

At the top of the list of things we do that we’re supposed to be doing, and that are at the core of what it is to be human rather than some other sort of animal, are language and music. Language is the pinnacle of usefulness, and was key to our domination of the Earth (and the Moon). And music is arguably the pinnacle of the arts. Language and music are fantastically complex, and we’re brilliantly capable at absorbing them, and from a young age. That’s how we know we’re meant to be doing them, i.e., how we know we evolved brains for engaging in language and music.

But what if this gets language and music all wrong? What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? What if our endless yapping and music-filled hours each day are deeply unnatural behaviors for our species? (…)

I believe that language and music are, indeed, not part of our core—that we never evolved by natural selection to engage in them. The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. Rather, these pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains.

But how on Earth can one argue for such a view? If language and music have shaped themselves to be good for non-linguistic and amusical brains, then what would their shapes have to be?

They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain.

And language and music do nature-harness. (…) The two most important classes of auditory stimuli for humans are (i) events among objects (most commonly solid objects), and (ii) events among humans (i.e., human behavior). And, in my research I have shown that the signature sounds in these two auditory domains drive the sounds we humans use in (i) speech and (ii) music, respectively.

For example, the principal source of modulation of pitch in the natural world comes from the Doppler shift, where objects moving toward you have a high pitch and objects moving away have a low pitch; from these pitch modulations a listener can hear an object’s direction of movement relative to his or her position. In the book I provide a battery of converging evidence that melody in music has culturally evolved to sound like the (often exaggerations of) Doppler shifts of a person moving in one’s midst. Consider first that a mover’s pitch will modulate within a fixed range, the top and bottom pitches occurring when the mover is headed, respectively, toward and away from you. Do melodies confine themselves to fixed ranges? They tend to, and tessitura is the musical term to refer to this range. In the book I run through a variety of specific predictions.

Here’s one. If melody is “trying” to sound like the Doppler shifts of a mover—and thereby convey to the auditory system the trajectory of a fictional mover—then a faster mover will have a greater difference between its top and bottom pitch. Does faster music tend to have a wider tessitura? That is, does music with a faster tempo—more beats, or footsteps, per second—tend to have a wider tessitura? Notice that the performer of faster tempo music would ideally like the tessitura to narrow, not widen! But what we found is that, indeed, music having a greater tempo tends to have a wider tessitura, just what one would expect if the meaning of melody is the direction of a mover in your midst.

The preliminary conclusion of the research is that, human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior!

That’s just what we expect if we were never meant to do language and music. Language and music have the fingerprints of being unnatural (i.e., of not having their origins via natural selection)…and the giveaway is, ironically, that their shapes are natural (i.e., have the structure of natural auditory events).

We also find this for another core capability that we know we’re not “meant” to do: reading. Writing was invented much too recently for us to have specialized reading mechanisms in the brain (although there are new hints of early writing as old as 30,000 years), and yet reading has the hallmarks of instinct. As I have argued in my research and in my second book, The Vision Revolution, writing slides so well into our brain because it got shaped by cultural evolution to look “like nature,” and, specifically, to have the signature contour-combinations found in natural scenes (which consists mostly of opaque objects strewn about).

My research suggests that language and music aren’t any more part of our biological identity than reading is. Counterintuitively, then, we aren’t “supposed” to be speaking and listening to music. They aren’t part of our “core” after all.

Or, at least, they aren’t part of the core of Homo sapiens as the species originally appeared. But, it seems reasonable to insist that, whether or not language and music are part of our natural biological history, they are indeed at the core of what we take to be centrally human now. Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens.

So, what is it to be human? Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.

Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.

Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist, Are We “Meant” to Have Language and Music?, Discover Magazine, March 15th, 2012. (Illustration: Harnessed)

See also:

Mark Changizi, Music Sounds Like Moving People, Science 2.0, Jan 10, 2010.
☞ Mark Changizi, How To Put Art And Brain Together
☞ Mark Changizi, How we read
Mark Changizi on brain’s perception of the world
A brief history of writing, Lapidarium notes
Mark Changizi on Humans, Version 3.0.


Beauty, Charm, and Strangeness: Art and Science as Metaphor


Science and art are different ways of looking at the same thing, namely, the world. (…)

The fact is, science is not making this new landscape, but discovering it. Einstein remarked more than once how strange it is that reality, as we know it, keeps proving itself amenable to the rules of man-made science. It certainly is strange; indeed, so strange, that perhaps it should make us a little suspicious. More than one philosopher has conjectured that our thought extends only as far as our capacity to express it. So too it is possible that what we consider reality is only that stratum of the world that we have the faculties to comprehend. For instance, I am convinced that quantum theory flouts commonsense logic only because commonsense logic has not yet been sufficiently expanded. (…)

I am not arguing that art is greater than science, more universal in its concerns, and wiser in its sad recognition of the limits of human knowledge. What I am proposing is that despite the profound differences between them, at an essential level art and science are so nearly alike as to be indistinguishable. (…)

The critic Frank Kermode has argued, persuasively, I believe, that one of art’s greatest attractions is that it offers “the sense of an ending.” The sense of completeness that is projected by the work of art is to be found nowhere else in our lives. We cannot remember our birth, and we shall not know our death; in between is the ramshackle circus of our days and doings. But in a poem, a picture, or a sonata, the curve is completed. This is the triumph of form. It is a deception, but one that we desire, and require.

The trick that art performs is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and back again in the twinkling of a metaphor. Here is [the poet] Wallace Stevens, in lines from his poem Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1942):

"You must become an ignorant man again

And see the sun again with an ignorant eye

And see it clearly in the idea of it.”

— Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America, 1997), p329. (…)

This is the project that all artists are embarked upon: to subject mundane reality to such intense, passionate, and unblinking scrutiny that it becomes transformed into something rich and strange while yet remaining solidly, stolidly, itself. Is the project of pure science any different?

When Johannes Kepler recognized that the planets move in elliptical orbits and not in perfect circles, as received wisdom had for millennia held they must do, he added infinitely to the richness of man’s life and thought. When Copernicus posited the horrifying notion that not the Earth but the sun is the center of our world, he literally put man in his place, and he did it for the sake of neither good nor ill, but for the sake of demonstrating how things are. (…)

In the 1970s, when quantum theory began employing such terms as “beauty,” “charm,” and “strangeness” to signify the various properties of quarks, a friend turned to me and said: “You know, they’re waiting for you to give them the words.” I saw what he meant, but he was not quite right: Science does not need art to supply its metaphors. Art and science are alike in their quest to reveal the world. Rainer Maria Rilke spoke for both the artist and the scientist when he said:

"Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window,—possibly: Pillar, Tower?…but for saying, remember, oh, for such saying as never the things themselves hoped so intensely to be."

Rilke Poems (Knopf, 1996), p. 201 (stanza 2, lines 15 to 19).

John Banville, Irish novelist, adapter of dramas, and screenwriter, Beauty, Charm, and Strangeness: Science as Metaphor, Science, 3 July 1998. (Illustration: Greg Mort, Stewardship III, (2004)

See also:

Art and Science tag on Lapidarium
Art and Science tag on Lapidarium notes


Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty

"There are many differences among the arts, but there are also universal, cross-cultural aesthetic pleasures and values. How can we explain this universality? (…) The experience of beauty is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. (…)

It’s women who actually push history forward. Darwin himself, by the way, had no doubts that the peacock’s tail was beautiful in the eyes of the peahen. He actually used that word.  (…) We can say that the experience of beauty is one of the ways that evolution has of arousing and sustaining interest or fascination, even obsession, in order to encourage us toward making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction. Beauty is nature’s way of acting at a distance, so to speak. I mean, you can’t expect to eat an adaptively beneficial landscape. It would hardly do to your baby or your lover. So evolution’s trick is to make them beautiful, to have them exert a kind of magnetism to give you the pleasure of simply looking at them.

Consider briefly an important source of aesthetic pleasure, the magnetic pull of beautiful landscapes. People in very different cultures all over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape, a landscape that just happens to be similar to the pleistocene savannas where we evolved. (…)

It’s a kind of Hudson River school landscape featuring open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees. The trees, by the way, are often preferred if they fork near the ground, that is to say, if they’re trees you could scramble up if you were in a tight fix. The landscape shows the presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water in a bluish distance, indications of animal or bird life as well as diverse greenery and finally — get this — a path or a road, perhaps a riverbank or a shoreline, that extends into the distance, almost inviting you to follow it. This landscape type is regarded as beautiful, even by people in countries that don’t have it. The ideal savanna landscape is one of the clearest examples where human beings everywhere find beauty in similar visual experience.

The artistic beauty

But, someone might argue, that’s natural beauty. How about artistic beauty? Isn’t that exhaustively cultural? No, I don’t think it is. And once again, I’d like to look back to prehistory to say something about it. It is widely assumed that the earliest human artworks are the stupendously skillful cave paintings that we all know from Lascaux and Chauvet. Chauvet caves are about 32,000 years old, along with a few small, realistic sculptures of women and animals from the same period. But artistic and decorative skills are actually much older than that.

Beautiful shell necklaces that look like something you’d see at an arts and crafts fair, as well as ochre body paint, have been found from around 100,000 years ago. But the most intriguing prehistoric artifacts are older even than this. I have in mind the so-called Acheulian hand axes. The oldest stone tools are choppers from the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa. They go back about two and a half million years. These crude tools were around for thousands of centuries, until around 1.4 million years ago when Homo erectus started shaping single, thin stone blades, sometimes rounded ovals, but often in, what are to our eyes, an arresting, symmetrical pointed leaf or teardrop form.

These Acheulian hand axes — they’re named after St. Acheul in France, where finds were made in 19th century — have been unearthed in their thousands, scattered across Asia, Europe and Africa, almost everywhere Homo erectus and Homo ergaster roamed. Now, the sheer numbers of these hand axes shows that they can’t have been made for butchering animals. And the plot really thickens when you realize that, unlike other pleistocene tools, the hand axes often exhibit no evidence of wear on their delicate blade edges. And some, in any event, are too big to use for butchery. Their symmetry, their attractive materials and, above all, their meticulous workmanship are simply quite beautiful to our eyes, even today.

So what were these ancient — I mean, they’re ancient, they’re foreign, but they’re at the same time somehow familiar. What were these artifacts for? The best available answer is that they were literally the earliest known works of art, practical tools transformed into captivating aesthetic objects, contemplated both for their elegant shape and their virtuoso craftsmanship. Hand axes mark an evolutionary advance in human history — tools fashioned to function as what Darwinians call fitness signals — that is to say, displays that are performances like the peacock’s tail, except that, unlike hair and feathers, the hand axes are consciously cleverly crafted. Competently made hand axes indicated desirable personal qualities — intelligence, fine motor control, planning ability, conscientiousness and sometimes access to rare materials. Over tens of thousands of generations, such skills increased the status of those who displayed them and gained a reproductive advantage over the less capable. You know, it’s an old line, but it has been shown to work — “Why don’t you come up to my cave, so I can show you my hand axes.”

Except, of course, what’s interesting about this is that we can’t be sure how that idea was conveyed, because the Homo erectus that made these objects did not have language. It’s hard to grasp, but it’s an incredible fact. This object was made by a hominid ancestor — Homo erectus or Homo ergaster — between 50 and 100,000 years before language. Stretching over a million years, the hand axe tradition is the longest artistic tradition in human and proto-human history. By the end of the hand axe epic, Homo sapiens — as they were then called, finally — were doubtless finding new ways to amuse and amaze each other by, who knows, telling jokes, storytelling, dancing, or hairstyling.

Yes, hairstyling — I insist on that. For us moderns, virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies, to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance. But still, one fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings: the beauty we find in skilled performances. From Lascaux to the Louvre to Carnegie Hall, human beings have a permanent innate taste for virtuoso displays in the arts. We find beauty in something done well. So the next time you pass a jewelry shop window displaying a beautifully cut teardrop-shaped stone, don’t be so sure it’s just your culture telling you that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. Your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it, even before they could put their love into words.

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No, it’s deep in our minds. It’s a gift, handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us and our descendants for as long as the human race exists.”

Denis Dutton, academic, web entrepreneur. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, (1944-2010), Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty,, Feb 2010 (transcript)

See also:

The Science of Art. A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience
Beauty is in the medial orbitofrontal cortex of the beholder, study finds


Keri Smith on ‘How To Be An Explorer of the World’

                                                           (Click image to enlarge)

"Artists and scientists analyze the world in surprisingly similar ways."

Science – “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

— Oxford American Dictionary, cited in ibidem, p. 199.

p. 1

"[The residual purpose of art is] purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life - not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

John Cage, cited in ibidem, p. 104


p. 75

“Sometimes a tree can tell you more than can be read in a book.”

Carl Jung cited in ibidem, p. 138.

Keri Smith, author, illustrator, guerilla artist, How To Be An Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum, Penguin Books, 2008.


Beauty is in the medial orbitofrontal cortex of the beholder, study finds

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (c. 1503–1519) (source)

Beauty is in the forebrain of the beholder, a study has found.

Scientists have identified a region at the front of the brain that “lights up” in appreciation of art or music. But how active it becomes depends on personal taste, whether an individual finds pleasure from abstract art, classical masterpieces, grand opera or rock music.

The region, known as the medial orbito-frontal cortex, is also the most honest of art critics. It responds only on the basis of enjoyment rather than technical ability or “artistic merit”.

Professor Semir Zeki, from the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at University College London, who led the study, said: “The question of whether there are characteristics that render objects beautiful has been debated for millennia by artists and philosophers of art, but without an adequate conclusion.

"So too has the question of whether we have an abstract sense of beauty, that is to say one which arouses in us the same powerful emotional experience regardless of whether its source is, for example, musical or visual. It was time for neurobiology to tackle these fundamental questions."

Professor Zeki’s team recruited 21 volunteers from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, who were asked to rate a series of paintings or musical excerpts as “beautiful, indifferent or ugly”. The participants then looked at the pictures or listened to the music again while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scan.

Music and art previously rated as “beautiful” both stimulated activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex, which lessened when volunteers were “indifferent”. In contrast, no brain region in particular responded to works rated as “ugly”.

Professor Zeki said: "Almost anything can be considered art but we argue that only creations whose experience correlates with activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex would fall into the classification of beautiful art." (…)

"A painting by Francis Bacon, for example, may have great artistic merit but may not qualify as beautiful. The same can be said for some of the more ‘difficult’ classical composers - and whilst their compositions may be viewed as more ‘artistic’ than rock music, to someone who finds the latter more rewarding and beautiful, we would expect to see greater activity in the particular brain region when listening to Van Halen than when listening to Wagner."

Beauty? Why, it’s all in the mind, The Scotsman, 07 July 2011, and in Wellcome Trust, July 7, 2011.

See also:

Beauty is in the brain of the beholder, Discover Magazine
☞ Ishizu & Zeki, Toward A Brain-Based Theory of Beauty, PLoS ONE, 2011
Beauty in a smile: the role of medial orbitofrontal cortex in facial attractiveness (pdf), Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London
☞ Alumit Ishai, Sex, beauty and the orbitofrontal cortex (pdf), Institute of Neuroradiology, University of Zurich
☞ Edmund T. Rolls, Fabian Grabenhorst, The orbitofrontal cortex and beyond: From affect to decision-making (pdf), University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, 2008
Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty, TED
The Science of Art. A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience, Lapidarium
Why Does Beauty Exist? Jonah Lehrer: ‘Beauty is a particularly potent and intense form of curiosity’


The Science of Art. A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience

"We suggest in this essay that artists either consciously or unconsciously deploy certain rules or principles (we call them laws) to titillate the visual areas of the brain. Some of these laws, we believe, are original to this article—at least in the context of art. Others (such as grouping) have been known for a long time and can be found in any art manual, but the question of why a given principle should be effective is rarely raised: the principle is usually just presented as a rule-of-thumb. In this essay we try to present all (or many) of these laws together and provide a coherent biological framework, for only when they are all considered simultaneously and viewed in a biological context do they begin to make sense.

There are in fact three cornerstones to our argument. First, what might loosely be called the ‘internal logic’ of the phenomenon (what we call ‘laws’ in this essay). Second, the evolutionary rationale: the question of why the laws evolved and have that particular form (e.g. grouping facilitates object perception). And third, the neurophysiology (e.g. grouping occurs in extrastriate areas and is facilitated by synchronization of spikes and direct limbic activation). All three of these need to be in place—and must inform each other—before we can claim to have ‘understood’ any complex manifestation of human nature — such as art.”

More: — V.S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist best known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and psychophysics, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and William Hirstein, The Science of Art. A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience (pdf)

Neurobiology, Neurology and Art and Aesthetics

Two world-renowned scientists, neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux and neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran share their insights into the neurobiology that mediates our perception of universal qualities essential to the human experiences of aesthetics and creativity. (2009)

Art, Neurobiology, and Mescaline: The Neuroaesthetics of Semir Zeki

“Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities….”Plato, The Symposium

Neuroaesthetic research shows that the brain looks for necessary features and then distills and abstracts a limited version of what it sees because of its limited memory system.

Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London (UCL), is a pioneer in the field of neuroaesthetics. He is also founder of the Institute of Neuroaesthetics, co-located at UCL and in Berkeley, California. Professor Zeki’s research into the brain’s visual system shows that great artists unwittingly expose and express the physiology of the brain in their work, using the same visual building blocks the brain uses to put together a mental picture. However, Zeki says we are not equipped to remember every detail of what we see. (…)

The UCL Laboratory of Neurobiology has used a variety of techniques over the past forty years to study the relationship of visual art to the functioning of the visual brain. This includes the anatomical structure and connections of the visual brain, plus electro-physiological and electro-encephalographic studies to determine which cells respond to visual stimuli, and psychophysical studies to determine perceptual capacities and limitations. Imaging is used to determine the location and functioning of the many parallel and specialized sub-systems, and inactivation techniques show what happens when a given area of the visual brain is temporarily inactivated. The UCL lab also studies patients with visual brain damage in order to characterize better how the visual brain functions.

Are there quantifiable, describable, universal aspects to beauty? The world’s oldest known example of abstract art, dating back more than 70,000 years, was found in a cave in South Africa. It has complex geometric patterns including a double-wave pattern. Such patterns are iconic — having a distinctive style — and entoptic. Entoptics are geometric patterns with origins in the nervous system itself, whereas hallucinations are iconic and culturally determined and may be experienced in senses other than the visual: aural, visual, tactile, olfactory and synesthetic.

MescalLittle-known German psychologist Heinrich Klüver was intrigued with the possibility of universal entoptic and iconic images. He began his scientific career at the beginning of the 20th century studying the nature of visual perception in children. He continued this psychological research as a graduate student at Stanford University studying eideteker — photographic memory — in young children with unusually strong visual imagery.

In 1926 Klüver became interested in mescal “buttons” (peyote, the dried tops of the cactus Lophophorus Williamsii) because of the connection to eidetic visual phenomena: mescal visions were thought to resemble visual eidetic imagery. He noticed that the hallucinations seemed to occur in two stages, the first being related to four geometric types: the grid (described variously as lattice, filigree, honeycomb, grating, fretwork or chessboard), cobwebs, tunnel (also associated with cone, vessel, funnel, alley), and spirals. The second stage was that of iconic images which Klüver interpreted as being drawn from memory. There seemed to be thematic constants in the more elaborate iconic images, the most common were religious symbols and images, followed by images of small animals and human beings.

MescalBased on the similarity of the mescal-induced geometric shapes to the hallucinations experienced under various conditions such as migraine, sensory deprivation, and the hypnagogic state that occurs in the transition from wakefulness to sleep, Klüver named the shapes “form constants.” Entoptic phenomena involve phosphenes (or entoptics) generated in the neural system and anyone can see them under the right conditions. (Just close your eyes and gently press on them for a few moments.) These visions can be enhanced by hallucinogenic drugs, and such drugs may have been used in early shamanistic rituals, with the images then drawn by the visionary.

While psychoactive drugs and shamanistic ritual may well have played a part in the early creation of art — as they have did for the Romantic poets and the Beat poets of the ’50s and ’60s — the origin and persistence of art and its relationship to beauty go well beyond the use of such drugs. Zeki’s work in neuroaesthetics includes a neuroimaging study designed to investigate the neural correlates of beauty. Ten participants were shown 300 paintings and asked to classify each of them as beautiful, ugly, or neutral. Not all agreed that a particular painting was either ugly or beautiful. The participants were then shown the paintings again using fMRI. “Beautiful” paintings elicited increased activity in the orbito-frontal cortex — involved in emotion and reward — while “ugly” paintings stimulated increased motor cortex activity, as if the brain was preparing to escape.

Ultimately, the ancient question “what is beauty,” so eloquently argued in Plato’s dialogues, may elude neuroaesthetics and remain at least partially within the realm of metaphor — and perhaps rightly so.”

— Surfdaddy Orca, Freelance Writer, Art, Neurobiology, and Mescaline: The Neuroaesthetics of Semir Zeki, hplusmagazine, April 13, 2010

See also:

The Cognitive Science of Art: Ramachandran’s 10 Principles of Art, Principles 4-10
The Cognitive Science of Art: Beauty and the Brain
☞ V.S. Ramachandran, Neurology and the Passion for Art “Why is it that great works of art seem to have a universal appeal, transcending cultural and geographic boundaries?, UCSD Faculty video Lecture
Processing fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure, Wikipedia
☞ R. Reber, N. Schwarz, P. Winkielman, Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience? (pdf)
Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty, TED
Jonah Lehrer, Unlocking the Mysteries of The Artistic Mind, Psychology Today, August 10, 2009.
Jonah Lehrer, The Future of Science…Is Art?
The Neuroscience of Beauty. How does the brain appreciate art?, Scientific American, Sept 27, 2011
Beauty is in the medial orbitofrontal cortex of the beholder, study finds, Lapidarium notes
Why Does Beauty Exist? Jonah Lehrer: ‘Beauty is a particularly potent and intense form of curiosity’


The Future of Science…Is Art?

   Leonardo Da Vinci, Study for an angel’s face from The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1483

"This pencil study stunningly illustrates for me a key parallel between science and the arts: They strive for representation and expression, to capture some essential truth about a chosen subject with simplicity and economy. My equations and diagrams are no more the world I’m trying to describe than the artist’s pencil strokes are the woman he drew. However, it shows what’s possible, despite that limitation. The woman that emerges from the simple pencil strokes is so alive that she stares into your soul. In attempting to capture the universe, I mustn’t confuse my equations with the real thing, but from them some essential truths about nature will spring forth, transcending the mathematics and coming to life."

— Clifford Johnson, Physicist, University of Southern California © Alinari Archives/Corbis

"Physics is a form of insight, and as such, it’s a form of art."

David Bohm, American-born British quantum physicist who made contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to the Manhattan Project (1917-1992)

Science needs the arts. We need to find a place for the artist within the experimental process, to rediscover what Bohr observed when he looked at those cubist paintings. The current constraints of science make it clear that the breach between our two cultures is not merely an academic problem that stifles conversation at cocktail parties. Rather, it is a practical problem, and it holds back science’s theories. If we want answers to our most essential questions, then we will need to bridge our cultural divide. By heeding the wisdom of the arts, science can gain the kinds of new insights and perspectives that are the seeds of scientific progress. (…)

Since its inception in the early 20th century, neuroscience has succeeded in becoming intimate with the brain. Scientists have reduced our sensations to a set of discrete circuits. They have imaged our cortex as it thinks about itself, and calculated the shape of ion channels, which are machined to subatomic specifications.

And yet, despite this vast material knowledge, we remain strangely ignorant of what our matter creates. We know the synapse, but don’t know ourselves. In fact, the logic of reductionism implies that our self-consciousness is really an elaborate illusion, an epiphenomenon generated by some electrical shudder in the frontal cortex. There is no ghost in the machine; there is only the vibration of the machinery. Your head contains 100 billion electrical cells, but not one of them is you, or knows or cares about you. In fact, you don’t even exist. The brain is nothing but an infinite regress of matter, reducible to the callous laws of physics. (…)

Neuroscience excels at unraveling the mind from the bottom up. But our self-consciousness seems to require a top-down approach. As the novelist Richard Powers wrote, “If we knew the world only through synapses, how could we know the synapse?” The paradox of neuroscience is that its astonishing progress has exposed the limitations of its paradigm, as reductionism has failed to solve our emergent mind. Much of our experiences remain outside its range.

This world of human experience is the world of the arts. The novelist and the painter and the poet embrace those ephemeral aspects of the mind that cannot be reduced, or dissected, or translated into the activity of an acronym. They strive to capture life as it’s lived. As Virginia Woolf put it, the task of the novelist is to “examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day…[tracing] the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness.” She tried to describe the mind from the inside.

Neuroscience has yet to capture this first-person perspective. Its reductionist approach has no place for the “I” at the center of everything. It struggles with the question of qualia. Artists like Woolf, however, have been studying such emergent phenomena for centuries, and have amassed a large body of knowledge about such mysterious aspects of the mind. They have constructed elegant models of human consciousness that manage to express the texture of our experience, distilling the details of real life into prose and plot. That’s why their novels have endured: because they feel true. And they feel true because they capture a layer of reality that reductionism cannot.”

Jonah Lehrer, American science journalist, The Future of Science…Is Art?, SEED, Jan 16, 2008

See also:

Werner Herzog and Lawrence Krauss on Connecting Science and Art
Richard Feynman and Jirayr Zorthian on science, art and beauty
Piet Hein on Art and Science
Art and Science tag on Lapidarium


Science and art come together in the Undivided Mind | Imaginary Foundation

                                                      (Click image to see 3D visualization)

The Undivided Mind installation is a project of The Imaginary Foundation.

"This installation endeavors to fuse the aesthetic beauty of art and science in order to create a synthesis of mind, one which is as much rational as it is fantastic. Think of this undivided mind as a prototype of human possibility-an evolutionary signal of convergence, harmony, and accelerated progress. The rest is up to us."

This is a virtual simulacrum of the installation that materialized in San Francisco in November of 2010.

The Imaginary Foundation is a think tank from Switzerland that does experimental research on new ways of thinking and the power of the imagination. Avoiding direct publicity, the team has sought clothing as an unlikely vehicle for bringing their ideas beyond the academic realm and into popular culture.

A philosophy of research began to form: imagination as fundamental to all learning; artistic making as a model of integrating vision, materials, structure, and imagery.

The Undivided Mind

The Pattern That Connects

                                                         (Click image to enlarge)

(tnx Jason Silva)

Man creates reality

                                                         (Click image to enlarge)

The Imaginary Foundation


The History of Science Fiction by Ward Shelley

“History of Science Fiction” is a graphic chronology that maps the literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. The movement of years is from left to right, tracing the figure of a tentacled beast, derived from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians. Science Fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source of not only SciFi, but crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors. Film and television are covered as well.” Source

See also: Interview with “History of Science Fiction” artist Ward Shelley, Slate, March 14, 2011