Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic


Kandinsky’s conviction, was that art, if it was to portray reality, should not concentrate on rendering things but on an intuitive process that he exercised in abstract painting, and in which he believed the spiritual could be found.

‘lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and...stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?’

Cross modal associations – cross sensory? This is the foundation of language, i.e. naming of objects.


In non-humans, the only readily established sense-to-sense associations are those between an emotional stimulus, like pleasure, and a non-emotional one, like vision, touch or hearing. Only humans can make associations between two non-emotional stimuli; because of this we can assign names to objects.

Cross-modal associations occur at an unconscious level. A small number of the human population, called synesthetes, act as if there is a conscious mixing of some of these sensory channels, as if a normal perceptual process that is usually hidden has somehow become bared to their consciousness.


[On the question of whether Synesthesia is a sensation]. Dreaming is the most obvious example of one facet. Where, for example, does the ‘I’, the person you think you are, go when you dream? You live a whole other life while dreaming; but you wake up with a sense of continuity to conditions in your waking life, as if your mind never went away.


[Important comparison between the mind and duality principle of light]. The duality principle states that while each photon is an individual particle of light, called a quantum, it is also a continuous wave at the same time. Modern physics has proven that something which is totally individual (a photon) can also be something continuous (a wave). The wave and the particle are both true and valid descriptions of what light is, and an analogy can be made to the human mind, which can also be different things at different times, or even different things at the same time.


Schoenberg Die Gluckliche Hand – (opera) eliminate any distinction between waking reality and dreaming.


The hippocampus is a point where everything converges. All sensory inputs, external as well as those from our visceral (blood), internal milieu, must pass through the emotional limbic brain before being redistributed to the cortex for analysis, after which they are returned to the limbic system for a determination whether the highly processed, multi-sensory information is salient or not (true / relevant).

[Basically, there are far more inputs from the limbic system to the cortex than the other way around, showing how important our emotional judgement is, its influence is greater.]

In discussing temporal lobe seizures that originate in the limbic system, I mentioned that they can produce involuntary actions (automatisms) that seem purposeful but for which the person has no awareness or recollection. TLE can also cause compulsive thinking, florid psychosis, and episodes in which one cannot distinguish between dreaming and reality. The overlap between the behaviour of TLE and that of psychiatric disorders is striking: 50% of those with temporal lobe seizures show psychiatric symptoms compared to only 10% in other types of epilepsy. Thus the emotional brain is physiologically able to overwhelm the rationality of the cortex. We can conclude that emotions play an important role in our behaviour, perhaps a role even greater than that of reason.


We know more than we think we know. The multisensory, synesthetic view of reality is only one thing that we are sure has been lost from consciousness. There could be a lot more. If you want to try to reclaim some of this deeper knowledge, I suggest that you start with emotion, which to me seems to reside at the interface between that part of our self which is accessible to awareness and that part which is not.


Synesthesia does seem to have a lot in common with the eureka moment of insight, mystic experiences and religious rapture, what we call noёtic experiences. Its an old argument in philosophy and religion that reason is not the only way to truth. Reality is not restricted solely to what is given by sense experience.


‘Science has become the sole legitimate form of understanding.’ Joseph Weizenbaum – MIT Professor of Computer Science.

Alternate values have been cast side. Attributing absolute certainty to the scientific method has ‘delegitimatised all other ways of understanding. Once people viewed the arts, especially literature, as sources of intellectual nourishment and understanding, but today they are largely perceived as entertainments.”


That the logic of emotion is dissociated from reason is most readily evident when it operates in creative and spiritual realms.


Satisfying art is a product of deep knowledge and understanding within the artist. It is true that art is informed by the intellect and with acquired technique. But the function of the artist is to penetrate the visible world to illuminate the mystery behind it. That mystery is a ground of universal truth that supports the human condition. If successful, the artist’s expression resonates within the inner life of the reader, viewer, or listener who experiences what I have called an intuitive recognition. Ultimately, the art of fiction is not an intellectual achievement, but an emotional one in which intellect serves only to articulate the human truth, not to explain it.


Because metaphor joins reason and imagination, the conceptual system on which reality is based is in part imaginative. Likewise, creative ideas are partly rational in nature. Objectivity fails to see that our system of concepts is metaphoric, involving an imaginative understanding of one thing in terms of another.

[Analogy between imagination (dreams) and reason (reality/physicality) being linked by metaphor, like me trying to make imagination into reason - sculpture].


We are grasping for a sense of unity because modern life does not fulfil the needs of the human spirit. By embracing subjectivity, the Romantic tradition carved out a niche for itself in the realms of art and religion. In terms of real power, however, modern life is driven by technology, politics, and economics, surface issues that worry the rational mind. Precisely because these superficial drives are so strong, we habitually ignore the depth at which we really live.

It is a curious fact of modern life that we live on the surface and deny the force and reality of our inner experiences. [...]To follow the dictates of society, even though it leads to a type of prescribed happiness (that which society considers good), is to live an inauthentic life.

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