Thanks to Slate I can gain a small foothold on a Nature article that discusses the nature of perception -- which, incidentally, I commented on in a superb posting by brother Steven LaRose.
In the Slate article, author William Saletan interprets the Nature article Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements and helps us regular guys understand morality's origins in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Damage to that part of the brain results in judgments favoring utilitarianism. So for example, if your ventromedial prefrontal cortex is wrecked in a car accident, you'll be the guy who votes to throw the dying senior citizen off the life raft in order to add to the chance that there's enough fresh water for the children to survive until rescue. As Saletan puts it:
Three years ago in the journal Neuron, the neuroscientists illustrated their point. Using brain scans, they showed that utilitarian decisions involved "increased activity in brain regions associated with cognitive control." From this and other data, they surmised that the moral debate "reflects an underlying tension between competing subsystems in the brain." On one side are "the social-emotional responses that we've inherited from our primate ancestors." On the other side is a utilitarian calculus "made possible by the more recently evolved structures in the frontal lobes." The war of ideas is a war of neurons. (emphasis mine)Saletan gives up a great quote that relates to an issue I've addressed in other contexts:
Neuroscience is discovering that the brain isn't a single organ. It's an assembly of modules that sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete. If you often feel as though two parts of your brain are fighting it out, that's because, in fact, they are.Now let's ramp this up a notch for the art people in the house:
The experience of art making and of art experiencing that you find so compelling really amounts to the quality of interactions between different modules in your brain. Each interprets the input of an art experience in different ways. Your summative experience of an artwork is really the feeling you get as yet another module attempts to reconcile these interpretations.
I saw a show of photographs by Alessandra Sanguinetti at Yossi Milo Gallery some months ago. The content, to relate it roughly, was animals being prepared for slaughter, and other aspects of what I referred to as "the horror of physical being."
As an example, one image showed two lambs tied together with hoods over their heads, tugging against one another.
These images caused the emergence within me of the idea that we're all too fragile, and often we're really at odds with the vulgarity and easy victimhood of being made of muscle, bone and sinews. They brought out for me the sense of horror that really should accompany our daily animal existence.
I could break this down in a modular way and suggest that one module of my brain perceived the animals from without: two lambs being prepared for human consumption.
Another module perceived the image from the inside, as one of the lambs. I felt the blinding terror of being hooded, having something tugging against me, hearing screams all around including screams that abruptly cut off. Hearing the cutting-off screams getting closer. Hearing the thump of bodies on a pile.
Another module was reacting compassionately, but it couldn't outshout the self-preservation kicked up by the empathic module. I had to fight myself to stay in the gallery and give all the images the attention that yet another module thought they deserved.
If I'm right and the experience of art making and of art experiencing amounts to nothing more than the quality of interactions between different modules in your brain, I think this has some bearing on what we do.
I've already discounted artwork-as-ego-extension because ego is an assembly of other attributes or modules.
Now I'm ready to toss aside art work as a continual and ongoing progression or refinement. The feeling of progress is really the straining out of some module responses and the more perfect targeting of others.
As in other areas, so here: all roads lead nowhere. So where is progress really possible? Even the Buddha said, "Through the consummation of incomparable enlightenment I acquired not the least thing."
There are no ultimate goals, no great rewards. Heaven is just one more shabby carnival of broken rides and toothless, tattooed carnies. The Museum of Modern Art is just Wal-Mart for rich people.
At this point in art it's all about staying amused.
This line of thought only validates my lifelong inclination to move on frequently in art making. You can't have a home here: no home style, home format, home medium.
We're all travelers. Some of us just don't know it yet.
I'm starting to think now about how fun it would be to target specific brain modules and make them clash as violently as possible. Set them against one another like vicious, brawling sisters.
"I left his show feeling completely disoriented, doubting my own existence and hearing voices in my head. Weeks of intensive therapy have allowed me to begin functioning at a somewhat normal level." -- A Future Art CriticSphere: Related Content