Monday, September 12, 2011

Aranza Me Gusta

A new movie and song project I made with my artistic partner in crime Aranza.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Science of Beauty, Part II

For he who would proceed aright in this matter … will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love and wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. ~Plato, Symposium

Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.~Michael Shermer, Scientific American

Why do we need a science of beauty? Haven’t science and art done just fine in their own domains over the last few millennia? Yes, but…

My attempt, in this and my previous column, to meld science, beauty, and art is prompted by thinking about the nature of mind. I’ve written a number of essays explaining my view of mind in nature, nature in mind. I highlighted what I view as fatal problems for the prevailing materialist conception of mind, in which mind is regarded as emerging somehow from what is generally viewed as entirely mindless. Mind is, in the alternative panpsychist philosophy that I support, ubiquitous because mind and matter are two aspects of the same thing. Where there is mind there is matter and where there is matter there is mind. As matter complexifies, so mind complexifies.

This vision of mind and matter has important ramifications also for biology and evolution because if mind is ubiquitous we realize that mind must have an important role (perhaps the starring role) in evolution, which is just another word for complexification - even though evolution can lead to simpler forms in some situations. “Sexual selection” was the term Darwin gave to the evolutionary effects of female choice in mate selection and male-male competition for mates. Many traits in the animal kingdom (and probably in other kingdoms also) stem from sexual selection, including the oft-mentioned peacock’s tail. This showy and overly large tail, it is thought, resulted not from its role in helping its owner to survive (its effect is the opposite in this regard), but to help it gain more mates and thus spread its genes to the next generation. If its role in producing more offspring outweighs any harm to its owner’s survival, it will spread as a trait.

Read the rest here.

A Science of Beauty, Part I

There’s no accounting for taste. ~ Folk saying

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. ~ Alfred North Whitehead (1943)

A photographer friend of mine told me years ago that the “world just looks better through a camera lens.” Indeed it does—to most of us. The camera viewfinder adds a frame to a part of the world and allows the photographer to focus her attention. In short, the camera’s frame allows a photographer to create art.

But what the heck is art? What is beauty? Do these questions matter to anyone beyond the photographer, art lover, art historian, or philosopher of art?

I’ll attempt to show in this two-part essay why these questions—and their answers—should be important to practically every field of human thought.Art has been around for as long as humans have been around and it seems that thinking about art—the philosophy of art—has been too.

Plato, as with practically every topic in philosophy or science, had some relevant insights. Though the topic was discussed in many different Platonic dialogues, Plato’s idea of art was never clearly spelled out by the master.The simplest summary of Plato’s feelings on the matter is that he viewed beauty as the perception of eternal Forms that exist as a substrate to reality. Actual (physical) forms are imperfect reflections of the deeper Forms; the artist enjoys most the art that most fully reveal the Forms. These ideas are strange to us today and this kind of thinking (sometimes known as “essentialism”) has been dispelled in most areas of thought over the course of the last couple of centuries.Read the rest here.

On Self and Soul

Imagine you are in an isolation tank. All you can sense (barely) is the lukewarm water in which you float. You hear nothing except the slightest movements of water against the side of the tank. You see nothing. You smell nothing. And you taste nothing but your own saliva.

Now imagine that a video screen is added to your isolation tank connected to a camera outside the tank that shows you an image of the world around your tank. And a microphone is added. Then, with some cool new technologies, scents are wafted to your nostrils. You begin to get an idea of what the outside world is like from the vantage point of your isolation tank.

Now imagine that your isolation tank is mobile – it is re-engineered to be small enough that you can walk around in a roughly body-shaped tank even though you remain immersed in water. Servos help move your massive limbs, which articulate your strange machine torso and limbs. The technologists add even niftier gadgets that allow you to feel the outside world from the “skin” of your isolation tank, based on contact with the outside of the tank. And a tube is added that allows food to enter your mouth from the outside and another tube for waste. You now have almost normal access to the outside world from within your isolation tank. You could remain perhaps indefinitely in this unnatural environment.

Now imagine that this scenario is real. In fact, little imagination is required. We do exist in biological isolation tanks that we call our bodies. Literally all we know about the external world comes from various sensory “windows” we have to the external world. The world we know is entirely a creation of our brains, our nervous systems, with its various perceptual abilities. We can never know what really is the cause of our perceptions. All we know directly are our perceptions.

Read the rest here.