A piece of writing reflecting on a beautiful class, the Vision in Art and Neuroscience course taught last semester here. A union:
I loved this class. It made me simultaneously hopeful about art worlds/neuro worlds/community building. I am quite sad if it is over. Here are some of the reasons why I hope it is not. This won't be edited, so bear with me. I'm writing on the train home. Here are my musings (my muses! my mucus!)
* The union of the study of experience with the creation of experience. If I do not study myself, who can truly study me? If I only study myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
* I will refer to the duties called upon us chickens this semester as Subject Object Work: Heartening Art Transplants (S.O.W.H.A.T)
* The machine that is higher education is not lacking in energy, subject, structure or impetus. It is lacking in subjectivity, sentiment, selfhood and sensuality.
* As academia has become mechanized, financialized, capitalized, as it has concentrated the concept and corpus of the intellectual, it has made central the idea of the mechanical corpus and the mechanical intellect. We are what we eat, and so participation in an intellectual factory has made us introspect on self-as-factory.
* One amongst the myriad responsibilities of arts and the artist is to engage with instability, and in turn self-examination (painful, political, personal, petty, *Paideia*). Where there is structure there is dualism, blindness, assured ignorance and stasis. The S.O.W.H.A.T. work responds to this call in two fundamental ways:
* 1. There are no objective observers in brain science, only participant-observers studying brains with brains. Thus good exploration involves radical unification of the 1st and 3rd person, of subjective and objective forms of understanding. Demonstrate the necessity for art in research paradigms that hope to approach qualia, and this unification becomes undeniable. The explicit unification in the art-science undertaken throughout our semester underscores a larger, necessary complication of objectivity in STEM academia. Appeals to objectivity are all too often appeals to authority, masquerading, nepotistic numerology. In the end, the medium is the message, and there are no neutral numbers. Exposing subjectivity is thus exposing structure, becoming the subject, not object, of an ongoing conversation around experience and knowledge-creation.
* 2. Seeing is believing, core immediate known truth about world. But seeing, too, is constructing. Believing, then, is constructing. The ability of good experiential neuroscience to expose instability of sight is a great shaking of the very foundation of lived experience. It is all built.
* A victory for S.O.W.H.A.T is thus a victory for two non-dualist projects: in complicating neuroscience, the ultimate in approved academic self-reflection, as less than/more than/ objective, we free the viewer to engage in sensual self-examination and we free the university to guiltless inculcation of non-dualist doubt and undertaking of the duties of soft ontologies.
* We are all experiencers, each with unique insight into experience.This is vitally different than expertise in chemistry, say, or physics, where there is a striving for 3rd person objectivity and thus an implicit objective expertise as one ascend the asymptotic academic totem pole. A comprehensive approach to understanding the science of the mind necessitates eschewing the elitism and silos that split neuroscience off from engineering, philosophy, design and art. The projects at the experimental fringe of neuroscience are thus beacons for the scientists who are open to any and all answers and artists interested bridging spectacle and substance. The support of phenomenology and support of art-phenomena-makers is beacon building.
* The illumination of the fundamentally constructive nature of perception is not apolitical, not ivory laboratory alone. It is in the tradition of artists who give viewers reasons, and powerful permission, to take control of the gist and guidelines which shape their world. S.O.W.H.A.T. is liberating light.
* Light is special. Light is slippery. Slipping is necessary. Slip is slop. Slop is food. Food is growth.
* For me, fundamentally, scholarship is not practical. Scholarship is leisure. Scholarship is a space to ask questions that are not tied to vocation, survival, production. Where else can we study what is truly fundamental--ontology, phenomenology, place in person and place in world? A loss of playful scholarship is a loss of leisure. Art, as serious play, is an antidote to be taken lightly and at great length.
* No to gee-whiz art! No to illustrated science. Pseudo-everything. Everything is everything. Yes to trash. Yes to recycling.
* Thank you.