Blog Post

TechnoHumanist in the Company of Artists

Spending a month at a scholar and artists' residency like theinimitable and incomparable Bogliasco Foundation in Liguria not onlychanges your work . . . it changes you! One reason is rather Zen. You spend all year preparing for this month and the preparation itself is the journey. Another reason is the beauty. Five windows looking out at the Riviera from my bedroom, three high high high windows in my studio. You never, ever get used to the sea, the rocks, the sky.


But the real reason is the people.


You can't spend breakfast, lunch, and dinner in multilingual exchange and multiscale laughter with brilliant creative people without rethinking your thoughts. Today's example: I use art, artistic creation, artistic inspiration, and artistic experience to interrogate a lot of the too-narrow paradigms of "intelligence" that one finds in studies of cognition and I'm also using the way artists work together as a different paradigm to contribute to this rich, collaborative idea we are all working on together, participatory learning. These days, to meditate on what it means to learn from birth to rejuvenation, I spend a lot of my time reading articles and books in neuroscience, evolutionary biology and psychology, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and other fields. When I even try to talk about these things, about theories of mind, with composers, poets, artists, a frequent response is: "How the mind works? I don't want to know!"


I am listening to this comment. Because it is coming from artists who are serious and thoughtful. They are dedicated to their art in a way that fills me with admiration. And, when I talk about mind and knowing, I hear almost fear and definitely skepticism. I am jolted from my world, where the arguments are with others who share a basic theory of intelligence, a basic faith in "science" even when it is bad science. The rigor of these artists matches anything you will find in a lab. So I listen:


I am listening to them talk about how they work, what they do. I listen to the way they talk about work and not-work, about pausing and gathering, and about the importance of not measuring. Not calibrating the imagination. I am intrigued at how often the method they use resembles the one I've written about here several times, what in an earlier post I called  "Thinking on Leave" ( Part of the method is appreciating the importance for looking of not knowing what you are looking for. Every great scientist from Newton to Einstein has understood that but, in our grant-driven world, who can afford not to know one's conclusions before one enters the lab?


What I hear among my artist friends is the importance of attention and the importance of diversion, the importance of focus and the importance of walking away, the importance of discipline and the importance of being disciplined enough to know when to be undisciplined. None of this has to do with the amygdalla or the prefrontal cortex . . . it has to do almost with a rhythm, a harmony of one's moods and one's hands and one's eyes and one's work, inner and outer, impression and expression, feeling the thinking, or, borrowing from King Lear, "I think feelingly."


"How does the mind work?" The answer "I don't want to know" turns out to be not so much a refusal as a method of knowing. Like thinking on leave, in the company of artists, in the luxurious sublime of a beauty that refuses time and makes it.








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