Chapter 5. About the arts
5.2. The origins of the arts.
It is my contention that to have a valid conversation about the arts we have first and foremost to understand how and why they emerged in the first place. The arts are indeed not a given and they also did not fall from the sky. Nature has no patience with things that are of no use to it and very fast it discards such un-useful things. So logic implies that a human demand must have arisen, sometime and in a given context, for the usage of the arts. They must indeed have emerged as a valid answer to a human necessity in a given context. That’s what I want to address here.
As I see it a societal mutation (upright walking) unleashed a biological mutation some 2 billion years ago (narrowing pelvis). This imposing a further societal mutation (care-taking and baby-talk) which resulted in a human thirst for comfortable social interrelations. Care taking and baby-talk was furthermore expressed through the ingredients of artistic creation which reinforced an original biological predisposition for aesthetics. Some one hundred and fifty thousand years ago, after the brain had fully developed its last layer the neo-cortex, a societal mutation gave rise to the tribal societal model of organization. Tribes instituted the specialized role of the man of knowledge whose role, among other, was to ensure the reproduction of the tribe over the generations. The tribal men of knowledge rapidly understood the need for specialized instruments to share their worldview with their fellow tribesmen in oder to ensure the cohesion of the group which they felt was the condition to reproduce their tribes. They had observed the existence of a human predisposition for the “artsy ” and leaned on that predisposition to shape such powerful instruments. These instruments were the arts.
5.2.1. An acquired predisposition for the arts
The thesis developed here is that humans are predisposed to feel pleasure at the contact of the raw ingredients of aesthetics which are the necessary forms of meaningful works of art. Humans have inherited this predisposition from two sources:
Ellen Dissanayake starts with the premise that it is “...necessary to modify the dogmatic assertion that all experience, including literary response, is socially constructed. Rather, adult psychology and experience grow from and build upon inborn motives and preferences” (1).
I wholeheartedly subscribe to this characterization. Along the late 19th and 20th century researchers in social sciences came to favor a causality based primarily on socio-economic factors. Marxism had certainly a determinant role in this choice (dialectic materialism). These last decades’ boom in biology marked a turning point. Biological factors started to be evoked as determinants of certain cultural conditions.
But the debate soon turned into an ideological punching match. Evoking biology appeared indeed to contradict former conclusions that had relied on socio-economic factors to explain the human ways of doing and thinking in the present. I still vividly remember a debate, at the Free University of Brussels sometime in the end of the sixties pitching Ernest Mandel against O.E. Wilson, which ended in a physical fight between supporters of both speakers.
This question is still being debated today. I recently had a discussion with a friend about my conception of beauty that I think is a biological predisposition that life gained as a result of a near infinite natural selections that imprinted a pattern of beauty (success) in the code of life. My friend’s reaction was a violent and authoritarian rejection that blew a cold breeze over our relation. But the fact of the matter is that culture results from both biological and societal evolution. Socio-economics factors do indeed not have the power to exclude biology nor vice versa. The two are undeniably having an impact on human behaviors. The reality is simply that the consequences of their impact originate from different registers of evolution: or the biological or the societal.
220.127.116.11. a biological predisposition for beauty
As I have argued in earlier chapters the tribal men of knowledge started creating visual works in order to infuse them with the content of their worldview. This was meant to help the gluing of the individual atoms in order to ensure societal cohesion. Content was the reason why visual works were crafted in the first place. Without that reason there would never have been visual art works as Modernity conceived of them.
This remembers me an article I had read some time ago in which the Dalai Lama had a conversation with Thomas Laird about his images of murals depicting the cosmic vagina in the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa Tibet. The Dalai “...reminded Laird that these murals weren’t just art – they were motivational tools. ‘One of the arguments I have always had with him about art is that he doesn’t care about the aesthetic’ says Laird. ‘For him, the purpose of art is to inspire you to achieve enlightenment. If a work of art gives you the motivation to do your practice – overcome greed, anger, ignorance, lust and pride – then it is a great success’ ”.
The observation by the Dalai Lama, about the nature of the art on these murals, reflects the same concern for the content of the visual works that motivated the animist men of knowledge to start producing such works in the first place.
But force is to observe that everywhere on earth the content of visual works was dressed in beautiful forms or forms agreeable to the eyes. In the second part of the twentieth century that notion has suffered the wrath of hordes of iconoclasts calling themselves conceptualists, post modernists, and so on. Since then the subject of beauty is most often avoided for fear to appear “passé ”. But the facts continue nevertheless stubbornly remembering us that visual works were invariably pleasant for the eyes no matter where and when in the history of humanity.
So why is this so?
As content was the reason for the existence of visual works and as those works had a clearly defined societal functionality I submit that their form could not be tolerated to distract from that functionality. But was anything else than beauty really considered to be distracting from the set functionality of the work? In other words could it be that beauty was the necessary form to dress a visual work in order to maximize its attractiveness in the eyes of the observer? I posit a clear yes to this question.
Beauty is an imperative to attract eyeballs and ugliness has to be discarded at all costs because it acts as a repulsor. In “What is art” Tolstoy defined form as a tactical principle for the artist to attain the objective of his strategy which is to catch as many eyeballs as possible and he defined form as technical mastery + beauty.
Evolutionary biologists and geneticists are on a path that seems to confirm that, at a biological-genetic crosspoint of change or “bifurcation points” from chaos to order in Chaos theory, the winning proposition among the many possibilities that are present is always the most elegant, the simplest and most beautiful one.
From unicellular organism that emerged nearly 4 billion years ago a near infinity of evolutionary steps have led the principle of life to where we are today, that means, to us humans in our present form. One could validly argue that such a feat is the summit of beauty. The principle of life took nearly an infinity of detours and selected a nearly infinite quantity of evolutionary steps to reach us humans; is this not the apotheosis of beauty? I think it is indeed.
Just try to imagine what is an infinity of evolutionary steps. Then imagine that at each of those steps a multitude of possible futures are competing to be selected as the one that will emerge as the real future. The same act of imagination could address the working of the near infinity of celestial bodies. This is also nothing short of beautiful for the same reason that it is like a cosmic ballet in a constantly balancing act.
What is it that unifies all those retained possibilities that emerge as the winning propositions of evolution?
Let’s first observe how we view a winner. In all cases his win is assimilated to an act of beauty an act that we all would have liked to realize ourself. So winning is somehow akin to beauty in the competition for natural selection. Let’s see now how its opposite defeat is perceived. No one likes to lose. We intuitively feel it is akin to ugliness. So how should we categorize the feat of winning among many possibilities at an infinity of evolutionary steps? Is it not like an improbable feat that manifest beauty in an infinite succession of steps? Is this not the apotheosis of beauty? If we can agree on this we have to observe next that this near infinity of evolutionary wins must have taken some particular forms and generated patterns of lines, colors, sounds, smells and other.
If we had the opportunity to register, or input in a database, the sum of all those forms, lines, colors, sounds, smells and other we would assuredly end up observing the emergence of patterns made of the selections of their particular successful forms that repeat themselves in further successes. We would also observe another set of patterns made of their rejections. There should be no doubt that from the point of view of life the one pattern made of successful selections is indeed an absolute of beauty while the pattern made of unsuccessful rejections is an absolute of ugliness. Perhaps the repulsion toward ugliness that we all feel instinctively is a kind of fear precursor. It makes sense, in my mind, that the fear to fall out from the shaping of the future, meaning falling out of life, would be inscribed into some visual or auditory form acting as a precursor informing us of danger. That precursor would then take specific forms, lines, colors, sounds, smells and other that alert our instincts on the workability or non workability of their carrier.
Now if we accept this idea that our “RNA–DNA–genes program” contains the memory of the near infinity of evolutionary steps that led to what we are today then we must surely intuitively sense that absolute beauty and absolute ugliness are stored in us as operational principles and if stored in us the principle of life must drive us all naturally towards beauty and try to abort any slippage towards ugliness. Our bodies must somehow instinctively feel that discreet pressure which dictates the nature of our perceptions. Without having any way to prove this I feel nevertheless that we catch this discrete pressure in the form of intuitions or premonitions that put us all on a certain path of action. And the artist more particularly naturally grows his sensitivity to beauty by producing one work after another.
For sure we are not aware or directly conscientious of those operational rules. But we have a general feel for what is beautiful and what is ugly even if we can’t put words on why it is so. That’s how no matter how much money is invested in advertisement for an ugly designed car or another product it will nevertheless fare badly in the market. And the opposite is also true that no matter what little investment in its advertisement a really beautiful product will fare well and, for sure, a lot better if ads are spreading around the image of such products.
The fact is that, whatever the weakness of the scientific proof of the foundation explaining the phenomenon, we feel attracted to beauty. Things can change but we always like some particular sets of lines, forms, colors, smells, sounds and so on and dislike some other sets. Products and art works can change but our like and dislike of some sets of patterns is constant and, from what little is preserved for us to see, it was apparently the same along our entire history.
All this leads me to conclude that there is a prerequisite for a visual artwork to attract eyeballs and the prerequisite is that it has to be beautiful. But how to define beauty? We already saw that we are not conscientious of its operational rules that are inscribed within our biological program. We have a vague sense of what is beautiful, for, we instinctively like what is beautiful and dislike what is ugly.
But how to define beauty?
The question is assuredly easier than the answer. I think that there are a few aspects to this question:
I have read authors who propose arcane definitions of objective beauty. Ouspensky is the one who made the biggest impression on me when I read him in my young age some 40 years ago (6). But I feel today that arcane explanations are not the way of beauty. I came to realize that objective beauty sits there in us only waiting to be discovered. So instead of following a guru who will push us within a ideation frame-set we should personally do what it takes to discover it.
Part of the equation lays in studying reality through the teachings of scientists, of philosophers and, in my opinion, the most important study of all, rediscovering the teachings of animism and the philosophies that built on top of it like philosophic Taoism. But those teachings are nothing more than necessary stepping stones. They will not do it for us. We have to do it for ourselves through the discovery of knowledge, the acquisition of wisdom, and the conscious understanding of self away from our “ego” with its “will ”, “want ”, and “greed ” and all other temptations.
This is a path that only a select few have the courage and the guts to pursue till they drop. But it is, I believe, the price that has to be paid for the truth to blast into our faces. There is no escape here, no short cut. We are the ones who have to travel the path to that blast of truth that erases everything else. Gaining that freedom, I sense, is the gate to absolute beauty.
18.104.22.168. An individual thirst for comfort in social interrelations
Socio-economic factors are a too narrow reading of societies. They form a large part of daily culture in its large acceptance but other factors enter into the mix as the physical growth of the individuals, the belief systems of the individuals and of their society, our biological predispositions, and so on. As I have tried to show in “Chapter 3. culture, worldviews, civilizations“ societal evolution results as a ‘memetic creation or mutation’ in the field of daily culture that succeeds to reproduce over the generations and eventually is being integrated in the societal worldview. This is what happened with the necessary cultural adaptation to the physical mutation that endowed women with a narrower pelvis after our ancestor apes came down from their trees. The immediate result was the birthing of immature babies who needed care. Caring for the baby was something new so caretaker and baby developed an adapted response in the form of baby-care and baby-talk.
What I’m proposing here, in the footsteps of Ellen Dissanayake, is that a societal mutation may unleash a biological evolutionary move. The apes coming down from their trees to walk upright was indeed such a societal mutation and that societal mutation as we’ll see, here after, unleashed a biological mutation that, in turn, necessitated a societal adaptation.
In the case of the arts the thesis defended by Ellen Dissanayake is that the societal evolution of walking upright engaged a biological evolution of the human body which necessitated a cultural adaptation. That cultural adaptation predisposed infants to the comfort of social interrelations. But happening through the application of the “raw ingredients of adult aesthetic behavior” this comfortable experience also happened to predispose most of the babies to the pleasure procured by aesthetics.
As I indicated in “Chapter 2. About Consciousness” (01, 02, 03) science has still not explained how the mind stores data in its memory. But this does in no way impeach us to reason about how the mind’s memory eventually predisposes us to certain behaviors. What I want to show here is that biological evolution is not neutral in terms of human behavior. For example; if we did not have legs and feet we would not be playing soccer. This means that our legs and feet (biology) predisposed our bodies to the possibility of playing soccer one day (culture). The same goes for the principle of life’s biological predisposition for beauty that transfers that predisposition to all living species who then favor the selection of those elements present in the patterns of beauty.
Concerning the imprint of the raw ingredients of artistic aesthetics in the minds of human individuals Ms. Dissanayake’s research is authoritative. I will thus content myself to summarize her argument which, in her own words, is built along the following lines (1):
Ms. Dissanayake furthermore suggests that care-taking and “Babytalk is not the trivial or inane pastime that it might superficially seem but, rather, a cradle in which nascent psychosocial capacities can emerge and be developed. Interestingly for literary theory, babytalk achieves these effects through fundamentally aesthetic means” (1).
The memories of the years spent with the mother or the caretaker are implanted deeply in the minds of each individual and the emotional baggage associated with this memory, if it is globally positive, is what activates the thirst of every human for comfortable social interrelations. This then is realized along the lines of our biological predisposition for beauty “Just as infants recognize, attend to, and respond to regularization and simplification, repetition, exaggeration, and elaboration in vocal-visual-gestural modalities when interacting with adults, so do adults attend to and respond to these features as presented to them aurally, visually, and kinaesthetically in the various arts (1)”.
Seen that the baby-caretaker relationship is a universal constant the resulting thirst for comfortable social interrelations is also universal and seen that it is realized along the lines of our biological predisposition for beauty it is also reinforcing our predisposition for aesthetics. “The existence of sensitivities to such features in the first months of life suggests that humans are born with natural (innate, universal) predispositions for aesthetic engagement from which cultures and individuals can go on to create their myriad elaborated forms of artistic expression” (1).
But what happens when a baby experiences a dysfunctional or inexistent baby-caretaker relationship?
If the baby never got the chance to experience the comfort of a warm relation with her caretaker she would obviously feel at a trouble in her social interrelations. This seems to be confirmed by a condition called “Reactive Attachment Disorder” or RAD: “...when an infant doesn’t bond (attach) properly to its primary caregiver. This basic loss results in ongoing feelings of rage, deep shame, a lack of trust and a fear of attaching to anyone, an inability to understand cause and effect, and a compulsive need to control everyone and everything ” (2).
It appears from the literature that kids with RAD don’t grow out of their disorder and will live their whole life with a deficit of empathy. Now this is interesting because the adult who does not know the feeling of empathy is known to be a psychopath. We have been hearing a lot recently about the socio and psychopaths who occupy the positions of power in corporations and in public decision making institutions. The disorder is defined as follows by Scientific American “Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it. Largely devoid of guilt, empathy and love, they have casual and callous interpersonal and romantic relationships” (3).
RAD kids often evolve into adult psychopath individuals who end up endangering their society. It is particularly enlightening, I find, to observe the contrast between these 2 facts:
Is this not a remarkable find?
One might be tempted to conclude from these observations that the thirst for comfortable social interrelations and a predisposition to the arts also predisposes the individuals to societally cohesive behaviors (I will argue this case further down) while the absence of a healthy baby-caretaker relationship predisposes the individuals to anti-social behaviors that endanger his society. This last idea is still no more than a hunch but if this was confirmed by psychologists we would assist instantly at an upgrading of the societal importance of infant rearing. It would certainly be worth to test this proposition in real life because its implications are far reaching indeed.
At this point let’s conclude that a predisposition does not set an action in motion. It simply offers a propitious ground in which an action finds all the nutrients and other conditions for that action to grow. This means that in the case of art we still need to find the process that engaged humans into starting to create works that correspond to what Early European Modernity classified as artistic productions (see 5.1. Clarification of the concept “arts”).
5.2.2. Life uses art to ensure its reproduction
The interactions between the baby and her caretaker predispose infants to be thirsty for the comfort procured by social interrelations and as Ellen Dissanayake demonstrates quite convincingly these interactions are executed along the lines of the “raw ingredients of adult aesthetic behavior”. The question we have now to address is how and why did humans start to practice what West-Europeans in Early-Modernity started to call the arts.
In other words some factors present in the living context of tribesmen must have pushed the arts to emerge as an answer to an existing necessity. My take is that the inaccessibility of reality fosters anxiety in the minds of the individuals. The anxiety is the direct result of their existential questions not being answered. Tribesmen were no different and the consequence of their questions not being answered was that their level of trust among themselves was decreasing which was a direct threat to the reproduction of their tribal societal structure. To mitigate these risks tribes have been instituting the role of the “men of knowledge”, on a worldwide scale, to fill the need of knowledge formation and acquisition. But how they came to set up universally such a societal model centered on knowledge is still not well understood at the present. To share their vision about reality, or their worldview, the men of knowledge played on the existing predispositions for aesthetics that are present in every individual. So they shared with their fellow tribesmen:
22.214.171.124. Inaccessibility of reality to human reason.
The whole universe is immensely vast; so vast that its true nature remains inaccessible to human reason. Yes we can access some parts of the whole but the whole itself remains inaccessible. Does this mean that humanity is condemned to ignorance about the true nature of reality for perpetuity? One way or another there is no good answer to this question. But what is a certainty is that to this very day the true nature of the whole of our universe is unattainable and it will, in all probability, stay out of our reach at the least for the foreseeable future.
I wrote in “Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The context ” that “the scientific method is constrained within the internality of what we call our universe”. This definitely has consequences in term of our ability to observe the universe. Being inside of it we surely can’t observe it from the outside. So cosmologists are condemned to navigate from set to super-set and so on ever farther away towards its periphery. On that road they make a lot of discoveries for sure but the end, I mean the periphery of the universe, remains always elusive for the good reason that the universe is expanding. This means that its outer limits are flying away from us at a speed that is faster than the speed of light. This description is at the image of an inflating balloon but cosmologists are even not able to agree on what expansion really means nor if the universe is a giant balloon or if it is flat like a pancake. This just shows that at the scale of the universe all the scientific talk is merely about hypothesizing and not about the observation of real facts which confirms that the whole thing is unattainable and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Attaining the periphery of the universe would be like breaking a record but this would still not make us wiser about what the whole universe is all about.
To be able to pinpoint the true nature of the universe we would need to observe it from the outside. Observing a football lets us understand that its nature is to be used to be kicked around by human feet. So by being outside of the ball we see whose feet are kicking the football around which opens our perspective on the interactions of the balloon with the other actors in its own universe. Try to ask yourself if an infinitely small particle inside the balloon would have any chance to discover the true nature of its balloon universe. This may appear like a joke but this is exactly the position of humanity. The answer about the chance of the infinitely small particle inside the balloon to discover its universe is null. The same goes for humanity. Our chances to discover the universe of our universe is nil.
In summary we know that we live on the planet Earth which is a part of the solar system which itself is one of the stars of our galaxy the Milky Way. “The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars; although this number may be as high as one trillion. There are likely at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way. …Until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that the Milky Way contained all the stars in the universe. Following the 1920 great debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, observations by Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies—now estimated to number as many as 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe” (4).
This kind of scientific knowing is a striking example that knowing does not confer knowledge. So science informs us that there are as many as 200 billion galaxies and each galaxy contains from 100 billion to 1 trillion stars. That kind of knowing, to say the least, is injecting confusion in the minds and gives credence to the Taoist argument that knowledge should not be spread around for the good reason that it creates havoc in people’s minds. This kind of cosmological knowledge makes us feel extremely little within our own solar system and this is only one star but there are so many stars in our galaxy and so many galaxies in the whole. What is this whole universe? Is it a spaghetti monster? I prefer it to be a giant pink elephant. Think about it. If it were by any chance a pink elephant, which nobody can disprove, is it alone or is it one among a family of elephants?
Are there valid reasons to limit our imagination to such questions? I don’t think so. Such questions let us discover that there is no reason at all to imagine that our universe is only one and unique. It could be one among one species of universe. But if so why would there only be one species of universe? And furthermore if species of universes were to number the kind of figures given for stars here above then all these universes would form a set of universes in which our own universe is but one among a multitude. But then could this multitude of universes not form a whole universe of its own that for the sake of clarity we would have to call a universe+ ? I could continue like that, repeating the same argument used for the belonging of our own universe to a set of universes, and then imagine a new superset composed of universes+, and so on as in a fractal video. Note that the same argument toward the macrocosm can be made focusing on the microcosm. Starting from ourselves we plunge always deeper and deeper and finally land on the atom which is a universe all of its own. Physicists try to go deeper in the atom and search for the ultimate particle at the image of Christianity that by stopping causality found an opportunity to insert the idea of an ultimate cause that is god. Physicists are indeed searching for an ultimate cause “a theory of everything (ToE) or final theory, ultimate theory, or master theory is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe” (5). But reality seems to be playing tricks with them. At the farthest in their observations of the micro they see, or better they theorize, that the string is that ultimate particle. But the string is like the yin-yang. Once you observe its matter particle nature it transforms into a wave of energy. This is spooky for rationalists… but it would appear natural in the eyes of an animist man of knowledge or a Taoist sage. Does this mean that rational scientists should dabble in animist philosophy? I think they would obviously broaden their views from the change of perspective that animism implies.
But if this kind of thinking is an exciting perspective for the free thinker, the philosopher, the scientist, or the artist; it could surely build a troubling perspective inside the minds of common men who might then need to be excused if they go berserk under an overload of incomprehension. It was Laoze who mentioned that knowledge should not be spread wide, for, as mentioned in Chapter 65 of the TaoTeChing (6):
“In ancient times,
leaders who were right with Tao
didn't teach everybody
how to become enlightened.
They kept people's lives simple*.
People who know too much
can't be taught anything.
Leaders who try to be clever
always screw things up.
Leaders who keep things simple
always make things right.
If you get that,
the mysterious power of Tao.
That kind of power is so deep,
it penetrates into every level of existence.”.
(*) Simple life, in this context, means not developing ideas of one’s own. The TaoTeChing is about building societal cohesion through non-action. It was thought that by keeping knowledge exclusively within the minds of the men of knowledge people would naturally cohere. At first when I discovered the TaoTeChing in the end of the sixties I felt deeply disturbed by this idea. I found it ultra conservative and not adapted to our times. It took me 30 years to understand that the sixties were driven by an individualistic ideology that was hiding reality. When I understood this I uncovered the very deep wisdom of the TaoTeChing. Free to search for knowledge we each go our side and end up being atomized while if we all share the simple presentation of the worldview of the men of knowledge we all cohere and as a result our society is cohesive.
Coming back to our whole universe could it be that it is alive like animist men of knowledge thought it was? Who is to prove or disprove this?
As you will have imagined these last paragraphs were a simple exercise of the mind to show how an open reality encourages questioning. The adult mind is no different than a child’s mind that begs her parents for answers. In sum the questioning that is encouraged by an open reality leads to mind maddening. Adults have no parents to beg for answers and scientists are not such parents in any case. So what happens with the questioning?
Could it be that I have reached the point to advocate a closed reality? Yes and no. The no would concern the men of knowledge who should always be free to discover more. The yes would concern the mass of citizens who would need to trust the narrative given to them by their men of knowledge. This is, I’m convinced, what humanity is going to discover under the necessity of After-Modernity.
126.96.36.199. Societal approximation of reality
The inaccessibility of the whole of reality implies an unknown out there and we know that humans don't like unknowns. As I wrote in “Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The Context ”: “Humans have no problems with unknown ‘unknowns’ for the good reason that unknown ‘unknowns’ simply don't pop up in their consciousness but they feel utterly ill at ease when faced with known ‘unknowns’ such as those nagging questions resulting from the inaccessibility of the whole universe to the human mind.
Such known unknowns become obsessions that drive people in the throat of anxiety from where they search to escape at all costs. This is how societal groupings, along our entire history, have been seen coming in the picture by proposing approximations of reality, and of what the unknown is all about, to be shared by their citizens in order to soothe their anxiety. When shared by all citizens such approximations crystallize in a societal view of the world or a worldview that all consider as being the truth of the matter and this rewards those societies with higher levels of cohesion which, in turn, facilitate their reproduction from generation to generation”.
From this quote I retain the following elements:
Parents and educators are often overwhelmed by the kids’ persistence in finding answers to their questions and as long as the kids don’t find a convincing answer they’ll just continue to ask. That questioning will decrease with the pressure of socialization but the more fundamental questions nevertheless remain alive in some hidden corners of the mind ready to come to the fore at the slightest opportunity of an answer. But without answers to share with others in her environment the human being feels isolated and alone as if being crushed under the weight of the unknown. The resulting suffering unlocks the door to the search for a remedy.
When feeling alone and crushed under the weight of unanswered questions the individual adopts the belief of an existing group that it shares with others. The sharing of a worldview with others soothes the suffering and awakens the feelings of the individual to the pleasure resulting from the trust established with them. This is something humans have been experiencing universally starting from the beginning of time till today. In contemporary China, for example, the speed of change has been so darn rapid that many people feel at a loss. Many are remedying the suffering from that feeling of loss by joining religious groups. The religious narrative binds the participants in a shared belief and this results in the comfort of social interrelations with the other believers which miraculously decreased the existing levels of anxiety while instilling some happiness in the minds simply as a result of feeling part of a group.
This has not escaped the eye of those men of knowledge and men of power who were in charge of the working of societies. We observe indeed that since the dawn of time societies have been using the remedy of narratives to bind the individuals and increase societal cohesion. Under tribal societies the narratives were the domain of the men of knowledge. As we have seen in “ Chapter 4. Governance and societal evolution” the tribal worldview was further reproduced in China as animism+ and later it initiated the introduction of a power society. During the first Milena of the power society in China the animist men of knowledge acted as the men of power which projected a radically different model of governance then the power societies in the TriContinent-Area for it was a power society that succeeded to remain animistic. For the history of societal evolution see 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08. In the TriContinent Area the animist men of knowledge was replaced by the men of power immediately after the collapse of the tribal structure following the introduction of agriculture. It took them thousands of years to understand that to reproduce their power over the generations they need to settle deals with the most popular religions in order to glue the minds of the citizenry. About the role of knowledge formation and acquisition see 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07.
188.8.131.52. Art finds its substance in knowledge
What follows was sketched in “Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge. 1.1. The Context ”.
The man of knowledge or shaman were the ones who initiated the practice of "authoring " visual signs about the meaning of reality that they wanted to share with their fellow tribesmen who then "recited " those signs as decoration of their textiles, their cooking ware, their tools, their roofs walls and doors, etc... During High-Modernity the works of the shaman have been qualified as art, art premiers in France or first arts, while the recitation of the tribesmen were qualified as craft.
What is interesting here is that many of the artists belonging to the Paris avant-garde at the turn of the 20th century, not only qualified the shaman's visual signs as art but, were also very much influenced by their “primitive arts ”. It is as if the avant-garde had intuitively understood that the man of knowledge and the artist were one and the same in “primitive arts ”. This should perhaps not come as a surprise. Did they themselves not implicitly invoke the status of men of knowledge by claiming that henceforth the artist had to reject all that came from the recent past and illustrate reality at a deeper level than what had been done in Early-Modernity or before under religious time?
But alas, at the difference with the shaman, the members of the avant-garde were certainly not men of knowledge and their adventure ended thus, all naturally, in the greatest of confusions.
Since their inception, one hundred thousands years ago or more, the arts had a societal function and that function was to solidify the trust between the members of the group in order to maximize the cohesion of their society. But that societal functionality of the arts was never talked about nor had it ever been theorized. It was something like a given, as if there was a tacit agreement, that never was conceptualized. I think this is the reason why the aim of Modernism to represent reality at deeper levels, than had ever been realized before, was never really questioned. Searching to represent reality in its deeper dimensions implied that:
Both of these alternatives were so optimistic that they were completely unrealistic. The education of the artists was indeed limited to the sole aspect of the technical execution of their works. But virtuosity in the use of the brush did not supply the artist with the knowledge of the scientist nor of the traditional men of knowledge. And as a matter of fact the artist was thus simply not equipped with the knowledge necessary to represent reality in its deeper dimensions.
The consequences of the failure of Modernism to attain the target the avant-garde had set for itself begs that we finally came to terms with this non-pronounced societal functionality of the arts. Let me just add here that all forms of art, visual – music – dance, were sharing the same societal functionality but each according to their own specificity.
A. visual arts = conveying meaning to the brain
Biologically humanity evolved the eye as its most important sensor allowing for the transmission to the brain of informations gleaned in the near environment in order for the brain to process adapted actions-responses. In nature such responses were often the only way permitting survival from the claws of animals of prey. Our eyes are visual sensors which capture images of our near environment. Those images are immediately transmitted to the brain for processing. The brain extracts the meaning of those images and compares it to what is stored in its memory. If it feels that its memory has an answer that is adapted to the case at hand it delegates the execution of the answer to the nervous system. But if it feels that its memory has no adequate answer to the case at hand it will handle on its own the response that is required in order to protect the integrity of the body. The mind requires and extensive use of energy and so it tries to save energy whenever it is possible. (see 01, 02, 03) Growing its memory, its catalog of knowings, or its database contain the past computed answers to allow the nervous system to take over from the energy thirsty brain by taking charge of future responses to known problems.
From this database of knowings, and the memory of what actions work, the mind emerges as the consciousness of the self and the mind soon starts ordering the data according to its own emerging priorities. This is what engages the mechanisms by which a specie finally sets foot on the long path toward consciousness with its different and successive stages of depth.
Visual signs are captured by the eyes and transmitted to the brain for analysis. Very early on the men of knowledge discovered that this specificity of visual signs allowed them to transmit meaning to the minds of their fellow tribesmen. And as mentioned earlier the meaning illustrated in visual signs concerned the vision of reality in the minds of the shaman or men of knowledge. The understanding of this mechanism consecrated the creation of visual signs as the most potent tool in the toolbox of the men of knowledge. The creation of visual signs became indeed their preferred tool to share their ideas and concepts with their fellow tribesmen. The same is still in play today and can be observed in different fields like road signaling, website signaling, and so on. But as I explained in, 01 02 03 04 05 06, Modernity terminated the role of the men of knowledge and the artists lost the supply of the subjects of their works which explains why starting with High-Modernity they had to conceive their own knowledge. Unfortunately they did not dispose of the necessary knowledge base to conceive a valid content that is adapted to the reality of their time and that’s why, by Late-Modernity, the arts ended in total confusion.
Visual signs are all about shifting meaning to the human brain in anticipation of triggering expected actions. Decorations of stone tools are the oldest signs that were preserved for our modern eyes to see. They date not far from 1,000,000 years. The next oldest preserved signs are decorations on jewelry dating some 100,000 years. Then come sculptures dating some 30-50,000 years and next are cave paintings; the oldest dating some 30,000 years. Finally the earliest preserved hieroglyphic forms of written language (visual signs) started to appear some 5,000-6,000 years ago in Sumer, the Indus Valley, and in China.
It was also observed since the dawn of time that, to possibly work, the strategy of triggering expected actions from the community necessitated visual signs whose form was attracting a maximum of eyeballs. Various forms of visual signs are not equally attractive to the eyes. What attracts a maximum of eyeball has been called beauty. That term only started to get negative connotations very recently. But the fact remains that the point of visual signs is to pass meaning to the minds of the individuals with the hope to trigger a given response from the entire community.
Unfortunately nowadays advertisers understand this fact a lot better than artists and certainly a lot better than the professional art talkers. It was very early on discovered that the form of visual arts has to be beautiful in order to catch a maximum of eyeballs and the content of visual arts has to be meaningful in order for the brain to possibly grow its knowings and the mind to catch new meaning. Viewers look elsewhere if the work of art fails the test of beauty and the hunger of their mind will not be satisfied if the work of art fails the test of meaning.
B. music = inducing feelings and predispositions
Music does not directly address meaning to the mind as visuals do. Music manipulates the feelings in the minds of the individuals. In other words it shapes peoples' mood and inclinations and as such it predisposes them to various actions.
The power of sound vibration is tremendous. It can displace matter and re-order it according to its rhythm and harmonics. Some specific sounds have the power to break glass! So their vibrations act also on the body with multiple possible results: relaxation, concentration, health effects and other.
Science does still not understand what exactly is going on physically in our bodies when we listen to music but this is not a sufficient reason to reject the intuitive idea that music interferes with our cells, the working of our organs and the circulation of energy throughout our bodies which is resulting in a manipulation of our mood, our feelings, and inclinations. The fact is that music has the power to bring us high or to make us cry.
So in my mind music should be seen as an exercise at “manipulating ” the mood and feelings in order to drive the community on certain paths. Driving people on certain paths is the strategy here. The shaman used music to shape the mood and the feelings of his tribesmen to go hunt, or to go fight, or for the tribesmen to enter in communion, or to prepare to dance and so on and on. Music thus entered the toolbox of the men of knowledge as an incredibly powerful means to maximize the effectiveness of their society in a wide range of domains.
Music was later used by armies, religions, and other institutions of power to manipulate their citizens to follow what their men of power wanted. Note that even the distributors of goods in Late-Modernity use music to relax people in the hope of inducing them to buy stuff.
My approach has centered on how the innate predisposition of the individuals has been put in use by societies and why societies resourced to artistic strategies. In this sense my approach is a societal approach of the functions of the arts. Such an approach contrasts with contemporary psychological studies that approach music from the intra-personal, interpersonal – social, perspective of how it is received by the individuals and how the individuals eventually make use of music to position themselves within their societies.
The societal approach, it seems to me, paints a holistic picture of the function of the arts while the individual – social approach is more like a quantification at the micro level that explains the working of the individual predisposition for the arts that Ellen Dissanayake has been dissecting over the last decades.
One of the pioneers of the contemporary psychological approach of the arts is Diana Boer who, in 2009, concluded her university thesis with these words: “the social bonding function of music was closely related to the value-expressive function. The social bonding function represented the centre of a holistic topography of musical functions. Its importance was independent of cultural background and socio-demographic variables in the present samples indicating universal characteristics. ...people use music similarly across cultures for expressing values, for social bonding and for multiple other functions. This thesis underscores that music is a powerful pro-social resource.” (7).
In their, by now, famous 2003 study Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling state that: “Theorists concerned with social identity and the self have pointed out that the social environments that individuals select serve to reinforce their self-views (e.g., Gosling et al., 2002; Swann, 1987, 1996; Swann et al., 2002; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), and our findings suggest that people may select music for similar reasons”. From this they conclude that “If music preferences are partially determined by personality, self-views, and cognitive abilities, then knowing what kind of music a person likes could serve as a clue to his or her personality, self-views, and cognitive abilities” (8).
The idea that “people are selecting music to reinforce their self-views ” is the typical approach of music from an individual – social angle that, for a fact, is the reality of our Late-Modern societal context. But if “people are selecting music to reinforce their self-views” this proves without a shred of a doubt the power of music to reinforce the worldview shared by all which is the thesis I develop here. Florian Messner gives one of the most beautiful descriptions of that thesis: “Born of an awareness that in some way music-making helped us to feel bolder and less afraid, music was a vehicle through which we expressed the inter-connectedness of our pulsing universe and the unity of its rhythmic cycles long before we were able to give verbal expression to the concepts that were beginning to take shape in our minds. And in that experience of union is music’s primary value as a healing force. Overcoming the anxiety of separateness in a world so often perceived as hostile, music is the reassurance of the harmony and purposefulness, the essential order and beneficence of our universe” (9).
C. dance = illumination of the mind to meaning
Dance is a form of expression using movement, rather than word to communicate meaning. Dance is about accompanying people further down the path that they are being driven on by music. But more particularly dance is a tool to awaken the mind to the deep meaning of visual signs or abstract concepts. The ultimate destination down the path of dance is the unlocking of a special state of mind that projects flashes of light illuminating the deep meaning, of visual signs or concepts, in the mind of the dancer. Once arrived at such a destination dance completely numbs the mind to the contingencies of the here and now and frees it to navigate new dimensions of meaning, about the working of reality, that were hidden till then.
Observers merely see dancing evolving in a trance that ends in convulsions. The real action of dance reveals flashes of meaning in the mind of the dancer. This can't be seen by others; it can only be experienced by those who dance.
All worldviews have used dance as a means for their believers to be enlightened. As such one could say that dance is like surfing on the mood shaping power of music to reach hidden dimensions of reality that open the mind to the deep meaning expressed in visual signs.
1. Ellen Dissanayake. See her private articles archive at academia.edu.
I borrow Ms. Dissanayake’s argument about the human predisposition for “artification” that resulted from a chain of causality that started with the human monkey’s descent from the trees.
This biological evolution, over the next 1 million years and a half, resulted in the formation of an acquired taste for artsy talk and behaviors that eventually also participated in growing the size of human brains that initiated a process of societal evolution.
But the causal link between upright walking and brain size growth is still a hypothesis that is not agreed upon by the scientific community. The problem that arises is indeed that it is difficult to replicate this one of a time behavior by a species.
2. citation from reactive attachment disorder:
“...the diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder is relatively new, many mental health professionals are unfamiliar with it. During the first few years of life, if the infant perceives that its needs are not being met by its primary caregiver, an attachment issue may develop. This is sometimes due to neglect and abuse, but it can also be a result of a hectic family environment. Children who were taken from their mother at birth due to a serious medical problem with either the mother or the infant are susceptible to attachment difficulties, as well.”
3. Sociopathy. Citation from “What ‘Psychopath’ Means” by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Hal Arkowitz in Scientific American on 2007-12-01.
4. Milky way.
5. The citation of chapter 65 of the TaoTeChing is extracted from the excellent “a modern interpretation of Lao Tzu perpetrated by Ron Hogan”
6. Ouspensky. A Russian mathematician and esotericist known for his expositions of the early work of George Gurdjieff Greek-Armenian teacher of the esoteric doctrine “The Fourth Way”.
7. Diana Boer. “Music makes the people come together: Social functions of music listening for young people across cultures”. Victoria University of Wellington. 2009. Free PDF. Her you can also check her collection of papers.
8. Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling. “The Do Re Mi’s of Everyday Life: The Structure and Personality Correlates of Music Preferences”. University of Texas at Austin. Free PDF
9. Florian Messner. “Notes on the function of Music”