Neuroscience and Karma ► 13. Art, Architecture and Aesthetics

Posted: 09.07.2015

0. Art and Spiritualism

India is the land of spiritual outlook and nothing that is bereft of spiritual value could satisfy the Indian mind. Philosophy, Logic, Art and Science all possible branches of thought were inspired by spiritual outlook. Thus, for Indian Philosophers, logic is nothing but an instrument for the interpretation of the spiritual intuition. To get rid of spiritual darkness and enlighten the path of self-realization is the end of all science. An art is not an art, if it does not give glimpse into the beauty of truth. The common end of all arts - music, painting, architecture, poetry etc. - is to remind us of the supreme state which is beyond this wordly existence. And that is why amongst the most renowned poets are Kabir, Surdas, Tulsidas and Mira and the supreme objects of architectural beauty are the temples, (and cathedrals), the abodes of God.

1. Essence of Living

So far we have been studying the programs for simple biological homeostatic functions such as breathing, eating, mating (reproduction) etc. which we, humans, share with sub-human animals and millions of other species. In this and the succeeding chapters, we shall study the two most trully characteristic human activities, viz. Art and Religion. In doing this, we shall have special opportunities to test whether our study of the programs of the brain can really help us to understand ourselves.

Religious beliefs and aesthetic pleasure derived from art (music, painting, poetry, drama etc.) are very precious and are most important of all the functional features which distinguish human attitude and behaviour from that of animals. In fact, they are the essence of human life. And we believe that proper and adequate knowledge about the brain can enlarge our capacities for creativity, imagination and perception, for appreciation of nature's beauty, for understanding the significance of our lives, and for deepening our religious beliefs. Belief and creative art are not mere peripheral luxury activities, They are literally the most important of all the functional features that ensure human homeostasis.

In this chapter, we shall try to show that aesthetic creation (and enjoyment) are fundamental features of human life. They are activities in which the brain is operating in the same way as it does in daily life but at a higher level, as it were. In the next chapter, we shall examine some of the ways in which beliefs operate and will discuss why they are so important.

2. The Necessity of Art and Aesthetics

Human perception is a form of creative activity. We appreciate the products of artists (painters, musicians, poets etc.) because they express and amplify our creative aptitude and stimulate our reward-centres. Our daily lives and perceptual activities continue satisfactorily because of the rewards that come from these centres. They continually influence our thoughts, words and actions, urging us, as it were, to do things that are satisfactory.

The search for satisfaction goes on continuously. Pleasure and indeed all enjoyments involve search for the meaning and significance of satisfying situations or objects. The significance may be intellectual or emotional or both. Works of art are the symbols which show that the process of living is proceeding satisfactorily. They reassure us that things are ordered as we supposed. The activities that go to the creation and enjoyment of works of art are thus quintessentially those by which the brain, working every day as a creative agent, synthesizes inputs from the world to make a satisfactory life. The creations and satisfactions of art include and symbolize both our individual acts of perception and the expression to others of what we perceive. These are the very brain actions that give us the powers of communication by which we obtain all the rest - food, shelter, sex, social life and recreation.

Art in general and painting in particular, ensures that life is worthwhile for its own sake, irrespective of any ideology. We are, all, aware of the relationship between artistic creation and the daily programs of the brain, but it is difficult to express its depth. Even the most philistine person or the poorest, has feelings for design, for instance clothes, cartoons or in advertisement. Thus the work of the artist is at the very centre of human activities. He gives us new ways of seeing or hearing or thinking. The bringing together of the two realities, universe and the psyche goes on every minute of the day in each of us. The artist cannot solve the mystery any better than the rest of us but he brings it to our attention and gives us some satisfaction by showing and sharing this puzzle of what is 'real'.

3. Art and Brain

The signs on canvas or in words arouse interest in us on account of their connection with our life-pattern or program, which is guided by our emotional needs. In short, we make each moment of perception, part of the structure of our thinking and feeling.

Man is both a symbol-using creature and also a fabricator, both of words and objects. The things that he makes inevitably reflect the operations of the needs of the symbolising system within. Those, whose brains are full of concern for sex or of violence introduce symbols of them in their paintings or poems or films, or perhaps by graffiti on the lavatory walls. A child makes a hobby horse out of a stick for use, as it comes to be an image of features of a horse. Indeed all it needs at the absolute minimum is the capacity to be made to go. It can be effective even if it is exceedingly abstract, provided that its symbolism stimulates the necessary imagination and action.

4. Principles of Aesthetics

Much of the appeal of a picture, poem, or song may be related to inborn emotions and the attitudes that express them, for instance of sorrow or of joy. It may be that a lot of our responses to shapes and colours and sounds depend basically on inborn capacities, but of course immensely modified by cultural influences. If the primary aim of art is to please, it also has an endless series of secondary uses. 'Pragmatical' functions of art are more prevalent today than ever. We need only think of the immense numbers of people who still worship, or at least give respect to, visual images, such as those of god Ganesh, goddess Kali, the Virgin or the Crucifixion. Advertisers are continually searching for new ways to attract us to their products, and how well they understand that the human brain program is especially attracted by human features, especially those of pretty girls.

5. Poetry and Music - Language of Emotion.

Almost all humans are pleasantly affected by patterns of tunes and rhythm. To enjoy and be moved by them is a characteristic trait of our species. The patterns that are preferred vary with culture, but some features are universal and they help us to understand the fundamental structuring of human brain process. A child indeed responds to music and poetry without being taught. Although the more sophisticated patterns of music can be appreciated only after much experience, yet music (of a sort) is played in almost every public place.

Poetry and Music have been called the language of emotion. Any emotional response is a combination of sensation and the response to it. For example, certain stimuli arouse fear or sadness, religious fervour and devotion, and in each case the particular emotion is accompanied by physical changes such as increased heart-beats and weeping, relaxation and tranquillity. Music produces a partial or symbolic emotional response. When we hear it, we do not necessarily recognize or identify the emotion. We may feel a sort of faint sadness without weeping, or joy without laughter, or bliss without euphoria. Music has its own language which illustrates the abstract qualities of human experience, rather than particular facts. These qualities are fundamental features of the whole cerebral organization; therefore inevitably, when, say, sadness or joy are suggested, whole complexes of associated details may follow. The cerebral organization operates as one single whole. Neuroscience have made some progress towards understanding the parts of the brain that are involved in musical appreciation. The capacity to appreciate music is lost after injuries to some cortical areas. The areas especially concerned with music lie around those in the temporal lobe that are responsible for hearing. Recent work has shown that the areas for musical appreciation are mainly in the right cerebral cortex, whereas those for speech are in the left. Thus the left ear (connected to the right cortex) is the better receptor for melodies; and injury to the right temporal lobe has the greater effect on musical appreciation.

The temporal lobes of the cortex lie close to the hippocampus and other basal parts of the cerebral hemispheres that are connected with reward-systems and emotional responses.

6. Architecture

We hope to have convinced the reader that pursuit of the fine arts is, indeed, close to the core of the structure of culture, perhaps in all ages and all communities. For architects and planners, the message is clear. Humans need buildings and objects around them that suit the structures of their brain-program. Of course, we must add at once that the structure of what they see will greatly influence their brains.

The architect can imagine, search and discover significant symbols for us all, like any other artist. Indeed, many architects realize this and do great things for us and often succeed in breaking old conventions and teaching us to enjoy new ones. Indeed, people with aesthetic sense travel thousands of miles just to see wonderful architecture of Taj Mahal or the temples of Delwara and Ranakpur.

7. Drama and Playing

All art forms, whether visual, poetical or musical, try to introduce us to fresh and novel ways of perceiving and feeling. This question of the search for novelty may lead us to the relations of art to play. Playing is pleasant, interesting, and creative. Yet, it is also partly innate and conventional. Drama and Play also involve experiments in socialization. It is successful in so far as it is pleasurable, and this makes it effective as an introduction to social life. In laughter, we have a pre-programmed sign to use in order to show that life is proceeding well.

Both activities are in a sense 'non-serious' and 'non-functional' but are not therefore unimportant. Both are self-rewarding, but are often enjoyed with others. Both express a need for surprise and for change and is especially important, if we are looking for the emotional basis for originality. They are, in fact, important components of the homeostatic system. Finally they are symbolic of life, and what could be more important than that?

8. Art, Science and Discovery

Perhaps we shall never know how art began, but we are surely lucky to have brain systems that urge us on to continue to look and listen, to play, to experiment, to enquire, to imagine and construct, and to find satisfaction in what we have made or discovered. These are the activities that have made man what he is, and they have been especially evident in both art and science in recent times. We can rejoice that man has made new discoveries, not only of new ways of making things, but also of new ways of thinking, of seeing, and of hearing. Of course, the discovery of new ways of understanding the world is not the exclusive privilege of either the exact method of the scientist or the imagination of the artist. Although scientific discoveries are mostly thought to be the result of rational and analytical thinking, it appears that the physician, chemist and mathematician must be no less intuitive than the poet, composer or painter.

The rationality must be complemented by the intuition that gives scientist new insights and makes them creative. Such insights tend to come when relaxing during a walk in the woods or a beach. In such periods of relaxation the intuitive mind seems to take over and the resulting clarifying insights give so much joy and delight to scientific research. This is illustrated by the discovery of the theory of relativity in the beginning of this century. Einstein himself, observed "... the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing positive knowledge."

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