Monthly Archives: June 2009

Intelligent Universe

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Consciousness is an emergent property of the material universe. In other words, intelligence arises spontaneously from the natural meanderings of matter in time. This property of emergent awareness can be seen as an ineluctable property of life forms. As living organisms grow in complexity, they become increasingly intelligent – increasingly aware.

 

 

This is not intelligent design as it is commonly understood. Quite the contrary, it is the observation that, given certain initial conditions, simple systems often grow in complexity as they grow in size. It is a phenomenon observed everywhere. Cybernetics demonstrates the increasing intelligence of software systems that are allowed to multiply and reproduce themselves. Biologists studying such so-called “simple” life-forms as the amoeba, Physarum (slime mold), have discovered evidence of emergent intelligence that involves higher-order functions of memory, learning, and anticipation. And the high level of animal intelligence that occurs within an ant hive is well-documented.

 


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The human brain is a super-intelligent network of neurons, each of which is incapable of even a single simple thought. However in their intricate relationships, the many hundreds of billions of neurons of the human brain and the body’s many trillions of interconnected cells form an intelligent system that distinguishes us as one of the most highly complex and deeply conscious aggregations of matter in the known universe.

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The study of conscious awareness and intelligence has always been a defining aspect of human thought. The fact that we can reflect on the thought process itself is perhaps the most specifically “human” aspect of human intelligence. The Vedic philosophers of ancient India described awareness in terms that are comparable to those used by neurobiologists and computer scientists today.

 

 

To demonstrate the universe is intelligent requires no more proof than to peer into a mirror. . Inextricably a part of the universe as a whole, our living planet is not just alive – it is an astonishingly intelligent living system. The entire biosphere of Earth is a seething manifold of awareness, intelligent behavior, and emergent consciousness. And we are its human face.

 

 

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First Image: The Emergence of Awareness, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.

Slime mold image by Toshyuki Nakagaki: http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jan/071

Ant farm image: Tullio DeSantis
Ants! – YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQERRbU23bU

Neurons in the Human Brain: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/photos/brain.html
Emergence – Complexity from Simplicity, Order from Chaos (1 of 2):
YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdQgoNitl1g

The Brain and the Universe: YouTube URL:

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System intelligence reference: Steven Johnson, Emergence, Scribner, 2002:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684868768/stevenberlinj-20

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Consciousness, Reality, and Dreams

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ARTology investigates world models using aesthetics as a tool for observing and revealing consciousness in action. An essential manifestation of consciousness is the relationship between the states of mind we call “awake” and “asleep.”

After experiencing several spontaneously lucid dreams in my youth, I began a systematic study of the territory where sleep and wakefulness meet. I discovered that dream research, like much of the brain science that has developed since the 1970s, is based on investigations of both ancient and modern conceptions of consciousness that originate in both the shamanistic and artistic traditions. I decided to pursue both traditions as if they were one. And now, for me, they are.

As the craft of aesthetics, art is a method of philosophical practice. Art making involves personal inquiry into the nature of perception, apprehension, cognition, response, and behavior – in a word, consciousness. The fact that the work of both visionaries and scientists is illuminating the selfsame territory is only surprising to those who imagine the right and left hemispheres of the brain as presenting utterly irreconcilable world views.

The notion of a world view is at the heart of both “reality” and “illusion.” What is most revealing is that a world view is by nature transparent. We do not see it so much as we see through it. To become aware of one’s world view is, in some deep sense, to “wake up” to a new, more inclusive, “reality,” in which the old view is seen as a subset of the newer one. This process is a continually emerging one. It is an operational description of consciousness as an ever-evolving emergent process.

Art provides opportunities for us to wake up and/or to continue dreaming. And because it is a reflection of our inner and outer experience, art can be used as a tool for examining and revealing what remains as yet undiscovered along ancient and endless passageways of awareness.
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Image: Chauvet Cave Paintings, c 31,000 B.C.E.
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Art is like religion except you don’t have to believe anything

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Artists create illusions. Like magicians, we employ materials, techniques, situations, behaviors, and mindsets in the manipulation of human experience. Matters of perception, cognition, and consciousness in general, are the artist’s métiers.

The goal of art is to cause people to experience immaterial realities (feelings, states of mind, ideas, and insights) by means of intervention in the material world. Already, in these brief paragraphs, the correspondences with paranormal/spiritual/metaphysical/religious practice are clearly evident.

The differences, however, are crucial. Art begins and ends as an investigation. Religion is a matter of faith. So, in fact, is science. The basic assumptions of both religion and science are unassailable. This is both their strength and their weakness. Science and religion have a powerful hold on the human psyche, which causes them to endure even when rigorously questioned. Such imperviousness dooms them both to fall short when confronted with the essential questions of human experience.

Art, on the other hand, is a process of questioning conventional notions of reality. Artists use the same cultural constructs upon which religion and science are pinioned. But by making art – from the first expressions on the cave walls of prehistory to the myriad manifestations of aesthetic forms emerging on the Internet – artists subvert what is considered “real” and engage those so-called “truths” in the service of creating illusions that reveal information not contained in conventional definitions of reality.

Ultimately the manifold branches of human pursuit are subsumed into aesthetics. Upon examining the underlying trajectory of desire – human destiny – the conclusion is clear. We create our world through a process of aesthetic decision-making.

From this perspective, it appears most sensible to examine deeply what type of world – what type of universe – we want to inhabit. Because we are human, we will make that choice based not on ontology, or epistemology, or ethics, or politics. Those are and have always been ruses for our true preferences.

Human beings do things for aesthetic reasons. Often we fail. Sometimes we succeed. Nevertheless, the new world we seek is always more desirable – more beautiful – than the old.

How will you choose to change the world – your universe – today?

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Image: New World, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, mixed media

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The Rest of the Universe, part 1

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No matter in what universe of discourse one may be engaged, the subject of utmost significance is how exactly the nature of consciousness creates experience. In this way, all inquiries into the nature of “reality” are investigations into the nature of human consciousness.

Statements not involved with the nature of consciousness are comprised of systems of belief. Science, technology, politics, the law, economics, religion, – are all ways of perceiving and acting in the world according to a set of basic assumptions. Such assumptions are nothing more and nothing less than belief systems.

To operate outside systems of belief is certainly possible. This became clear to me in my seventeenth year and, since then, I have eschewed taking positions on matters of faith and have made every effort to move away from even using terms, such as “I believe.”

Without belief one navigates with provisional hypotheses – methods of moving through life without bearing the burdens of religious faith or scientific proof. The benefits this brings are great. One lives unencumbered in the present moment. The feeling of freedom and the sense of personal responsibility that issue from one’s freedom from belief are limitless. Life becomes an exploratory pursuit.

Upon investigation, even the material world is seen as insubstantial, just one way of framing our view – one among many ways of comprehending experience. Free from the restraints of science, technology, politics, the law, economics, religion, one is left with the simple awareness of consciousness. Instead of feeling trapped in an isolated portion of the cosmos, the rest of the universe opens up to our perception. And we inhabit all of it, here, now, and everywhere…

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Image: Spiral Galaxy NGC 3370 from Hubble

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Persistence of Vision

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Great trapezoidal canvases jut upward on both sides of a narrow walkway. Their sheer presence is forcing me to tread upon my own paintings laid lengthwise on the floor. I am aware I am dreaming but this only serves to frustrate me. While I know I can change my surroundings by force of conscious will, it would serve no purpose to do so. I know I am here in order to understand something that ineluctably seems to lie ever beyond my comprehension.

And so I search – search for shards of meaning in what appears to be an inscrutable dreamworld. The canvases, forming the walls of this virtual hallway extend upward to infinity. They are covered with thousands of near-invisible geometric and biomorphic images composed of nothing but dim red outlines.

In my lifetime I have created several paintings larger than twenty feet in length. These canvases are rolled out beneath my feet. There is no space – no air here – outside of my immediate path. I cannot veer from it for fear of suffocation. I can only walk over my own work and observe the scratchy glyphs filling my peripheral vision.

As I move forward and reach the edge of each trapezoidal surface another looms beside it. Any gaps that appear are filled with my own pointillist pictures. It is clear I am walled in and I must ascertain some meaning in the red-outline pictographs filling the sides of this endless chamber.

The scratchy imagery comes into focus in equal measure to the intensity of my gaze. Rows of humanoid caricatures like layered hieroglyphs clamoring for attention lie just within the realm of visibility. There is no color but the faint red-outlines of which they are composed and the stark white of the surrounding field.

My paintings are sharp, multicolor, and complete, yet they serve as background for the ghostly apparitions that can only have issued from the mind of Keith Haring. It occurs to me I am in a sort of postmondern museum in which my own work sets the stage for Keith’s emergent imagery.

The more intense my gaze the more the images materialize. Before my dreaming eyes and brain, additional form and color develops. The vast white slabs behave like Polaroid film when I stare at them. But when I look away, or reduce the intensity of my gaze, they fade and whiten. I am literally “seeing into the work.”

The thought forms within me that I am somehow “finishing” Keith’s work by dint of imagination. I look closely to see exactly what kind of “filling-in” is taking place. I observe at once the signs, symbols, and colors of folk imagery and religious symbolism – an intermingling of natural and supernatural worlds and pure decoration playing over and throughout the visual and psychological tension of a strict geometry and formal design.

I am confronted by my own aesthetic vision interwoven with Keith’s intense seriocomic universe – all pinioned between a world of fundamentalist superstition and a technological post-apocalyptic dystopia. Overcome by the urge to pursue the significance of this phantasmagoric experience, I am moved to further exploration. I peer behind the walls to glimpse a lambent reality of my own imagination at work…

The decision to traverse the interstitial spaces comes with a wordless realization of a great weight or ponderous responsibility – I am somehow intervening or intruding into Keith’s death – more significantly, his after-death experience.

Nevertheless, I walk more quickly to delve more deeply. Soon, I am running – then flying through a golden museum/mausoleum space suffused with intersecting beams of unearthly light.

Everywhere my own carved-up canvases fill the space within and without Keith’s looming figures. I am reminded of my installation at the New Arts Program space where I executed just this solution to the situation of Keith’s floor-covering painting on permanent display there.

The great weight has been lifted from my mind. I am soaring through an infinite architectonic universe. Bathed in a numinous glow of total illumination and warmth I shed my very materiality, achieve invisibility, and feel myself at one with the light surrounding me. And I know there is nothing in this place that can die. And I know he is here.

Confident, I decide to end the dream and instantaneously I am awake. It is a brilliant June morning. I hear the songs of a hundred birds. The sun warms my face. I am alive!

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Image: Tullio Francesco DeSantis “Persistence of Vision, acrylic on canvas, 1978,” (digital image mod, 2009).
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