Monthly Archives: April 2010

What is Real

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Things are moving – feelings, sensations, perceptions experienced in a fluid, seamless way. Events occur in the world and in the brain. Correspondences between these mysterious locations bridge the disparate worlds of meat and mind. At first, they are simply strands of connectedness, correspondences, analogies, and metaphors: ways of creating bonds that stitch the endless stream of experience in comprehensible ways.
New patterns emerge, which create and reveal relationships of being and seeing. The brain is entrained, synchronized to the ebb and flow of experience – even while it interprets and modifies the very impressions which are shaping it.

Connectivity enhances being in the world and entrainment reinforces it. New experiences are filtered through existing pathways that have built up over time so that what is experienced is only partially new. Soon, each new experience is also old experience reviewed and renewed.

In this way we become simply who we think we are. In time we lose our way, only to wander in a mirror world – a world of mind. We see little of what happens to us. We lose our power to create experience.

Time to die.

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Death obliterates but leaves something in its wake: the imponderable journey from nowhere to fetal life, months in utero, recapitulating the million mutations of animal ancestry, brilliant consciousness, fathomless dreams, sharp sensations of self and other, self and family, self and society, the rise of sex and strength, hormone surge of adolescence, years of senseless risk… then the circular routines of adulthood, establishing rank, predictable patterns of behavior, reinforced roles of dominance and submission, while the timeless world spinning transformative surrounds us, dragging down the tilted frame of old age, holding out against the fear of an inevitable annihilation. Instantaneous, unearthly, alien, death unhinges us with utter unconcern. What remains?
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Things are moving – feelings, sensations, perceptions experienced in a fluid, seamless way…
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Image: “Neurrealism 2010,” by Tullio DeSantis, digitized analog ink drawing, 2010.

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Creativity, Mental Blocks, and Perpetual Trance

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Moving, vibrating in a harmonious rhythm with our surroundings is the natural way. But sometimes we can get stuck in a particular state of mind like an eddy reversing flow against a river’s dominant current.
My art classes are courses in creativity. This is the same as saying that I teach people how to interrupt the blockages that have developed over the years of living inside their heads in so-called “civilized society”.

While the overarching subject is aesthetics, source materials include information on perceptual illusion, right-brain/left-brain integration, conceptual art, subliminal persuasion, media manipulation, hypnosis, NLP, meditation, quantum physics, and neurofeedback. Each of these fields of research provide insights that are helpful in interrupting ways the mind gets stuck in reified perceptual, emotional, symbolic, and cognitive states.

Perceptual illusions reveal the very real ways that the world of our senses is a place where misinterpretation is rampant. We can easily be made to see continuity of movement, for example, where there is in reality only a staccato series of still images. Modes of thinking which involve left-brain dominance are so heavily rewarded in our culture (as opposed to right-brain modes) that we are conditioned to respond in a predictably materialistic and quantitative manner, even when dealing with our emotional experience. As the most powerful and influential tool ever devised by man, the mass media educates our children, defines us as consumers, and creates virtual environments for us to inhabit. We dwell in illusory media-induced perceptual states even when looking into the mirror. Our self images have been progressively chipped away and honed into simulacra of dissatisfaction by the tens of thousands of hours of commercial ads we process each year of our lives.

Once the mind is stuck in a repetitive mode of operation, it has effectively entered a state of trance. As a result of being influenced by our hyper-ritualized mechanical/cybernetic environment, we find ourselves entering into hypnotic states on a more or less perpetual basis. Addressing and interrupting these various states of trance can initiate a process of triggering the capacity for novel perception, thought, and experience, which is the hallmark of creativity and creative evolution.

To develop one’s capacity to perceive, think, and act aesthetically brings one to the very leading edge of the creation of the universe. It is the place where the still-warm embers of the big-bang itself are moving in sync with the rhythms of eternity and evolving continuously into infinite patterns of new form and content. Each instant the world is created anew as are we within it.
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Image: “Mental Block 001,” by Tullio DeSantis, digital image, 2010.

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This is My Mind, Part 1

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I have been doing EEG neurofeedback work since January of this year. Essentially, neurofeedback is the algorithmic conditioning of the autonomic electrical processing of the brain. Information is extracted from the brain by means of EEG recording and analysis. This reveals various frequencies of brain waves and their amplitude. Decisions to interact with the electrical output of the brain are made on the basis of particular models of consciousness and the brain. Electrical impulses are fed back into the brain, which alter the electrical processes of the brain and result in a state change.
The theory is illuminating and descriptive of the experimental verifiability of brain waves and their relationship to mental states. Various levels of consciousness are revealed by characteristic wave frequencies. These impulses are recorded by means of an EEG machine, which measures electrical output from sensors connected to wires attached to specific areas of the head.

And all the while, my friend, the Doctor of Psychology, is taking readings of the waveforms emanating from my brain and plotting them with graphs and instruments of science…studying them, analyzing them for clues to that ultimate secret of the universe – the secret of consciousness.

During the course of the neurofeedback session, decisions are made to cause the brainwaves to change. Stimulation is applied. Feedback happens…and the relaxation response occurs.

It is not simple to describe what I am feeling during these sessions. I am using my mind to imagine my mind. I sometimes think about a skull-sized bowl of the most complex material the universe has produced in its 14-billion-year history. This intermediate biological state of matter, which seems to appear as something between a solid and a liquid, vibrates in intelligent response to stimulation from its environment. Ripples of electrochemical energy course one way and then another almost instantaneously in response to both internal and external stimulation. Or I imagine a clear pool of water into which complex and unique patterns of pebbles are dropped in sequences of staccato time…

I imagine, as well, something changing inside of me as a result of this work. I am not quite sure what that is. But to have access to a tool which can, quite literally, change my mind is to be assured of one thing that has always been very important to me: I am continuing to choose to take conscious action in guiding my own creative evolution.

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Image: “This is My Mind 040810,” by Tullio DeSantis, acrylic on paper, 22” x 30“, 2010, (detail).

YouTube Video: Columbia Neurofeedback Center News Story with Dr. Jeff Tarrant

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Me and My Brainwaves

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A few months ago, I had dinner with a friend from my time as an undergraduate. We had neither seen nor communicated with each other in the intervening decades.
But for the wear of years, he looked much the same. He said I did as well. As a Doctor of Psychology with a busy private practice, he expressed an interest in my research and writing as it relates to my visual work. And as his friend, the artist, I was fascinated by his first-hand involvement in cutting-edge paradigms of consciousness and behavior and the therapeutic praxes derived from them.

After catching up on the news and bringing each other up to date on the most recent developments in our respective disciplines, he mentioned some highly encouraging positive results his clients have been able to achieve by means of biofeedback and EEG neurofeedback training. My interest was piqued, as I had recently begun a new meditation technique and I had been reviewing other methodologies in the light of that practice.

We talked about the wave/particle nature of matter and energy as revealed by quantum physics, the electrical nature of the nervous system, and the powerful and revelatory advances in brain imaging. He told me about the history of biofeedback and neurofeedback technology and the famous case in which the impeccable brainwave research of Dr. Maurice B. Sterman made a significant contribution to NASA and the US Space Program. He spoke at length about the entire field of neuroimaging and the many opportunities it provides for understanding consciousness.

I was intrigued. I talked about the inspirations and the sources of my own work. He was aware of the philosophical and scientific disciplines that interest me because they are the same things that interested me as an undergraduate. We made a plan to work together. It has become a collaborative pursuit in creative evolution.

Now, after several months of working with neurofeedback training, I am reformulating many of the conceptual relationships that have nourished my life and work over the years. It is as if my ability to make these new connections and to see things in a different light is enhanced by the new paradigm and the new training. Brain plasticity is a wonderful thing!

I will be discussing this work and related topics in ensuing entries of ARTology. It has never seemed clearer to me than it does now, when we need them most, excellent tools of creative evolution are very real and very much within our grasp.

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Image: self-portrait by Tullio DeSantis

YouTube Video on EEG Neurofeedback by Sue and Siegfried Othmer

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