As a student I was once told that ‘the journey of a musician is a journey inwards’. Introspection and heavy soul-searching is a favourite pastime for artists. But the question here is: what is ‘inward’, and where is ‘inward’ to be found?
The world we have unearthed and played into existence so far is overwhelmingly different from what a naïve, common sense outlook imagines. Striking and somewhat eerie is its ‘being’, which is not ‘real’, in the sense in which we usually understand this word. Real, for us, are always tangible ‘things’- something we can touch, or see. But what we are dealing with are not these ‘things’ (although they appear to us as such), but an internal landscape entirely constructed by senses and brain. Our reality is made of cortical states, which are forged and assembled in different parts of the senses and the brain. Yet, there is more to it. This cortical construct, which we experience, needs a focal point-something that makes it physically concrete. It has to emerge from its cortical substratum and assume as much physical presence as necessary to define and assert its perceptibility. This focal point is the body. The human world begins and ends with the body. To be more precise, it begins with my body, for only this body, which is recognized as my-self offers the awareness that my consciousness inhabits a material thing, which can behave emotionally, but which is also a physical object amongst other physical objects. This particular relationship between self- consciousness, emotion and body, which can connect physically and verbally to other bodies, plays my human world into existence. This world, created through and represented by my body, is the common ground on which I exist (and co-exist) with other bodies, animate and inanimate.
But there is another peculiarity. Not only does my own body represent my world, but also, thanks to the double role it plays as a material object and a mental entity, these two states are in an intriguing way interchangeable. Once a tipping point is reached, mind tumbles into its physical expression. And, in turn, this very physical mass that appears as extension in space can, increasingly de-materialized, turn also into a mental entity. We have seen this with the example of the ‘mental violinists’. With them, imagination turned into its stifling material form. (Chapter 4) But this ‘swap’ between something mental and something material is not only a personal experience. It embraces the entire gamut of what we recognize as the human world. When, for example, philosophers began to investigate the ‘honest’ physical object in the mid-seventeenth century, it took not too long until it became evident that this honest object, which appears in all guises: houses, trees, people, billiard balls- you name it, is nothing but an illusion- a product of senses and brain. The investigation into the ‘real’ world that should finally provide all answers fell flat and ended, very soon after it took off, in scepticism- a state of mind that veers towards relativism and, ultimately, nihilism. Matter turned slowly but unstoppably into nothing. It evaporated. Likewise idealism: it has never quite managed to overcome the perversity of the material object. However much it is explained out of existence, the material object always crops up again. And it crops up with a vengeance!
This ‘swap’ between mind and matter and vice versa does however not make itself easily known. Our brains have built a solid surface on which mind and matter are clearly segregated. We grasp their importance in this isolated form but have difficulties to see both as integrated. This is probably one of the reasons why we are attracted to the simplistic answers a rigorously mentally oriented – or radically materialistic system offers. But the interchange between the world of the mind and the real world happens vastly unnoticed. Like the individual frames of a film that flicker from one to the other, mental and physical stages appear, once integrated into the flow of our lives, as a continuous and coherent story. It takes the mind of a visionary to realize that this continuity is only a surface and that the real world is an ongoing and rapidly changing process in us. Like Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, who weaves a garment during the day just to unravel it at night to keep the suitors at bay who want to take her husbands place, so is the texture of our conscious existence unravelled in the dark night of our subconscious existence. And in the same manner does reality exchange identity with mental processes. We fluctuate thus not only between awareness and unconscious processes, but also between reality and fantasy. The world brains have built, prevents this experience of continuous change from making itself known to us. What brains make known to us is always the cortical world, which is produced in their various lobes. And we have to be grateful to nature for this, because the stability such a cortical world offers, although not real, is nevertheless the fundament on which the human world is built. This is the common ground on which we are able to communicate and on which we understand our being-in-the-world: the ‘here and now’, which we project sometimes into what we call ‘the future’ and from which we look sometimes back into what we identify as ‘the past’. But although this is the world in which we live, (and most of us never doubts this) it is nevertheless only a surface. As soon as we go beyond the thin layer on which we are able to recognize the human world and interact with it, there is a different world, which transcends our day-by-day experiences. It is the world, which artists, scientists and philosophers try to enter. And it is inside this world, where the creative spark ignites processes in us, which we call art, philosophy or science. But how does this entry become possible? Where do we find access? This, and several other questions will dominate our next investigation.
Read the chapters of the book:
- The Ladies of Bundanon – Chapter 1
- Is The Earth Flat? – Chapter 2
- Turning up late to your own funeral – Chapter 3
- The Performer in the Stages of Rigor Mortis – Chapter 4
- Breathing dreams like air – Chapter 5
- The Celluloid Soldier – Chapter 6
- The missing leg – Chapter 7
- The mindless brain and the Sea Squirt – Chapter 8
- Your body is the enemy – Chapter 9
- Conclusion of Part One – Chapter 10
- The Magic Eye – Chapter 11
- A new world-material without being real – Chapter 12
- The artist’s longing – Chapter 13
- Ink to Paper – Chapter 14
- A portent black squiggle – Chapter 15
- The Sunflowers – Chapter 16
- God is Gay – Chapter 17
- Extra Science – Chapter 18
- The Aleph – Chapter 19
- Chained chaos, broken forms – Chapter 20
- Matter and Memory – Chapter 21
- A Leibnizian Universe? – Chapter 22