You may have noticed that in this series, I'm a little more hesitant than usual in proclaiming what I think. There's a reason for that. What it comes down to is, I'm less convinced than usual that what I think is correct - and less convinced that I should be trying to convince you.
Culturally speaking, I am not an intellectual. Which is to say, I think about many of the topics that intellectuals think about, but I do not sympathize with the methods of intellectualism. I do not sympathize, for the same reason that I do not sympathize with the methods of religion. Religious people have their faith, which I cannot abide, and intellectuals have their long and tenuous chains of logic, which amount, in the end, to something like faith. Both are too far removed from observation. I refuse to believe in anything too far removed from what I can see or clearly deduce from what I can see.
But look here, you say, we showed up at this blog thinking it was going to be all handy tips on damar varnish and gum arabic, and instead, it's reasoning on the most abstract of topics.
True. But it is the most empirical abstraction you will find. Have you ever met a grunt-work scientist? The kind of scientist who actually does the dissections of rat brains and the checking of electrical potentials in individual cells? Those people are making real observations. I have a lot of sympathy with them. And to the extent that I am comfortable making claims about abstract things, it is because I model my investigative process on their plodding, cut-and-dried methods.
Let me explain. I am not in a laboratory, messing around with mice and monkeys. I write a lot of cognitive science here, but I am spending the other half of my time talking about things pertaining to the soul. I am not in a laboratory - I am using myself as a laboratory.
I think that a lot of pre-scientific philosophizing, particularly on epistemology, had something of this method to it. You sit in a quiet place, and you think about things, and you train yourself to become aware of the twitches in your mind, and your brain. Observing these twitches, you learn things about what your mind and your brain are up to. You've been thinking about abstractions, but you've been making empirical observations of their interaction with you.
This is not entirely the abject quackery it sounds. You've seen a map of brain centers, right?
When I was quite small, I became aware that such maps existed, but I hadn't seen one. So I sat myself down in a dark, cool, quiet room, and thought about all the subjects I could think of, one at a time. I noted what my brain felt like - a kind of hollowness throughout, but a more dense, copper-wool-like feeling in the place where I was holding the subject I was focusing on.
When I was done, I made a diagram of where every subject seemed to occur. Then I looked up the standard brain map. The subject areas listed in the map were not quite the same as the ones I thought of, but mostly they were close, and the diagram and the map corresponded.
This was the very beginning of the method I am still applying in thinking about thought and emotion, and it is the method I am using to write this blog. We are discussing abstract things, but we are not going on faith - at least not on my end. Similarly, we are not indulging in chains of reason more than a few links long. Reason is a mighty tool, but it is also prone to letting you conclude whatever you like, if you are reasoning about a complex topic and get too far from observation.
This brings me to the weakness of these posts on beauty. I am working up a large general argument about beauty, but too much of it reeks to me of received wisdom and reasoning. It is an immensely complex topic, and I am not even convinced that when we say "beauty" we mean one single phenomenon - I think in the end it is more like "schizophrenia," a term that increasingly seems to sloppily group together a host of similar-looking diseases.
I am doing the best I can to honestly interrogate myself - ferret out my hidden motives, question my assumptions, test my responses to different phenomena. But I cannot promise that I am not pitching you a line of pure and utter bullshit. So just - keep that in mind, will you? These notes are more like a good jumping-off point for your own inquiry, I think, than the word from on high. I hope they'll provide you with some interesting material, if this is the sort of thing you like to mull over.
And let's not forget one final, unpredictable force - sudden insight, which is also called revelation. I think of revelation as the empiricism of the non-physical. Without our ability to set aside all of our thinking, we cannot make sudden leaps. I don't write this blog, much, from the perspective of the sudden leap - but I work that way entirely as an artist. I cannot make a single picture unless I first make the sudden leap. And these leaps are non-reducible, non-analytic, and have no specific rational content.
I just finished a painting. Let me tell you a bit about it. I was working with the model for the first time. She is very assertive of herself, with a sexual edge to this self-assertion. At the same time, she seemed to me very vulnerable. For many of us, at least some of our vulnerability lies in the flesh, in the physical boundary between ourselves and the world. Not for her; her flesh is not the locus of her vulnerability, but vulnerable she is. So I wanted to do a painting where this unusual personality mix manifested. For completely random reasons, I also wanted the painting to have rainbows in it. All these concepts were in my head for months before I had an idea for a painting. Then all of a sudden, where there was no idea - suddenly there was an idea. Perhaps it relates to the things that were on my mind, perhaps it doesn't. Here it is:
I'm not sure what my point is here - except for this: don't trust me.