I have read hundreds of books of greek and foreign literature. Actually, I think I have read more literature than science in my life.Even though I have stopped buying CDs since 2005, I have 900 heavy metal ones. I estimate that I have listened to approximately 3 thousand full music albums and I keep going. I have seen too many movies/series and I have been to a theatre at least 100 times (my mother is a huge fan). And many more. In fact, especially till 5 years ago my life had been “immersed” in art.
The thing that I find funny now is that I used to have somehow the belief that this meant that I was educated enough; that I had knowledge. You know, when we read books we believe that we know things. If we tell others that we read or we are fans of art they automatically consider that we are very cultured… But hardly anyone ever takes the discussion further, on the kind of books we read.
When I first started learning about personal development, I had the belief that, as I stated above, I was very well-educated and I had much knowledge. I had read so many books and in general I had so much avocation with art that there wasn’t any contradiction to that in my mind. However, things are not always as we consider them. I was surprised to notice that there wasn’t hardly a thing that I read that was previously known to me. Literally everything I was learning in science about how the brain works, how people evolved, why they behave as they behave and many others were totally new to me. I was amazed by the new horizons that had been broaden in front of me… And not only it was new, but this time there were specific explanations about all the statements. So accurate groundings that I could never imagine reaching that level. This, of course, is mandatory because only a scientific institution cares about the quality of the arguments, everyone else is free to speak their mind without necessarily thinking much about it in a western democracy.
On the one hand it was disappointing to realize that I was in a much lower level than I was expecting from all this extensive artistic avocation I had been through. On the other hand it was relieving. At last I had access to information that other people never will, not because it is hidden but for other reasons on which I will elaborate later. If I had remained in the mistaken belief that my artistic knowledge was enough to help my life I would certainly had never made the progress I have made the last years. And this stability can happen in two ways. Either you don’t even read any scientific finding ever because you feel already content enough or you read but without curiosity and open mindset. You read it with a predisposition that you already know all these so you actually never keep the valuable information. This is the alpha and the omega in any approach of new knowledge; you need to approach it as an ignorant and then evaluate it. The close mindsets approach new knowledge from a perspective that they are already aware of things and as a result they won’t retain the new information.
But why am I telling you this? Am I somehow an anti-art guy? Certainly not and I will never be; this would be silly. I just want to make things clear about what I consider as the role of art. You know there are millions of people who read novels and thanks to the information they acquire they believe they are cultivating a stable worldview. They have read many books so automatically they have knowledge of their environment. They don’t recognize that what they have been reading was just someone else’s speculations. And this person, as every human being, has a very limited understanding of the environment. This is how the brain works, it’s not a speculation this time. The world in our brains is a coherent world, much simpler than what really is. Our brains jump to conclusions in order to generate models and create the “fake” feelings of confidence about our understanding.
So, as I have written in many articles in here, it may sound sad but we personally aren’t capable enough of a thorough understanding of the world. The brains don’t have that capacity and we just make stories from the limited amount of information we have every time. The less information, the most probable our belief is mistaken but ironically the more confident we feel. Look at the link in the previous paragraph and plenty of articles in this blog. It is selfish to believe that you are able to explain everything. In fact this is a limitation about your progress. If you think like that, probably you want to avoid getting out of your comfort zone and you convince yourselves that understanding and experience will come as if by magic. It’s a typical mentality of someone who thinks that they owe him but s/he has never provided anything to expect that return. I’m afraid in the majority of the cases life doesn’t teach us itself as my mother used to say when I was a child.
Let’s assume that your shoes have a problem and you need to fix them. Will you go to a basketball player or to a shoemaker? Of course the second, you’ll go to the expert, to the one that has given more effort to know very well the field of his interest. In this universe humans are just a tiny fraction of it with huge amounts of information still waiting to be explored. This shows how selfish it is to believe that we have reached an understanding without even reading what the experts have to say.
So, as human beings, in order to find answers, the rational thing to do was to build effective feedback systems to test hypothesis by letting reality to speak for itself. This is the main idea of a scientific experiment. Any scientific institution must comply with these rules. The thing is that only the scientific institutions have that foundations. All the others don’t have any. And in any blog like this one. If I want I can tell you that I believe that the sun is moving around the earth, I certainly won’t go to prison for that; the western world has freedom of speech.
So on the one side we have science that tries to follow all these complicated feedback processes to come to conclusions and everyone else just makes guesses dependent on the limited human cognition. Even science itself recognises its limitations and is expecting further findings to validate the already existing. However is undoubtedly the best we can do till now.
I will explain to you how simple it is if you break it down. Let’s say an artist cares about two things. The aesthetics of his/her creation and the accuracy of the content. At the same time a scientist cares only about the accuracy of his/her content. Who do you think will be more effective in the accuracy? Also, think about it, as follows: We have two men that spend five years of extensive training. The first training his feet and arms and the second only his arms. Who do you think will have strongest arms after five years?
I personally cannot consider a rational choice to avoid looking at the findings of the experts in any given field and just believe that I know better. I try to remind it to myself all the time and not to fall in the delusion of confidence.
When I talk about science I want to make clear that I don’t talk about its findings as undeniable facts. Then it would be another religion… On the contrary I am talking about the scientific thinking. The mentality of criticizing the information we come across, always learning and evaluating every new finding on evolving our understanding. So, I don’t mean any authority should be blindly followed but certainly should be taken first into account.
If an alien was coming from Mars and was reading all these would be surprised. He would be wondering why most people pick the amateurs instead of the professionals to get what they want in terms of their worldview? The answer would be easy for him if he had studied the foundations of human nature. As stated in Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind, it seems that Evolution favored beings that were able to intuitively understand their basic needs and act according to them but it didn’t produce efficient communication systems that would make us able to share them. Rich communication systems were selected but it seems they are more entertaining than accurate.
The brain seems to work as a sexual ornament always with the tendency to impress and “win”the environment and not so much to describe the world realistically. Same thing happens when we receive a representation of the world from others. Our brains work like a tabloid that projects the news but never bothers to check their validity.These tabloids contain politics, religions, pseudoscience, urban myths and tribal myths. These ideological phenomena were named memes by Richard Dawkins and are virus-like ideas that evolved to cultural level by being memorable, easily transmitted and able to grab our attention.
This means that the brain was never meant to be a truth-seeking mechanism. Humans find reasoning and arguments tiring. It requires focus of our attention. We tend to decrease our energy spending so we subconsciously avoid them. That’s why scientific classes in school are difficult for most children and that’s one reason why most people don’t watch documentaries or read scientific literature but prefer novels and movies.
I am sure you can attend a dancing presentation even drunk but most possibly you can’t follow a scientific class even after a beer. The brain accepts an artistic presentation easily, it doesn’t require much effort. When I read scientific papers I slow down maybe on 1/3 compared to how quickly I am reading novels. I have never been able to read 200 pages of a book with arguments continuously as I was constantly doing with literature.
Halo effect, mating mind theory and many other theories describe our irrational tendencies to subconsciously judge “the content of a book by its cover”. We read pompous language and strange words and we become impressed that the content rocks, as well. We watch nice shoots in a film and we enjoy it even though this doesn’t provide us with any useful substance. I intentionally put more saturation in my pictures on instagram because I have noticed they get more likes. Colours become more alive and thus impressive.
At the same time, according to my experience, most artists aren’t even aware of the fundamentals of the human brain when building characters, for example. And do you know where this results? In art maintaining the social programming. When the artists haven’t read what the real human tendencies seem to be, the concept in their minds is many times primarily socially influenced which means that their content will be corresponding. So they build a beautiful and influential work of art which in fact describes plenty of inaccuracies that unfortunately will be believed by the ones that will be emotionally influenced.
Allegory of the cave and Plato
And the last thing I want to state is that when I was only into arts, I was actually living in the Plato’s cave. I was reading a lot due to my curiosity to learn and I was feeling satisfied that a better explanation cannot be found.
By the way Plato in The Republic had expressed some intuitive contradictions about art. First of all he believed that even though it tries to imitate life and ideas it cannot do it accurately. And secondly that due to the emotional responses it can trigger to humans’ souls, it’s extremely dangerous. Many of you, I believe have some opinions about the way Hollywood has shaped people. Here you can see how Movies, TV shows strongly shape how we view love.
If art is not accurate then what?
Artistic creations are first of all a great inheritance of humanity. They are a representation of the incredible potential of the creativity of the human brain. It’s an impressive way to give a shape to mental constructs. Also, even though art lacks accuracy in general compared to science, numerous artists have existed with splendid intuitive judgements that presented ideas that science found many years later . Moreover, art may not always perfectly demonstrate how we are but it can certainly teach us how we should try to be. The ethics presented by an influential painter or director can be valuable lessons for all of us in order to create a concept of how we would like to be both as individuals or as a society. The emotional responses it can trigger to us are valuable experiences. With arts we can dream, move our imagination forward and travel mentally. The way artists present their creations can be useful to teachers and mentors, too. By learning from their aesthetics we can present our grounded contents in a more effective way. Lastly the huge neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky describes in LA Times the usefulness of Art in the improvement of Theory of Mind . Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge,etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own.
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