Art & The Conscious Mind – 27/01/15


‘Woman in Blue reading a letter’, Johannes Vermeer, 1662

(Image taken from;

Again, I feel my understanding of the world begin to shift and change more and more as these field lectures go by; my perception is certainly growing, but is my consciousness developing? Within this lecture, we focused on the topic of the ‘location’ of the mind. Is it situated in the body? or is it situated in another place altogether? As an example, Robert showed us this painting by Johannes Vermeer and asked us; ‘where is the subject’s mind?’. Of course, this caused a rouse from the class; ‘it is in the letter!’, ‘it is far away, with the one who has written the letter!’, ‘it is not there at all, she is part of a painting’ etc. The last response was actually the most relevant, as it brought to light that we were suspending our disbelief, and from a purely realist standpoint; the woman’s mind is not there, her letter is not there she is not even there, she is just a series of ‘chunks of inert matter’ (as Pepperel put it), and therefore she has no mind or consciousness to speak of. However, we distinctively feel a connection with this woman, with what she is experiencing within the painting. Is this because we have all felt the same wonder and emotion reading a letter, and are now applying this experience to the woman? or is there something much deeper here?


‘Internalism’ – The idea that the mind is within the brain

(Image taken from;×253.jpg)

We then went back to the idea of consciousness, and more specifically, ‘Internalism’. Internalists believe that the mind exists within the brain, although there is no specific evidence to support this claim. Sure, we perceive through out eyes and they are directly in front of our brains, and therefore creates the illusion that our mind is situated in our heads. Of course, this can be debated quite easily by questioning the fact that when we sleep, or daydream, our mind exists somewhere else in the universe, it shifts away. As well as the fact that many scientists believe that the mind doe snot exist in one specific area of the brain, in fact, it more than likely exists all over the brain; but yet there is no concrete evidence as to this being true.


‘Externalism’ – The idea that the mind is not situated within the brain

(Image taken from;

This concept is believed by many to be the true understanding of what consciousness is; that the consciousness is detached from the body, and exists on another plane of existence altogether. It is commonplace in religions, creating a strict divide between the physical world we reside in, and the spiritual world, which is where our consciousness, and indeed the consciousness of all those in the universe, resides. This is interesting to perceive, as it heavily implies that the consciousness of all of humanity is intrinsically linked, there is some form of unseen matter that connects us, and this is a concept which is believed and is proved through a series of experiments of quantum non-locality; A particle is split, and each piece is sent on their way. The interesting thing that occurs, however, is that if one half of the particle is affected in some way, then the other half is effected at the same time. This is so strange; as in our normal Newtonian way of perceiving the universe, one would not believe that this was possible; but in this instance, something is affected purely by being connected to another object that is affected. Surely this means that other particle sin the universe are affected by the rest of the particles in the universe? and thus, we are all affected by one another? If this is so, then theoretically there must be an intrinsic connection between the consciousnesses of all beings in existence.

‘The phenomenon of Consciousness, like that of life itself, is a world involving process.’

Evidence that supports this claim is often found in medical cases where victims of Hydrocephalus, water on the brain, live within society successfully despite having a vast majority of their brain being taken over by fluid deposits. A famous case is of a 24 year old man with a physics major, a wife, a successful job and two children; but when his doctor sent him for a head scan, it was found that he only had 30% of his brain left after suffering from Hydrocephalus for so long. It is astounding that with such limited brain power, this man could achieve so much; but how so? Surely, if the conscious mind is found within the brain, then it could not have feasibly existed in such a damaged piece of grey matter? If a conscious mind exists within our brain, could it also exist through our body, and it’s simultaneous actions? Borders were also brought up in the lecture as a concept, as a means of understanding where one object; i.e. our body ends, and the rest of the world exists. Borders are either physical, like the border between land and sea, but are also self imposed, much like the border between Wales and England. However, the first border is blurry; the tide comes in and out, and there are often rocks situated off of the coast within the sea, so there can hardly be a border in such a place. Likewise, the border between Wales and England doesn’t exist, it merely exists in our heads. So, if there truly are no borders, then our consciousness MUST bleed out of wherever it is situated (whether in our heads or in some other place altogether), and into the world.

I believe, personally, that our mind exists as far as our influence does. Where our influence on the world; actions, habited spaces, objects touched, DNA left on another part of the world that we have experienced. That is where the conscious mind lays, as it can be left upon another object, or even injected into something of our own creation.


‘Self Portrait with Beret and Turned Up Collar’, 1659, Rembrandt

(Image taken from here;

Robert put forth a concept that I had not heard before; ‘Extensionism’, which seemed to fit this philosophy perfectly. He put it as so;

‘All objects have extended (non-local) dimensions, but we normally acknowledge only a fractional part of their true extent because of constraints inherent in our perceptual apparatus and the coercive effects of time. Rather than regarding discernible objects in the world as integral and discrete, we must recognise that they, and their repercussions, extend indefinitely through space and time.’

Extensionism believes that artworks are so integral, and so important to, our society, because they hold a part of the artist that has created them; a consciousness, so to speak. As seen above, Rembrandt is quite possibly one of the greatest portrait artists of all time, and it is often acknowledged that he ‘breathes life’ into his works. As we can see above, the painting is sombre; it reflects Rembrandt’s long and tiresome life as an artist that gained fame early, and then slowly dwindled out of favour. We can see this within the brushstrokes; the fleshiness of the face, the sadness within his eyes, it’s almost as if Rembrandt is there looking at you, within the same room as you. This is such a fascinating concept, in order for an artwork, or indeed any object to have a consciousness, is preposterous. But, this is beieved through a wide variety of eastern religions, and therefore, why should it be so unbelievable? If everything were to think, and to feel, then we should all be intrinsically connected. And any object, such as a work of art, that can show this unity amongst humanity, is something to be revered.


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