Art & The Conscious Mind; 03/02/15



‘Rouen Cathedral Set V (centre)’, 1969, Lichtenstein

(Image taken from;

This week’s iteration of mind melting information began with the image above; Lichtenstein’s version of Monet’s ‘Rouen Cathedral’ paintings. An interesting question was then asked; ‘what can you see at first glance;  the dots, or the cathedral?’ Many people in the class said that they can see the dots more than the cathedral, but I was one of the few ones who could see the cathedral over the dots. I wonder if this is because my brain is wired slightly differently from those who could see the dots? or is there some inner subconscious meaning to me seeing the cathedral, maybe because I like cathedrals? Nevertheless, this exercise was put forth in order for us to question whether our brain sees one things, or sees a number of things at the same time? do we have one mind, or many? Descartes believed that; ‘there is a vast difference between mind & body, in respect that the body, from it’s nature, is always divisible, and that the mind is entirely indivisible.’ So, if one is to believe the mind is one thing, it can not be considered a series of entities all coexisting somewhere within the body. However, there is an important problem within neuroscience that seems to destroy such a claim; the binding problem. The binding problem states that all of our sensory experiences; sight, taste, smell, touch etc. are placed in differing areas of our mind. They are distinct and separate, so how do they all connect into one single mind? there must be something that connects all of these senses within our mind, even if science has not been able to prove where these connections actually lie within our brain. Where is consciousness located? and how do we perceive it?


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Leloir, 1865

(Image taken from;×360.png)

‘We are the storytellers of our own life, but it is really nothing more than a fiction.’

– Dennet

Rationality was the next subject to be brought up in the lecture, and the idea that the mind can be either rational or irrational. We like to think we are rational, but often times we are not; an example is that if a coin is flipped 5 times and every time it come sup heads, we will believe that it is going to come up heads once more. However, the probability of this actually happening is 50/50, but our brain expects it to be heads. An interesting example, more interesting than the previous, is ‘cognitive dissonance’, which is labelled as torn mind syndrome. Those who belong to cults and believe that the world will end often suffer from this when the ‘apocalypse’ actually doesn’t happen. It often causes massive stress to the sufferer, and can actually create real mental problems for the person. Leon Festyer puts it so; ‘when people hold conflicting beliefs they can’t reconcile, they’ll be forced to believe something even if they know it’s not true.’ If we can be focused on an idea or concept to the point of outright denial about the reality surrounding us, then how can our minds be labelled as rational?


We then began to focus on the idea of unity. Unity, has two meanings;

1.The state or quality of being one.

2.The act, state, or quality of forming a whole from separate parts.

We were then prompted into a discussion about what we thought was the definition of the first kind of unity. Many answers were thrown out, but we could only come to one conclusion; the singularity before the big bang. It’s interesting to think, that the same singularity that was found before the big bang is also found in the centre of a black hole. Ashes to ashes, dust t dust; the universe is some form of cycle, and it’s fascinating to think about. However, the second form of unity is everywhere, and this includes the vast majority of our concepts on consciousness. Our brain works in such differing ways to how we perceive, and therefore, it can be believed that our consciousness is a part of the extended consciousness of the universe. We often think of a circle as a simple thing; but it consists of at least two, if not three parts; the inside of the circle, the edge, and everything that is not the circle. We cannot see the circle without seeing what is not the circle. This is fascinating, to see the nothingness inherent in the middle of the circle, we must take into account the surrounding context of the circle, the nothingness is only apparent when we see how it effects the surroundings, and vice versa. This is also seen within eastern theologies, which our western philosophy can learn an awful lot from. There is a concept labelled the ‘dialectic  of sevenfold predictions’, which can be used to accurately describe our understanding of the reality that surrounds us;

1. The object exists.

2. The object does not exist.

3. The object exists and does not exist.

4. The object is inexpressible.

5. The object exists, and is inexpressible.

6. The object does not exist, and is inexpressible.

7. The object exists, does not exist and is inexpressible.

This concept belongs to the Jainism doctrine of ‘Non absolutism’, in which no one point of view can be expressed as true. The main thing that I struggle with within this concept is the last one, in which something can simultaneously exist and not exist, yet is also inexpressible. This is something I cannot seem to wrap my head around, much like my struggles with the understanding of what a black hole is. If something can exist on all forms of reality, then how can one express such a complex concept?


‘The Hippopotamus and Crocodile hunt’, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616

(Image taken from;

A painting, in itself, is one of these contradictions. When one views a painting like this, they can see the subject matter clearly; men, animals, all entangled in a vicious and brutal display of instinct. However, if one explores the painting more, they can witness the actual paint that the piece is crafted from; the brush strokes seem to materialise out of nothing. There is an issue though, we must suspend our disbelief in order to see one or the other of these two factors; the subject, or the paint, we cannot see both at the same time. In this regard, a painting is an impossible image. One aspect of our consciousness believes in the fiction crafted, and another does not, choosing to highlight the reality of situation, and focusing on the coloured mud spread upon a piece of fabric. However, one must be seen, but cannot be seen if the other is not seen as well. Much like the circle, we must understand what it is not, to understand what it is. This is depicted in the ‘Heart Sutra’, in a passage about form and emptiness, and the connection between the two;

‘Form is emptiness, and the emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is form; whatever is emptiness, that is form’

There is an ongoing theme throughout this ideology, that in order to understand something, one must understand everything that the something is not. This is transcendental through all walks of life and understanding, and many  objects and concepts throughout our existence can be understood better because of this. I’d like to incorporate something of this concept into my work…A black hole can only be seen because of the effects it has on the rest of the universe surrounding it, because of it’s absence of light; much like the wind and it’s effects on the world surrounding it. It was said in the lecture; ‘perception is detecting differences, not things.’

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