Archives for category: Art + Sociology

The diverse answers come from a number of Brain Pickings favorites. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of the excellent Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, explores the concept of “the umwelt” coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll in 1909 — the idea that different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different elements of their environment and thus live in different micro-realities based on the subset of the world they’re able to detect. Eagleman stresses the importance of recognizing our own umwelt — our unawareness of the limits of our awareness:

I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day — and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen.”

This Will Make You Smarter: 151 Big Thinkers Each Pick a Concept to Enhance Your Cognitive Toolkit | Brain Pickings.


Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects | Brain Pickings.

The biological, psychological and social facets of our human condition is at the heart of my fine art practice and creative engagement. How we come to know, see and experience ourselves in the world – our internal minds, external bodies and existential existence – inspires visual artwork centring the human anatomy, birth and maturation, disease and illness, and death.

The intimate juxtaposition of familiar objects commonplace in the domestic, clinical and mortuary settings, are meticulously and painstakingly rendered in miniature scale. Created from ordinary materials derived from the everyday, they exude a humble appearance whilst imparting potent morals about our irreversible, inevitable journey from ‘the cradle to the grave’. Sentimental in relation to childbirth and juvenile times, or with reference to debilitating age, illness, disease and death, they provide a platform for the projection of ones own authentic experience of life. The objects nourish lived experience and are inseparable from the thoughts, feelings and associations anchored by them. 

via dead weight: LIFE SIZE objects.

52 Resident Thinkers

From the moment the expedition team set sail to the Arctic in September 2011 until the final weekend of the Cultural Olympiad in September 2012, Nowhereisland will have a different Resident Thinker each week. Our 52 Resident Thinkers will be drawn from environmentalism to peace activism, broadcasting to stand-up comedy, sustainable farming to human rights. Each week’s letter will be the focus of live public discussion here online and you can follow previous conversations in response to previous thinkers here.

Nowhereisland Resident Thinkers have used the opportunity to test out new ideas about how we might shape our society. These propositions are independent views, imagining Nowhereisland as a place where we might begin again.

The Resident Thinkers programme is published by Situations at the University of the West of England, Bristol, 2012. The views expressed in the Resident Thinkers programme are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Publisher. May Contain Strong Language.





# 12 [4 May 2012]”The modern artist exists in a society as an experimenter with the conventions of culture; licensed to define his/her practice, its criteria and aims, independently from the dynamics that drive the change in conventions that prevail in the same culture generally.

At the same time, the existence of the artist is also something of a social experiment itself, subject to the authority of conventional assumptions, beliefs and expectations. Thus on the one hand, each individual artistic practice is by definition unique and non-representative of the culture at large. While on the other, all artists and their practices share in the eyes of the public certain common characteristics and traits, and these collectively represent the place of the art in the make-up of the societys self image, The image that the society has of itself as a culture is then less the product of artists experimental efforts – the singular worlds they create through their art – than it is the outcome of societys attitudes towards the vale of the artists unique practice for the social experimentation of art.

The experiment also extends onto the attempts to modernise the old job of the artist as one who records, reports and celebrates the actions and achievements of others from the observation and experience of their world. In this again the artist is generally expected to provide a contribution which is at once unique and representative of the cultures concepts of art. The artist must show an insider understanding of the others world but also maintain the distance that the society needs to understand the artists practice as a model of art. The more modern society becomes the information society or the more the two become interchangeable, the more remote the models of art become and the more society tends to learn about itself, not from the observations of the artist but from observing the artist.

The artists old job is taken over by the intermediaries who deliver the art to the public, who facilitate public access to art – curators, critics, arts administrators – and whose role it is to negotiate the practical and ideological terms and conditions of the services provided by artists in society.

“Extract from Other peoples culture, Pavel Büchler published in Curious – artists research within expert culture, Visual Art Projects, Glasgow 1999

via SusanJonesArts | Project blogs | Artists talking | a-n.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

July 27, 2012 by 
Filed under: Social Economy

Amidst all the commotion caused by this quarter’s uninspiring growth figures, you’d be forgiven for having missed the announcement of the first results from the new ‘happiness index’. Somewhat predictably, the findings from 165,000 or so respondents show that the average life satisfaction rating in the UK is 7.4 out of 10. Despite the murmurings over the cost of the whole exercise – I believe it stands at some £2m – it does actually reveal some useful findings about the levels of wellbeing across different localities, ethnicities and age ranges (see my colleague Gaia Marcus’s blog on LFF for a roundup of the RSA’s own research on wellbeing).

While we would hope that this measurement tool heralds a new era where government takes wellbeing and mental health more seriously, it would be a pity if this led us all to become that much more obsessed with our own happiness and conscious of our daily actions. Admittedly, to say that wellbeing should be our national priority but not something we should focus on as individuals sounds overtly contradictory. Yet as Olive Burkeman persuasively argues, the more we reach for happiness and perfection in life the more it seems to slip away from us.

Sadly, it seems as though we are already well on the way towards ever increasing introspection, driven in part by a culture of perfection but also by new technologies that allow us to reflect on the minutiae of our lives. Take the new Quantified Self Movement.Showcased in one of Nesta’s ‘hot topic’ discussions, this is a new group of technology and science enthusiasts whose aim is to make it easier to measure more of our personal metrics, from sleep patterns, to alcohol consumption to fluctuations in daily moods. I know that information tracking of this kind can be incredibly useful for certain groups of people – there is a great app called Moodscope that helps people suffering from depression to monitor their mood and share their data with friends and family – but I can’t help thinking that some of these initiatives may be a step too far in the pursuit of perfection.

This isn’t just a modern phenomenon. You can see within the literature of the 1920s and 30s that there was already a battle emerging in the early twentieth century between, on the one hand, the hedonists whose goal was to live as freely as possible with no concern in the world, and on the other, the intellectual and scientific ascetics who sought to ‘vivisect’ and take apart every aspect of human life in the hope that this would lead to some kind of ‘higher truth’. This battle is nowhere better described than in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point. In one of the many elongated soliloquies dotted throughout the novel, one of the characters, Philip Quarles, delivers his take on what he sees as the false intellectual pursuit for perfection:

Till quite recently, I must confess, I took learning and philosophy and science – all the activities that are magniloquently lumped under the title of ‘The Search for Truth’ – very seriously. I regarded the Search for Truth as the highest of human tasks and the Searchers as the noblest of men. But in the last year or so I have begun to see that this famous Search for Truth is just an amusement, a distraction like any other, a rather refined and elaborate substitute for genuine living; and that Truth-Searchers become just as silly, infantile and corrupt in their way as the boozers, the pure aesthetes, the business men, the Good-Timers in theirs. I also perceived that the pursuit of truth is just a polite name for the intellectual’s favourite pastime of substituting simple and therefore false abstractions for the living complexities of reality. But seeking Truth is much easier than learning the art of integral living.

Of course, reading a book and thinking about philosophy is not the same as tracking wellbeing data. But you can see the parallels in how both are in some way or another, as Huxley puts it, ‘searching for the truth’. The problem with this is not only that perfection is unachievable and therefore pointless to pursue, but also that too much introspection leads us to believe that our unhappiness is borne out of individual error and lack of ‘effort’ rather than the real structural barriers of our age: inequality, poverty, unemployment, discrimination and so on. Barbara Eheinrich articulates this very well in her book, Smile or Die (see her RSA animate here).

What all of this is intending to get at is a simple message: that perhaps we should just learn to live with our individual faults and imperfections and try and enjoy life as much as we can with what we have. Thinking too deeply about things will only lead to trouble. As Freud, of all people, once said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar : RSA blogs.