New learning is rewarded with new paths becoming visible, because the more we learn, the more we’re able to integrate previously unknown concepts into our field of understanding, and then the more material we have to reflect on and generate novel work from those reflections, transmuting what’s been absorbed into innovation; any worthy concept or aesthetic, once integrated into the unique pool of our minds, accentuates that innovative potential.
One of the intrinsic generative practices of humankind is the creation and sharing of stories. The act of imagining and recording a story, and subsequently the recipients experiencing that story, has profound neurological and psychological effects.
Carol Fitzgerald of the The Book Report Network sees the love of reading stories as a collective human desire to escape (Bergland, 2014), but I think it can be seen more accurately as a celebration of existence; it’s only able through the seemingly mundane real world that we’re able to experience the transcendence of imagination, and the fantastical possibilities of imagination are necessarily drawing upon characteristics of reality, only accentuated, distorted.
Contrary to popular culture’s representation of science as a sterile application for authoritarian imposition, we can see and use science as an art that helps us analogize reality, or develop metaphorical understandings between disciplines. Seeing science, particularly biology, as an art that provides prescriptive principles for behavior, the limits of previously established possibilities keep expanding. The romantic idea of new learning opening new paths has substantial, physical basis in the scientific literature with many mechanisms already defined. For example, even just thinking metaphorically activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex: we subconsciously experience the physical textures of our metaphors and language (Lacey, et al., 2012).
The importance of our choice of words is so severe because those words are creating a layer of reality at every instance. Part of us lives in that reality, and so a negligence of the aesthetics of language harms us, behind the veil of conscious awareness, just as the stories we expose ourselves to and absorb color our reality.
The brain’s central sulcus, our primary sensory motor region, is associated with our homunculus, or the sensorial representation of our body in relation to its environment. This region is significantly activated when we read stories that resonate with us (Berns, et al., 2013).
Through being engrossed in stories, we’re not only relating to and empathizing with the characters, but also somatically inserting ourselves into their shoes, our mind constructing the physical experience of the story. This brain effect, observed on fMRI, persists for many days (maybe longer) after reading stories, and so it seems comparable to the altered states that some artisans seek out using psychoactive drugs.
These persisting states of increased psychophysical empathy and general consciousness-expansion induced by great stories will obviously permeate everything we do, even if in the most subtle ways, which I think is an argument for curating a high standard for the art and media one gives their time to.
Analogous to nutrition, if the material we consume is garbage, we’re going to feel that, which is detrimental to our behavior, in a ripple effect that leaves the world worse off. Contrarily, when we use art to explore the richness of human existence, integrating the light and the shadow, the beautiful and ugly, the gentle and brutal, we deepen our psychology, and by understanding ourselves more through the stories told by others, we come to understand others more. This absorption process makes us more profound, but paradoxically increases the levity with which we create and live, because we have more resources to pull from in any given situation, and thus our freedom is increased.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…
The man who never reads lives only one.”
—George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
New people can act as the catalyst to new activities we’re otherwise reluctant to or disinterested in. They provide a unique perspective to that which is being experienced and so deepen the potential reward reaped from said activity. The artist’s journey of expanding creativity is a journey of their feet as much as it is a journey of their minds and hands: given that we’re somatic spirits, with mind in cross-talk to body, we ought to exercise our somatic spirit in the external world, traveling to new places, meeting new people, in the same way that we introduce our minds to new art, concepts, and abstractions.
“I love to lose myself for a good while,
Like animals in forests and the sea,
To sit and think on some abandoned isle,
And lure myself back home from far away,
Seducing myself to come back to me”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Song 33: The Solitary
My recurring writer’s block is a signal, a time to absorb more life, more art; to explore new interests and skills, until the next bonfire to rest at and journal it all again.
In 2018, roughly the first quarter consisted of large amounts of book reading, with 80 books read in total. But around the end of spring, there was a gradual transition into watching many films, watching 100 films in total. Those two values were halved in 2019, because I shifted over to an orientation of execution, of production.
Being obsessed with particular subjects can lead to amazing results, but the accumulating boredom that sometimes happens with a passion has been, to me, an indication to put that particular thing down for the time being to roam elsewhere, until a threshold is passed once again, and my thirst inevitably returns. One then is able to resume exploration of that field with new perspectives and richer understanding.
It seems that once one has found their passion, and worked out where to aim in relation to that passion to externalize it and thus imbue their life with a higher meaning, and it is through that which they found their self-actualization, they can safely shelf that passion when needed, knowing it’s secure in their spirit and will be just as rich upon a return; in likelihood, even richer!
Each new chapter in life is filled with a new cast of characters, different activities, new things to learn. We’re aided by what came before, if we so learn to be aided by our past instead of stifled by it. Those who are continually made more rigid, resentful, and fearful of all the wrong things based on what came before become stagnant among us: they find themselves in quicksand, blind to the true reality of their predicament and thus blind to any appropriate mode of action toward remedy.
Our lives are narratives, and one can enrich the narrative with great works of art, reaching higher and higher stakes, but regardless always maintaining the compelling potential of striving, of pondering weighted ideas, of valuing class and aesthetics and virtue, until, when our lives are done, it can be said we’ve put the final touch on our greatest work of art.
Berns, Gregory S., et al. “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.” Brain Connectivity, vol. 3, no. 6, 2013, pp. 590–600., doi:10.1089/brain.2013.0166.
Lacey, Simon, et al. “Art for Reward’s Sake: Visual Art Recruits the Ventral Striatum.” NeuroImage, vol. 55, no. 1, 2011, pp. 420–433., doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.11.027.
Lacey, Simon, et al. “Metaphorically Feeling: Comprehending Textural Metaphors Activates Somatosensory Cortex.” Brain and Language, vol. 120, no. 3, 2012, pp. 416–421., doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2011.12.016.