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On Intelligence and art

Post #730 • February 14, 2006, 11:46 AM • 61 Comments

Jeff Hawkins, in On Intelligence, describes a simple observation about the brain that has far-reaching implications. Hawkins is a computer guy - he designed the Treo - but his interest in computer performance led him to study how the brain functions. While the majority of brain science focuses on discerning the differences between areas of the neocortex, Hawkins, drawing from extant research, notes that the neocortex is remarkably uniform. Brain cells dedicated to hearing look pretty much like the ones dedicated to vision, for instance. He therefore posits that all areas of the brain basically do the same thing, what he calls the common neocortical algorithm.

When you press down on your computer mouse, how do you know the plastic will be hard enough to resist the pressure of your fingers? You have that fact about the world already in your head from years of experience of handling objects. Scientists call that feedback - you performed some kind of action and recorded the outcome, using information flowing up the sensory apparatus and towards the brain. Surprisingly, researchers measuring brain activity say that the brain sends a lot more information back down those pathways than it receives, what Hawkins calls feedforward. What is it doing? Hawkins believes that it is using stored patterns to make predictions about upcoming experiences, informing the sensory pathways what to expect. Without the feedforward telling them to look for something, the senses have no framework to allow the information in, unless the input creates such a major violation of expectations that high areas of the neocortex become startled into dealing with the unexpected data. You can do amazing things because of feedforward. You have such a rich array of prediction patterns that you can hear music you don't know and tell when someone isn't playing it well. You can still recognize your friend when she puts on makeup and tilts her head a little away from you. A computer can't do those things. That memory-prediction framework is the common neocortical algorithm.

This bears on a discussion that Kathleen and I got into, whether the formal aspect of art always preceded the conceptual. I insist that the formal always comes first, while she claimed that the conceptual potentially could. It turns out that, according to Hawkins, I'm right, but Kathleen's not totally wrong. Art begins with sensory input: color, shape, scale, and all the formal elements. It has to, because without the sensory input, it effectively doesn't exist to the brain. But upon receiving that input, the brain replies by sending germane information back down towards the sense receptors in greater quantity. Some of the feedforward is making functional predictions like, the wall that the painting is hanging on is hard, don't walk into it. It also is fitting the art inside of a conceptual framework that allows us to perceive it as art and relate it to other art that we have seen. That framework then informs the senses about what input to seek next.

That doesn't mean that beauty is a subjective experience. Consensus would never form around anything if humans didn't have common sensory experiences regarding pleasure. Massage doesn't work for a lot of people, but it still remains a viable activity because it feels pleasurable to a lot of other people. Visual pleasure works the same way. The exceptions don't disprove the rule that we find some colors preferable to other colors, or even just beautiful in themselves. Why should we? They're just colors. But we do. Humans have decimated entire species of birds for their plumage. It sometimes goes the other way, too - flowers have cleverly evolved so that we will spend billions of dollars a year helping them to reproduce. (Happy Valentine's Day!)

Now I have some science to back up my assertion that beauty has subjective and objective components, and that the sensory detection of the objective ones come first in the aesthetic experience.

Here's another thought: you can experience pleasure in response to imagined visual representations just as you can in response to percieved ones. In fact, because of feedforward, part of those sensory experiences are imagined. I believe that people with good eyes for art can discern the difference between their reactions to sensory data and their reactions to their predictions about the sensory data - between feedback and feedforward. They have enough awareness to return their attention to the object, repeatedly, turning off their prediction mechanism somewhat in an attempt to elicit more sensory input from the object. They also pay attention to their felt response, and can discern whether they are responding to sensory input or to internal representations.

People who don't have a good eye fall into two kinds. The first has no framework for the experience of looking at art and doesn't have an innate pleasurable response to color and shape. We don't deal with them. People of the second kind don't discern between feedback and feedforward, and therefore have pleasurable reactions to their own internal representations (including their philosophical biases, associated learning, and other filters) that they cannot discern from their reactions to sensory data. In fact, some people lose any need for the original object in the process of having their aesthetic experience. Feedforward dominates everyone's cognition, but in these people feedforward completely takes over the act of looking. This allows people to see bad art as interesting and allows it to survive in the world. At the same time, good art finds its way along different paths - the paths of the flowers.



Anna L. Conti

February 14, 2006, 1:02 PM

Yes, your description of the processes of feedback and feedforward rings true to me.

Peter Schjeldahl talked a bit about this phenomenon in an April '05 lecture at SFMOMA. Here's some of it (I taped it):

"So, set that aside for a minute and look at how the eye works. We've heard that it's like a camera, but it's way beyond that. It's more like a computer than anything the rest of the brain is doing. It takes up most of the brain. The light comes in, it's broken down into light, dark, colors, horizontal or vertical lines... and then it's reassembled according to a library of references. (These are not memories - it's more like a data bank.) Then the whole, reassembled package is sent to the cortex, which has the sense of seeing it instantly. It's actually an eighth of a second after the light came in. You're already in the past of whatever you're seeing. This, by the way, makes hitting a baseball really incredible. We think we're seeing, but no, no - what we see is something off the shelf, from the reference library. The proof of this is the double take. You wake up in the morning, you open your eyes, there's some socks on the floor over there? You see a squirrel. You don't see a pair of socks that looks like a squirrel, you see a f**king squirrel, the whiskers, little eyes... but the cortex rebels, and says "look again." You look again, you see the socks. You don't see the squirrel turning into socks. This, by the way, is why we love pictures. Pictures save us the effort of construction - they go straight through. And with a great deal of security, because we don't have to worry about the details - they're all in there, they're safe. We made them from the light, not from what's out there. Who knows what the f**k is out there. We just have to agree with it enough not to bump into things and die."



February 14, 2006, 1:12 PM

The difference being that Schjeldahl's account is overladen with Tom Wolfe attitudinizing, complete with gratuitous F words, and that he loses the thread here and there, While Franklin's is clear and sequential.

I disagree with a few things but this is a huge, fascinating subject and I will probably not be able to respond until later.



February 14, 2006, 6:07 PM

Off-topic but important:

I haven't seen it yet, but the Lowe Museum at UM is currently showing Rembrandt: The Consummate Etcher and Other 17th Century Printmakers. There are reportedly over 20 original Rembrandt prints plus prints from 15 of his contemporaries. As usual, I found out by accident, as the publicity budget for this must be slim to none (sigh). I'm excited about seeing it; don't miss it.



February 15, 2006, 1:03 AM

Thanks Jack.



February 15, 2006, 2:59 AM

Thanks Franklin for posting this topic. It gives me some ammunition against those who can twist and turn art topics as they want but when I look at things they talk about, intuitevly, my response is "what a crap, don't you have eyes..." Thanks



February 15, 2006, 12:43 PM

I'm afraid I'll indict my own feedforward processes by providing feedback on a post about intelligence. Suffice to type that this written abstraction of human experience is better than adequate as a working model, and I'd buy it for a dollar.



February 15, 2006, 8:07 PM

I'm misunderstanding something. If a person is thinking about beer, they'll see a famous controversial photo and see a crucifix sitting in a glass of lager. Studying A.I. taught me that humans are pattern-recognition machines. Feedforward mechanisms formalize the concept that humans often "beg the question" when viewing an image, as it were. They posit the image's interpretation first -- they feed the explanation forward -- then try to confirm it. If a person is thinking about how much they hate [insert name of political figure here], they're going to see things in terms of that thought. I've heard that the common image of an "extraterrestrial alien," with small mouth and big eyes, is based on the "general image" of a human, the formula which allows one human to recognize another: consider the eyes the most important, consider the mouth the least. Tell me if I'm mistating or misunderstanding something.

And you needn't discuss neuroscience to say beauty has both objective and subjective components. Madison Avenue and Hollywood (or Playboy, if you like) would be bankrupt if beauty weren't objective, but also wouldn't have such a challenging job if it weren't subjective.



February 15, 2006, 8:19 PM

Hovig, sounds like you got it to me. What are you having trouble with?



February 15, 2006, 10:29 PM

This article in the NY Times is relevant

The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.

"We are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."

He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."



February 17, 2006, 9:29 AM

I'm going 2 suggest Wittgenstein here and say this discussion goes on about art w/o ever discussing anyone thing we can call art. Metaphysics? Moreover, the mention of beauty smacks of some 19th C. revival of Classicism. R we talking about contemporary art? 20th C. art? a Pollock? a Warhol?

I am also thinking that this account of art and the brain is mechanical, in other words if we tear apart the brain we won't find a mind/soul, just brain parts? That's fine, but a brain that stores massive amounts of art history and painting technique is surely not going to scan a painting the same as corporate sports guy?

I'm seeing the focus spening more time discerning the brain w/o ever getting to the art. Again, Witt./Derrida, isn't it the language behavior produced that's important, not the machinations of the brain?



February 17, 2006, 10:49 AM

Look, honey! It's one of those '90s-era Pomo people I told you about! You hardly see them around anymore - must be global warming. See his emphasis on language as the ultimate product of thinking? The designation of beauty as a backwards idea, followed by an immediate demand for a definition? It's sad, because you used to see huge flocks of them, but they're poor reproducers and demand highly secluded habitats. Academia has helped them survive, but their territory is destroyed further every day by encroachments of taste.

I'm sorry to make fun of you, Alizarin, but I'm going 2 suggest that you cite yourself as an authority on how your head works, not Derrida, who just doesn't know. Hawkins at least has some data and tries to build things that work. It occurred to me as I was writing the above post that the scientists might soon run a lap around the art theorists when it comes to describing how art functions. Personally, I'm rooting for them.



February 17, 2006, 11:49 AM

Franklin, are you reading On Intelligence at the moment? I'm curious because a couple of the NY Times articles which I've linked in the past dealt with concepts of "reality" or "perception" In particular the article the link in #9 above is a really interesting bit of information on how complex our perception of reality is. I'm not a believer in strong AI, the notion that it's possible to duplicate the workings of the brain with an algorithim. I also played around a bit with the neural net idea but gave it up because I could see how much work was entailed and I didn't have the time.

One thing I would observe, based upon both the NYT article and the tad of Hawkins, is that perception is subject to some degree of conditioning (loose term for experience) If this is the case and I think it is, then Alizarin's comments are not off base. I see it all the time watching how people respond to art. The observer brings something to the process of perception which helps them decode the experience. For example, out of the corner of my eye (specialized receptors) I just saw a white object moving in the mirror . At first it was a seagull but it turned into a plastic bag blown in the wind. If I had just glanced (no survival skill there) it would have been a seagull.

The point being that there is something elusive about perception. We can argue the about the "truth" and maybe come to some conclusion of what's "real" and what's not but this is really just altering the preconditions. This point is not trivial for it can include philosophic knowledge which may alter the "conditioning" Oh, that's old hat. recycled Cats or something" is a common dismissal which indicates that the conditioning is affecting the perception



February 17, 2006, 12:24 PM

George, I just finished it. Hawkins is saying that contrary to the old nature/nurture debate, conditioning is part of the biology. Nature and nurture are indistinguishable processes. If you shut down conditioning completely you would just see colors. My only possibly controversial point above is that someone with a good eye can keep seeing the colors even as the rest of the conditioning is operating.



February 17, 2006, 2:34 PM

#13: If you shut down conditioning completely you would just see colors.
I doubt this would actually be possible, even so there would have to be some form to contain or be defined by the colors.

People of the second kind don't discern between feedback and feedforward, and therefore have pleasurable reactions to their own internal representations (including their philosophical biases, associated learning, and other filters) that they cannot discern from their reactions to sensory data.
This allows people to see bad art as interesting and allows it to survive in the world.

I'm not sure you can jump to this conclusion. The minute you use a qualifying term, you also infer its opposite, you can't have bad art without good art. Yet one would have to assume that all good art needs is a pleasurable response from the feedback-feedforward loop and this is intimately tied to the conditioning of the viewer. You see this all the time, in all genres, where the audience has a positive or negative response different from yours. Who is to say which view is incorrect if that even is the term at all?

Moreover, from a procedural point of view, what we do in the studio is a form of conditioning. We insert ourselves into the feedback-feedforward loop as we work and as a result develop a heightened form of specific conditioning which encompasses the idea of nuance. At the same time we lose our ability to view the artwork in the same fashion as part of the audience, naively. If not naively, then in a way subject to the current fashion, the MFA academies are turning out hundreds of artists every year and they are pre-conditioned to view art in a certain way. It has the potential of becoming a self fulfilling prophecy unless one breaks the feedback-feedforward loop.



February 18, 2006, 12:13 AM

I can't insinuate myself very helpfully into the feedback-feedforward loop that George has going, but I had an interesting experience this week that seems to make the theorems here quiver weakly.

I helped my daughter's grade six class with their papier mache project, and met one student who has a so-called learning disability. His fine motor skills rate in the 3 percentile range. He can barely hold a pencil to write sentences that he can speak and understand with no difficulty. But tell him to draw a picture and he's more dextrous than his peers. His pictures are far more sophisticated in technique and image than any other kid his age, than I've ever met. Somehow art, visual art, bypasses whatever brain-to-fingers disability he suffers from. He had no real problem with the papier mache, except that the balloon they were gluing newspaper to wasn't a very inspiring form for sculpture.

Any takers?



February 19, 2006, 3:23 AM

- more on this ahab?



February 19, 2006, 1:02 PM

I don't know, jordan. I'm not making a postulation, just describing a real person who's example seems to refute the very dichotomy of nature vs. nurture, or genetic vs. conditioned. I can't understand his situation in terms of these theories, but for a unified theory of human experience to hold it would have to make sense of anomalies without dismissing them as exceptional.

But maybe it is just too intimidating to comment on or assess a person's disability for fear of pc reprisals.



February 20, 2006, 11:18 AM

Look, honey! It's one of those '90s-era Pomo people I told you about! You hardly see them around anymore - must be global warming.
Well obviously your maturity level indicates YOUR brain development is still in the juvenilte stages. Moreover, u don't follow the protocol 'address the writing not the writer.' And, your assessment of Pomo (sic), should b written PoMo btw, is corrupted since the language model of Witt. is a hallmark of Modernism, a scientized model at that, one of the metanarratives that fell w/ a dull thud along w/ Marxism.

Again, u can cite no examples of art work to show the valence of your brain model? Your ad hominum toward me indicates your fear since u essentially duck the issue to go on the attack, u must b a bushie, and your brain model does not address the distinction between male/female model (either innate essentials vs. environmental conditioning and whether a gay brain differs from a hetero brain). In other words, u can't explain the meaning of a given work of art and u can't even create a brain model that at leasts encompasses the reality of humans, so what good is it?

Actually it is u who r the dinosaur here, the subscribing to a scientized model for explaining an art discourse is as old as Arnheim and Gombrich, now collecting dust on every art dept. library shelf. And the problem from semiotics to Arnheim has always been the lack of explanatory value when faced w/ what by consensus is a work of art. U honestly think your model here eludes these problems? Their problem was their concept of visual datum couldn't distinguish between a visual diagram and a work of art, everything was just 'visual data'.

Okay let's take a cliche well published old example of art, Michel Angelo's famous episode of God the Father rushing to touch life into Adam found on the ceiling fresco's of the Sistine Chapel. U attempt to apply your brain model to this and i'll show u what art historians do at conferences to dismiss lazy one book student scholars from the debate. If Michel Angelo is not sufficient then let's go w/ the heart of Classicism and cite the running freizes from the Parthenon or the monument itself and it's relation to the Ionic and Doric traditions. U want Modern? okay, Picasso's Les Demoiselles, Pollocks Lavender Mist, Warhol's electric Chair, Koon's Bunny, Marc Quinn's marble carving. Need 19th C.? Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe, Delacroix, Ingres. Medieval? Any late basilica to cathedra will do? and so on ... Oh look honey, it's one of those nerdy science clones clutching his pen holder desperately fleeing to the back door.

Anyway, my point is there is no better understanding of art than putting in your time and knowing the monuments, and at that doing reading from several points of view of each. Your one brain model fits all is naieve at best and washed away by the wave surge of actual art works.

Finally, i would hope this board could put some teeth into its guidelines and exclude people who address the writer and not the writing.



February 20, 2006, 1:39 PM

OK, let's "address the writing".

It is full of factual errors, spelling mistakes, and is largely incomprehensible.



February 20, 2006, 2:36 PM

b specific, as we all write w/ shorthand and this is not a MLA governed conference.



February 20, 2006, 4:02 PM

valence (misused)
Michel Angelo's
eludes for evades
fresco's (should not be a possessive)

I am typo-prone too, but I do try.



February 20, 2006, 5:11 PM

If by "we all write w/ shorthand" you mean you and I, no, we don't. It's poseur talk.

I thought of a coinage. Referencing one example after another with the intention of proving a point but never creating the syntactical or relational threads to do so: a Citestorm.

With that out of the way, this much I agree with: "there is no better understanding of art than putting in your time and knowing the monuments, and at that [I forgive the grammar] doing reading from several points of view of each." Nothing I wrote above contradicts that assertion. I wasn't offering the above thoughts as a maximalist theory, just a possible explanation of the apperceptive process. Take it accordingly.



February 20, 2006, 5:40 PM

juvenilte - typo

valence: not misused, common in critical/philosophical/math discourse to express the worth of an argument/system/aesthetic. Wrong.

Michel Angelo: the correct way to address his name, u use the bastardized American, the older form pays deference to the fact his namesake was Michel the Arch Angel. Wrong.

eludes for evades: the unabridged Websters has eludes as avoids w/ evades for a synonym, what's your problem? Wrong.

frescoes, frescos: don't know y i did that, but i type fast and hit keys accidentally. This is not scholarly publication either.

freizes = friezes

naieve: older spelling i like to use, it relates to having spent my time w/ folk, visionary, Naief, untrained, outsider scholarship. Wrong.

Well oldpro, u r 3/3 and only on trivially true stuff, now don't make 'factual error' claims w/o backing it up and then running away. That would make u vulnerable to claims of speciousness and sophistry.

What's incomprehensible? Again don't make empty claims w/o instantiation. George claims to have a model of explaining art and i'm asking to take any of the monuments suggested and apply his model? I'm saying that nothing takes the place of having done your homework in the monuments themselves. Usually theories fall apart since art works r so much more than reductive, scientized models. So i'm asking to use his brain model on an actual work of art. While u r @ it, how is the claim the brain model can't distinguish between a visual diagram and an art work incomprehensible? People in art history/art have seen too often the attempts to use science as a macho way to clean up art to no avail, as if science is a cure all and hasn't led to disasters like nuclear bombs and global warming. I'm assuming people here have degrees and or experience; u being the old pro sound like your missing both. There is no intelligence in art w/o the spectator, the work and the culture.



February 20, 2006, 5:54 PM

OK, Alizarin, OK. Enough.

I think the science is merely a matter of trying to detect how the mind works in relation to art. Nothing is being claimed or threatened.



February 20, 2006, 6:33 PM

Just for that BS about "naieve" (older spelling! Right!), I'll take Alizarin up on his challenge. According to my idea, when you look at the Sistine Ceiling, you have a feedback mechanism that sends information from your sense receptors to your cognition. It replies by sending more information back down those pathways, making predictions about what it will see next. (This information includes many kinds of memory, some of which parses reality, some of which is germane learning.) This process repeats many times. If you have a good eye, the sensing continues along with the cognition. If you don't, it doesn't. Now "show [me] what art historians do at conferences to dismiss lazy one book student scholars from the debate." I'm not sure I care what art historians do at conferences, but go ahead anyway.



February 20, 2006, 6:56 PM

Thanks, Franklin.

I think Alizatin somehow thinks describing how the brain works is an attack on art. Reminds of the evolution debate, sort of.



February 20, 2006, 8:49 PM

Dear Franklin,

Oh, Paleeza. I'm just amused as 2y u find value in brain theater, a limited one at that since u can't distinguish a female from male given your language. (or r u going to go metaphysical on me and say thought is eternal, w/o place or location?) So y get bogged down in a problem that has dubious status 2 begin w/?

Everything u just wrote could apply to or happen with a Peanuts comic strip, a porn still, a beer label and so on to a Sponge Bob lunch box. If u want, then simply substitute Sponge Bob for Sistine Chapel in your sentence and it will mean the same thing, which by the way I specified the Creation Scene not the entire cycle. So much for the dis on language behavior someone above mounted. My point is your science account gets no where and 20 years from now it will b viewed as out of date like attempts that use to spend volumes discussing what the rods and cones do in the eye during perception blah blah and so on. All this was supposed to illuminate the meaning of a painting. Scientists spent much time arguing the nature of physiological perception w/o ever getting to one actual work. Even if what u say is true, and u have never observed how stimuli actually navigate through the brain, this tells us nothing about, for example, why what u c is disposed the way it is and why it could b considered what the English critic Clive Bell termed, significant form.

Nothing in your perception would tell u that the clothing worn by God the Father was added by another hand. Nothing would elucidate the barren nature of the landscape, the appearance of acorns and most heatedly debated of all, the hand of one of the attending nude figures, the so-called ignudi, creeping toward Adam's limp carcasse. Moreover, nothing would tell u the Vatican's attempt to suppress all accounts of Michel Angelo which deal w/ his alleged homosexuality, whose veracity would b an obvious embarassment given the Catholic Church's stand on homosexuality. Not knowing the charcoal and conte studies, which clearly show his M's females r simply males w/ debillitated breasts, this episode and its posturing, non Biblical males surely add up to a brain perception that is at worst blind and at best NAIEVE. (I keep seeing Kant's concepts w/o percepts r false and percepts w/o concepts r blind in my feedforwarding backfeed horsefeed.) This still leaves such monumental assesments of Michel Angelo dealing w/ a sculptor making a painting, the cranial profile of the god's avatar and the recent cleaning controversy. And this is simple compared to observing the replica of Duchamp's Bottle Dryer, or is Modern art not allowed here for not having the manual skill element? Anyway, given your account, i learned nothing about the Creation Scene i didn't already know. U remind me of the shutter bugs who spend all the time talking about lenses and camera/film stuff w/o having a clue about the iconic references in a Lee Freidlander (ie?) or Rober Frank.

I don't c the mechanical transmitter model as an attack on art, more approaching what Wittgenstein i believe in the Blue and Brown books, had to say about aestheticians who spend so much time icing up their aesthetic theories w/o ever discussing any one object that was art. I believe he did the same essentially w/ Freud, saying he spent time writing on dreams and symbols w/o ever actually observing people having sex.

Sorry to not make Franklin happy, but why do u people want to waste your time on the machinations of the brain? I'm sorry i don't subscribe to the elevation of the human brain, to me its another tool in relation to others. It would b like apprehending the nature of the hand to understand Monet's brilliant coma stroke. Just because u have a computer geek to map out the brain doesn't impress me. No reductive model is ever going to come close to understanding y Dekooning decided to paint the way "people drive down the New Jersey turnpike." (Grace Hartigan's studio, sometime in the 70's.) Is this blog one of those conservative one's fighting a rear guard war against the excesses of contemporary nyc based art world?



February 20, 2006, 9:39 PM

Oh, i forgot, just a simple google yields enough examples of Naieve to warrant my spelling, think outside the box kinda stuff:

Galerie Naieve Kunst Exhibitions of international naieve art / Exposities internationale naieve kunst
The outsider world is International, the older European scholars routinely, especially the English ones still spell Naive artist w/ the e, a priviledging indulgence on my part, I'm sorry. I picked it up from a broker for Moses Tolivar, who used it to describe himself upon learning how some English spelled it. It takes only a few users to make a culture.
Anyway, the upshot is I have sources for the use, so I believe Franklin and oldpro r on slippery footing, again. So, Franklin, u don't live up to your own guidelines, u called my usage BS, that's ad hominum and incorrect. So oldpro was only 2/6 afterall. Scholarship, i always say.


Marc Country

February 20, 2006, 9:53 PM

Is this blog one of those conservative one's fighting a rear guard war against the excesses of contemporary nyc based art world?




February 20, 2006, 9:55 PM

Oh, so that's what happens at those conferences. I guess I imagined art historians having more of a flair for persuasive language.

That rather impressive but not especially enlightening shopping list of concerns about that portion of the Ceiling could all be included in the feedforward. What's interesting to me is Hawkins's implication that this is altering perception itself. That got me thinking about what makes for clean or accurate perception, what we mean when we talk about someone having a good eye. Since the quantity of feedforward is greater than that of the feedback - I haven't measured it myself, but brain scientists have, and it's by a 10/1 ratio by some estimates - and because feedforward seems to inform the senses how to operate, I'm speculating that in a good eye the feedforward doesn't override the feedback to the extent that it does in a poor one. The good eye keeps referring to the object. The poor eye has a felt response to its own cognition, perhaps to the extent that the object might as well not be there. If you think that's false, you haven't articulated why.

My answer to "why do u people want to waste your time on the machinations of the brain?" is, if the workings of the brain inform the art process somehow, why not feel curious about it? Just because it's not going to explain why deKooning painted like he did doesn't mean it won't have any applications anywhere. What a bizarre criticism. Nothing will explain everything. Certainly Wittgenstein doesn't. Does that mean you throw out Wittgenstein?

Is this blog one of those conservative one's [sic] fighting a rear guard war against the excesses of contemporary nyc based art world? No, but it comes off that way to people who have heavy philosophical investments in bad art and cloudy thinking. I often find out whom they are pretty quickly because they accuse me of being a Republican or old. I am neither. Also, they tend to make idiotic aspersions like "a limited one at that since u can't distinguish a female from male given your language". I can distinguish male from female rather easily, thanks. If you're female, and would like to be addressed with the appropriate pronouns, all you need to do is say so. I don't apologize for not attributing genders to pseudonyms or writing styles.

Calling your usage BS is directed at your usage, not at the user, and hence is not ad hominem. Googling on "naieve" brings up:

Did you mean: naive

But there's no link for "Yes, but the speaker is using an affected manner." Speaking of the guidelines, make Franklin happy has to do with unclosed tags and crap like that. Not with sparring in the comments, which I rather enjoy.



February 20, 2006, 10:09 PM

Good thing I refreshed, I was about to wonder where Marc Country was when you needed him most. Too bad he was so even-tempered about it.

Um, alizarin, oldpro pointed out seven errors, not three, or six. And if there was supposed to be a coherent argument embedded in your self-aggrandizing diatribe, I can't find it for the spittle. Read Rite and 'Rithmetize accurately, I always say.

"Is this blog one of those conservative ones fighting a rear guard war against the excesses of contemporary NYC-based art world?" Well, yes and no. Would you prefer the inverse?



February 20, 2006, 10:21 PM

Cochineal a color that made history

In the ancient world of the Aztecs, red dye was considered more valuable than gold. The bright red colorant required the labor of hundreds of subjects combing the desert in search of its source - the female cochineal beetle. A pound of water-soluble extract required about a million insects. (By comparison, back in the days of the Roman Empire, a pound of royal purple dye required four million mollusks.)

After the arrival of Cortez in the 1500s, the Spaniards traded the dried remains of this insect as a colorant that dyed items a brilliant crimson. Cochineal red was a stronger dye than ever before - and a color that no one could duplicate. Europeans used it for fabrics and illumination in addition to cooking. In the years that followed, Michelangelo used it in paintings, the British for redcoats and the Canadians for their Mounted Police coats. It is thought that the first U.S. flag made by Betsy Ross had cochineal red stripes. Today, less expensive aniline dyes have replaced it, but it is used as a food coloring and is approved by the FDA as a natural colorant for food, drug and cosmetics. In fact, some brands of fruit juice use this red bug juice as a colorant.

The story of Cochineal red is even more fascinating. Europeans were never told of its insect origin. In reality, the insect looked so much like a seed, that the Spaniards traded it as grain. For almost 300 years, they perpetuated the notion that “dyed in the grain” was their special process for this permanent dye that never faded. And that's the source of the English term “ingrained.”

makes as much sense as everything else today. IMOIAHOAX



February 20, 2006, 11:24 PM

I'm still thinking about this 11 year old kid who can't write, but can draw. The difference for him seems to be in the seeing. He has little feedforward when he has to print letters, but tons when he draws a dragon. "The good eye keeps referring to the object" - this describes him when he's making art. "The poor eye has a felt response to its own cognition, perhaps to the extent that the object might as well not be there" - this describes him when he's writing.

But as relates to this feedforward/back theory, it feels like I'm probably confusing action with perception. Really though, perception, recognition, memory, projection, cognition and synaptic response all seem too mushed together here. What are the basic blocks of psychological activity that occur when looking at an artwork, and what specific order do they occur in? How is it different when making an artwork?

So much happens so quickly that its no wonder we might gloss over some aspects.

oldpro, I'm wondering if you're ever going to get around to noting the few things you disagree with (#2)?



February 20, 2006, 11:34 PM

I just have not been able to get to it. it is like the music query - too complicated not to take some time to discuss. And Franklin is anal about only leaving 5 posts up, so it looks like I won't



February 20, 2006, 11:34 PM

Really though, perception, recognition, memory, projection, cognition and synaptic response all seem too mushed together here.

Right: Hawkins is theorizing that there are not strong divisions between any of the above activities. It would be great to know their order of occurence. Personally, I'd like to know why you feel anything in response to a visual stimulus. Do I like staring at pure blue pigment simply as a matter of conditioning, or is something hard-wired in my head to cause that? What connects looking at a favorite painting with the excitable feeling in my chest?



February 20, 2006, 11:41 PM

Comments has the 20 most recent comments and Posts has the most recent 50 posts. Work with me, OP.



February 20, 2006, 11:42 PM

I know, but once they go off the margin they are dead, more or less.



February 20, 2006, 11:43 PM

Ahab, could be anything but your description reminded me of someone I knew who had a speech problem because of a stroke. In that case it seemed to be a question of the wires being cut, if the person tried to think of the work (a particular locus in the brain) he was stumped but seemed to be able to "find" the word by another mental route. I wouldn't make any really direct connection, it's really only an observation on the mystery of the brains workings. I do know that language is assimilated most easily at a certain time in a child's life, if they hear eastern and western languages they will be able to learn these easier as an adult.

Contrary to some other opinions, I think the brain research is fascinating. In my observation, it is the social sciences (sic) which lack testable rigor and often end up contradicting on another based upon assumptions not empirical evidence. In the physical sciences, if the new theory can't encompass previous test results it's in trouble. See Newton-> Einstein physics-> Quantum theory-> String theory it's backwards compatible.

The feed forward feed back idea is more than just a little interesting. It encompasses almost all idiosyncrasies of perception including the functioning of symbolic meaning.



February 20, 2006, 11:46 PM

That's the argument against having the sidebar at all, OP. I take away the sidebar, and you start tracking activity on the site from pages with much more information than I will ever be able to put in the margin. That keeps posts alive for much longer.



February 20, 2006, 11:50 PM

errata think of the work think of the word

Franklin, why so stingy? give us 10 on the left, the Post and Vomments pages are for wimps.



February 20, 2006, 11:52 PM

Huh? That Comment page is how I keep track of all this.



February 20, 2006, 11:57 PM

Franklin, yeh I was kidding, I'm linked to the comment page.
I do think a feeuw more listings in the left lineup would maintian the visual symmetry as ons scrolled down the page.



February 21, 2006, 12:02 AM


You know what? My first idea for the revision was that when you went to, the page that came up would be the one you see at Posts. Crazy, right?



February 21, 2006, 12:33 AM

By the way, thanks for reintroducing the random logo images. I don't think anyone's mentioned it yet, or even noticed?

You've got a good thing going here with, Franklin. No one's worried that you'll make it better, I take it for granted that you will. But the feedback I get from so many other retarded artblogs out there forward-feeds the otherwise ungrounded fear that you could screw it up.



February 21, 2006, 7:41 AM

George #38 I agree completely. And Ahab #44 is nicely put.

I think posts should stay up until they die a natural death. This always happened with your last system. Therre is no reason, practical, esthetic or otherwise, to limit the margin contents.



February 21, 2006, 7:43 AM

Ahab, thanks. I do my best to keep your fears ungrounded.



February 21, 2006, 8:30 AM

Aside from the occasional derailment, this is probably the most interesting topic presented on this blog since I have been reading it. So I'll prod it along a bit.

Here's another thought: you can experience pleasure in response to imagined visual representations just as you can in response to perceived ones. In fact, because of feedforward, part of those sensory experiences are imagined….

If we just consider paintings for a second, in a painting part of the visual experience is an experience in imagination. There is a literal perception, an observation of its physical attributes which follow the feed-forward feed-back loop (ff-fb) to one conclusion. Additionally there is a psychological, or imaginary association with the paintings image if there is one. We know the "image" is not "real" in the "this is not a pipe" sense. We can have an experience which stimulates the response as if it were real but this experience is imaginary and therefore detached by some degree from what it represents. An image of an action, like a car crash, is not the same as the action, the actual crash. We therefore have different reactions to the image of an action than to the experiencing the action itself.

In fact, because of feedforward, part of those sensory experiences are imagined. I believe that people with good eyes for art can discern the difference between their reactions to sensory data and their reactions to their predictions about the sensory data - between feedback and feedforward. They have enough awareness to return their attention to the object, repeatedly, turning off their prediction mechanism somewhat in an attempt to elicit more sensory input from the object. They also pay attention to their felt response, and can discern whether they are responding to sensory input or to internal representations.

I'm not sure I agree about this, it seems like the ff-fb loop is locked into the process, we may think we are being "neutral" but that is itself a ff-fb loop. In particular I think the idea of the ff-fb loop corresponds with how we actually perceive a painting (hey it's science it's supposed to do that) which is vastly more complex than just a question about what color it is (pick an/list attribute)




February 21, 2006, 9:59 AM

h, Paleeza. I'm just amused as 2y u find value in brain theater, a limited one at that since u can't distinguish a female from male given your language.
Your answer to this means u misunderstood it. I"m not talking about moi, I'm referring to the fact that your brain model so far does not, cannot distinguish between a female brain and a male brain or a gay brain. The consequences go further. If u say there is no difference, then u r @ odds w/ the essentialist position which posits innate differences between the two sexes, and, u have essentially a brain that belongs to no one, thus raising again the question of the worth/power/valence of your position/model. If u say there is a gender difference, but your mapping of the brain cannot show it, well, it raises the same question of valence.

Franklin: "Googling on "naieve" brings up:

Did you mean: naive ..."
So, if Google tells u to stop, u stop. U cherry picked! cheater. There is a whole busload of European related spellings that follow, u chose not 2c them. Kinda like your BS, explanation, shoddy at best.

But there's no link for "Yes, but the speaker is using an affected manner."
Since u guys knitpick grammar, don't quote what hasn't been written or spoken, I never said/wrote the above.

And u still haven't satisfied the criticism of substituting any name of some visual phenomena into your Sistine Ceiling claim, again your Theory can't distinguish between a cartoon and a highly skilled rendering. Moreover, your citation, if u can call it that, of science 101, Franklin writes:

Since the quantity of feedforward is greater than that of the feedback - I haven't measured it myself, but brain scientists have, and it's by a 10/1 ratio by some estimates - and because feedforward seems to inform the senses how to operate
U haven't measured it yourself, no doy there, but scientists have and they get an 'estimate' ? What kinda instruments they using, their thumbs? What kinda science traffics in chimerical estimates? Now did they measure it or not, and if so, what kinda of measurement feet per second, mph, the zeno paradox kind? Surely, u must concede how wobbly this old jalopy is. Translation: u don't really have any proof of anything called feedforward, u just want to believe in it since u have so much time invested in it like u accuse others. Good thing u don't read papers at a CAA conference, u hang yourself w/ your own words. I especially like the self conflicting: " That rather impressive but not especially enlightening", how can something impress w/o being enlightening? Seems your thought goes askew. (BTW, those evaluations on Michel Angelo r simply the standard assessments in art history, beyond maybe the Gardner level, depending on your gender/sexual persuasion.) Anyway, I encourage u to take your accounts to authorities in brain science and art history/art criticism. Please, u need to pop your bubble.



February 21, 2006, 10:33 AM

Alizarin, the whole issue of gender difference between brains could easily be absorbed into Hawkins, but it's a red herring that you brought up anyway. Using European spellings are affected. Memory and learning are the very basis for prediction, as I keep repeating, and it seems to be perfectly capable of distinguishing between kinds of drawing, which is another red herring. Scientists a lot smarter than you have produced evidence that Hawkins is citing; saying that I don't have any proof of it is ridiculous. Using "Good thing u don't read papers at a CAA conference" as a pejorative is one of the dumbest things I've ever seen written on my blog. Talking with you has become a time waster, except to further make me wonder whether obliging commenters to register would send away people who are only too happy to take advantage of the anonymity I offer them to come here and demonstrate that they can only parody argumentative discussion, not actually do it.



February 21, 2006, 11:19 AM

Your (or should I say "ur") patience is exemplary, Franklin. But the specter of registration scares me. I see nothing wrong with people like Alizarin making their dumb comments - aside from the time wasted on them. Anyone can see how foolish they are. People should be free to look silly if they want to.



February 21, 2006, 12:01 PM

oh nonsense, u simply don't want any friction against your hallowed science. Red herring or not, u still haven't dislodged the counter claims, calling a fire a red herring doesn't make it go away. Your science of estimates speaks for itself.

I have no faith in science; if we take Seurat (i don't know who u would count as a artist anyway), then we can see how adherence to a science leads to the overly anal type painting he did. Duchamp's parody of science is well aimed, though i'm guessing w/ your anti-intellectual leanings, he doesn't count.

Finally, aside from your coterie of epigones here, i see u still haven't really applied your findings to anyone painting that yields anything of interest. Your anti-CAA bias says it all, r u the failed art historian type or failed painter? Moreover, if it walks like a Republican, talks like a Republican, it is a repugnican. Good luck w/ all your white male guy club friends in the science dept.



February 21, 2006, 12:30 PM

Goodbye, Alizarin.

As you know, OP, I go back and forth on this. People are even more free to look silly on Artforum Talkback, and as a consequence I stopped reading it. I've never heard of a large-scale online conversation that stayed intelligent without moderation.


Marc Country

February 21, 2006, 5:25 PM

1. Since "comments close in two weeks", it makes sense for the posts to stay on the margin for two weeks... then, the "Posts" page serves as simply an overall archive.

2. Matty's temptation is to slap Alizarin silly, but I think it's clear someone else has already done that, and I don't wan't to contribute to making him/her/it any sillier. I do find the contradiction of a neo-luddite who writes in text-messag-ese to be pretty funny though (it makes an IMPRESSION, but it doesn't ENLIGHTEN), and I totally appreciate Franklin's patience as he draws him/her/it out.

3. "Conservatism" in art is quite different from "conservatism" in politics. I read an interesting piece in Harper's a while back, which discussed how the right-wing 'intelligent design' folks (you know, the ones who "have no faith in science") have taken cues from the postmodernists, and frame their arguments in the language of "pluralism" and "keeping an 'open' mind".

'Repugnican' indeed.



February 22, 2006, 9:47 AM

So, diff means lead to similar ends, astounding argumentation; kinda like feminists going after the abuses to women in porm while the right attempts suppression for their biblical beliefs. That means pro abortion fems r one w/ anti abortion evangelicals? Moreover, w/ your creationist/repub/pluralism/antiscience conflation holds true. My antipathy to science is just from Kuhn's paradigm shift contribution and seeing how once held rock solid truths fall, science has no more privildge to veracity than art simply because science will adopt a model, arbitrarily so, like a terracentric universe, until one day, boom, somebody says solarcentric. okay. Wasn't there a time when scientists embraced the concept of phlogistron (sp.) to explain the appearance of lightning? Science is a human projection upon phenomena that it can't otherwise explain, kinda like the God theory, religion. So it is no more than a description, like your computer model for the brain.

Franklin, those nudes! Seeing your Risdee affiliation explains the arrogance and insularity of your poses here and why u can't handle criticism and also why u r marginalized out to the provinces. Every RISD student i've ever met never stops telling u they went to Risd as if that somehow means they r right on everything. The nudes, if we can call them that since it is hard 2c w/ all the shaky hand crap, pedestrian student attempts, are full of figural and painterly cliches. Blue for shadows, sienna underpaint for lighted areas, chalky swaths of media for highlights have been so used by the American Artist crowd. All that's missing is the watercolor of the geranium u c in dental offices. U attempt to hide the hands or slur them over w/ bravura bursts of white clogged pigment; the space is a undifferentiated filler that strains your overly reliance upon temperature diff; since the nude is also undifferentiated one wonders why figure/ground is even broached; when all else fails stick some barium/cadmium/naphthal etc red in there; and what is said about the figure here that hasn't been said bazillions of times b4? The sexist positioning of females for male privileged gaze and consumption, gee, that's new. I mean for all the masturbatory hand shaking u could have painted anything w/ the same results. Say something significant about the nude that liesurely golfers in Scottsdale might get nervous about, otherwise this is a plate of sugary mashed potatoes. Yuck. Typical of what RISD produces, clueless students who have been told they r great for having gone to Risd, but never quite live up to the hype. No wonder u couldn't make it in nyc, art capital of the world.

So maybe instead of puff puff on brain science (Intelligence?), u might put some time in and learn how to apply paint that doesn't just slide around the canvas unintelligently but has a purpose. Yes, good bye.



February 22, 2006, 10:10 AM

Hee! That was beautiful. Goodbye, Alizarin.



February 22, 2006, 12:28 PM

Geez louise! I had no idea that this thread was still cooking, that is, not until I looked at the "Comments" page.



February 22, 2006, 12:44 PM

Right. See that, OP?



February 22, 2006, 1:14 PM

Okay, I've read the whole thing.

Now I get what OP said on another thread about "naieve" being the old spelling.

I like "naieve", but when I really want to indulge in decadent spelling behaviours [haha! note the "ou"--I always do that!], I do favor "naif" (gender allowing, of course, otherwise we're right back to naive/naieve).

As for the rest of the dealio, I'm kind of glad I missed it. I do lean strongly toward alizarin's points, but not enough to really care (the whole topic is COMPELLING, but not ENGAGING, if you can imagine that!).

The upshot: "Comments" page AS IS is the way to go. It keeps me out of trouble unless I'm looking for it.


Marc Country

February 24, 2006, 6:41 PM

I do lean strongly toward alizarin's points...

Ah, that's rich.

Be careful leaning towards those points... you might poke an eye out.



February 25, 2006, 9:55 AM

Marc, it seems as if you like to help me look for trouble.


Marc Country

February 25, 2006, 3:51 PM

I'm having fun... I hope you are too.

I was considering asking you to translate alizarin's ersatz 'points' for the rest of us, but I doubt, no matter how much more eloquently or intelligibly you'd put it, that we'd really get any closer to the original topic here.



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