On the mystery of human consciousness

[div class=attrib]From Eurozine:[end-div]

Philosophers and natural scientists regularly dismiss consciousness as irrelevant. However, even its critics agree that consciousness is less a problem than a mystery. One way into the mystery is through an understanding of autism.

It started with a letter from Michaela Martinková:

Our eldest son, aged almost eight, has Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). It is a diagnosis that falls into the autistic spectrum, but his IQ is very much above average. In an effort to find out how he thinks, I decided that I must find out how we think, and so I read into the cognitive sciences and epistemology. I found what I needed there, although I have an intense feeling that precisely the way of thinking of such people as our son is missing from the mosaic of these sciences. And I think that this missing piece could rearrange the whole mosaic.

In the book Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences, you write, among other things: “Actually the only handicap so far observed in these children (with autism and AS) is that they cannot use human psychology. They cannot postulate intentional states in their own minds and in the minds of other people.” I think that deeper knowledge of autism, and especially of Asperger’s Syndrome as its version found in people with higher IQ in the framework of autism, could be immensely enriching for the cognitive sciences. I am convinced that these people think in an entirely different way from us.

Why the present interest in autism? It is generally known that some people whose diagnosis falls under Asperger’s Syndrome, namely people with Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functional autism, show a remarkable combination of highly above-average intelligence and well below-average social ability. The causes of this peculiarity, although far from being sufficiently clarified, are usually explained by reduced ability in the areas of verbal communication and empathy, which form the basis of social intelligence. And why consciousness? Many people think today that, if we are to better understand ourselves and our relationships to the world and other people, the last problem we must solve is consciousness. Many others think that if we understand the brain, its structure, and its functioning, consciousness will cease to be a problem. The more critical supporters of both views agree on one thing: consciousness is not a problem, it is more a mystery. If a problem is something about which we formulate a question, to which it is possible to seek a reasonable answer, then consciousness is a mystery, because it is still not possible to formulate a question which could be answered in a way that could be verified or refuted by the normal methods of science. Perhaps the psychiatrist Daniel M. Wegner best grasped the present state of knowledge with the statement: “All human experience states that we consciously control our actions, but all theories are against this.” In spite of all the unclearness and disputes about what consciousness is and how it works, the view has begun to prevail in recent years that language and consciousness are the link that makes a group of individuals into a community.

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Suprealist art, suprealist life

[div class=attrib]From Eurozine:[end-div]

Suprealism is a “movement” pioneered by Leonard Lapin that combines suprematism and realism; it mirrors the “suprealist world”, where art is packaged for consumer culture.

In 1993, when I started the suprealist phase of my work, which was followed by the “Suprealist manifesto” and the exhibition at Vaal gallery in Tallinn, a prominent art critic proclaimed that it represented the “hara-kiri of the old avant-garde”. A decade has passed, and the “old avant-gardist” and his suprealism are still alive and kicking, while, as if following my prophecy, life and its cultural representations have become more and more suprealist.

The term “suprealism” emerged quite naturally: its first half originates from the “suprematism” of the early twentieth-century Russian avant-garde, which claimed to represent the highest form of being, abandoning Earth and conquering space. The other half relates to the familiar, dogmatically imposed “realism”, which was the only officially tolerated style under communist rule. Initially, I attempted to bring to the concept the structures of high art and images from mass culture. The most popular domain which attracted most attention was of course pornography. During my 1996 exhibition at the Latvian Museum of Foreign Art, in Riga, the exhibition room containing 30 of my “pornographical works” was closed. There were similar incidents in Bristol, where some of my pieces were censored, not to speak about angry reactions in Estonia. It is remarkable that it is art that highlights what is otherwise hypocritically hidden behind cellophane in news kiosks. But nobody is dismantling the kiosks – the rage is directed at an artist’s exhibition.

An important event in the history of suprealism happened in 2001, when the Estonian Art Museum held an exhibition on the anniversary of the nineteenth-century Estonian academic painter Johan Köler. The exhibition was advertised with posters representing Köler’s sugary painting “A maid at a well”, sometimes ten times the size of the original. Since during the Soviet rule, Köler was officially turned into a predecessor of socialist realism, our generation has a complex and ambiguous relationship with this master. When the 2001 exhibition repeated the old stereotypical clichés about the artist, I expressed my disappointment by relating the exhibition posters to modern commercial packaging, advertisements, and catalogues. It was the starting point of the series “Suprealist artists”, which I am still continuing, using cheap reproductions of classical and modern art and packages, puzzles, flyers, ads, and so on, belonging to the contemporary consumer world. I use them to make new visual structures for the new century.

The “rape of art” as an advertising method is becoming more and more visible: many famous twentieth-century modernists are used in some way in advertising, which brings the images of Dali, Magritte, or Picasso to the consuming masses.

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