4. MIND, MINDPRINTS AND THE ORIGINS OF ART
One of the reasons for the fact that to this day we do not know what are the properties that really distinguish art from other domains, is that until today the basic question has not been studied: What were the cognitive attributes that were a precondition or necessary condition for the emergence of prehistoric art? The basic assumption of this essay is that all domains of culture and among them art, are different expressions of certain fundamental properties of human intelligence, or mind. This being so, the uncovering of these properties which are a priori in relation to the possibility of the emergence of art, is likely to enable us to anchor the nature of art in the nature of mind. This essay attempts to show that footprints literacy includes not only most basic aspects of the graphical sources of prehistoric art, but also most of the cognitive attributes without which it is impossible to paint or to read a painting. The cognitive precedence of footprints literacy in relation to art is on at least two levels: on one level, footprints literacy requires highly developed thinking in images. If footprints literacy indeed preceded tool-making, as I presume, then the visual thinking that developed within the context of footprints literacy also served the making of stone tools. This matter is understandable if we remember that thinking in images (which are a kind of proto-symbols) is the necessary condition for the making of stone tools, for it is impossible to make any stone tool at all unless the maker has some preconceived image of the tool it is wished to make. It is reasonable to suppose that the thinking in images that developed within the context of footprints literacy and tool-making, was a stage preceding the capacity for thinking in images, which was a necessary condition for image making. Thinking in images is a necessary condition in these three domains, but it served different purposes: in footprints literacy the images serve the identification of the animals which created the footprints; in tool-making, the images were patterns or a kind of guiding plan for the design of tools; and in prehistoric art the images served the creation of a system of pictorial symbols which was mainly intended to preserve information and to give expression to the creative character or the open-endedness of human intelligence by means of a visual language. However, at a second level the cognitive attributes common to footprints literacy and painting are at a much deeper stratum and they possess, not a visual but a structural character. (These attributes are common to tools as well, but I shall discuss this matter in another essay.) I have called these attributes mindprints, seeing that for reasons extensively discussed in the history of philosophy, and other realms, all of the knowledge that we have is necessarily only some interpretation, and we shall therefore never be able to know what is Reality in itself; and we shall never be able to know what is the mind in itself, but only indications at the most: shadows and its "footprints" insofar as these are manifested in a way that organizes reality and the contents of consciousness. From the outset the main aim of mindprints theory was not to provide a new basis for epistemology and ontology as did most of the theories of categories put forward throughout the history of philosophy, but rather to try to point out the most basic properties of mind that appear in all paintings, and thereby to anchor the nature of art in the nature of mind. Together with this, the fact that these properties, which will be briefly discussed in what follows, appeared throughout perhaps millions of years in footprints literacy and in tool-making, and throughout tens of thousands of years in paintings, independently of place and time, perhaps hints at the possibility that these properties are not special to art alone, but to all domains of culture and perhaps even to all aspects and levels of Being. The idea of mindprints is discussed extensively in another essay (Avital, 1997a) and I shall therefore content myself here with only a minimal explanation to be clarified in the following paragraphs in discussing the appearance of most of these attributes in footprints literacy, in prehistoric painting and to some extent in science as well. So that the reader may already obtain at this stage a synoptic view of this issue, it is desirable to study the two comparative tables which appear at the end of this essay.
At this point I wish to propose a tentative table of mindprints:
1. Connectivity – Disconnectivity (Codis)
2. Open endedness – Closed endedness
3. Recursiveness – Singularity
4. Transformation – Invariance
6. Symmetry – Asymmetry
7. Negation – Affirmation (Double Negation)
8. Complementarity – Mutual Exclusiveness
9. Comparison - (No Comparison?) Imparison
10. Determinism – Indeterminism (Probability, Selection, Choice)
As already indicated, mindprints are probably the meta-structures of the complementarity of mind-reality. In other words, these special attributes are perhaps the structural bridge between mind and reality, or the structural interface of the complementarity of epistemology and ontology. I shall briefly indicate a few characteristics of mindprints so that in what follows it will be better understood in what manner these attributes are most fundamental in footprints literacy, and in art as well.
1. The most prominent characteristic of all of the mindprints is that every one of them is constituted from a pair of complementary opposites. That is, like yin–yang, every mindprint is an oxymoron comprising a pair of opposed attributes which generate a complementary unity. Thus for example, Connectivity–Disconnectivity does not indicate two attributes but rather a single attribute of a higher level having two opposing aspects one of which we call Connectivity and the other Disconnectivity. Since Western culture is much more influenced by Parmenides’ law of contradiction than by Heraclitus’ principle of complementary opposites, it is little wonder that in Western languages there are almost no concepts that are oxymorons like the Chinese concepts of Dao or yin–yang. Since Connectivity–Disconnectivity is a very central mindprint, I propose the term Codis for it, which comprises the combination of the connective prefix ‘co’ and the separative suffix ‘dis’. It is easy to show that most of our cognitive activities such as: grouping, distinction, analysis, synthesis, classification, generalization, abstraction, symbolization and many other activities connected with organization, ordering, lawfulness and the like, are special cases of connectivity–disconnectiviy. It is moreover possible that this is a central mindprint not only on the noetic level but also in the biological, the social and the material world. It is likewise worth mentioning that almost all of the mindprints have an entropic pole of a negentropic character, but there is always a certain predominance of the negentropic pole. Thus, for example, the pole of connectivity is more dominant than the pole of separation, for otherwise a material world, life and culture would not be possible.
2. Another prominent attribute of mindprints is that some of them are primary, or not derivable from other mindprints, while with regard to others it is clear that they are comprised of other mindprints. Thus it is, for example, easy to show that hierarchy–randomness and symmetry–asymmetry are composed from other mindprints whereas open-endedness — closed-endedness or connectivity–disconnectivity are not composed from other mindprints. Nevertheless, all of the mindprints assume explicitly or implicitly negation–affirmation (double negation), and for this reason this is perhaps the most basic mindprint of all. It is worth noting that the most complex mindprint is hierarchy–randomness, which includes most of the other mindprints, and for this reason several students of mind are unjustifiably tempted to reduce mind to hierarchical or systemic patterning (Bateson, 1979; Stamps, 1980, and others). Special importance for our subject attaches to Open-endedness — Closed-endedness, which together with Connectivity–Disconnectivity (Codis), Recursiveness–Singularity and Transformation–Invariance, generates attributes such as novelty, originality, creativity, metaphor, evolution, new orders, induction, extensivity, hypothetical thinking, etc. Another aspect of mindprints is that the products of the operation of some of them may accumulate, whereas the products of the operation of others do not accumulate. Thus for instance, the recursion of connectivity is likely to generate hierarchy, and recursion of separation is liable to break all connections and thereby to generate a state of randomness. By contrast, there is no accumulation in the case of recursion of negation, affirmation, comparison or complementarity.
3. In a certain sense, there is a non-rigid hierarchy among the mindprints, and in another sense there is no hierarchy among them, since almost certainly mindprints are all different aspects of a structuring meta-principle that is far more abstract and general than all of the mindprints mentioned in the foregoing. It would appear that our conceptual system will have to develop to a considerable degree in order for us to be able to understand a principle of such a level of abstraction, and perhaps it will remain forever beyond our grasp, for in a certain sense it is another name for a totality which is in principle beyond our grasp. However, the totality is an infinite system of nested hierarchies and therefore it is reasonable to suppose that the mindprints too are, in a manner not clear to me, holons in a system of inconceivable abstraction. In sum, I am sure that any understanding of mindprints I may have is at best very partial, and I can only hope that in the future I may understand the idea a little better. At the same time, even the limited understanding I have of this concept has helped me to understand art more than all of the theories of art that I have read over many years, and I hope that the reader too will be able to derive benefit from this concept. (Again I emphasize that the exposition of the idea here is perhaps too concise, and that the reader who wishes to obtain a deeper understanding of the idea of mindprints is therefore recommended to study another essay which deals with it more extensively–Avital, in press-a.
Here a last debt must be paid to W. Davis whose theory I have criticized harshly in another paper (Avital, 1999). The strongest argument of Davis against any kind of idealist or cognitivist view regarding the origins of art is that it assumes a priori capacities for the perception and creation of images and representations. His argument is that such a standpoint is built on a tautology and leads to an infinite regression, since the Idealist has to assume language 2 in order to explain language 1, and to assume language 3 in order to explain language 2, and so on ad infinitum (Davis, 1986a, 201). In the same discussion I tried to refute the first part of his argument, concerning the tautology supposedly present in the Idealist standpoint, but the argument of regression remained unanswered. Only now, after the schematic presentation of the idea of mindprints, is it perhaps possible to counter this argument as well. The answer to this argument is already to be found in a very concentrated form in the quotation from Karl Popper, which appears at the head of this essay: Before the chicken, there was a different kind of egg. If we assume that in order to understand language 1, language 2 is necessary, and language 3 in order to understand language 2 and so on, as in Davis's argument, then we do indeed enter an infinite regression. However, this happens because we assume that the languages 1, 2, 3 are languages with content of the same type and of the same level. But if we accept Popper's insight, there is no need for us to be trapped in an infinite regression, since if the egg that precedes the chicken is a structural system such as the system of mindprints, which is likely to explain the language of content that is below it, then we need not be caught in an infinite regression. I suggest that mindprints are basic organizational patterns of mind that precede every language of content, whether visual or conceptual. Here Davis is likely to press with the demand: "And what preceded the mindprints?" My reply is that I simply do not know. But if there was something that preceded them, it was something different from them, and of a level of abstraction that is beyond my understanding. Then he may ask: "Have we not again entered an infinite regression?" And my reply is - perhaps, and perhaps not; for, if the mindprints or something like them are the highest patterns of mind-reality, then there is in any case no regression; but we shall never know whether beyond them there are no higher levels of structuring. However, even if there is here the possibility of a regression, at least at this stage we do not know whither to retreat beyond the mindprints. Secondly, even if we accept the possibility that there is a regression, this is not necessarily a fault. Thus, for example, in fractal drawings, a kind of infinite regression can be generated by repeatedly zooming in, each time on a tiny part of the picture created by the preceding zoom-in, and each time we shall get the same structure despite the probable change of scaling and color. It may be that this is the situation with regard to the case of mindprints, but I cannot be sure. The logical conclusion of this argument is that mindprints as principles of organization of the mind precede, at least logically, not only all perception and cognition but life and matter itself, and are perhaps a precondition for their coming into being. The conclusion that intelligence and its mindprints, which are the structuring function from both the ontological and the epistemological point of view, precede what they structure, seems to me far less absurd than the paradoxical argument of the Behaviorist who does not think that he thinks.
The reader may rightly argue that if mindprints are cognitive meta-structures that are necessary in one measure or another for every cognitive activity and not only for art, then they cannot serve as a criterion for the purpose of distinguishing between art and non-art. The answer to this argument is very simple: It is true that mindprints are common, in one form or another and at various levels, to all branches of culture, since according to the view presented here, it may be that the highest goal of all branches of culture is to give explicit expression, to one degree or another and at different levels of abstraction, to mindprints or to intelligence. However, the disparity between the various branches of culture is in the different types of symbols by means of which each branch of culture expresses the mindprints in a particular stratum. Thus for example, it can be shown that on the one hand in figurative art and in science all of the mindprints are present, but they are manifested by means of symbol systems having very different attributes. The fact that the one field uses aesthetic symbols and the other conceptual and formal symbols, has profound implications for the level of connectedness and generalization that each field is capable of attaining: the measure of stratification that each field is likely to offer with regard to its subjects; the types of symmetry that each field requires for the description of reality; the types of transformation that each field can offer; the level of ambiguity and communicativity of each of the two symbol systems; and so on. However, beyond all these profound differences, the fact that the two fields are in the final analysis anchored in the same fundamental attributes of the mind is for me far more important, and also gives room for hope that in the future it may be possible to greatly reduce the alienation of the "two cultures". In a sense – and this is no mere play on words, prehistoric art is prehistoric science. As against this, as we shall see at the end of this essay, in the modern art called "Non-representational" or "Abstract Art" there is not to be found any one of the mindprints that appear in figurative art, in footprints literacy and in science, and I therefore maintain that there is certainly room for doubt as to whether it is art at all. After this schematic presentation of the idea of mindprints, we shall now try to see how these mindprints and other cognitive attributes, which are their derivatives, appear in figurative art and in the stage that preceded it–footprints literacy.