THE STRUCTURAL SHADOWS OF MIND-REALITY?
“...the soul is analogous to the hand;
In the beginning God created Mindprints,
Throughout the twentieth century not a few theoreticians and artists have maintained that modernism has failed and that art has reached its end or at least has reached a dead end. This deep skepticism arose from the great perplexity created with the rejection of the paradigm of figurative art, without the creation of another paradigm in its place. The unavoidable result of this situation is the complete blurring of the demarcation lines between art and non-art. For this reason the need for a new and truly reliable Archimedean fulcrum that would make it possible to distinguish between art and pseudo-art became an essential need for the very continuation of the existence of art as a relevant branch of culture. A search that has continued over tens of years for an adequate answer to this problem has led me to many and various channels, some of which I have already reported upon in other essays, and others, which I shall report upon in the future. But among those particularly worth mentioning are two directions of exploration which appear on the face of it to be opposed, but are in actual fact complementary: on the one hand, the search for the graphic and cognitive sources that preceded art and made possible its actual emergence some 40,000 years ago, in the hope that in this embryonic stage it may be possible to identify more easily the most basic attributes of art from its first beginning. On the other hand, this study revealed the need for a cognitive understanding of the a priori conditions necessary for a person to read or create a figurative picture at any time: in the prehistoric era, or today. The attempt to understand these a priori conditions led perhaps serendipitously to a new understanding of the mind and the way in which its basic patterns are manifested in the products of culture.
I have summed up the research regarding the sources of art in two essays (Avital, 1999b; Avital, 1999a). The second aspect of the research, which is of a purely theoretical nature and deals with the a priori conditions of art, is given very briefly in the present essay. While the point of departure was art, its results and conclusions may have implications which pass far beyond art itself and touch upon all areas of culture regardless of time and place, since like art, all are various products of the human mind. The central rationale of this essay is the attempt to reach a newer and more adequate understanding of the nature of visual art by anchoring it to the nature of mind itself. It is hoped that this may be achieved through an understanding of the way in which some of the basic attributes of mind already became manifest in the very earliest origins of art, which seem to be footprints literacy. This skill seems to have preceded prehistoric art by about 4 million years (Avital, 1999a). According to this understanding, art is an expression or embodiment of certain basic attributes of mind, by means of the composition of aesthetic elements such as color, form etc. I have called these basic attributes "mindprints". These metastructures are fundamental attributes of mind and reality such as connectivity, complementarity, open-endedness, recursiveness, hierarchy, transformation, symmetry, and their complementary opposites. In the following, I shall try to give only a brief explanation of them, since a more complete explanation of the concept and its implications for other fields would require a far wider framework than this essay. In a minimal sense, mindprints are fundamental properties or attributes of human intelligence, or the interfaces between mind and reality. In a broader sense, it appears that mindprints are common to all levels of Being, and are therefore epistemological and ontological oxymorons, or metastructures of the complementarity of mind and reality. In other words, mindprints are the bridge between epistemology and ontology. Thus, when scientists such as Einstein and many others, observe with awe and wonderment the sublime concord between theory and nature they are really experiencing the grace of crossing this bridge. Many experience the same feeling when observing a great work of art. In both cases we unconsciously recognize in nature or art, as in a mirror, the mindprints which bind our mind and reality into a complementary unity. Indeed, the fact that science can make such remarkably accurate predictions, or the fact that we can easily read prehistoric paintings done eons ago, is probably the best evidence that mind and reality must have something fundamental in common, or that they are two aspects of a complementarity. In a sense, mind is reality folded upon itself, i.e. a reflective, and sometimes conscious reality. Thus consciousness is a node in the lacework of mind-reality. Regarded in this spirit, reality is a shadow of mind, and hence there should be at least partial correlation or symmetry between the "two". This is also true regarding products of mind such as art and science.
The reader may already have sensed the high degree of ambiguity of the concept "mind" and be wondering if what is meant is mind in the human context, or Mind in a total or metaphysical sense, such as the concept has for Hegel, or as it has in the Greek terms Logos or Nous, and the like. I subscribe to the view, and more precisely to the belief, that the human mind is a special case of Mind or Intelligence in the total sense and that these two meanings of "mind" are therefore, at least to some extent, symmetrical, inasmuch as they have similar basic attributes. Nevertheless, these two kinds of “mind” are different inasmuch as the one constructs our private and cultural world, while the other constructs the human mind, as well as reality and all that is in it. However, for the purpose of our discussion, it makes no difference at all in which of the two meanings the concept of mind is understood, and it should therefore be emphasized that the characterization of art, or the establishing of its demarcation lines with the aid of mindprints, does not necessarily entail the commitment to perceiving Mind as a total and metaphysical entity; but rather is it possible to regard mindprints as hypothetical and very basic principles of organization of the human intelligence or mind. The problem is, that a paradox of no mean proportions is concealed here: how is it possible to indicate basic attributes of mind when the possibility of our knowledge regarding "mind" - whether in the human context or, even more, "Mind" in its total meaning - is in principle extremely limited? This problem has been discussed at length and from various angles throughout the history of philosophy and science, and there is no need to enlarge upon it, and I shall therefore briefly indicate only a few of the reasons for the impossibility of really knowing what Mind is in any sense, and why we must be satisfied with far less.
Firstly, language is in a way constructed like a multidimensional web in the form of a mountain chain with peaks of various heights. Concepts receive their significance in this multidimensional hierarchy as nodes in our conceptual system. When we understand a certain concept, we usually achieve this in relation to the concepts or nodes above it and including it, as well as to the concepts that are below it and included by it, and also through the language game of the concept within the entire linguistic system. But conceptual understanding is particularly difficult when one attempts to understand such unique meta-concepts as "Mind", "Being", "Reality", and "God", which are among the apexes of our conceptual system. These concepts can have only partial significance, since we have no concepts higher than them, and they can therefore only be understood in the light of concepts that are beneath them - through those that are contained by them, and not through any by which they are contained, since none such exist. In other words, such concepts are never sufficiently clear, since every such concept is the name of an ultimate meta-reference beyond which there is no meta-reference or concept of a higher logical type that would give it a truly full significance or characterization. These concepts indicate the highest limits of abstraction, generalization or induction that our thought is capable of achieving by means of our symbol system. These meta-concepts delineate the boundary between discursive thought and the domain of mysticism. Secondly, one of the main conclusions of philosophy since Kant, is that any knowledge that we may obtain is the outcome of some interpretation of our own. It follows that it is impossible really to know what that non-physical entity is that we call mind, just as we cannot know what is the thing-in-itself that we interpret as a physical or phenomenal entity. By stretching not too grossly Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, which in a certain sense is itself a derivative of Kantian philosophy, it may be said that uncertainty exists not only with regard to physical measurement, but even more so when we try to understand the mind, since here an attempt is being made to measure both the measurer and the measured. Thirdly, a difficulty entailed in every attempt at understanding mind follows from the limitation in principle, of reflexive thought trying to understand itself, or mind itself. Every understanding of this sort is in principle only partial, and every attempt to deny this leads to a paradox similar to that of the great antinomy of Russell regarding the impossibility of a class including itself as a member (Russell, 1985). Furthermore, even the scientists who reduce mind to brain, in most cases acknowledge that it is very doubtful whether our brain is ever likely to understand itself completely. On the other hand, if Mind is considered in its all-embracing sense, one immediately encounters the old problem that a finite consciousness cannot understand infinite mind, but can at most intuit it, as the mystics maintain. If the mind is beyond our reach, what can we nevertheless know about it?
Outside my window, about 2 kilometers away, lies the last valley before the steep ascent to Jerusalem from the west. At the edge of this valley is the village of Beit Zayit where the fossilized footprints were discovered, of a dinosaur that passed there tens of millions of years ago. We do not know, and never will, what the dinosaur that walked there really looked like, but through an examination of the structure of the footprints it is possible to deduce at least some of the characteristics of its body, which turned to dust long ago. An example that is far more recent and closer to our origins, is the path of fossilized footprints of three hominids, an adult male, a smaller man or child, and a female, that were preserved for about 3.6 million years in Laetoli in northern Tanzania, (Leakey 1981, Leakey and Harris, 1987). Again, we do not, and never will, know exactly what these hominids looked like, but from the structure of their footprints, the scientists reached instructive conclusions as to their height, their gait and the fact that they walked upright! In another paper (Avital 1999a) I have shown that from the unique pattern of those footprints one can derive remarkable conclusions regarding their cognitive capacities. In the opinion of most scholars, there is superimposition of the footprints of the smaller male within those of the adult male; if this is indeed so, it has staggering implications regarding the cognitive structure of these hominids. That is, although these hominids did not yet have language, and despite the fact that their brain size was only about half of ours, they must have shared the same basic cognitive structures that we have. Obviously their thinking was visual rather than verbal, but we must assume that they applied similar fundamental structuring principles which I have called "mindprints", for otherwise it is quite impossible to explain the most striking aspect of those footprints, which is the fact that the smaller male trod deliberately and precisely into the footprints of the male adult that walked ahead of him. By analogy with these examples, I would say that mind is like the Tibetan Yeti, the mythical being which nobody claims to have sighted, but whose footprints many assert that they have seen in the snows of the Himalayas. Similarly, I subscribe to the opinion of many who have affirmed that we shall never know what mind really is. But I believe that it is perhaps possible to learn something not trivial about mind itself from some of the attributes of its products; these properties or "mindprints" are as it were prints of the mind, which produced them.
In the history of philosophy, and especially since Kant, several attempts have been made to map the basic categories or parameters of mind. Their main aim was to provide a satisfactory explanation for the possibility of knowledge and thereby to reduce the skepticism aroused by Hume's philosophy. This was attempted by means of a new characterization of the relations between mind and reality, while bringing out the autonomous and primary aspects which the mind has with regard to the subjects of knowledge of all kinds. In the light of the inevitable limitations we have with regard to the possibility of knowing what mind is, it is clear that every characterization of it by means of these or other categories is itself necessarily limited, and is a particular interpretation which cannot exhaust the subject, even when it is the thought of a great philosopher. This can be seen very well in the fact that every philosopher who has proposed a theory of categories, has begun by harshly criticizing his predecessor's theory of categories, without being thereby prevented from adopting part of it. It goes without saying that the orientation of these philosophers has been mainly epistemological and ontological. This being so, and despite the extreme rigor of these attempts, they hardly help us at all to an understanding of the nature of art.
I therefore wish to emphasize that I make no pretense at all of proposing a theory of categories, and certainly not a complete theory such as was attempted by Kant, Hegel, Whitehead and others-something which is anyway far beyond my capability, but to try first and foremost to identify at least some of the most basic attributes that are shared by all works of figurative art from its beginning and up to this day, and without which no figurative painting would be possible. The integration of these common attributes in paintings throughout tens of thousands of years was not "out of the blue"; their origin lay rather in the attributes of the minds of the artists who produced them in all periods of time, and which must have existed long before the emergence of art itself. If such attributes can indeed be identified, then the very fact of their extreme continuity, transcending time, place and cultures, perhaps suggests the possibility that they are not attributes peculiar to art alone. They are basic mindtools that must also have been manifest in the stages that preceded art, and constituted a preparatory stage for it, as in footprints literacy and tool making. Again, if these attributes are indeed so fundamental, then it must be expected that they will appear in other areas of culture as well, since they are after all products of the same mind. A study of these mindprints suggests a more far-reaching possibility: namely, that these same mindprints exist not only at all levels of the human-noetic plane, but also at all levels in nature, and are therefore perhaps the morphological shadows of Mind, Reality, God, or Nature-everyone having his preferred name for the totality of Being. After many years of searching, the possibility of understanding art by anchoring it in the nature of mind seems to me, at least, to be a last resort in meeting the imperative need for an understanding of what art is. For in the light of the chaotic situation that characterizes art today, and in the light of the fact that aesthetics and the history of art have not succeeded in drawing clear demarcation lines of art, then without a new understanding making possible the distinction of art from non-art, there is little point in continuing to produce art, and it may be regarded as a closed chapter in the history of our culture.
The list of mindprints given below is not derived from any particular general theory or meta-principle, but from the question: What are the cognitive attributes without which the prehistoric image-maker could not have begun to create painting? A prolonged examination of mindprints has led me to think it possible that these attributes are not special to art alone, but are rather at the base of all branches of culture, and perhaps also at the base of Being at all levels. Nevertheless, the main aim was and is to understand art within a far wider context than that of art itself, but the reader is therefore by no means obliged to accept the implications of the mindprints beyond their application in art. It goes without saying that this list is neither exhaustive nor exclusive, but is merely the list of those properties of the mind that I have perhaps identified in the search for the attributes that anchor art in mind or intelligence, which are for me synonymous. Bateson (1980) and Waddington (1977) also attempted to characterize fundamental properties of the mind, but the starting point for them both was mainly scientific, with the emphasis on biology. Some of the attributes that they mention are similar to those which I have found, and some are different. R. Sheldrake (1981), who proposed the interesting hypothesis of Formative Causation, also set out from a mainly biological standpoint. His idea of morphogenetic fields is in several ways analogous to the idea of mindprints, and is in many ways very different from it. The main difference is that Sheldrake assumes the existence of an infinite number of morphogenetic fields: a special one for each entity in the universe - for each particle, for each combination of particles, for each plant and for each living thing. In doing this, he in fact assumes double and parallel worlds: the one a formative hierarchy and the other a material hierarchy. Despite the great sympathy that I have for his motivation, I believe that one should follow in the steps of William of Ockham and prefer hypotheses that make do with as few assumptions as possible. As we shall see in what follows, the number of mindprints that I tentatively assume is ten, and it may even be possible to reduce this number by conceiving some mindprints in terms of others. Nevertheless, because of the considerations I have pointed out in connection with the limitation in principle of our knowledge of the mind, any list or table of the basic properties of the mind is necessarily partial, and will always be so. I only hope that others will add to and reduce it according to a more coherent and adequate understanding than my own. The drawback of a short explanation of such a complex subject is that it is inevitably very condensed. However, on the credit side it may be said that a certain roughness is sometimes the earmark of innovation. I therefore suggest that the reader should not give up or become confused by the prodigality of concepts that appear in the explanation that follows. It is my hope that the mindprints concept will be clearer in the paragraphs that follow as a result of the short explanation of the way in which they appear in art. (However, this concept will certainly be clearer if the reader cares to read my other papers, each of which deals specifically with a single mindprint or a combination of several (Avital 1996, 1997a, 1999a).