Research

Miles Johnston

Thoughts

  • Sensationalizes the psychosomatic 

  • Visualizations of mind-body interaction and neurogenesis  

  • Tranquil states - still life - freezes movement. 

  • Fluidity, morphology.

  • Tackles subjects such as melancholy, desire, fear and isolation. 

  • Soft aesthetics and choice of perspective generates an intimate proximity. 

  • Sympathy.

  • The visual language carries the subject as neither a protagonist nor antagonist. Rather, the subject seems to exist beyond the scope of narrative - a cognitive portrait perhaps?

  • Reconnecting to the sphere through prayer


Empathy in Spheres

222.jpg

“There is not a single definition of empathy. The explanandum being heterogeneous, we cannot expect to discover a common mechanism explaining it. What is meant by empathy depends on the basic scientific/clinical/philosophical question. Within the neurosciences, empathy is shifting from a simple automatic bottom- up process to a more complex phenomenon in which different mechanisms (either bottom-up and top-down processing) are involved”. (Massimiliano 11)



Sources:

Aragona, Massimiliano. “The Many Faces of Empathy, between Phenomenology and Neuroscience.” Academia.edu - Share Research, 2013, www.academia.edu/5590572/The_many_faces_of_empathy_between_phenomenology_and_neuroscience.

Knowledge & Understanding

The definitions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are problematic. According to my perspective, knowledge and understanding complement each other. In order to understand something, you must acquire a certain amount of information; claiming to know something implies that there is understanding. However, to understand something is very uncertain, it depends on the reliability of knowledge on which the understanding is based. For example, if we claim to know a language, we must understand that language. “Only seeing patterns can give us knowledge, only seeing particular examples can give us understanding”; this quote implies that knowledge and understanding are to some extent, interdependent. If knowledge is gained through patterns, which are shapes, figures, or elements, then understanding must be achieved by processing knowledge through reason, language, and intuition. For real understanding to take place examples themselves are not enough nor are the patterns on which the original knowledge is based. We should be acquainted with specific examples, but we also need to understand the concepts on which the knowledge is based. Through art, and math, it can be seen that patterns and examples are indeed important for knowledge and understanding, but only seeing general patterns and particular examples alone will not give real understanding, that comes with reason, intuition as well as sense perception. 

When we claim to know a person, is this knowledge dependent on the pattern of, for example, his or her face? Knowledge of a person requires more than this mere recognition, but the pattern is a starting point. Intuition has a role in moving from recognition to knowledge and eventually to understanding. The human face is made up of patterns of features, which even newborn babies can intuitively recognize. Studies have been carried out to determine the recognition by newborn babies of their mothers' faces. In a 2001 experiment carried out by I.W.R Bushnell, it was found that newborns rapidly “process sufficient information about their mother’s face ... to allow effective recognition memory.” (Bushnell 2001). This suggests that the ability to recognize patterns is innate, but does this mean the infant knows and understands that this person is his or her mother? In this case the baby does seem to have knowledge that that set of patterns belongs to a source of food, comfort and affection so to an extent knowledge has been gained through patterns. Understanding, also, has been gained though the baby experiencing examples of comforting behavior and food supplies. However, the baby can only know this person is his or her mother later through reason, experience and intuition. As human beings, we tend to identify with faces. It has been shown that individuals feel secure when they are in contact with other human faces. Faces consist of a specific pattern; the brow, the eyes, the nose in the middle, and the lips. However, we may know that the pattern is a face, but that alone does not give knowledge of the person; it may lead to recognition; we can know what our friend looks like through sense perception but real understanding of who our friend is, needs reason, intuition and experience. 

Art can be defined as the expression of human creativity. According to Picasso “Are we to paint what's on the face, what's inside the face, or what's behind it?”. Art is an area of knowledge, often associated with patterns of shapes, colors and motifs. Knowledge of art can be gained through recognizing patterns especially in work by artists who have used intuition in their oeuvres. In Picasso’s artwork for example, the artist uses the aesthetic techniques of cubism to distort images, and figures. For example, in the artwork The Weeping Woman, Picasso depicts a woman crying. When we look at the artwork, we are able to discern something of a pattern of a face, despite the fact that it does not conform to the usual pattern, we know there is a face there. The distortion does not render the face unrecognizable, its skewed proportions and ambiguous perspective makes it looks rather odd, but we do see the pattern, and therefore we are not disturbed by the image. In fact, it is the distortion of the accepted pattern that provides an insight, giving us a more profound understanding of the human face itself. Our knowledge and understanding of the face have been enriched by the deformation of the familiar pattern. 

Poetry is another manifestation of human creativity – patterns of words are put together to convey meaning. One approach to poetry is to identify the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line and to identify the meter – is it an iambic pentameter or perhaps tetrameter? Is it a trochee or a spondee? While such scansion can be a useful tool in order to know the poem, it is not enough for real understanding. An example is the poem, “The Canonization” by John Donne. The poem is written in the pattern of iambic pentameter and iambic tetrameter with a repeated pattern of rhymes, A B B A C C C A A. Working out this pattern is useful, in one way we can claim to know the poem. However, with reason and intuition we realize that the rhyme scheme echoes the beating of a heart or maybe the sound of funeral drums thus is understanding achieved and we know the true meaning of the poem. In fact, "The Canonization" is a complex analysis of the nature of human love – is love purely physical, is it Petrarchan, erotic, or metaphysical? Understanding of this does not come from the visual pattern of the syllables; real knowledge and understanding comes from reason, intuition and experience. 

Math is an area of knowledge to which patterns are intrinsic and yet knowledge of math requires more than simply looking at patterns and understanding requires more than working some examples. Fractals are an example of apparently simple patterns but understanding of the math behind the patterns takes much more. The mathematician Cantor, working during the 1800s on set theory, was so astounded by his discoveries that he wrote, “I see but I don’t believe it” (Cantor 12). Perhaps he perceived patterns in numbers but did not understand the significance of what he saw. He showed that the set of integers has an equal number of members as the set of even numbers, cubes, squares and roots. Further, he suggested that the number of points on a line segment equals to the number of points on an infinite line. In this, Cantor was exploring the concept of infinity – previously a taboo. Many condemned Cantor for challenging the previous convention of patterns of numbers. From Cantor’s ground-breaking work on transfinite sets, the Swedish mathematician Koch developed the idea of fractals – a pattern repeating itself to infinity. Ironically, this turns the prescribed title around; knowledge has given insight into patterns and the patterns help understanding of the nature of infinity. In his fascinating research, Ron Eglash explores the patterns of fractals in African culture. He demonstrates the relevance of fractals, patterns, in African architecture, design, and even in the layout of traditional villages. Palaces in Africa consciously have been built in the form of fractals, spirals or rectangles reflecting the social hierarchy. Here, in this situation, it appears that understanding the patterns leads to a better, more in-depth, knowledge and understanding of the society in which the patterns are found. How was it that these fractals were developed before the algorithms, the mathematics itself was discovered? In this case, the patterns appeared intuitively before the knowledge and understanding but the patterns did lead to that knowledge. According to Eglash, many of the African fractals are based on random number generators. Fractals are found in nature, in architecture, even in the replication of the AIDs virus. Fractals are even found in our vegetables. Brassica oleracea, or broccoli is made up in the form of fractals – repeating patterns of shapes. And yet, we can only know what broccoli really is by tasting it. If knowledge were limited to the simple patterns, then we would not understand anything. 

As humans in constant search for understanding and certainty we must be ready to see patterns, to look for examples, but we must also be aware that neither patterns nor examples alone are sufficient. In Art, real understanding can begin with identifying patterns and seeing examples, but reason and intuition arealso imperative; Picasso’s paintings and Donne’s poems reach beyond the patterns and lead us to a more intuitive understanding of what it is to be human. Similarly, in math, a subject frequently associated with patterns and examples, if our knowledge simply stays on the level of those patterns, we will not reach understanding. 

Natural Broccoli Fractal

Brassica oleracea

The Weeping Woman (1937)

60x49cm

Oil paint


Sources

Bushnell, I.W.R. Mother’s Face Recognition in Newborn Infants: Learning and Memory. Diss. University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK, 2001. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2001. Print.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Cantor

http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_eglash_on_african_fractals.html

http://homepages.rpi.edu/~eglash/eglash.htm

The Mirror-Stage

The Mirror-stage, as defined by Jacques Lacan in his essay “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” (1949), is a “particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality – or as they say, between the innenwelt[inside word] and the Umwelt[the outside world].” (4). Lacan’s essay describes how the mirror stageis a crucial experience in developmental psychology, specifically in a child’s discovery of the “I”. By approaching the human subject from a psychoanalytical standpoint, Libidal dynamism[the connection between psychic and instinctual drives] and the egobecome relevant anchors in his claims (2).

According to Lacan, “we have only to understand the mirror stage as anidentification, in the full sense that analysis gives the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in a subject when he assumes an image.” (2); specifically, the “image” that influences behavior and thought, both, constructing a strong understanding of what this subject is in unity to the world, and simultaneously, how the subject is individualized (4). By comparing the psychology of a human with the psychologies of other animals, such as the locus and pigeon, we are given insight into the sensitivity of our understanding of the “I”; Lacan describes the essence of this sensitivity as pertaining to the “inexhaustible quadrature of the ego’s verifications.” (4). Our egos battle between what our instinctual drives tell us is right, and what absorbed social customs expect us to do. 

In Julia Kristeva’s essay “The System and the Speaking Subject” (1973), the “I”is evolved into the speaking subject, in which linguistics and semiotics become a relevant factor in describing an individual’s [subject’s] mode of communication. Kristeva describes “this ‘speaking subject’ … to be the transcendental ego” (77); an evolved version of the ego that is able to “[break off] its connection with … social, natural or [the] unconscious”. In reference to Lacan’s excerpt, Kristeva describes what, in a perfect world, comes after the mirror stageas she theorizes what a disconnection from the external world denotes. 

Both Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva touch base on how the perception of ourselves is established and affected [mirror stage], or developed [through a presumed transcendental ego] respectively. Through psychoanalysis, Lacan describes our ego ‘fighting back’ through dreams, as an aggressive tactic in expressing its true instincts as a form of dismemberment. Perhaps, on a larger scale, suggesting the corruptive nature of social constructs on our natural, biological drives [LibidalDynamism]; specifically initiated at the mirror stageof our development. 

BIG PROP II, 2014    Anthony Gormley

BIG PROP II, 2014

Anthony Gormley

WEAVE, 2014    Anthony Gormley

WEAVE, 2014

Anthony Gormley


Sources

Lacan, Jacques. “The mirror stage as a formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” (1949), In Écrit: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (NY, W.W. Norton, 1982), 1-7.

Kristeva, Julia. “The System and the Speaking Subject” (1973), In A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, 77-80.

A Fragmented Body

Lost in the words of others, I am not that ‘man’ in the mirror; he is but a fragmented body with jutting shards that have been acknowledged ferociously by those around him – a glitched figure, some would say. It’s hard to get away from him, he’s everywhere; whether through the reflective window of a coffee shop, or in the forefront of the washroom, he’s always there, and I’m forced to face him. But what if I never had to? In my ideal realm, where reflective frames are absent, imagination takes the wheel on a journey of self-discovery.

The mirror, to some, is an essential part of human development; the Mirror-stage, for instance, “a particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality – or as they say, between the innenwelt [inside word] and the Umwelt [the outside world]” (Lacan 4), seems evidently essential in the understanding of the self. But what happens if that connection is not established? What if the organism’s self is but a manifestation imposed upon it by its surrounding world – a victim of fabricated images? According to Magnolia Pauker, if the mirror-stage is unsuccessful, “you’re fucked” (Who are I? The Uses of Psychoanalysis); and in all my ‘fucked-ness’ emerges a disjointed self, in an attempt to destroy the mirror.

Empathy, “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” (“Empathy”), occurs in the disabling of one’s own mirror; in the power of overcoming one’s own reflection, transpires a transcendent connection between one’s self and another. Absorption occurs, through imaginative thinking, as the self is situated in the mirror of the other. In Daehyun Kim’s drawing Sharing Face with Me in The Shadow (2015), empathy is illustrated as two subjects sharing a shadow in hopes of reconciliation; a galactic veil is transferred from one figure to the other. The notion of acceptance seems evident in the subject’s willingness to share a mirror, a reflection of an inner reflection; the gestures of the hands demonstrate an act of giving – an offering of the self, to one, and an offering of the suffering self, to another.

Empathy, therefore, becomes a tool of deconstruction, a temporary elimination of the mirror, an entry into love.

Sharing Face with Me in The Shadow   (2015)  Ink on Korean Paper 26 x 69 cm   Daehyun Kim

Sharing Face with Me in The Shadow (2015)

Ink on Korean Paper
26 x 69 cm

Daehyun Kim


I can’t see past your kind mask’


Sources:

“Empathy”. Random House Dictionary, Random House, 2016. Dictionary.com,http://www.dictionary.com/browse/empathy. Accessed: 09 October 2018.

Lacan, Jacques. “The mirror stage as a formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” (1949), In Écrit: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan. NY, W.W. Norton, 1982. 1-7. Rpt. In SOCS 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory Coursepack.Ed. Magnolia Pauker. Vancouver: Emily Carr University of Art + Design, 2016. Print.

Pauker, Magnolia. “Who are I? The Uses of Psychoanalysis”, Lecture. Social Science 201: Introduction to Cultural Theory. Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design. Vancouver. 4 Oct. 2016.