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How do the complex structures and electrochemical reactions of the brain give rise to the phenomenon of consciousness? Does the physical matter of the brain give rise to the mind? Or did a force of consciousness give rise to the matter? Are mind and brain matter the same thing, simply observed from different perspectives?
The human mind is a complex, ever shifting, network of pathways. Every moment that it experiences leads to a shift in these pathways, creating mental and physical changes. Billions of cells are communicating at incredible velocities. The complexity of their connections, much like the number one billion, cannot be fully pictured by the human mind. How can you understand what you cannot fully represent in your mind? How can we represent the unrepresentable?
We do not know how and why thoughts are formed. Scientists have observed that we take in countless bits of data through our sensory systems. Structures in the nervous system, with assistance from the endocrine system, select and process massive amounts of data, which are woven together to create consolidated perceptions. The history of every moment we have experienced may affect what data our brain finds most important, what associations we may already have or form about it, what we store in our memories and what we forget, and of course, how we react in every moment. Nothing is static. Memories transform, ideas are learned as others are forgotten, associations modify themselves, networks move in a constant symphony of change. Is there any static aspect to our assembly of the self?
How much control do we have over assembling our perceptions and our reactions to them? We cannot calculate on the basis of current knowledge whether or to what extent free will exists. If the mind is a snarl of ideas, associations, and memories that have built up over time, moved and changed in complex layers in which everything that has occurred can affect what will occur, at what point do we become culpable for the products of our minds? Our consciousness is being formed and reformed even as we are growing in the womb. Every moment of experience affects how we may experience the future. Do we truly have any control over our consciousness?
Associations and ideas are enforced in the mind by patterns of thought being activated and reactivated over and over. We can attempt to observe the activity of our thoughts by tracking electrochemical signals between nerve cells in the brain, which are supported by a network of other cells called glial cells. The forms of these cells, of which there is a wide variety still being discovered, matches their functions of transmitting signals that shift between electrical and chemical signals to different areas of the brain and body at different speeds. Many signals are combined to reach a certain threshold, where they cause a reaction that either stimulates a message or inhibits it from traveling further. The messages themselves are mysterious, an alien language we have no way to decode. The networks of the brain are in a constant dialogue with each other that we have little means to interpret, so we are excluded from much of the workings of our own minds. The form of the brain itself also alludes to its function, for the complexity of the mind is not reflected as much in the billions of cells in our brains and nervous systems as it is in the multitude and complexity of connections for communication between these cells. Even with the naked eye one can see a hint of the intricacy of the structures and communications in the brain as reflected in its convoluted folds of tissue.
Rapid multiplex networks seem to give rise to the human mind’s ability to maintain and update vivid and multidimensional perceptions of reality almost seamlessly. The apparent clarity of the human mind’s perceptions easily leads to the illusion that we see and comprehend the true reality of ourselves and our surroundings, and that others must observe as we do. Depending on the state of your brain, even one mind at different times could experience the same situation in dramatically different ways.
The materials and means of manipulation in this series of paintings, Mental Media involve levels of control. Gravity and the nature of the material were manipulated together, but chance also, or at least a series of factors out of the artist’s control, affected the final product. As I studied and contemplated the brain and the mind, the forms, style and control of my work shifted with my own changing perspectives. These paintings are fragments or moments inspired by the nature of the structures and mechanisms of the human nervous system. These different angles of the mind are layered into greater forms that mimic the tangled layers of networks that make up the central nervous system. The materials, methods and forms combine to shock the spectator into paying attention to the never-ending circuits of conflict within every mind.
Contemplating the vast and highly complex nature of the human brain--a nature that we believe to understand bits and pieces of but which remains truly unknown--inevitably calls into question everything we perceive and anything we believe about the nature of consciousness. Though we may not be able to find many answers, perhaps the questions we ask can bring us to new insights.
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Flower, Rosalind A., "Mental Media" (2015). Senior Projects Fall 2015. 3.
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