Sunday, September 4, 2016
Art and Science as Spiritual Exercise
Art is the act of making--artifacts. All that we make, including images, ideas, and words are artificial. The word for art in Greek is techne from which we derive "technology." Evolutionary psychologists have articulated and gathered evidence for the theory of the natural selection of our species' capacity to imagine, to fashion images, to extend them, and to present them orally and visually for communication and collaboration. Neuroscientists are demonstrating this capacity in the neuro-networks of the brain.
In so far as we, through our words and ideas, slice and organize the external experience of our environment into a patterned world, the world itself is artificial. Making a house, a weapon, or a meal is an art. So is writing an article or paper. So is designing a neighborhood or city. Language, paintings, sculptures, icons, architecture, forms and formulas, plans, and models are the tools we construct and use to make and exist in our world.
We usually reserve "fine arts," as distinguished from "useful arts," for the making of things that are beautiful, i.e. that discern and put patterns in nature that are pleasing and which satisfy our desire for knowing. Knowing the patterns of nature, e.g. how the climate works, how animals behave, and especially how humans act gives us the advantage of conjecturing and planning for the future and weathering change. So the distinction between fine and useful arts is itself artificial and arbitrary.
Science is the developing body of knowledge which art produces and which in turn produces more art, i.e. technology. Science consists of the words, formulas, and models that explain the world and ourselves. Science is the answers to our wonder, our questions of what, why, and how in order to satisfy our desire to know, our desire for patterns in existence. Knowing these patterns not only help us survive, they help us plan and decide what kind of a world we want and who we want to be in that world.
I suggest that art and science, the act of expressing and the collecting and communication of expressions is also a means of spiritual growth. The artist driven by the songs of the Muses and the scientist driven by the light of Truth are themselves expressions of the human spirit yearning for integration and transcendence.
Language, religion, art, science, education, and philosophy are elements that constitute our culture. These elements provide the artifacts that can be handed down (tradition) to future generations who can add to and modify their artifacts and thus their world. What science adds to culture (including religion, education, morality, and philosophy) is verification, that is, evidence and proof that the patterns of meaning in nature and in ourselves are more than beautiful constructs, but useful predictors accessible to all human persons. In science truth and beauty coincide.
And, to complete the ancient transcendentals (Unum, Verum, Bonum, Pulchrum), so does unity and goodness concide with truth and beauty, should we so decide. And this is the duty of philosophy. We know that science and technology can be used badly, that is towards disintegration and reaction. The secondary reflection of philosophy can discern the directions and highlight the options by critiquing culture including its art and science, its religion and morality to ascertain whether the human spirit is growing or dissipating in our personal and social behavior and institutions. Deciding what kind of a world we want and who we want to be in that world is the work of ethics and politics from which no human behavior, including science and technology, is immune.
The One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful as capacities and desires are discovered in structure of human existence as an imagining and expressing embrained body. They are expressed in culture and passed on for further refinements as physical and social environments change partially as a result of human expressive activity. Therefore both natural and cultural selection contributes to the evolution of humanity and the world.
As Teilhard de Chardin and others have noted, in humanity evolution becomes conscious and begins to direct itself. Human existence is not only given but chosen. In our ability to imagine and express, we have the ability to choose to continue our given projectory by deciding to follow the road map that evolution has given us. Or not. And this is where we turn to philosophy.