Arts Newsletter Photography

Photographers as Neuroscientists, art as religion, the ‘informational morass,’ and why emotions and journalism are misleading

Image via Alex Wong

Arts & Culture

When Photographers Are Neuroscientists

The camera sees what we can’t find and fills in the rest: “Perception is a product of evolution rather than engineering.” Yet painters act like neuroscientists, filling in their palette with “their own eyes and brains.” Both photographers and painters make their art more ambiguous through distortion. Instead of creating a representation of reality, they try to stitch together a picture that makes people think.

Those distortions and uncertainties make their pictures less true to life but more true to us: They reflect how we see. On that basis, Cavanagh claimed that “artists act as research neuroscientists,” informing us about how the brain works.

Utopian Culture

If religion is therapy, so is culture and art. The same benefits that one gets from the church can also be obtained through galleries and universities.

“Ultimately, and to put it with deliberate bluntness, the great works of culture amount to a giant ‘how to’ manual that a society writes for itself.”

Philosophy & Productivity

What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)

People pre-judge your behavior through your emotions and bodily movements. But an angry or happy face doesn’t necessarily reveal the truth. The degree and type of emotion depends on the context of each situation. For instance, “you might smile as you plot your revenge” against someone that upsets you.

“The ease with which we experience emotions, and the effortlessness with which we see emotions in others, doesn’t mean that each emotion has a distinct pattern in the face, body or brain.”

Social Media & Technology

Stars in My Pocket Like Bits of Data

We’re drowning in data, or “the informational morass.” Social media, TV, newspapers, the entire “Sunday edition of the New York Times has more information than the amount of information an average person alive 400 years ago might have come across in his lifetime.” Here’s a rule of thumb: Produce as much as you consume. Summarize, make sense of what you read, whether through poetry or Tweets.

When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.

Why you can’t trust journalism

Journalism should be more like science, corroborated by more than one person. But it’s hard for anyone, let alone a journalist, to question and revalidate the work of a major publication like the New York Times. Scientists share their process with the public. Journalists omit their research so they can craft the story they want to tell.

“Journalists are, at heart, storytellers more than they are empiricists.”

New Music

Skipping the playlist this week to share this remarkable video of Joy Orbison as part of the Soul Selectors series.

Sole Selectors: Joy Orbison

Thought of the Week

“A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” — William Carlos Williams

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.