Faculty Off the Cuff Photo by Kris Qua._x1200

Two Worlds

We inhabit two worlds, each exquisite and sublime, each complete unto itself, but sundered from the other.  Our anxiety over the mysterious duality of it, over the intractable irreconcilability between the two, our puzzlement and, for some of us, regret, well, these are matched only by our confidence that we really are in two places, and that it must be so, that we know it with certainty.

The two worlds, of course, are, firstly: the internal world of waking, living, experiencing consciousness.  I am I, I know me from the inside, the silence in the infinitely sized room of my fears, the supernovae that are my ambitions, the tickle – the way that tickle tickles – of my hand being held, the inky black darkness of my rage when I am too polite to show it. I am alone with these secret elations and agonies, my private internal self.

And secondly: the outside world, the world of objects and bodily effort and all of you, the stuff that is swayed by wind and shone on by stars.  These are the proper objects of science, our physics of stuff, or our neurobiology of brains and nervous systems.  We present a public language of lectures and textbooks, these are about that outside world.

That there are two worlds can’t be denied.  We’re sure enough to write philosophical Meditations where the only certainty is of a thinking, doubting, I.  We speculate on the mind/body problem, unable to see what the relationship is between the worlds though we’re fearful of being painted naïve and anti-science, so we nod in genial agreement when someone says that there must be an intimate connection between them.

We’re sure enough so that even in literature’s ionosphere, in the confident genius of Virginia Woolf or Joyce, even where every talent and transcendent insight is used to use words to bring us into another world – into Benjy’s sounds and furies, say — even then we put the book down, confident that it is at best a representation, a model of an interior that we can’t actually visit.  There is some petty consolation in that no one can visit ours, either.

The certainty of two worlds is signaled here in this gallery.  The closer you get to the physical microstructure of the brain in Susan Aldworth’s etchings — the brain, that outside world pretender to the mind, important to be sure, but not the right thing, not the inside – the closer you get to its small moving parts, the flatter, the more two dimensional the images become.  Look at their strict, tidy frames.  Or Andrew Carnie’s diaphanous Magic Forest, made of floating screens that only fools one into depth.  We’re on our way to the internal world with Jessica Rankin’s embroideries, half brain structure, half monologue: they pop out from the wall and suggest texture.  And then Katy Schimert’s Untitled hardly bothers to feign fidelity to human brains and so shrugs at the outside microanalogue of mind in favor of the three dimensionality of consciousness, which, notably, can only be alluded to with a creepy painted head (I love this piece).  These four artists seem so sure of two.

How did we get to our two worlds and how is there such a blind spot for one-world alternatives?  The cost, after all, of our duality is that we are never really together and instead we’re stuck with the sorry shadow of human connection, an inside model of it that we settle for.  Didn’t Homer write of action and of a dynamically unfolding singular world?  Did Buddha live in two worlds?  That myth embedded in moving Out West and maintaining a homestead by oneself against the world, or of living alone on Walden Pond, or of having your own room as a kid: Have these stories made us sure when certainty is the culprit?

We inhabit a single world.

–Joe Cruz, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science


Above image:  What a crowd!  Interdisciplinary Gallery Talk for ‘Models of the Mind’

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