The Unity and Rationality of the Conscious Mind

CARRIERE A2436/2953T 308
Monet- Rouen Cathedral
Litchenstein -Rouen Cathedral V

Today we looked at Litchenstein’s  interpretation of Rouen Cathedral  by Monet. When looking at Litchenstein’s interpretation in the flesh it is said to make you feel dizzier the closer you get to the piece. I have seen this painting of Monet in the museum in Cardiff. When looking at the Litchenstein’s interpretation  we were asked what is going on within the mind when perceiving this piece? Are you seeing one thing or many things? The dots are evident but it I and many others were unable to see the cathedral and when we saw the cathedral did we see the dots anymore? We were asked could we see the dots and the cathedral or the dots and then the cathedral?  You as a viewer are seeing things that are dots but you are also seeing a cathedral that isn’t there. Is the dots one layer and the Cathedral another?

Is your experience of seeing the painting rational? If you believe you can see the cathedral and the dots at the same time you are being irrational as you are believing two things at the same time.

Do you have one mind or many? 

Is you mind Rational or Irrational?

No one chooses to be irrational but we are aware when we are being irrational

The Unity of the Conscious Mind

Most people believe their mind is united, that minds are generally a single thing.

Descartes– There is a vast difference between the mind and the body in respect that the body from its nature is always divisible and that the mind is entirely indivisible. He is Basically saying you cannot chop the mind in half it is a single unified experience.

Kant- The mind is unified. The mind is full of different things. Feeling and thinking wouldn’t be part of him if they did not come together to create him.

Von Der Malsberg- The location of the consciousness, He was a neurologist who investigated that experience is one of unity of monolithic coherence. All monolithic coherence, different stuff (the brain) creates a unity, trying to work out how the brain creates a unity of monolithic consciousness.

The Binding Problem

original-numskulls1This is a problem that has never been fully solved it is that different sensory experiences happen at different times or parts. You can see colour and shape at the same time but they are different processes in different areas of the brain for example we see a red skirt we can see the redness of the skirt and the shape of the skirt but we are perceiving it as a red skirt.

Bayne and Chalmers 2003- The conscious mind may have many things going on at the same time but different perceptions happen, not just a conjunction of conscious states. It is also a conscious state in its own. Another layer must occur that binds them all together.

Dainton 2003- The stream of consciousness- Continuity linked to experience you are having now moves on a linear way.

CorpusCallosum222Corpus Callosum- Doesn’t support the unified conscious experience . This is the bridge like tissue that is inbetween the two halfs of the brain. It is a fine structure of neuron threads.

People who suffer strong epileptic fits, surgeons cut the Corpus Callosum. This did reduce fits in patients and had no serious physical effects to the patient, it didn’t severely impair them. However many of these patients developed multiple personalities which had two different people within them with different memories who weren’t always aware of each other. Their striking personalities could even have different genders. Severing the Corpus Callosum in summary, the patients were able to function well but developed two very distinct separate minds after this procedure was carried out.

Infinite_regress_of_homunculusThe brain like a Cartesian theatre-  Image projecting into the brain- This diagram is problematic as if this was how our experiences came together, there must be someone with the knowledge to understand unity. It has to have one place specific in the brain for it to come together and this is impossible.-Dennet- We are telling a story to ourselves.

Michael Gazzaniga- Does not believe we are one self, one unity it is only a fiction.

O’Brien and Opie- Layered up channels but all remain separate channels like a multi-track tape recorder. This is saying we can think of unity but it is layered making an apparent unity but are made from layers.

Zeki-We aren’t made up of one conscious experience. We are made up of many micro-consciousness. Don’t think of visual consciousness as one, the consciousness of colour and consciousness of shape are different but a neuron glue them together.

Some experts say that consciousness is monolithic others saying that we are made up of many consciousness’s. Both have evidence for both theories.

The Rationality of the Conscious Mind

William James- Waking rational consciousness against taking narcotics. He experimented liberally to change his state of mindand alter it to see if consciousness was lost when doing so.

Being rational is very important within the law. In 1961 the lack of consciousness can be a defense in law. The case of Bratty vs Attorney general for Northern Ireland, Bratty the accused for strangling a victim to death did not plead insanity but said that he did not man to do it,he had a ‘certain blackness’ come over him from his psychomotor epilepsy. So in order to be guilty of the crime you had to be rational at the time of the act.

“automatism”- Bratty was equitted of the charge. He was capable of the action but it was an involuntary action and wasn’t conscious of what he was doing this is called automatism.

Are we rational?

People were asked, if you could save £10 on a £50 bill if you drive to a petrol station of the other side of town. Most people would do this to save £10.

They were then asked, if you could save £10 on the price of a £5000 computer if you drive the same distance as before. Most people wouldnt do this even though it is the same amount of money they are saving.

We would think they should react the same as it is the same amount of money they are saving, all had an irrational approach to this decision. When choice is given to people it is more likely that they will make a more irrational decision.

Kahneman Tversky- More people die in car accidents than plane, but we are more anxious getting onto a plane than a car.

Irrational thinking – If a coin flip came up getting heads 100 times we think it is more likely to come up tails than heads but it could be forever heads or forever tails.

Muller-Lyer-illusion_variation (1)

Which line is longer A or B? B looks longer so most would say that B is longer. In fact they are both the same length.

Image (9)Tunnel illusion-  These two people are the same size however looking at the person on the left he looks bigger.This is irrational. We still see them at different sizes when we know they are the same size.

Cognitive Dissonance (torn mind syndrome).

Leon Festinger 1956 -When people hold conflicting beliefs they can’t reconcile they’ll be forced to believe something even if they know it is not true.

preyingmenThe belief that the world was going to end- A group of people believed that the world was going to end on a certain year, day and time. One side of then in their own mind believed it was going to end and the other side didn’t.

Cults- Can’t cope with cognitive dissonance as they can hold highly persuasive things within our minds that we believe.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

This is like the fear of a black cat the person knows that the cat wont hurt them but believe that the black cat will harm them in some other way- This is a therapy that will try to rationalise these fears.

The Nature of Unity and Rationality

Not clear what unity and rationality means?

Unity in Collins dictionary is defined with two definitions.

  • Unity 1A state or quality of being one.
  • Unity 2The act state or quality of forming a whole from separate parts.

Unity 1- There is no examples of something that is just one thing not even an element or a proton. This definition is only possible in theory- Could be one thing/ nothing before the big bang. This is the only condition when this happened.

Unity 2- Is everywhere, the universe, Everything that exists, an infinite number of things making up the universe. E.g. Manchester United is a football team, not one player is the football team.

Most definitions of consciousness are of the kind of unity 2.

Unity is almost never being one thing, can never be a single thing, ambiguous idea.

Ambiguity of Unity 

download (6)4 discs, In order to have this unity they have distinctions within one disc and its multiple.

Unity in our understanding is rational.


Byers- How we like to believe, we are rational beings. Being driven by a scientific culture. People think we know better now, scientists tell us what is going on we can have a full understanding of the world, maths- Breakthroughs because there is ambiguitys and paradoxs.

Scientists are looking for a rational explanation for consciousness but it is this ” rational” to look for this.

Non- Contradiction- Aristotle- Metaphysics IV- ” The same attribute can not at the same time time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect.” such that it is impossible for anyone to believe the same thing to be and not to be. This is a damaging idea. In western Philosophy the tradition followed this  that we must take contradictions out we are deluded that contraction mus be removed. Impossible to have one attribute ant another attribute on the same time e.g. you cant be beautiful and ugly at the same time, can’t have contradictions.

Aristotle- Can not believe two things at the same time. Can only stick to his laws when in fine areas of philosophy.


The circle is a single thing, but is more than one thing. You are separating the circle from anything else, boundaries you can not see the circle without seeing what it is not.

Jainism principle exponents satkari mookerjae. A pen is perceived as a pen and not a pen. The pen is a pen only because it has an individuality.

Any can be true or false can’t be true and false at the same time,03-BICcristal2008-03-26

  1. The pen exists. (in a certain context)
  2. The pen does not exist.
  3. The pen does exist and doesn’t.
  4. The pen is inexpressible. (beyond thought however this doesn’t bean it is not real)
  5. The pen exists and is inexpressible.
  6. The pen doesn’t exist and is inexpressible.
  7. The pen exists and does not exist and is inexpressible.

Non-Absolutism- There is no one point of view of which anything can be understood.

The dialectic of seven-fold prediction as it is called is central to the main doctrine of non-absolutism.

Blind_monks_examining_an_elephantNon-absolutism- The seven blind monks are all touching an object and each thought it was different saying it was soft and hairy, another saying it was bony and hard. They were all touching the same object which happened to be an elephant.

We can experience reality in many different ways, we may all be looking at the same thing but experience it differently.

no one has the absolute definitive view of the world.

Paradox- is banned from the western tradition.

  1. all natural phenomena are rational
  2. Irrational thought that exist are natural phenomena
  3. Irrational thoughts are rational

Paradox-“This statement is false”- it is true and false.

philosophy could not accept the third conclusion above as people are still today going mad over trying to solve paradoxes arriving at a contradictory conclusion. Can not accept that something can be true and false at the same time.

Visual Paradoxes 

If disunity and irrationality are basic features of the mind. How does this manifest in our experience of art?

Saying something is one thing, is saying something is not.

656px-Claude_Monet_-_Rouen_Cathedral,_Facade_(Sunset)Claude Monet- Rouen Cathedral sunset. When looking at this painting in the flesh, the surface is textured, sand etc is mixed in with the paint. When confronted with this painting I see many separate things in one painting . The multiple things at the same time hair, paint, canvas, frame come together in the painting. I see wholes and parts, sameness and difference. The clock part of the church it a whole form but is part of something else the church. Multiple layers of similarity all exist at the same time however we are aware they are all separate.

In Litchenstein’s representation I see a painting and a cathedral however there is nothing there there is no cathedral.

I see paint as paint and paint as stone or sky in Monet’s cathedral. I see paint and know it is paint but I can also believe the blue area is the sky. I see something separate from, but part of me. Painting and me are together with me but apart from me. I see flatness and depth I see the depth of the cathedral but I believe the flatness of the canvas.

There is contradiction and paradoxes in pictures. They form a whole in the experience. Pictorial representation has mysterious properties when we look at it.

the-hippopotamus-and-crocodile-huntThere is two things going on at the same time. In Ruben’s- The Hippopotamus and Crocodile hunt, all characters are vividly present with great drama and colour but at the same time we are looking at a bunch of colours represented on a flat piece of cloth. We believe there is motion occurring but there is none there is no dog, no animals or people present.

Maurice Denis- A picture is a surface covered in pigment.

rabbduck (1)To understand you can either see a rabbit or a duck but you can not see them both at the same time.

Two foldness of pictures- I can be simultaneously be visually aware of the Y I see in X and the sustaining features of perception- Wolheim

Paintings would work if who hold both states of mind at the same time- Wolheim

All pictures are paradoxes, no objects can be in two places at the same time. When we read a novel, see a painting or watch a film, do we believe in and emphasise with the characters in those? It is impossible not to.

Consciousness 1- We believe in the fiction.

Consciousness 2- We do not believe in the fiction not a real person, wouldn’t be able to be sure not fooled but can believe them at the same time- Richard Gregory

Contradiction an Paradox in works of art

Representational works of art is different from looking at something trivial.

Why if all pictures pictures are paradoxical, what makes works of art special?  It is not the medium which makes it special it is the person making it and its intention for doing so.

Why do we value painting to a photograph?- Because it embodies many more paradoxial qualities, Is denser and has a more expansive matrix of oppositions.

006d381eeed840af2e78fca32a492fd6E.g. George Braque- There is different perspectives occurring in one image, contradictions. He made his work deliberately tried to impact multiple contradictions within one pictorial and contextual incompatible states within one painting.

Gormbrich 1961- A clash of contrary clues which resist all attempts to apply the test of consistency.

Trying to convey the process of seeing, making you think of what you are looking at.

Spring-1573Arcimboldo- The spring. This piece is representing a flower arrangement and a persons face. Which one do we see first the flowers of the face? The face then the flowers? It is not real, there is no painting, no person, no flowers there but all are existing in the same perceptual world.

pbh-copyPicasso- Head of bull. This piece is a bicycle seat and handles welded together. When we look at it the holes in the bike seat we instantly believe they are eyes. It is powerful and effective we can believe strongly in the animal and can see components of a bike. We can see it is a photograph however it has to have this multiple meaning of layer to exist.

magritte-pipeRene Magritte- The treachery of images, it is not a pipe, it is a pipe, it is paint arranged in the form of a pipe.

work-1965Jiro Yoshihara- untitled. This is a circle but it doesn’t conform to a circle, it has properties of having a middle, an edge, an inside and an outside being there and not there. Enso within Japanese culture. Heart sutra- form is emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form and form does not differ from emptiness.

2003.6_01_d02Robert Gober-untitled. This is wax in a plastic bag. This piece is full of conflicting and contradictory ideas.Creases within the bag become creases of flesh, Painted nipples, real hair, but is also an image of hair as it is an image of a body proposition- two separate ideas insisting to appreciate them at the same time.

Rachel_whitereadwien_holocaust_mahnmal_wien_judenplatzRachel Whiteread-Holocaust Monument (2000) Judenplatz. It is the casting of the inside of a space, the negative space, space that wouldn’t be there is the part that is concrete, that doesn’t exist, exists conflicting things at the same time.

Francis Bacon-Fragments of a portrait. Bacon- well isn’t this that one a thing to be factual as possible and at the same time deeply suggestive. Unlocking suggestion- Pope looking like he is within an electric chair in contrast to the real painting to the horror creates contradictions within the mind.francis-bacon-pope-innocente-x-velazquez-comparison

Picasso- When looking at a picture one should sat that the more things it makes me think of more than one thing at once.

Contradiction in perception and the conscious mind

We are not entirely rational beings, Our mental life is not unified we see this when we look at art everyday consciousness.

Mind should be unified and differentiated at the same time. The conscious state, the quality of having a fractured unity, this phrase comes close to experiencing our mental lives

The circle, is unity as a single form and many at once.

The universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart- Spencer Brown.


Center-surround cells 


These are cells in the back of the eye that take information to the brain. If something hits the whole cell nothing happens. The job of the cell is to detect two states when there is a photon and not a photon of light.

Visual perception- Visual you are not seeing what you are seeing, what we are actually seeing is the difference between black and white. We can only touch when something changes it is the same as hearing a word so many times it loses its meaning it turns into just a sound. We don’t see things, we only see the difference between things. we draw lines to distinct ourselves.


  • Is the mind unified or fragmented?
  • Is the mind rational or irrational?
  • The idea of unity is ambiguous.
  • The idea of rationality is uncertain.
  • Pictures are paradoxical
  • Experience of art is manifold and contradictory. Artists have exploited the power that art has to have many meanings and to present us with multiple contradictions.
  • The mind can be thought of as a kind of fractured unity both one thing and many both rational and irrational.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s