Archive for month: October, 2013

Mind and Faith

We must not under estimate the power of mind and faith

The phrase “Question everything!” is one that I heard early in my life and has taken me away from what was commonly taught and led to the most fantastic, interesting and sometimes forbidden ideas.

Our mental facilities have begun to expand at an exponential rate in recent years due to technological advances not only within the areas of science and the study of behaviour but also due to the availability of information and communication.

For centuries, civilization has been confined within the boundaries of mythical beliefs, religious dogma and political restraint, and only in recent years have we begun to find an exit from these limiting forces.

Yet on our way forward we must also look back and seek to reacquaint ourselves with some of the lost knowledge of ancient worlds.

As we find science that reinforces certain beliefs that originated even before the ancient Greeks, such as “Psychoneuroimmunology” documented in the research of Robert Ader, at the University of Rochester Medical Center, demonstrating how environmental factors impact the immune system.

This idea has become quite accepted today and science has moved into areas of investigation concerning our abilities to heal ourselves through meditation and the power of our own thought.

There are many truths found in ancient cultures and even in some religious beliefs that will stand the scrutiny of reexamination and should be accepted into our contemporary cultures so that we may benefit from them.

Likewise there are many religions and ideologies that continue to hold back the advancement of their people due to their refusal to question anything. Here we see the paradox given that faith is an important element, as it has been noted, “Faith in the physician (or shaman or other healer) has also long been thought to influence healing.

The ancient Greek physician Galen wrote, “He cures most successfully in whom the people have the most confidence.””[1]

By Boky

[1] By A. Woodward The Gale Group Inc. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005

China a Champion of Human Rights?

Does the UN see China as a champion of Human Rights?

The United Nations Human Rights Council has been meeting in Geneva this past week to review requests from 14 non-member nations. They meet three times a year for periodic reviews of all 193 member nations and report to the General Assembly.

Every four years members are admitted, warned or requested to leave and this November marks a new election.

Last Tuesday, the Council was hearing the case for both China and Saudi Arabia, not exactly shining stars in the universe of human rights.

There was some outcry from other nations. The US, Canada, Great Britain and Germany rebuked Saudi Arabia for its lack of rights for women, homosexuals and religious freedom.

Slapping China on the wrist however, seems a greater problem for some of the world’s nations. Only Australia and Germany noted some of China’s infractions; crackdowns on dissidents, curbing Internet use and repressing the rights of the Tibetan people, as well as other minorities.

However, everyone has their supporters and lining up to support China are Turkey, Somalia, Pakistan and Egypt. Also vying for a seat on the Council are Chad, Algeria, Cuba and Russia.

Lets see what happens in November.

In the mean time you can help defend Human Rights by signing the petition below.

By Blake and Boky

Appeal against China’s Membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council
By Initiatives for China/Citizen Power for China

To Sign the Appeal you can:
A.   Go to the google form, and sign the petition with your name, occupation, country or region.  Click here to enter petition page

B.   Sign the appeal by sending your name, occupation, country or region to the following email address:

Saudi Drivers

Fear and Loathing in Saudi Arabia

In September a 34 year-old Saudi woman named Shaima Jastaniya was arrested and given the sentence of 10 lashes – for driving a car.

What would Hunter S. Thompson and Dr. Gonzo say to that?

Would they be so quick to  condemn Saudi drivers?

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot drive a car. Ruled by Sunni Islam customs, this society is based on male guardianship – every woman must have a male guardian to do anything – father, brother, husband, son must give his consent.

Fortunately, the 87 year-old King Abdullah overturned the young woman’s sentence but the law has not changed. Despite international criticism and Saudi women drivers taking to the street this summer, the all-male Shura Council who advises the Monarch, maintains that women driving would lead to the erosion of traditional values.

Other reasons quoted include; a woman would have to uncover her face, she could meet a man, she would be out of the home more and the streets would be overcrowded for young men who have the right to drive.

In a report sent by a Saudi professor to the Shura Council, UK Outlets such as the Telegraph and Daily Times reported the findings – “female drivers would cause a steep decline in morality and provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.”

Now we have Hunter’s attention.

By Boky and Blake

Art and Language

Is Language a Virus?

Can art and language be contagious?

Over the last few years I have become interested in the use of language in art.

I began to graffiti some of my sculptures and felt that the result added a great deal to the work by introducing a layer that transformed a more formal sculpture into something new, both conceptually as well as visually.

This whole idea has led me to want to understand more about how art is perceived by the brain and I would like to investigate how language has affected us (from monkey to art critic). How do words affect the reception or the interpretation of a work of art?

How are our emotions triggered by words recounting our past, our present or even our dreams of an idyllic future? Is it the concept presented by a title or a phrase that leads us to better appreciate a piece of art?

Do we need to own it psychologically in order to love it and want to take it home with us?  Can words somehow help make the artwork a part of our lives?

How can we separate pure aesthetics and technical brilliance from our emotional reactions, and how do words affect the latter?

In my travels I ran into a photograph that really wasn’t that beautiful, from a purely aesthetic point of view, so you may ask yourself why I mention it here?  It depicted a tape measure rolled-up loosely and its title was: ‘La distancia entre tu corazon y el mio” (The distance between your heart and mine).

It touched me.  Would I have had the same reaction to it had the title been something like : “Your closet is 3 meters wide”?  I’m not so sure….

Art and MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Can the Art and MRI be related?

Can this technology shape how art is created?

The technology behind Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has resulted in creating a great deal of interest in how we are processing art.  It is able to “map” or identify the locations in our brains that show activity when we view art.

It appears that the amygdala or amygdaloid body is one area of the brain that is involved in processing art. We know that this area of our brains is a hub for emotional behaviour and motivation.

This is where we determine possible threats and apparently is involved in our response to fear, aggressive behaviour and where we store memories of anxiety. We review our surrounding environment within this area of the brain for anything that might threaten our survival…

Could this be is a biological prediction of where contemporary art is going?

Another area that has been identified as relevant in art review is the orbitofrontal cortex, which serves to process both taste and smell.  It is the area where we review the reward value of many of our senses and is where we receive visual information about objects from other areas of the brain.

This area is activated by touch, both pleasant and painful and reviews some abstract behaviour such as winning or losing. Other information that is reviewed within the orbitofrontal cortex includes information about faces, and damage to the orbitofrontal cortex can impair identification of the expressive values of both face and voice.

Is this where we review the expressive values of art?

Furthermore, evidence shows that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in learning and correcting reward-related and punishment-related behaviour, and thus in motivational, emotional and social behaviour. [1]

Now that we can clearly identify the areas in which biological processes occur in the brain upon viewing a work of art, will artists change the way they deliver their message in an effort to gain patronage?

I guess the real question is, will technology affect art and if so, how?  Is art immune to marketing?

[1] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 


The Faces of Angels

Angels have always been considered to be messengers and following in this tradition this series of sculptures speaks of the mystery of our inner landscape.

Their mission, through their openness in anatomy and in spirit, is to point the way for each of us towards the search inside ourselves.

Comments are welcome please email:

By Blake and Boky


What is the Role of the Artist?

Art and Activism

Art is where we discover and express our humanity, a place where we find a language to share our ideas and our emotions.

The artist can convert our world into an image of something better, and it is within this imaginative transformation that we find hope and rejuvenation.

The artist can show us the world as it could be, the artist can offer possibilities, the artist can inspire, encourage and help us fight for a better world.
Offering us the truth addresses both the mind and the heart and helps our understanding while developing an awareness.

The artist may go so far as to imagine a remedy, or advocate political action as a catalyst for advancement, and a vehicle for dialogue and education.

The role of the artist in society includes the position of activist, as described by the philosopher Herbert Marcuse who wrote of the rebellious potential of the imagination, with its ability to generate new ideas and to view the familiar in a new manner.

“Art is subversive because it reminds people of what has been buried.”

Dr. Marcuse defined two conditions that were required of art:
First art has the responsibility of helping society deal with its conflicts and contradictions and secondly, art must embody hope, the human ability to imagine what doesn’t exist and give it shape.

Still, in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

Thank goodness we are all artists!

By Boky and Blake

Sublime or Subliminal

Who decides?

Upon viewing a work of art, we begin a discussion within ourselves that leads us to a conclusive opinion.

A series of observations are made as to purely visual elements such as form, content, colour, rhythm, composition, as well as historical/literary content and whether or not there is a common text that relates back to suggested ways of understanding the intended message (the Bible or classical literature, i.e. common themes that speak to a homogenous public).

Finally we form an opinion regarding what we see, but can we trust our thoughts or are we being deliberately lead to our conclusion?

While continuing my research into neuroaesthetics, I came across an article in The Globe & Mail (February 23, 2012 by Anne McIlroy) who was reporting on the work of Toronto psychologist Oshin Vartanian.

His work on aesthetic appreciation in music and the visual arts revealed something very interesting.

The area most associated with aesthetics appears to be the amygdala, an almond-shaped mass of nuclei that is part of the limbic system. This is the part of the brain that regulates emotions, fear, anger, memory and reaction to danger.

Another area Dr. Vartanian found involved is the orbitofrontal cortex, which is associated with pleasant smells and tastes – it is our reward and pleasure centre. The third area lighting up while enjoying art is the anterior insula that is activated by visceral emotional experiences.

One artist who has worked to touch these areas of our brains is Olafur Eliasson, known for “his mood-altering installations of water, air, and light.” In his laboratory for spatial research, he uses these elements with the idea of achieving an enhanced experience for the viewer.

Could neuroaesthetics explain the experience that coined the Stendhal Syndrome?  “…described as a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations in people who are exposed to extraordinary artistic achievement, whether it is paintings or sculptures.

Although psychiatrists have long debated whether it really exists, its effects on some sufferers are serious enough for them to require treatment in hospital and even antidepressants.”[1]

And what about the use of colour therapy in the media or even in choosing the colour of the walls in hospitals? Are certain areas of the brain being stimulated?

Art is as complex as people are.  To rely purely on sensory input is not only insufficient, but may prove misleading.

In appreciating a work of art we must consider as many of the variables as possible, such as its historical context, the zeitgeist or mood of the times within which the artwork was created, the moral and social implications.

Even our own personal history and knowledge will play a significant role in our reception of the work of art.  What we bring to the table matters.

Can our brains be stimulated beyond rationality and override it?

By Boky and Blake

[1] The Telegraph by Nick Squires 28 Jul 2010

How Do You View Art?

Viewing the Mystery “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science”  (Albert Einstein)

I have been thinking a lot lately about art and science and came across Neuroaesthetics, a new field of research that is investigating the biological mechanisms that allow human beings to find beauty in some form of art – visual representation, music, dance, literature, etc.

Defined as: “the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art.” [1] Neuroaesthetics will produce a new understanding of the creative process from the level of neural chemistry right through to the interpretation of the imaginative function.

The main objective of this new science, as stated by the International Network for Neuroaesthetics is to characterize the neurobiological foundations and examine the evolutionary history of why we, as humans, have the capacity for aesthetic experiences.

Some of the areas of the study behind neuroaesthetics is to scientifically examine areas of the brain such as the primary visual cortex, where the brain processes visual stimuli, as well as other areas of the brain affected by memory, understanding, attention, emotion and pleasure.

Through the use of “neuroimaging”, brain function is “mapped” by observing the metabolism of various compounds in the brain with the aid of magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and imaging (MRI) technologies.

Studies have already suggested some areas where the artist is appealing to the emotional intelligence of the viewer.

Many are accepted components of aesthetic composition concerning the use of space such as: balance and contrast in outlines or spaces, grouping and patterns in a visual image as well as geometrical shapes.

We know that we find beauty in symmetrical forms, especially faces and our minds love the challenge of problem solving within abstract images, as well as, with the use of metaphor, comparing several unrelated objects to find significance or an explanation within.

Other areas are concerned with perspective and the repetition and rhythm of elements in a painting, but further psychological study has also suggested the Peak-shift phenomena; where the artist is trying to elicit an emotional response by presenting a distortion of the original item being depicted.

This is to say that the original image is emphasized, elaborated upon or overstated in some way in order to produce a more intense emotive response in the viewer.

Professor Semir Zeki of the University College London states that; “These artists may be unconsciously producing heightened activity in the specific areas of the brain in a manner that is not obvious to the conscious mind.

It should be noted here that a significant portion of the experience of art is not self-consciously reflected upon by audiences, so it is not clear whether the peak-shift thesis has any special explanatory power in understanding the creation and reception of art.” [2]

Although some artists use these items in order to exploit our common visual organization and arouse shared experiences beyond the reach of words, it is not clearly understood yet how the process of creation can arouse aesthetic experiences in neural terms.

The common visual and emotional organization and workings of the brain are still being studied.

Can science ever explain art and should it?

The poet John Keats worried that Newton’s experiments with colour and light had ”unwoven the rainbow” and taken the mystery away.

Does neuroaesthetics aim to take the mystery out of art or will it lead us to a greater understanding of it?

“He who possesses art and science has religion; he who does not possess them, needs religion.” (Goethe)

By Boky and Blake


[1] Nalbantian, Suzanne (December 2008). “Neuroaesthetics: neuroscientific theory

and illustration from the arts”. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 33 (4): 357–

368.   DOI:

[2] Zeki, Semir. (2001). Artistic Creativity and the Brain. Science, 293(5527), 51-52

Zeki, Semir. (1999). Inner Vision: an exploration of art and the brain. Oxford University Press.

The Erosion of Human Rights

This new century has brought many new things with it and one of the changes I have noticed is that civil and individual rights have been eroded or removed.

The United States was at one time considered to be the freest country in the world.

This is no longer the case, it changed after 9-11 and the introduction of the Patriot Act.

Quoting the New York Civil Liberties Union; “Through the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act and subsequent executive directives and regulations, essential rights and freedoms that were once guaranteed to all individuals have been substantially degraded.

Many Americans still do not realize the significance of what we have lost. The resulting expansion of government powers, and the erosion of 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 14th Amendment rights and freedoms have transformed the United States.”

The full article as a PDF document can be downloaded here New York Civil Liberties Union

The Arab Spring was originally viewed by many, including myself as a sign that there would follow an expansion in the civil rights and liberties of people in North Africa, today I am not sure that this is the case.

It appears that those who may benefit most from the overthrow of the old ruling parties in many of these countries are the Islamist parties who are sure to restrict the rights of women and deny any rights at all to some minorities that do not conform to the limited Islamic idea of acceptable behaviour.

The Day Afteran article by Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, states:

“It should be no surprise that building a rights-respecting democracy on a legacy of repression is not easy. The transitions from communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union yielded many democracies, but also many dictatorships.

Latin America’s democratic evolution over the past two decades has been anything but linear.

Progress in Asia and Africa has been uneven and sporadic. Even the European Union, which has successfully made democratic reform and respect for human rights conditions of membership, has had a harder time curbing authoritarian impulses once countries—most recently Hungary and Romania—became members.”

Further erosion in basic human rights have most recently put the gay minorities in Russia at risk, as stated in a publication PolicyMic

“The violations of fundamental, constitutionally protected rights of Russia’s gay and lesbian citizens have included multiple bans on gay pride parades in Moscow and other cities, hefty fines to gay rights groups accused of acting as a “foreign agent,” denial of registration to nongovernmental organizations, and regional laws banning the propaganda of homosexuality to minors, which served as a basis for the federal law enacted by Mr. Putin and unanimously passed by the State Duma.

Against this backdrop, violent attacks on gays or “suspect gays” are becoming commonplace.”

More than every, today we need to be aware of the changing political environments in our world and be ready to stand strong and protect our rights. Although the individual is limited in power, great power comes with the internet allowing our voices to be heard all around the globe.

Support Human Rights Organizations that represent and fight for a world that is free and fair.

By Blake and Boky

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