the age of insight / the summer of perspicacity

“The function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths.”


“Science may explain aspects of art but it will not replace the inspiration that art evokes…”


“Viennese life at the turn of the century provided opportunities in salons and coffeehouses for scientists, writers, and artists to come together in an atmosphere that was at once inspiring, optimistic, and politically engaged. …science was no longer the narrow and restrictive province of scientists but had become an integral part of Viennese culture. …a paradigm for how an open dialogue can be achieved.”


-Eric Kandel, excerpted from The Age of Insight



“…soaring* above the bowing * of taut * nerves in haphazard double-stops* would be the one singing string of her determination.”

statue and shooting star

“… only then did he realize that the isolated system-galaxy, engine, human being, culture, whatever—must evolve spontaneously toward the Condition of the More Probable*”

heat death

“He found himself, in short, restating Gibbs’ prediction in social terms, and envisioned a heat-death for his culture in which ideas, like heat-energy, would no longer be transferred, since each point in it would ultimately have the same quantity of energy; and intellectual motion would, accordingly, cease.”

dead tree on hill


Philadelphia Museum of Art

“But he wanted to see the blue hour spread over a magnificent facade, and imagine that the cab horns, playing endlessly…”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald, Babylon Revisited

Logan Circle

“The blue hour is an oft-poeticized moment of the day – a lingering twilight that halos the sky after sundown but before complete darkness sets in. It is a time of day known for its romantic, spiritual, and ethereal connotations, and this magical moment has frequently inspired artists to attempt to capture its remarkable essence.”
~Jake Wallace, on Mackey’s Hymn to a Blue Hour

New York City rooftop

“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattly-bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer — I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise… And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper –Rhapsody, from beginning to end. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.”
~George Gershwin on Rhapsody in Blue

“And drowned in yonder living blue
The lark become a sightless song”

on creativity

“The psychological entities that serve as the building blocks for my thoughts are certain signs or images, more or less clear, that I can reproduce or recombine at will.” -Albert Einstein


“Creativity is as much about ‘problem making’ as well as problem solving.” -Vik Muniz

metropolitan opera

“As an adult, for doing this [problem-making], you can end up in prison, or an institution, or a museum, or a convention, as I am standing here speaking to you.” -Vik Muniz

kid with balloon

“Photography adds a layer of ambiguity to the drawing… creating hurdles or layers in which to look at the image.” -Vik Muniz


in search of memory

“Twenty-first-century culture continues to be significantly influenced by events that took place in [Vienna] during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as each of us continues to be influenced by every experience we have ever had. For human beings, however, ‘influence’ is far to weak a word. We are made of memories. Every moment of our lives brings to a focus the totality of all the moments preceding it.”

St Stephen's Cathedral

“Kandel’s life work has been to demonstrate that memory, learning, and by extension, every other mental process are the result not of some vague set of unexplainable psychic phenomena but rather of distinctive molecular events determined by physicochemical qualities of cellular life.”

Man hiking in Colorado

“Sigmund Freud repeatedly expressed his hope that psychoanalytic theory would one day be subjected to the scrutiny of basic science. There is profound symmetry in the fact that Kandel, another son of Vienna, should have fulfilled so much of that hope… Freud, who began his career as a neuroanatomist studying the structure of cells, made his greatest contributions as a psychoanalyst. Kandel did it the other way around.”

Vienna State Opera House

Excerpted from The Secret Life of the Mind 

daphnis et chloe

“A meadow at the edge of a sacred wood. In the background, hills.”

Honduras countryside

“The earth opens. The fearsome shadow of Pan is outlined on the hills in the background, making a threatening gesture. Everyone flees in horror.”

Cracks in ice

“Suddenly the air seems laden with a strange feeling; small fires are lighted by invisible hands.”

water from fountain

“At daybreak bird-songs are heard, shepherds arrive to find Daphnis and waken him. Chloe is brought to him. They embrace, and then together mime the legend of Pan and Syrinx.”

daybreak yellow flowers



Aesthetics: the perception, production, and response to art, as well as interactions with objects and scenes that evoke an intense feeling, often pleasure

How much of the aesthetic experience resides in a perceptual experience and how much resides in the emotional response to the artwork?

Early vision extracts simple elements from the visual environment such as color, luminance, shape, motion, and location (Livingstone and Hubel, 1987, 1988). Intermediate vision segregates some elements and groups other together to form coherent regions in what would otherwise be a chaotic and overwhelming sensory array (Ricci, Vaishinavi, & Chatterjee, 1999; Vecera & Behrmann, 1997). Late vision selects which of these coherent regions to scrutinize and evokes memories from which objects are recognized and meanings are attached (Farah, 2000).

Any work of art can be decomposed into its early, intermediate, and late vision components. Artists isolate and enhance different visual attributes (Matisse – color, Calder – motion). Artists endeavor to uncover important distinctions in the visual world.

How does one quantify seemingly ineffable experiences, such as the Kantian idea of “sublime?”

— Adapted from Chatterjee, 2010

wanderlust quelled, paradise found

“… it hits me how much books and writing have fueled our shared wanderlust… A curious boy reads about deserts and dinosaurs and Eastern intrigue, and the man wants to go find them.”

“Unlike Bangkok, with its huge shiny malls stocked with Maserati dealerships and Starbucks, Chiang Mai retains a provincial feel, its walled old center woven with quiet, narrow lanes.”

“In a corner, a young monk with a saffron robe and a shaved head sits at a table. The Chedi Luang wat holds monk chats — a chance for monks and everyday folks, mostly tourists, to talk. ‘Lay people have a lot of problems,’ says the young monk, Pena Met, ‘but in the temple we follow the middle way, with less problems.’ It turns out he’s got wanderlust. He wants to talk to tourists, to learn English, to read books written in English; he has even downloaded TED lectures onto his computer to find out about other lands and other ways. Finally, he says it: ‘I really want to go to America!'”

Travel is all about stepping through gateways into other worlds, but usually just for a time. You drop in but climb out again. I’m about to leave. My father isn’t — he’s here on the ultimate travel journey, a one-way ticket.”

“… Presenting the world as a place of wonder to be dived into, not feared. To take big mouthfuls of the world. To be an opportunistic omnivore.”

~ Excerpted from Last Goodbye in Chiang Mai

belle epoque

A consortium of visitors have come and gone, dropping by for old times sake as much as to uncover the incontrovertible truth that is inherent in my current environment. Culture shock is an understatement. Dually represented is an understatement. My friends came with high expectations of what they would see, and left with a broader, deeper understanding of the region via close observation of its people and its customs. No provocation from me was needed; the course of events played out flawlessly, like my friends were invisible actors inserted into an alternate reality. And from them, I have learned. Thus came an apt time to post a long-forgotten article in an ever-so-appropriately named magazine called Garden and Gun. (Now there’s a fitting publication if there ever was one — it encompasses all aspects of the culture!) I couldn’t have planned it better myself, these words ringing even more true than upon first reading. The images are of a quintessential Southern railway; the beauties in them are some of the most vibrant people one will ever meet. The writing in these excerpts, well, they speak for themselves.

“Southern women, unlike women from Boston or Des Moines or Albuquerque, are leashed to history. For better or worse, we are forever entangled in and infused by a miasma of mercy and cruelty, order and chaos, cornpone and cornball, a potent mix that leaves us wise, morbid, good-humored, God-fearing, outspoken and immutable. Like the Irish, with better teeth.”

“To be born a Southern woman is to be made aware of your distinctiveness. And with it, the rules. The expectations. These vary some, but all follow the same basic template, which is, fundamentally, no matter what the circumstance, Southern women make the effort. When you are born into a history as loaded as the South’s, when you carry in your bones the incontrovertible knowledge of man’s violence and limitations, daring to stay sweet is about the most radical thing you can do.”


“Southern women can say more with a cut of their eyes than a whole debate club’s worth of speeches. Southern women know the value of a stiff drink, among other things. For my mother, being Southern means handwritten thank-you notes, using a rhino horn’s worth of salt in every recipe, and spending a minimum of twenty minutes a day in front of her makeup mirror so she can examine her beauty in “office,” “outdoor,” and “evening” illumination.”

— Excerpted from Garden and Gun Magazine

anatomically distinct dopamine release… during peak emotion in music

“Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system.”

“…’chills’ or ‘musical frisson’… a well-established marker of peak emotional responses to music. Chills involve a clear and discrete pattern of autonomic nervous system arousal.”

“… the intense pleasure experienced when listening to music is associated with dopamine activity in the mesolimbic reward system… This phylogenetically ancient circuitry has evolved to reinforce basic biological behaviors… that is, musical stimuli, similar to other aesthetic stimuli, are perceived as being rewarding by the listener.”

“Thus, through complex cognitive mechanisms, humans are able to obtain pleasure from music, a highly abstract reward system consisting of just a sequence of tones unfolding over time, which is comparable to the pleasure experienced from more basic biological stimuli.”

Salimpoor et al., 2011. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nat Neurosci. 2011 Feb;14(2):257-62.