Saturday, July 21, 2012

What Lies Beneath

While philosophers and scientists have been trying to unravel the mysteries of the human psyche since time immemorial, the focus has generally been on the conscious mind. It is only over the last couple of centuries or so that the significance of unconscious mental processes began to be truly appreciated. While this revelation has given new directions to neuroscience, medicine, and psychology, its influence extends beyond the frontiers of science. Artists from different schools (mannerism, impressionism, modernism, and expressionism, to name a few) have knowingly or unknowingly exploited the observer's unconscious to create evocative masterpieces. In his book The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Eric Kandel tells an intriguing story about how the unconscious, for the first time, came to be the focal point of a cultural movement in Vienna of the 1900s and provides a scientific treatise on the inner workings of the brain as it creates art or responds to it. What unified the artistic and scientific endeavors of fin de si├Ęcle Vienna was the general propensity toward looking beneath the surface for hidden answers and deeper truths, a practice that was to have a long-lasting influence on science and art.

Book review: The Age of Insight by Eric Kandel