The Homunculus with the Pearl Necklace


I Had An Idea:

That I had become nostalgic, for the simplicity of forming an idea and then turning the idea into a form.

I had been missing the moment when the process of physically working on the form bred its own expansive ideas.

As though the work itself was now doing the thinking and going beyond my starting idea’s iterating conceptual mantra of ‘one idea per work’.

The material itself as I worked with it, would inevitably force me into collaboration with the work itself.

This would lead me into the realm of the infinity of ideas that can be reached within the finite constraints of one idea.

Paralleling the un-recognised endless numbers that lie between the more commonly known numerals of everyday math.

The idea that begins the work is often given all the credit for the value inherent in the end result, but in my practice the finished representation of the idea has had more to do with the physical collaborative labour, between the material of the form and myself.

And the initial idea becomes the more minimalist title that later accompanies the work.

The idea in this way becomes a one line worded abstraction of an idea and the paintings presentation of its smooth plane contains the layers, one on top of the other, either obscured or visible through the layer on top, that make up the depth of the idea, constructed in real time by a physical process of thought to hand to material.
I wondered how ‘the idea’ had gained such an eminent value within the market in which I present my forms.

In my research I discovered that the online Oxford Dictionary uses the following sentence to describe the word commodification:

“Art has become commodified”

This propelled me on a pursuit of a material object that could perhaps reflect,

 “The Commodification of Immateriality.”

The seeming impossibility of locating the physical matter of an idea, led me to begin with the boney carapace of the skull and a consideration of what is outside and inside this material cabinet in which we manufacture and store our immaterial thoughts.

The skull is the underlying foundation that determines the external fleshy physiology of the presentation mask constructed by the muscle and skin that we then manipulate, to articulate our thoughts.

Those pristine and certain ideas that we believe we have, uniquely manufactured behind the barrier of its calcified closed door.
I had an idea to make new masks that would suit the Meta ideas that our lives are perhaps unconsciously constructed within and under.

These masks would not need to mould and encase a recognisable biology, as they would be designed to fit the unseeable physiognomy of the face of an idea.

I called them:

“Masks Of Self-Construction”

My initial research sought to gain an understanding of what are the thought processes that give us our unshakeable and peculiarly human, ‘self-awareness’ known as Meta cognition.

This is a subject investigated by Philosophers, Psychologists and Neuroscientists, who in their separate fields have endeavored to pinpoint the location of what we identify as our ‘self’ which we perceive to be the place from where we generate ‘ideas’ we feel certain we have ownership over.

Cognition as a subject requires insight from both the speculative thinkers of philosophy and the evidence driven world of science, because when asked to describe consciousness, our answers reflect both a feeling of knowing it emanates from inside us, but also an existential feeling of it being somehow outside our bodies.  

Aristotle was the earliest philosopher to write about the thought beyond thought that is the realm of ‘Meta’, an area of research that has continued to inspire.

In recent times investigations have uncovered some incredible ways our brains construct what we believe to be the external reality that then influences our consciousness to formulate ideas, about which we become certain.

Investigations and experiments in all three fields of expertise have discovered how in many ways our core beliefs about the ‘self’ that we project do not hold up under the scrutiny of tests that unnerve the subject’s belief in their sole responsibility for their actions.

This then raises many puzzling questions about what it is that our eyes and therefore our brain, is processing as information and relaying to us as a unified experience.

An example of this is the conundrum that although we know light travels faster than sound, visual information takes longer to process than noise.

The consequence of the differing speeds comes together when we watch someone speak and watch their lips moving. The sound seems to be coming to us at the same time from that action, but this is a construction of the brain, as the event is only ‘apparently’ simultaneous. We ‘know’ but unconsciously ignore the fact that the sound and the visual information must have arrived in the brain at different times.

We also have to ask whether we directly perceive an object, and are we receiving the information about the object, directly and in the same instant that our eyes are ‘looking’ at the object?

And is our cognition of the events still in the same order as the sequence of events we have watched?

There is a great deal of uncertainty and debate about whether the brain replays received information in the same time frame or order and how much information is constructed from events that were not directly ‘seen’.

Where is my ‘self’, my factory of ideas?

Neuroscientists and Philosophers have sought the location of thought, by looking at both the physical source and the non-locatable physical feeling of its existence outside our bodies.

The Neuro-scientists can at least be sure that our brain and in particular three regions of it, is necessary for the fast recognition of composite ideas that we recognize as conscious thought.

These are, the lateral prefrontal cortex, the posterior parietal cortex and the internal thalamus.

Their activities best described in the words of a scientist:

“The signature of consciousness seems to be an ultrafast form of these brainwaves originating in the thalamus and spreading across the cortex. One of the most prominent attempts to turn this experimental data into a theory of consciousness is known as the “global neuronal workspace model”. This suggests that input from our eyes, ears and so on, is first processed unconsciously…It emerges into our conscious awareness only when it ignites activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices, with these regions connecting through ultrafast brainwaves.”

As specific as this system appears, neurologists are nevertheless aware that although they have made large inroads into explaining how something so complex could be explained physically, the way we subjectively believe our mind works, is nothing like the actuality of the resulting ‘thought’.

Naive or direct realism is the term for describing our direct perception of an object and our belief that this simple process is our sensory perception relaying a truth back to us about the reality in front of us.

However it is not physically possible for our eyes to work in such a simple fashion and as is explained in the preceding paragraph, we forget that sight has more to do with our brain than our eyeballs, and consequently we are usually unaware of our brains involvement.

This can be illustrated by the fact that our visual perception is known to be a composite of the seen with the unseen, cleverly reconstructed by our brain.

The physiology of our eyes and their specific parts use light as a source of information for our brains to translate into something useful.

The millions of light sensors in our retina come in two shapes, cones and rods, with the rods needed to detect shades and forms and the cones detecting bright details and colours.

The optic nerve streams the information from the retina to the brain except for one small part where the nerve joins the retina. At this junction we have a blind spot in our vision and yet we are unaware of this, our brains use the information from both eyes to blend a seamless translation of perception.

There are numerous tests that illustrate some of the peculiar abilities our mind has to reconstruct what is occurring in front of us into something more palatable.

One is called the ‘Flash-lag illusion’ in which a disc is set with a spinning arrow that when passing a particular point is programmed to set off a flash at that precise moment. Yet this is not what the viewer sees, instead;

“The flash lags behind, apparently occurring after the arrow has passed…The explanation is that rather than extrapolating into the future, our brain is interpolating events in the past, assembling a story of what happened retrospectively.”

All of these curiosities make our ‘self-awareness’ difficult to locate physically as the sequence of events recorded by our eyes and reordered by our brains, occurs in a time frame we have no words to explain, in a place we can not yet find, and contains information we did not see at that instant.

And as science can only offer the brain as a location to probe but with inconclusive results, the investigations
are broadened by Philosophers who are less certain about the physicality of our consciousness, many referring to it as ‘seeping ether’ suggesting a miasma of feeling that surrounds and inhabits our physical body.

Both disciplines have potentially diluted Descartes well known philosophical dictum, ‘I think therefore I am’ to the less certain, ‘How I think I exist’.

These questions are important because our mind, our brain, our consciousness… are the locations of our beliefs, the big ideas that we ascribe to and the certainty of these beliefs in the light of these investigations starts to look less like a moral endowment birthed in our core, and instead a post-hoc, retrospectively constructed ‘something,’ cobbled together from ‘nothing’.

Yet this is the same ‘self’ that we intuitively feel is our innate cognitive being.

The quest for the source of meta-consciousness at this juncture segues into analogies.

Currently popular in the expertise of science are the analogies of a string of pearls or a twisted yarn of rope. These are used to signify a way of describing the inner feeling of believing we know, that we are who we think we are.

The string in the bead analogy represents the original simple beginning of a conscious realization of ‘self’ one that we are born with, and the pearls are the experiences and actions, and ideals, the matters and values that we master, and then thread onto the string as we grow.

The rope analogy differs, in that it allows for more complexity right from birth and a continual feeling of consciousness as the yarns of the many varied experiences are added and twisted together to constantly form one continual core rope of self.

This allows the separate talents we have progressed with to feel integral to the original ‘self’ as they cannot be easily viewed as separate add-ons. We feel as though we have always been the ‘one’ person we believe we are.

As social creatures we have amassed Meta constructions of consciousness that help us to elucidate common values to the wider group in which we consider ourselves members.

In the analogy of strung beads we string on physical accomplishments and amorphous ideals such as:
Magnanimity…selflessness…forgiveness…thou shalt not…etc
As representing pearl shaped values and abilities that can be acquired and strung on to the string of rope that is ‘your self’.

Presuming that when you have mastered your behaviour and modified it according to the requirements of the ‘pearl’ then you feel as if you have earned it and can therefore thread on the bead of accomplishment.

It is a description of a very measured and deliberate construction of a self-belief that this is who you are and desire to be, and will continue to be in your life. You could extrapolate from this that we culture a  ‘societal’ necklace by threading on the same or similar beads as our co-inhabitants.

However it could be counter argued that our cultural history is so entangled into our beings that it is questionable whether it is possible to consciously view these values and freely choose from a selection of pearls that we then obey with a delusion that we can both choose them and can also choose to dispose of them.

The myths we inherit are deeply integral to the physical lives we live that it is probably not possible to recognise the fragility of these pearly beliefs.

We may think we thread them on a single strand but more likely it is the complex twisted rope that they are joined into, threaded between the hardened stones of our quick responses that are likewise threaded and twisted through the strands of the same fibrous rope, onto which we have deliberately slid these shiny beads of our desired self.

The masks that I, and the clay finally collaborated on are representations of ideas around ideal consciousness.

Masks of self-construction that may perhaps prove useful to cover our pixilated ‘Selfies’, the digitized stream of consciousness images we share as if to prove the adage:

“I am here therefore I am really here”

The masks evolved a form that reflects the physical shape of attempting to fit around ‘nothingness’.

So here are these white-washed clay masks with their shiny eyes that relay the external into the internal:

“The Masks Of Self-Construction”

“Plato’s Insight”

Plato defined knowledge as “justified true belief” but when we test our justifications of our beliefs by questioning whether our perceptions were ‘true’ perceptions, we now know that we can be deceived about that ‘truth’ which has been relayed by our eyes, but replayed under the control of our brains and our unconscious minds.

This mask plays with the idea of the external self and the internal self. One side is convex the other concave.
The eyes are set either side of a stalk, but one set dwells in the shadow world of the internal cave and at the other end, piercing the boney hemisphere, are the stereoscopic eyes looking out to the heavens and the lair of the Demi-urge and the mathematical objects that defy materiality.

Importantly the wearer of the mask owns both sets of eyes. The eyes that can see externally, can peer beyond the cave and therefore can seek to understand the matter of the perfect forms that they can merely see reflections of internally.

A fifth eye peers out of the cave mouth as a protective watchdog against intruders to the ‘self’.

Ergo ate some for Descartes.

This mask is shaped with the eyes like a sight on a gun. They can turn into three positions, up, down, or straight ahead.

Heaven, Earth or You.

There is no available internal space for any other matter as this has been pressed away by the flattening sides.

The remaining eyes are in the mouth.

These masks couldn’t fit a human face. They are not shaped to fit a physiognomy they are made to fit an idea espoused by philosophy or science. ‘Ergo Ate Sum’ is formed around Descartes dictum ‘I think therefore I am’, in the mask, the eyes, the windows of Descartes’ Homunculus soul, are in the mouth as though we eat up our experiences and swallow them into ourselves, ready to dredge up and disgorge out in our poetry and artworks and makings and writings.

This is Descartes theorem that we can only taste our own
reality; we cannot prove that anything else exists.

In the world of physics including the quantum world this is potentially very apt as this is the reality of information science.  

For example, we can agree the physical cones and rods of our eyes have evolved to see the information of the atoms on a surface, the arrangement of which reflects back what we discern as ‘red’ in the colour spectrum, so yes we can all agree that we are seeing the information that we have agreed to call ‘red’ but we have to accept that each of our experiences of that colour can not be compared as an objective sensation.

Dark Matter Wimp Hunter.

This mask is fashioned after a huge piece of equipment called ‘Dark Side 50’ that contains highly sensitive lights containing argon gas.

These are aimed at each other inside a steel hemisphere situated deep under an Italian mountain.

The machine’s raison d’être is to catch a trace of a W.I.M.P. falling through the steel shell, piercing through many layers of what we perceive to be solid matter.

This is similar to the way we describe the feeling of consciousness. Yes we can see areas light up on a brain scan, but the thoughts we have are acknowledged as fleeting and varied and have no known physicality to them.

The particles of our brain matter are perhaps the conductors of our thoughts, but the thoughts themselves are not particulate.

Consequently we have a sense of thought being both inside and outside our boney hemisphere and we are heard to say that we are trying to ‘capture our thoughts’.

This would be a mask for hunters of ideas, intellect seekers who sit and scan the surrounding ether from within their dark hide, hoping their fluorescent lure will attract a wimp and that the invisible will become visible.

(W.I.M.P. = Weakly Interactive massive particles.)

Archimedes’ Tears And Giving The Glad Eye.

A mask that plays on the ancient Greek scientist and philosopher’s invention of a spring shaped pump known as ‘Archimedes’ screw’ that circulated water around the mechanism and drew it up the hill.

The eyes in this mask are located unhinged in the socket and can look up to the heavens or down to earth or to the side, behind or in front, but never together in one direction.
The eyes are controlled consciously and deliberately by manual manipulation that allows them a ‘one-eyed’ focus.

The tears are screwed around, down and through the eyeholes, to draw water upwards from a wellspring of emotional thought, which has been flooded by the Amagladae.

Giving the Glad Eye.

‘Giving the glad eye’ is an old fashioned phrase, a jokey familiarity from one to another about flirtation which may lead to mating, which certainly feels like existing with its emotive fluctuations between desire, love, empathy, manipulation, maliciousness and self interested control.

The Amagladae are two small almond shaped areas in the
Limbic system of the brain that is reputedly responsible for our neurotic self-awareness expressed through the emotions of fear and aggression.

The Amagladae is the rapid response trigger to these emotional states that so often end in tears.

Archimedes’ screw would offer some relief as it reticulates the water back up towards the eyes, which can be refreshed, before being manually focused towards a new one-eyed direction.

Bone Drone Ether Reader.

This mask reflects on our biological pride and reliance on the form that carries our senses and the credit we bestow on the skull for being the perceived carrier of our possibly unique conscious condition we know as ‘Theory of mind’.

In this mask, the bone continues through the bone of the skull, the hard materiality of our matter to which we have given a credence we feel is indisputable but physics can prove disputable.

The eyes are located around the outside of the familiar shape which has here lost it’s commodious capacity, and instead the eyes look out in all directions from their static placement and in doing so, transfer a combined holographic sight directly into the material of the flattened bony matter.

It is an intriguing fact that the order of the information gathered by our eyes, can be reordered by our brains into sequences that we mistake as being true and indisputable conceptions of an actuality that we convince ourselves must have happened.

This is the perplexing area known as the Beta phenomenon, for example:

“For us to experience events as happening in a specific order, it is not necessary that information about those events enters our brain in that same order.”
Eg ‘The man ran out of the house after he kissed his wife.’ So the given sequence is, running –kissing, but we understand it as kissing – running.”

Psychologists have observed subjects participating in what is known as ‘the beta phenomenon test’, in which a red dot appearing and then disappearing in one corner of a screen is followed by a green dot appearing almost instantly in the other corner.

Subjects watching the sequence report that they see a change over from red to green in the middle section of the screen as a sequential change over, but this is not possible as they cannot know that the second dot will be green so it is not possible to see it prior to the event.

An even more astonishing test is ‘the manipulated cursor test’, where the subject listening to instructions coming through headphones is asked to point at images using a cursor.

Unbeknown to the subject, the researcher is the speaker and has dual control and they occasionally move the cursor towards a picture and if the subject has heard the word that describes the image just prior to seeing the cursor move, they insist that it was them that moved it there.

This is a fascinating insight into our ability to form a belief that we intended actions we claim to be ours, but we never actually performed those actions.

“The test reveals one way that the brain does not always display its actual operations to us, instead it produces a post hoc ‘ I did this’ narrative lacking any factual basis for it.”

This same delusion appears in our dislocation from responsibility for our actions and is aptly evidenced in an anecdote from a headmaster.
He relayed to me his observation of young teens being held to account for their actions in a misdemeanor, who were adamant that they didn’t do the actions and subsequently astonished when shown video evidence of them doing the act they believed they had not committed.

The lack of memory and the need for evidence to show them what they actually did, was still not enough to remove the feeling of dislocation from what they had clearly actually done.

Is Someone Watching Us From Inside Our Skull?    

One answering theory to the phenomenon of the Beta test, and other perplexing questions, is the idea of the little autonomous homunculus sitting inside our heads and watching all events as though everything is appearing on a theatre in our brain and the ‘little man’ the only viewer.

His unrelenting job is to reorder everything the senses play him, into something that is more efficiently comprehensible and he then replays this reordered information back to us as an instant ‘truth’ of what we believe we have seen.

There is plenty of reasoned opposition to the Homunculus theory, but if we decide to follow it as an idea and the ‘little man’ is pulled out from the skull and exposed as a manufacturer of thought, it allows the misty immateriality of cognition, to be artificially created in a material.

Because of this I have decided that perhaps the simplest constructed form of my starting idea is in the end, not a range of Meta-masks, but rather a small white clay Homunculus figure I had made in the years before I had made the question, the true sequence being:
“She made the work then she had an idea about the work.”

It is titled:

The Homunculus With The Pearl Necklace.

The lumpen clay figure can see her ‘self’ in a little hand mirror, reflecting back a pink-flesh coloured mammalian mask and thus attests to her-self that she exists in this form.

She can transcribe with the white quill in her other hand, her ethereal thoughts transmuted into concretised words that externalize her beliefs of what it is that she idealises as reality.

She can now export those beliefs to others.    

She wears a string of pearls embedded in her skin. Each one a talisman of her favoured acquired features, her abilities, her beliefs, her self-constructions.

She can export her written pearls to be threaded onto the strings of others who have bought the bead of her ideas.

She has commodified her immateriality and…

She can be bought.

Oh well it was only an idea.