Art and the Brain: Chapter 12. Human Autonomy and Light


Kant and Goethe
Kant, Goethe, and Optical History
Light and Human Autonomy


In summary, both human autonomy and light were of great interest to the Enlightenment mind. Itinerant showmen of the 18th century Zeitgeist served much like science museums, tablets and electronic media do today. They both entertained and educated the community. Given the way common interests and social life bring people together, it is a fascinating aspect of this time of discovery that we cannot say precisely how and where discoveries seep into the landscape. Yet, it seems that just as new technologies, probing minds, and our current knowledge of the eye and the brain are a part of who we are now, those of this time integrated their cultural discussion with that of their elevation of scientific reason, paintings, philosophical discussions, religious references and other formulations. Some of the commentary centered on reason. Some thought about the escape from ignorance. We can also identify minds probing the nature of subjectivity, the nature of light and darkness, creativity, and what revelation and revolution mean.

Within this, we can trace the trajectory of theories — such as those related to light and sight — from early naturalistic observations to the sophisticated contemporary experiments so frequently intertwined with art commentary today. In doing so, and even with the disclaimer that vast terrains are omitted here, there is much variation. For example, by the 18th and into the 19th centuries, well before electricity was seen as a commonplace part of our day-to-day reality, we find much cultural and scientific interest in coupling electricity with medical treatment, especially in psychiatric conditions (Finger and Piccolino 2011).

Comparing experimental clarification and philosophical arguments within various time frames — and across them — brings to mind that natural philosophy was an approach that included science and philosophy under one umbrella prior to the 19th century.

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