Animism: birdsong

June 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

birdbrain: sedge warbler

The ten drawings that make up the series birdsong are thematically linked to the cetacean mri paintings. The mica in the paintings is placed in the same areas that are observed to light up in the human cerebral cortex when we are listening to music. There are ten bird brains illustrated here:

blackbird, nightingale, song thrush, skylark, bullfinch, nightjar, wren, meadow pipit, sedge warbler and chaffinch.

Both the birdsong drawings and the cetacean mri series have been made in response to contemporary neo-darwinist considerations of mind/brain dualism. If the mind is simply ‘what the brain does’ – as has been suggested – then what really distinguishes the human mind from the animal? What are the biological origins of the aesthetic?

In the philosopher and musician David Rothenberg’s book ‘Why do Birds Sing’, he is led to the conclusion that standard explanations of territorialism or sexual selection may not be fully adequate; could it be possible that one of the things the brain of a bird (or a humpback whale) ‘does’ is confer pleasure from the joy of its own creations?

Through all the woods they heard the charming noise

Of chirping birds and tried to frame their voice

And imitate. Thus birds instructed man,

And taught him songs before his art began.

from Lucretious “on the Nature of Things”


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