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We Like Some Things and Not Others

Why Is That

By: - Oct 07, 2014

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Let me start with a short account of my life story. I was born on a remote and isolated island miles away from any civilized shore. There were many stories told about the island and its inhabitants.

I remember my grandfather telling us about, as he put it, the good old days.  He remembered that when he was a child the island was lush and green, and was covered with lots and lots of trees —some as tall as 100 feet. Our farm, then, was a beautiful place to be: vegetable gardens, wild flowers, and animals that provided milk and eggs.  The sky and the ocean were always interchanging colors.

My grandfather loved birds and he always seemed awed when describing unusual species—their variety of colors and shapes. However, I wasn’t lucky to witness my peoples’ paradise. Instead, from a hilltop, I can see the vast and eerie ocean around me, while down below is a bare, stark, bleak and desolate place.  But if not for the hundreds of statues carved by our people, we all would have been forgotten. Many curious scientists flocked to the island to study the island’s mysterious heavy tall statues, averaging 13 feet high, with a weight of 13 tons and the ill-fated island. It was farmers who caused the demise of this once pristine place. As the population multiplied, they burned trees until there were none left. 

My life took a turnaround when an American painter-explorer came to the island to paint portraits and write about the mysterious events that almost wiped out the indigenous population.  George Catlin was his name. What happened next was a dream that became a reality. He took me back to his home town, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He and his family provided me with a warm home and education. In college I took painting, art history, and anthropology.  

A few years after college, I moved to an artist studios building in Philadelphia. There, I got to know many artists and their work. One of those artists, a beautiful brown girl, caught my attention.

Upon waking up one morning, I saw a beautiful pure blue sky and through the huge window the deep green trees and hills around me. But, wait a minute--my mind was swirling, and all of a sudden I lost my confidence; I was overwhelmed by the question, “What’s this all about?” I began to sweat. There was no one I could share my thoughts with. I doubted my own work the arts around me. People did not make sense any more. They seemed to be just passive observers; these artists, I thought, are not in touch with reality, are not curious about what makes the world tick. They even have no curiosity about why people prefer one thing and not another, something that seems obviously relevant to the work of every artist. I think they were holding on to some kind of underdeveloped ideas about life and art, borrowed from the romantic era.

One of my professors, an original thinker, agreed with my observations and assured me that being actively curious and a knowledge seeker does not weaken your creative abilities. On the contrary it enhances these abilities. He also said that we are at a crossroad or even at the end of our evolutionary development. We must take charge of evolution (evolution is too slow) and not let stagnation destroy us humans. And then he gave me a compliment; he said, you have an advantage over your fellow artists because you were born in a dying and desolate place. So you came here with a fresh outlook, though you were at first influenced by your new environment. Which is understandable. You were longing to be accepted in a newly adopted society.

Later on I happened to bump into that beautiful brown girl. She was on her way to a neuroscience class. But just as she was about to move on, she advised me to take neuroscience classes. The evidence is mounting that the brain is where reality is formed, she said. Damage to certain parts of the brain can affect speech, memory, love, and bonding. On the other hand, your brain’s neurons can also form new connections that can enhance memory and learning and, in turn, push you to a higher level of creativity. Then, she added, people are passive, they just walk the least resistant path. The easiest thing in life is not to ask questions like why we like some thing and not others, why we feel what we feel, and what makes us love. Then she walked away.

After she left, I thought, I owe it to myself and to society not to be a passive sucking sponge. After all, this new country of mine has many great minds that give new dimension to what it means to be a responsible human beings.  

My desolate island is a stark lesson in the consequences of passivity and failure to acquire knowledge.