René Descartes was first to point out the special relationship that exists between our mind and body: if I were to lose my arms or legs I would still be “me”, but it is illogical to believe the same is true of my mind. And considering that every few years all the cells in my body are replaced with new ones, how can it be that I still consider myself to be the same “me” as ten years ago?
This is why images of people are so fascinating – they are representations of both the somatic and transcendental elements of existence. The pope Innocent X was startled when he saw his own image in Velazquez’ painting: “it is too real!” he shouted. Picasso later showed us that no amount of realism can reflect the full being of a person. Clearly we are more than what we see, but what that actually is, is hard to describe.
A possible answer can be found in the recently discovered “mirror neurons”. When we see a person laughing our mirror neurons laugh along with them. What’s odd is that when we see a simple drawing of someone laughing our mirror neurons still react, even though we know consciously that it’s not a real person. Artists have played with this idea since medieval times in order to excite and manipulate human emotions.
The citation of Anaxagoras reminds us that we are prisoners of the limitations of our senses. And Descartes taught us that we can only understand the world with reason, since our senses cannot be trusted. What we experience must be interpreted, whether it is reality or merely a reflection thereof.
This project is supported by the Netherlands Fund for Performing Arts+