The Alchemy of Creativity: Art, Consciousness and Embodiment

How can you define consciousness? In his article, F David Peat looks to art and music for answers and explores how consciousness may not limited to the mind, but the physicality of the entire body. Drawing on the personal experiences from artists and musicians such as Anish Kapoor and Michael Tippet to the physicist David Bohm, he explores how the creative process resembles an alchemical cycle whereby creative ‘gold’ is generated from the mind and the body.

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Over the last few years it’s become quite fashionable to write about consciousness. When I was a student, consciousness was more of a black box investigated by behavioral psychologists but today even physicists are getting in on the act! And, to be honest, I’m not too sure just how further ahead we are, in spite of the hundreds of papers written about consciousness that have appeared over the last decade. Maybe, at their very best, these articles are showing us just how subtle and difficult the underlying issues can be, and that we’re not yet even certain as to what questions we should be asking in the first place.

So why is a physicist writing yet another paper on consciousness? I suppose because I’ve never been too convinced that consciousness is the exclusive property of Marvin Minsky’s “meat machine”, or that its study should be the monopoly of scientists and philosophers. And so, over the last few years, I’ve been looking at art and music rather than science itself because I believe that these areas provide us with clues as to the way consciousness is embedded within the very physicality of the body.

I’m suggesting that consciousness arises out of processes deep within the body that are projected, by means of creative acts, onto the external world where they can then be internalized into awareness. In other words, while our awareness, our direct consciousness of rational thought, involves the purposeful manipulation of internalized mental states, concepts and so on, the source of all of this lies much deeper. Indeed, it’s origin is a hypothetical location in brain or body than it is a process, an indivisible cyclical movement of projection and internalization, one of making manifest within the realm of the physical and then of ingestion, in coded or symbolic form, back into the world of the mental. In this creativity, resembles an alchemical cycle in which the creative gold is generated within the alembic of body and mind.

Finally, towards the end of the paper I’m going to try to go further and to speculate that such processes are ubiquitous, and extend right throughout the cosmos.


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