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Insofar as science is the subject, I shall concentrate in this book on physics as it has developed during the last several hundred years. Nevertheless, the reader should keep in mind that present-day physicists wear a mantle that has been passed down through the ages. Physicists are the modern representatives of a distinguished tradition that winds its way back through the first scientists, Christian theologians, natural philosophers, pagan priests and Paleolithic shamans, the exceptional of whom have contributed pieces to the infinite jigsaw puzzle of nature. The first physicist was probably the one who discovered how to make a fire.

I single out physics in particular because in this century all the other "hard" sciences have learned that they are anchored to this rock. Chemistry had its beginning in the attempt to identify and separate the elements, and it came to be fused to the laws that govern atomic events. Astronomy began as a fascination with heavenly movements and advanced to an inquiry into the arrangement of the solar system. Today, in studying the galaxies, astrophysicists address the laws that govern forces and matter. From it's origins in Aristotelian taxonomy, biology has evolved to the study of the physical interaction of atoms in molecular biology. Physics, formerly one branch among many, has in this century, become enthroned as the King of the Sciences.

In the case of the visual arts, in addition to illuminating, imitating, and interpreting reality, a few artists create a language of symbols for things for which there are yet to be words. Just as Sigmund Freud, in his Civilization and Its Discontents, compared the progress of a civilization's entire people to the development of a single individual, I propose that the radical innovations of art embody the preverbal stages of new concepts that will eventually change a civilization. Whether for an infant or a society on the verge of change, a new way to think about reality begins with the assimilation of unfamiliar images. This collation leads to abstract ideas that only later give rise to a descriptive language.

For example, observe any infant as it masters its environment. Long before speech occurs, a baby develops an association between the image of a bottle and a feeling of satisfaction. Gradually, the baby accumulates a variety of images of bottles. This is an astounding feat considering that a bottle viewed from different angles changes shape dramatically: from a cylinder to an ellipse to a circle. Synthesizing these images, the child's emerging conceptual faculties invent an abstract image that encompasses the idea of an entire group of objects she or he will henceforth recognize as bottles. This step in abstraction allows the infant to understand the idea of "bottleness." Still without language, the baby can now signal desire by pointing.

Then at a certain moment, in that part of the brain called Broca's area, the connections between synapses attain a critical number, tripping the switch that suddenly lights up the magical power of language. This word factory, noisily chugging away, generates sounds that will replace and even eclipse the earlier images. As soon as the baby connects the bottle's image with the word "bottle," this word begins to blot out the image, so much so that as adults we are rarely aware that when we engage in abstract thinking, we are not thinking in images. Concepts such as "justice," "freedom" or "economics" can be turned over in the mind without ever resorting to mental pictures. While there is never final resolution between word and image, we are a species dependent on the abstractions of language and in the main, the word eventually supplants the image.

When we reflect, ruminate, reminisce, muse and imagine, generally we revert to the visual mode. But in order to perform the brain's highest function, abstract thinking, we abandon the use of images and are able to carry on without resorting to them. It is with great precision that we call this type of thinking, "abstract." This is the majesty and the tyranny of language. To affix a name to something is the beginning of control over it. After God created Adam, the very first task He instructed Adam to perform was the naming of all the animals. God informed Adam that by accomplishing this feat he would gain dominion over all the beasts and fowl. Note that God didn't teach Adam anything as practical as how to make a fire or fashion a spear. Instead, He taught him to name. Words, more than strength or speed, became the weapons that humans have used to subdue nature.

Because the erosion of images by words occurs at such an early age, we forget that in order to learn something radically new, we need first to imagine it. "Imagine" literally means to "make an image." Witness the expressions we use when struggling with a new idea: "I can't picture it," "Let me make a mental model," and "I am trying to envision it." If, as I propose, this function of imagination, so crucial to the development of an infant, is also present in the civilization at large, who then creates the new images that precede abstract ideas and descriptive language? It is the artist. In the following pages I shall demonstrate how revolutionary art can be understood as the preverbal stage of a civilization first contending with a major change in its perception of the world. In order to elaborate this thesis, I shall examine art, not only as an aesthetic that can be pleasing to the eye but, as a Distant Early Warning system of the collective thinking of a society. Visionary art alerts the other members that a conceptual shift is about to occur in the thought system used to perceive the world. John Russell, the art critic, says: "There is in art a clairvoyance for which we have not yet found a name, and still less an explanation."

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