Let me finish yesterday’s argument about art, since I know you’ll appreciate the alternative view.
I’ll get quickly to the point, but let’s begin by understanding what is the brain itself and how it works. The brain is the only massively parallel (100 billion parallel processing units, with even more parallel electrical and chemical processes happening inside each neuron all the time) computing tool at our disposal. Our best experimental efforts to date to imitate it are general models of animal brains that are already orders of magnitude less complex to begin with.
Now, there are problems that can only be tackled efficiently using massively parallel, neural network computing. One example of this is fold.it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fold.it): computers were failing to fold models of chemical compounds, like the crystal structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus retroviral protease, in a discrete amount of time, because the number of variables at play at every instant of the process is too damn high. On the other hand, ordinary humans with a basic training and their own spatial sense and pattern matching ability were folding (and producing invaluable science!) in days.
Another example are problems that can be either solved parallelly or with a sequential method, but their solution is so urgent it’s needed sooner than what it would take to split the problem in parts, solve them sequentially, and then integrate back all the solved pieces. Many humanistic problems, like the ones faced in a public administration, are of this nature: provisional solutions have to be given daily, so urgent progress can start to be made while more complex answers are developed and implemented. The best hope for an individual in the position to take that kind of decisions is to have a fit brain that has been trained to quickly and correctly react to raw, massively complex inputs.
Art itself, as a collection of sensorial stimuli predesigned to be pattern/context matched with the user (example: you watching HBO’s Girls) or the world (example: you finding clashing to order beer in a bar designed as a scotch bar), is both the natural result and the natural way of exercising a neural network computing tool. This is how Google’s most sophisticated search algorithms are trained: by exposing them to texts and images crafted by humans and trying to make the machine learn to “make sense of them” and to interpret them in their psychological and cultural context. This is also the way hyperflexible, quickly developing baby brains train themselves into cognitive proficiency: they don’t “learn to understand knowledge”, they become “fit to understand knowledge”.
For the purpose of training a neural network, art is the analogue of the weights and machines in a gym, which are employed to make people’s bodies stronger, fitter, faster and healthier. You listen to Mozart and your brain becomes more adapted at finding recurring themes under slight variations. You look at a building’s design and your brain becomes more adapted at relating external appareances and underlying structures. You taste an elaborate recipe and your brain becomes more adapted at looking for secondary undertones beyond a main impression. In all these cases your brain receives an input and produces an output within seconds; you can’t sit and account for every detail and then write a thesis about it, you have to parallelize everything and produce a good evaluation immediately.
Now, same as exercise, there’s art that provides heavier training, art that provides lighter training, art that only serves as an excuse to keep being a couch potato, and art that will just screw your brain. Some people will feel confounded about the usefulness of art when they are exposed to a boring painting hung on a Museum’s wall, or an exposition of clay penises, or Justin Bieber’s music, but you can’t take one instance to reject the whole, as you can’t reject going to the gym because neither you can deadlift 400lb nor 5 minutes doing steps has ever done anything for you. Unfortunately, the systematization of art as a training tool has been done poorly, and it is buried under thousands of vapid philosophic rantings, which encourages people to keep being ignorant about it. But when you look at it from a capabilities training perspective (and as a vehicle to deliver information to brains more effectively), it’s sense is way too fundamental to dismiss.
From a “fit brain” (not just “fat brain”) point of view, an individual neglecting a critical part of their mental training is as gross as an obese lardass dragging their 600lb body down a Wal-mart aisle. They probably say “art is not relevant” like they say “lifting weights is not doing real work”, but people goes to the gym because “real work” can’t be tailored to produce a balanced training. If such an individual cripples themselves by actively rejecting the value of training, it is as outraging as the same lardass being righteous about the superiority of 5000kcal high carb meals and no exercising. And when that individual claims to be mentally fit nonetheless, it’s like the lardass doing 10mins of cardio, putting on yoga pants and pretending they have a hormonal problem.