The Art Of Torture

More than 28 million Americans, and many more people throughout the world, suffer from migraine headaches, one of the most debilitating of pain disorders. Symptoms like excruciating pain, visual disturbance and disorientation are often compounded by long-term emotional, physical and financial costs.

I am a migraine sufferer.  A migraine attack can trigger visual hallucinations of great beauty, but all too often accompanied by great agony.  It is absolute torture.

It has long been suggested that the migraine sufferer is experiencing in a major way what most people experience in a relatively minor way at some time due to various external causes.  Think of a blow to the head, and 'seeing stars'.  The visual hallucination appears to be a direct visualisation of waves of neural activity.

If we project our mental models out into the world in a search for the 'ideal', could this explain the evolution of our capacities for art?  Suppose that a specific neural firing pattern is common to all humans.  Suppose further that such a pattern, all too frequently visualised by migraine sufferers, is a shared experience of us all at a sub-conscious level.  This could explain how someone can produce an intricate geometric work of art and have others recognise it intuitively as a thing of value.

Do the arabesques in our own minds, built into our own brain organization, provide us with our first intimations of geometry, of formal beauty?

Whether or not this is the case, there is an increasing feeling
among neuroscientists that self-organizing activity in vast populations of visual neurons is a prerequisite of visual perception - that this is how seeing begins. Spontaneous self-organization is not restricted to living systems - one may see it equally in the formation of snow crystals, in the roilings and eddies of turbulent water, in certain oscillating chemical eactions. Here, too, self-organization can produce geometries and patterns in space and time, very similar to what one may see in a migraine aura. In this sense, the geometrical hallucinations of migraine allow us to experience in ourselves not only a universal of neural functioning, but a universal of nature itself.
Source: "Patterns", Oliver Sacks