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2015-05-14
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Discussion on one of the other threads (“Toward a Uniform Vocabulary for Discussing Subjectivity”) has lately turned to neuro-aesthetics where it is only marginally relevant. So I wondered if perhaps the topic might deserve its own thread, especially given that aesthetics in all its forms is such a poor relation in analytic philosophy and generally gets so little attention.

I should explain my own position. I think neuro-aesthetics is bunkum. I won’t go into why for the moment – that will doubtless emerge as time goes on. I’m happy to suggest it as a topic, however, because (a) I’m aware it has many enthusiasts, (b) who knows? I may be wrong, (c) I think it warrants closer scrutiny than it usually seems to get, and (d) as I say, aesthetics in all its form gets very little attention anyway.

To encourage contributions, I should mention that I have an Achilles heel: I have read very little of the work by “leading” neuro-aestheticians. Some intellectual movements, I feel, have folly written all over them from the outset so I have never felt inclined to read anything beyond the odd article here and there. But this handicap gives defenders of the faith the opportunity to dazzle me (and others) with arguments and “findings” that will reveal the error of my ways.

One tiny stipulation. Personally, I much prefer people to state their arguments on the thread, not simply send people off to this or that article. By all means refer to other articles, books etc, and even quote from them; but please try to keep the core of the arguments on the thread.

DA

2015-05-26
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, I'm glad you have started this thread. 
I am curious to know why you think neuroaesthetics is "bunkum." The neurosciences themselves are still in their infancy, so that it is no surprise to me that neuroaesthetics is in a gestation period, if not yet born. For me, the question at this stage is whether scientific methodology as we know it can be applied at all to aesthetics. Vico thought not: in the 18th century, he challenged Descartes' scientific method by claiming that it works for the natural sciences but not the human sciences (see my article in Poetics Today 20011 32.4: 717-752). Terrence Deacon's most recent book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, argues that in order to scientifically account for what I would call aesthetic attributes, science itself needs to broaden its methodology. There's a long tradition in literary criticism (not shared by all, including me) that when it comes to the arts, the imaginative faculties will always be a "black box."

So the challenge is: how do we account for, characterize, and explain the aesthetic capabilities that humans have? 

Margaret H. Freeman
Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts (MICA)
myrifield.org

2015-05-26
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
To follow up on my earlier post, my comment about neuroaesthetics not even being in gestation is confirmed by the following quote from the May 18, 2015 New Yorker article on "Lighting the Brain: Karl Deisseroth and the optogenetics breakthrough" by John Colapinto (74-83):
"Deisseroth told me that he is no closer to understanding the greater mystery of the mind: how a poem or a piece of music can elicit emotions from a mass of neurons and circuits suspended in fats and water. 'Those are all incredible questions,' he said. 'It's just too early to ask them.' [my emphasis]" (83)


2015-05-26
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Mr. DA,
I'm not sure if I could collaborate with the discussions, so ask some reading references to equip me elements and data and be able to enjoy the subject, which at first interested me a lot.
When I developed research on training players and parti study of the myth of Don Juan, while translation of young readers profile (seekers) identified certain diagonality in reading experiences that showed me the mental theater ali.Naquele this time had no chance to explore some more knowledge of neuroscience in learning, but I understand that in speaking of aesthetic experience and reading, could have paths through both the literary myth as I did as well as deepening directed questions to the neurosciences.
Now, years later I see your proposition around the neuro-aesthetics, I think this may be a good intellectual investment for me.
Forgive me if still flee the focus you wish to discuss.
Cordially, I await your reading directions.
Angeli Rose

2015-05-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

Sorry for the delay in replying. A bit snowed under.

First, I should make it clear that my present concerns do not relate to neuroscience per se. As a medical study carried out by properly qualified researchers, neuroscience may well, presumably, yield some useful information about the operations of the brain – and probably has already.

I am specifically challenging the value of neuroaesthetics.

Now, you say that neuroaesthetics is in “a gestation period, if not yet born”. In fact, though, there are, from what I gather, numbers of people – eg in universities – who take it very seriously and even claim that there are some useful “findings”. (You are probably more familiar with the names than I am.)  I don’t think, in other words that we can let neuroaesthetics off the hook just by saying it’s early days.

But I’d like to start even further back. What, to your mind, is the aim of neuroaesthetics? What is it setting out to prove/achieve? I haven’t yet seen a clear statement of that – though perhaps I have missed it. For example, are we trying to show that there is some necessary connection between brain patterns and art? If so, how would we define art for the purposes of the exercise? Or is neuroaesthetics perhaps about a connection between brain patterns and beauty? If so, what is meant by “beauty” in the context (e.g. a Poussin landscape or a photo of a semi-naked film star? )

I have lots of basic questions like that about the aims and objectives of neuroaesthetics. (I am assuming that it has aims and objectives.)  Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

DA

 


2015-05-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Hi Angeli

I am not a good person to ask about reading matter for this topic. As I said in my opening post, I am not well versed in the books and articles on the topic. But a Google search under "neuroaesthetics" might be a place to start.

DA


2015-05-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek:

Thanks for your response. You are right that it seems as if I was in danger of letting neuroaesthetics "off the hook." I hadn't meant to. In order to answer your question about the aim of neuroaesthetics, I need to explain where I am coming from.

 I am currently working on a book-length manuscript, tentatively titled Poetic Iconicity: A Study in Cognitive Aesthetics. The main problem I am addressing is what the arts do, specifically with regards to poetry, which is my specialty. My hypothesis is that the arts enable us to break through our conceptual capabilities to reach the sensory-emotional experiences that motivate and govern our relationship to the worlds of nature and human affairs. My theory is that iconicity is what motivates all artists, and that artwork succeeds in doing what the artist set out to do (becomes an icon of reality) if its respondents are able to iconically connect with their feelings of being world participants through the artwork. That might sound garbled; it's hard to condense into short sentences. But an important aspect of my study is a revising of old assumptions, such as aesthetics being a matter of taste and beauty (from Baumgarten's misleading treatise in the 18th century). Aesthetics is, strictly speaking, the science of sensory-emotional perceptions, whether unconscious or conscious (those terms themselves are dubious). Similarly, icon and iconic have become buzz words that have been bleached of meaning in popular discourse. [From my chapter on the icon: All four interpretations—religious, semiotic, linguistic, and popular—have certain aspects in common. Ontologically, they all connect a product of human cognition, whether that product is language, art, or artifact, with some aspect of the experienced world, material or immaterial. They all adopt the condition of meaningful significance to someone. And they all allow for the possibility of evaluation, whether something is or isn’t iconic. It is these aspects that I draw upon to develop my theory of poetic iconicity.]

Art constitutes the immaterial sensory-emotional feelings we experience through its material forms. Iconicity provides a means for expressing the world of the senses, before the conceptualizing mind moves us toward abstraction. In the presence of art we experience its presentness of a reality that comes alive for us. Iconicity is not simply a linguistic feature that poets utilize in making words work, but a means whereby, in Susanne K. Langer's terms, art creates a semblance of felt, or experienced, life through forms symbolic of human feeling. That "semblance" is important: not copy, or representation, or even mimesis, but a dynamic process of putting us in touch with our subliminal feelings of being part of the world we live in.

That's where neuroaesthetics comes in. I have found neuroscience research into the emotions extremely helpful in understanding and hopefully modeling the process of poetic iconicity. I do not believe scientific methodology as practiced by the natural sciences can ever account for the individuality of the arts. However, I do believe that a "science of the individual" is possible; I don't believe in the black box theory of the (imaginative) arts. So neuroaesthetics is for me (I don't speak for anyone else) in its enquiries into how the cognitive (sensory-emotional-conceptual) brain functions in creating and responding to the arts could possibly at some future time provide some explicatory evidence for our human imaginative capabilities.

Apologies for the length of my response.



2015-05-31
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

A bit hard to know where to start. I am not sure I understand you notion of iconicity (but I know it can be hard to explain a complex idea in a short space) so I’ll focus, for the time being, on what I think I more or less understand

In essence, you seem to be saying that art connects us with what you call the world of the senses giving us what you describe as the “presentness of a reality that comes alive for us”. And neuroaesthetics, you say, tells us “how the cognitive (sensory-emotional-conceptual) brain functions in creating and responding to the arts”. (Please excuse this rather abrupt summary.)

First comment might be that your focus on the senses is perhaps not as far from 18th century aesthetics as you seem to suggest. Isn’t this one of the original meanings of that very hazy term “aesthetic” ?

Second comment: I have always been dubious about the idea that art is essentially about “the world of the senses”. Take a novel like Crime and Punishment. It seems to me that the reader is also called upon to think as he or she reads the work - e.g. to try to understand Raskolnikov’s motive for murder. And even such an apparently sensuous art form as music seems to me to involve more than just the senses. As I listen to a Mozart sonata, for example, I find myself concentrating and “following” the music, not merely blindly “emoting” in some way. That is, there is an effort of the mind involved, or so it seems to me.

Third thought:  If, for argument’s sake, you are right, would your analysis not apply equally well to, say, Mozart and a syrupy pop song? That is, does it provide us with any account of what art specifically is?

Final thought: I assume from what you say that you would decide in advance what is, and what is not, art for the purposes of the neuroaesthetics experiments? I mean, does neuroaesthetics, in your view, have any role in telling us what is and what is not art?

I hope all this is vaguely relevant…

DA



2015-06-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,
I would like to offer something in response to your second comment that may help alleviate your issues with the sensuousness of the aesthetic object, though I could equally be causing more trouble.

Mikel Dufrenne claims that it is characteristic of the aesthetic object to be "essentially perceived," and I would wager that most phenomenologists would agree. However, what is meant by this is something different than what you have critiqued in your second comment - art is not alien from its meaningfulness, representationality, and other reflective gatherings, but the work of art becomes a complete perceptual transparency of the meaning(s) being represented. To my mind, saying that the aesthetic object belongs to the world of the senses, or that it is essentially perceived, is to say that it has an essence (its individually represented meaningfulness) and that what is perceived by the witness is completely transparent to it. In other words, art is perceived meaning.

For this view, Margaret, what you have presented so far in your theory does not seem to be so problematic, though I would be interested to know more. I'm wondering what is exactly the relation of your neuro-aesthetics to neuro-sciences, mostly because I am admittedly ignorant of both. Does your theory seek to establish a reasoning in an objective sense for the formation of one's aesthetic tastes? Would you claim that one's aesthetic taste could be explained completely on a psychological level?

Thanks,
Jacob Smith

    

2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek!

Thanks for your thoughtful response. Yes, I realised I was rather abrupt about the meaning of aesthetics as I wrote it. I am actually going back to 18th century aesthetics that Baumgarten defined, but because of his attachment to scholasticism, in his Aesthetika he introduced the notion of "taste" which I think was unfortunate for future readings. (I go into much more detail about Vico and Baumgarten in my paper, 2011. The aesthetics of human experience: Minding, metaphor, and icon in poetic expression.. Special issue on Exchange Values: Poetics and Cognitive Science, ed. Mark Bruhn. Poetics Today 32.4: 717-752.)

I agree with you about the unfortunate reduction of the arts as sensation/al. As a cognitive researcher, I recognize the integration of the senses, emotions, AND conceptualization (reasoning) in human cognition. Right now, I'm attending a series of three concerts by the Da Camera Singers on "Women's Voices Through the Ages" that includes their commission of Alice Parker's "Heavenly Hurt," a cycle of seven poems by Emily Dickinson that Alice says is a requiem of love and loss. It is awesome precisely because of what you say about Dostoevsky's C&P.

And yes, my argument does apply to different genres, and the challenge of course, would be to explain how it differentiates between a great and a "syrupy" pop song. I'm still struggling though understanding how my theory captures the ontology of the arts. I draw upon Suzanne K. Langer's theory of art, Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, and Reuven Tsur's work in cognitive poetics, among others.

As for neuroaesthetics, I don't think it can tell us what is or is not art. Its potential lies in further understanding how our brain processes reveal our conscious and subliminal responses to the experience of art.

I hope I'm not leading too far away from your original thread.

Margaret

2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
This is very interesting.  I'm new to this field.  Can you recommend anything to learn about neuro-aesthetics?

Kim

2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Not so much bunkum properly so-called, perhaps, but definitely over-hyped. Margaret is correct to state that the field is in it's infancy and therefore cannot yet be expected to produce conclusive results. But the dirty pool being played here is in media reports and the almighty funding request process. In my field, criminology, there has been an avalanche of predictive studies based solely on pathetically optimistic extrapolations concerning anticipated future rates of success. It has reached the point that to maximize one's chances of success one needs to include a bio-genetic component in one's grant application no matter what the subject matter. Factor in CI and the cult of DNA/forensics and...well, you get the idea.

2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
I find this fascinating Margaret.  Is your paper available to read anywhere?  I don't think it's available on philpapers.   thank you!  Helen     info@helenacklam.com

2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
1: Can you write your statement without using terms of art? (That's a polite way to say "jargon".)
2: Can you diagram your model?

I do hope you don't believe that you don't use jargon. I've found that a great way to see if you have an empty thesis is to see if you can express it to someone who doesn't know the terms of art of your field.

For example:
"immaterial sensory-emotional feelings" (what is a non-sensory-emotional feeling, though?)
"Iconicity"
"conceptualizing mind"
"abstraction"
"presentness of a reality"
"semblence of felt"
"subliminal feelings"

Not to mention lots and lots, and bunches, that is, oodles, or to wit many, parentheticals.


2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
As a neuroscientist, I'd not call neuroesthetics "bunkum". I'd call it "preliminary". Will it go down a hole and emerge as another phlogiston? Will it actually work?

Too early to tell.

Bunkum is what the popular press does with preliminary data.


2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Jacob Smith
Dear Jacob:

It's not "my" neuro-aesthetics, since I am a literary scholar, not a scientific one. I am not so much interested in how aesthetic perceptions (not "tastes") are formed. I accept the cognitive science view that we have both conscious and subliminal (i.e. pre-categorial) sensory-emotions that "motivate" our conceptual reasoning. And no, I don't think psychology can "totally" explain aesthetic perception. All the sciences in some way bear upon the ways we experience and interpret art, though the whole is more than the sum of its parts: the sciences alone, even in combination, cannot account for the significance or value we ascribe to or withhold from what is presented as art in all its forms, and that leads to the transmission of human culture. So my ultimate questions concern ones that Archibald MacLeish raises in his book, Poetry and Experience, in response to the first century Chinese poet Lu Chi's statement in his Fu:

We poets struggle with Non-Being to force it to yield Being;
We knock upon silence for an answering music.

We enclose boundless space in a square foot of paper;
We pour out deluge from the inch space of the heart.

How?

Margaret 


2015-06-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Where does Beavis and Butthead fit into this?

Actually, that is a serious question. I'm not well-read on aesthetics, but it seems that a great deal of art gets quite short shrift from academic aestheticians, particularly if the art in question isn't up to a certain "standard".

The same nervous system can have appreciation for both "Tyger, Tyger" and "Baby Got Back", after all. If there is a neuro-aesthetics, then the "aesthetics" end of that would have to make room for both, as well.


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Jacob Smith

Hi Jacob

Thanks for your comments and welcome to the thread.

Phenomenology is not my strong suit so forgive me if I seem to miss the point.

You say at one point that “… the work of art becomes a complete perceptual transparency of the meaning(s) being represented. To my mind, saying that the aesthetic object belongs to the world of the senses, or that it is essentially perceived, is to say that it has an essence (its individually represented meaningfulness) and that what is perceived by the witness is completely transparent to it. In other words, art is perceived meaning.”

I have a problem with equating “belongs to the world of the senses” with “essentially perceived”. Perception, at least in one sense, seems to me to involve more than the senses – i.e. it involves the mind. Doubtless this brings up a larger question about the nature of human consciousness but without opening up that can of worms, I would still tend to have a problem with the equivalence you suggest. Especially since you go on to say that “saying that the aesthetic object belongs to the world of the senses … is to say that it has an essence (its individually represented meaningfulness)”. Can “meaning” be grasped just by the senses?

I’m not sure how this all relates to neuroaesthetics, but since I am not at all clear what neuroaesthetics is, or seeks to do, that’s not surprising, I guess.

DA


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Welcome to the conversation.

Yes, even though I don’t follow developments closely, I get the impression that there is a lot of hype going on. It’s a sad commentary on academia, I always feel, that so much of what happens is dictated by fashion. That’s partly why I started this thread – in a tiny way, I wanted to subject the thinking behind this particular fashion to a little scrutiny. A little “let’s-pause-and-reflect-for-a-moment” opportunity, if you will.

You say also that “the field is in its infancy and therefore cannot yet be expected to produce conclusive results”. Well, yes, though it has been around for a while now (and I am reminded of the fad for Skinnerian behavioural psychology that used to say the same thing before it slowly sank into the dustbin of intellectual history.)

But I am less interested in “results” per se than what those results might be about. It is by no means clear to me what neuroaesthetics is trying to achieve – and nothing I’ve read (which admittedly is not a lot) suggests to me that neuroaesthetics itself is clear about that either. Is it about art? Is it about beauty (by no means the same things). Does it eventually expect to be able to say “Yes, the brain scans show that X must be a work of art” (that would be a turn up for the books!) or “the brain scans show that Y is beautiful”. If not, what is  the aim? Because unless that is more or less clear – unless there is some kind of identifiable hypothesis here – the whole field has a very large question mark over it, does it not?

DA


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Actually there is a strong push in aesthetics today to include that curiously named creature called “popular culture.” So much so that the very notion of art has more or less lost all meaning (in my view at least).

But as you suggest this does raise an interesting point. If neuroaesthetics  is about art (Is it? I’m not sure) what does it mean by the term? Who decides what gets scanned for and on what criteria? A huge can of worm there.

DA


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Sorry I’m answering your posts out of order.

As I mentioned to Margaret, I’m not questioning neuroscience itself – at least as an area of medical research. (What philosophers are currently doing with it is a different matter…)

On neuroaesthetics:  Yes "preliminary data", if you like. But again, as I said, to Eric, data about what? What bothers me about the field is that it seems to me to be drastically under-theorised – or in less fancy language, the aims and the hypotheses strike me as ill-thought-out, not to say half-baked.

Now I may be quite wrong about that – as I’ve said I’m not well read in the field - but that is my distinct impression from the little I have read. If I am mistaken, someone might like to put me right ?

DA


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

You write at one point: I don't think it [neuroaesthetics] can tell us what is or is not art. Its potential lies in further understanding how our brain processes reveal our conscious and subliminal responses to the experience of art.

My problem here is this: Given that the data neuroaesthetics provides will always – I assume – be in the form of scans – i.e. purely physical objects – in what way could they help describe our “conscious responses” to anything, whether art or not?

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that we show a photo of an object to 1000 subjects. Let’s suppose – to make the argument as favourable as we can for neuroscience – that there is a striking similarity in the resulting brain scans of all the subjects: they’re all in the same region of the brain, and they are all the same size and shape. What do we know from that – from that alone? If the object is a beautiful sunset, we might say: “See, that’s what beauty does to the brain.” If it’s a squashed cockroach we might say: “See, that’s what nasty-looking things do to the brain.” But unless we already know what the object is, and unless we know how most people react to it, the brain scan by itself will tell us nothing, will it?  That is, if we were only shown the scan and were asked what it was a reaction to, we wouldn’t have any idea, would we?

So my question is: What useful additional knowledge does the brain scan give us about our conscious experience – i.e. knowledge about that experience that we didn’t have already?

DA


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Brian:

I know I use "jargon." You might understand why from the following:

Interdisciplinarity is inherently, constitutionally, unstable. It comes into existence as new world views begin to emerge and moves toward the formation of a new discipline. It is characterized by the temporary adoption of terminology from concepts developed in various disciplines, terminology which inevitably loses the rigor of its original formulation as it embraces phenomena from environments different from those in which it was first employed. During this stage, meanings themselves become unstable, a condition which marks Simon Penny’s (2014) first stage in the life history of a discipline. Penny’s five stages are as follows:

1.     the stage of half-formed vocabulary and vague promises;

2.     the stage in which ideas from various fields are interfaced, and new relationships and distinctions are built, out of which, assiduously and incisively, a new vocabulary, reflective of a new world view, is built;

3.     the stage when this vocabulary is deployed by members of the group in order to conduct sophisticated and dense discourse(s). In this stage the epistemological history of these terms is shared knowledge and the terms operate as shorthand;

4.     these terms, rather than standing for a history of research and debate become reified, and, for instance, are written about in textbooks and taught, to a new generation of students who take these ideas as axiomatic ground-level realities. As a result, terminology so rigorously developed in 2+3 become like magical incantations full of presumed meaning;

5.     the stage of paradigmatic failure, where problems arise which often appear to need, i.e., only technical or methodological tweaks, but as problems progress, turn out to be problems in principle. The explanatory power of the paradigm comes into question and interrogation, internal and external begins. Return to 1 and repeat.


I'd put my terminology at stage 3. And, yes, the challenge is to express it in simpler language. As for diagramming, I don't find models used in scientific discourse helpful when applied to the arts.

Margaret

2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Sounds like we are on the same brain-wave-length on this one.

2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,Thank you for posting my comment and for your reply. Two things. One, since I have been an acolyte of Schopenhauer my entire life (something that puts me in an extreme minority, I know, but it gives me a competitive edge with the speculative realists), I am naturally sympathetic to any research matrix, either philosophical (phenomenology) or scientific (neuro-aesthetics) that seeks to ground artistic appreciation and response (include hierarchical placement or 'critical evaluation') upon a fundamental (onto-materialist?) level of Being. (I know what I just said demands a mountain-size level of justification, but I thought that I'd just get this out).

The second point is that I think what is driving neuro-aesthetics, as well as the entirety of the neuro-cognitive craze, is the hyper-reductionist paradigm most clearly enunciated by David Dennett: if mind is not purely matter (and matter purely body which means purely genes) then WHAT can it be? The alternative--in this ever-popular binary approach--is some sort of psychicalism which, by definition, is unacceptable (because otherwise mind would not be matter/body/genes).

ERGO...

A book that I have found useful here (within limits) is 'Aping Mankind' by Raymond Tallis

The more that prediction becomes a political--and now, after Google and Amazon--commericial imperative, the more materialistic/reductionist our paradigms will be.

2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
i agree with Derek.

2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan

Of course neuroaesthetic research is "under-theorized". The idea that science is always "hypothesis-driven" is a middle-school oversimplification. It's useful to teach children about how science is able, under the best of circumstances, to handle its affairs. It is far less useful in the real world.

There are several different ways to conduct science, and none of them is omnifunctional. You have to match method to situation. If you are at the level of nothing, observation must come first. What to observe? Anything! Observe first. Then look for correlation, clustering, etc. Then you form a hypothesis. Then you test the hypothesis. Expect a lot of fumbling around and blind alleys. Expect more fumbling around and blind alleys. No, more fumbling around. No, more. You want "progress"? It's going to take a century or so to even tell if it's a total waste of time. The matters really are that complex. Super-ultra-simple stuff like the meaning of the entire human genome hasn't been yet unraveled, not to mention slightly less simple stuff like epigenomics and envirome-epigenome-genome interaction. We're still able to do fruitful data dredging in biochemistry. You want hypothetic-deductive method consistently applied to neuroscience? Come back in a millenium (maybe).

When it comes to science, it seems to me that most academic philosophers and their ilk are both Candide and Pangloss, indoctrinating their successors to be further Candide/Pangloss hybrids. Those of us who actually do science get fish-slapped in the face with how far less tidy the real process is.


2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Any neuroaesthetics that is not working very hard to be laughed out of neuroscience does not bother to try to define "art" or "beauty" beyond "self-report of subject". THAT, however is an important unanswered question. What does the nervous system do that is specific to (or at least attached to) what the subject has determined to be "art" or "beautiful"? Is it similar to other previously determined states? What is the neurochemistry? Are there genetic correlates? Are some people genetically predisposed to be stuffy and exclusive and others to be eclectic in their aesthetic appreciation? Does this correlate to other behaviors? Does this correlate to risk factors for late-life neurodegenerative disorders? I could spend an entire week coming up with questions to test at the interface of neurobiology and "aesthetic" considerations and not exhaust the well. People who choose Hip-Hop vs. those who choose NPR? How do their brains respond to each and how do they respond to the other aesthetic choice upon exposure? Cholesterol effects? (If it involves the brain, cholesterol will probably be in there somewhere.) Metabolic syndrome or risk factors--do they play a role? Diabetes? (No, not joking--the idea that the "mind" is not influence by the body is so backwards that it's like a very backwardsy thing.)

You probably can't draw a correlation between diabetes and music choice (if one corrects for other cultural factors), but you can't rule out some possible connection between risk for diabetes and openness to new aesthetic experiences without looking, and you might actually end up revisiting the question without knowing it.

To help people who might not follow where I came up with this:

Poor education and limited life experiences are risk factors for Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Metabolic syndrome and diabetes are also risk factors for AD.
Are they related? It is not yet established either way, but it is generally known that limited life experiences predispose someone to lower aesthetic openness. Likewise, certain stress hormones that can be ameliorated by adding some variation (non-traumatic) to ones life (e.g. corticosteroid levels) are related to both risk for diabetes and risk for AD.

Descartes is dead. We are not minds inhabiting bodies. We are people, who have bodies, minds, maybe souls, and how all are interconnected is not known.

2015-06-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Good questions, Derek. I'm not in an authoritative position to answer them, so I hope someone who is will jump in. Meanwhile, I would point out that the current state of neuroaesthetics focuses on the visual arts, for obvious reasons, given your comment about scans. I'm not sure that scans will in the future be the only way to access brain functions.

I don't think the aim of neuroaesthetics is to achieve insights into the arts that we don't already have. Isn't it rather the case that like all cognitive science disciplines, it is attempting to identify, analyze, and explain the cognitive functions we have and use as human beings? So that it might give us insights into human evolutionary development; how the development of aesthetic knowledge and appreciation might activate more pathways of the brain than otherwise; how the arts motivate the emotions; why poets and artists since the beginning of recorded history have claimed art accesses "reality" (whatever that means) in a way inaccessible to conventional thinking; and so on? The last two points I mention are of especial interest to me as I study the nature of poetry.

Margaret

2015-06-04
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Thanks for your post.

I am not a Schopenhauer expert so I won’t venture onto that terrain.

But I confess I am a little puzzled about where you’re coming from (as they say). You seem to be saying – and forgive if I’m misreading you – that you are sympathetic to physicalist thinking – to some degree anyway; but on the other hand you say you found Tallis’s book useful; and as I read that book, he is sharply critical of physicalist approaches.

I am sure I must be losing the plot here, so feel free to put me back on track.

DA


2015-06-04
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi  Bryan

I’ll do a fuller response to your posts a little later but in the meantime I was interested in your question: “Are some people genetically predisposed to be stuffy and exclusive and others to be eclectic in their aesthetic appreciation?"

I, for example, love Mozart (and lots of other so-called “classical” music) and I abhor pop, rock and everything of that ilk. (I even wear earphones in shopping malls to muffle the awful wailing that masquerades as music). Do you think this makes me “stuffy and exclusive”? Do you think I might have some kind of genetic predisposition – perhaps a genetic flaw? Do you think neuroaesthetics will eventually be able to demonstrate scientifically (because it does seem to want to be a science) that my preferences indicate an unfortunate stuffiness and exclusiveness, and a lack of “aesthetic eclecticism”?

DA


2015-06-04
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

A further reply to your posts.

I am not a scientist so I would, of course, defer to your views in that field. But are you not overstating things a bit when you play down the importance of hypotheses so strongly. After all, the very act of designing of an experiment in a particular way implies an hypothesis, doesn’t it? How else would one proceed at all? And when you say “What to observe? Anything!” that also seems an overstatement. If I’m conducting an experiment in neuroaesthetics (perish the thought!), I assume that what I had for breakfast and the position of the planets are not relevant? Those are extreme examples, of course, but my point is that there is surely a basic sifting process even at initial stages. One does not in fact observe just “anything”.

Which leads me back to my original point about neuroaesthetics being under-theorised. What would be your comment, Bryan, on the case I put to Margaret, viz:

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that we show a photo of an object to 1000 subjects. Let’s suppose – to make the argument as favourable as we can for neuroscience – that there is a striking similarity in the resulting brain scans of all the subjects: they’re all in the same region of the brain, and they are all the same size and shape. What do we know from that – from that alone? If the object is a beautiful sunset, we might say: “See, that’s what beauty does to the brain.” If it’s a squashed cockroach we might say: “See, that’s what nasty-looking things do to the brain.” But unless we already know what the object is, and unless we know how most people react to it, the brain scan by itself will tell us nothing, will it?  That is, if we were only shown the scan and were asked what it was a reaction to, we wouldn’t have any idea, would we?

My basic point here is that neuroaesthetics, to my mind, cannot proceed at all without some basic assumptions (at the very least, basic) about art and beauty. And that's a hugely contested area of philosophical debate where opinions differ enormously and where there are large numbers of conflicting arguments. So, which position would the aspiring experimental neuroaesthete choose and why? How in short can he/she escape underlying philosophical assumptions about art, beauty and so on? And if he/she can’t, how will the “results” not end up simply being reflections of those assumptions?

DA



2015-06-05
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

I thought I might comment on one of the points that you say is of special interest to you, viz: the possibility that neuroaesthetics might give us insights into “why poets and artists since the beginning of recorded history have claimed art accesses "reality" (whatever that means) in a way inaccessible to conventional thinking; and so on?”

Have artists always claimed this in fact? Romantic artists often did, and some modern artists do as well (perhaps it helps sales…), but I’m not sure it was the case earlier. Certainly, the sculptors of the Middle Ages – who created such wonderful things as the statues at Chartres – would not have done so (a) because the notion of art itself did not exist (except as signifying a skill) and (b) because such a claim would, I think, have been seen as sacrilegious – the only reality higher than everyday reality being God.

This is the kind of historical problem that neuroaesthetics, to my mind, has not even begun to address. (Not surprisingly: it stems from “analytic” aesthetics which is more or less tone deaf to history).

Suppose, for example, (I’m being generous to neuroaesthetics again) that 90% of “subjects” shown photos of the sculptures at Chartres had identical scans, and that scans of this kind had been previously established as signifying “art” (a crazy assumption, but I’m being very kind). If this were the case, then all those subjects would disagree completely with everyone who had ever thought about said statues for hundreds of years until about 1900. No medieval sculpture had ever been regarded as art until about then: it was seen as clumsy and primitive, carried out by humble workmen who did not really know what they were doing. And the same, of course, is true of thousands of works from other cultures which we now welcome into our art museums – e.g. from ancient Egypt, Africa, India, China, etc etc.

A huge problem for “neuroaesthetics”, don’t you think? A problem which, as far as I'm aware, none of its aficionados has as yet even recognized, let alone addressed.

DA


2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
i came upon this thread - i guess i'm on the list to receive it - and must ask, if i may, whether you make a distinction between capability (for aesthetic experience) and the experience itself?  different accounts might pertain to each.  It seems we might have to define what is the aesthetic experience first.  what distinguishes it from an ethical or epistemological experience, for example.  
as an instance, Kant first describes what knowledge is, in his view, in the 1st critique (having as its object the necessary and universal laws of nature), and then gives an account of the conditions for the possibility of this sort of knowledge.  

should we first describe what we intend by "aesthetic experience", and then attempt an account of the conditions of its possibility?  

it would be interesting to see whether cognitive science would come up with a different explanation - both of aesthetic experience, and then of the conditions of its possibility - than Kant himself in the 3rd critique.

best,
Cora Cruz

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. To re-cap:

1. You are correct; I hold a position of 'principled scepticism' concerning physicalism (not bunkum but as yet unproved) and, by inclination, am a psychicalist. However, purpose of my first post was to provide a non-philosophical account of the current inundation by neuro-cogntive studies. I believe that the true explanations are neither philosophical or scientific but ideological (reductive materialism as the a priori of social and culture praxis) and political (science=prediction=replication). So, at no point have I intended to undertake a formal philosophical critique of physicalism, with which I am in broad agreement (including many of the issues and problems that you yourself raised). I mentioned Tallis' book because I think that he does a good job attacking the entire cultural complex of materialist reduction and mind (in terms of more formal critique, I would recommend Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos).

2.There is no contradiction with the above and my interest in Schopenhauer.His pivotal comments on psychicalism come in Book 2, Section 18 of 'The World as Will and Presentation': 'The body...[is] the objectivization of will...will is cognizance a priori of the body, and the body is cognizance a posteriori of will.' The anglo-saxon tradition in philosophy has zero tolerance for metaphysics and most English-speaking commentators read this to mean that Schopenhauer was a half-crazed dualist. In fact, he was a radical monist: the body/phenomena is the extension within the perceptual order of the will/noumena. Read carefully, his approach is most closely related to the extreme sceptical position within psychicalism that views mind as a non-reductive emergent property, or even a quality, of the body that will remain eternally imperceptible (to empirical investigation, or capture) precisely because of its status as the noumenal. But this approach clearly does allow for an extensive but ultimately indeterminate conceptualization of mind as body (meaning noumena appearing/manifesting as phenomena).

3.To the degree that I am sympathetic to neuro-aesthetics precisely because it assumes the centrality of aesthetic experience to phenomenality, or the body-as-it-is-within-the-world (and yes, Schopenhauer was the single greatest unacknowledged influence on Heidegger). Therefore, I welcome the attempt but would view it from a radically different perspective from the ilk of Dennett or Sam Harris.


2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Is stuffiness and exclusiveness a flaw? Perhaps the flaw is a social bias in favor of eclecticism and against stuffiness? Yes, I would call you stuffy and exclusive, given that I can appreciate Mozart (although my tastes run more to the Romantics and Ives when it comes to so-called "art" music--I go far beyond so-called "art" music to appreciate a very wide variety). So what? That's merely an aesthetic opinion on my part. Would you call someone who only eats a single cuisine and abhors anything that isn't to their culinary taste a "limited palate"? Is being stuffy and exclusive a "genetic flaw"? That question is flawed.

What is a "genetic flaw"? Define that. Beyond some very easy-to-spot extremes, you can't. You can't because "flaws" very often are "flaws" within the context of environment. Is having gills and not lungs a "genetic flaw"? If you are aquatic, it's quite the norm. If you're terrestrial, it limits your mobility a great deal. The idea that gene-determined or even gene-influenced traits are inherently "better" or "worse" is yet another severely backwards idea that real science has long ago left far behind. Genetic "advantage" does not exist. Specific traits confer advantages in specific environments. Is the sickle cell trait a "genetic flaw", yes or no, flat-out yes or no that would apply equally well in all settings and environments. Anyone with the tiniest smattering of knowledge of sickle cell would realize that such a yes or no question is inherently a false question. Sickle cell is often a "flaw", but it confers a strong selective advantage in areas where malaria is common. Thus, the answer would be "Your question is wrong."

In the case of being stuffy and exclusive, it may end up correlating with a higher risk for neurodegenerative disorders in later life. However, it may also correlate with behaviors that increase the likelihood of making a comfortable living, getting a stable mate, and raising children who are, themselves, better-equipped to make a comfortable living, get a stable mate, etc. Biological processes are very often trade-offs. Is that a flaw? Depends? Are you counting years of productive life (personal influence) or likely numbers of great-grandchildren (multi-generational influence)?

I do cop to having committed hyperbole as a cheap rhetorical trick in my description of exploratory science (I am a bit attracted to the rhetorical techniques of Feyerabend). Nevertheless, exploratory science is still valid science. Good science does not have to be rigidly (OCD-ishly) shackled, fettered, chained, enslaved to the hypothetic-deductive method. Eventually, the method will come into play, but there often has to be what we call "hypothesis-generating research". You just have a vague idea and look at "stuff" that you roughly guess might be related, but you don't generate any explicit hypothesis at that point, you just go with a hunch and do a very small pilot experiment or two. If anything shows up at all, no matter how tiny the effect, then you look at your budget and see if you can afford to design and run a proper experiment. After that, you see if you can convince someone to give you more money to follow it up.


2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Insights into the arts? Isn't that what artists and aestheticians (be they historians, critics, philosophers of art/music/whatever) are for? As a neuroscientist, I would be far more interested in what happens to the nervous system due to exposure to "the arts".

As for reaching an inaccessible "reality", my reaction to such claims is to pat the head and say "How very nice, dear." Ultimately, I don't care a bit if what a poem expresses is "real". I read it for the experience of reading it. The same is true of music, visual arts, etc. It doesn't matter if it's "real" or not. All that matters is the experience of experiencing it. If I want "real", I can do my laundry.

Does that make the arts "lesser"? Depends, is one a hardcore Protestant Work Ethic sort? (I include a lot of Marxists in the "Protestant Work Ethic" camp, by the way--these are the people who have the silly belief that everything must serve some "function", where "function" is defined as "contributes to whatever method of industrial production and political control I like").

One more thing:  Diagrams are good. If you can't express your thesis as a didactic cartoon (didactic cartoons are a type of diagram) or in other graphic form, it probably means you don't understand your own thesis enough. That's been my experience. Indeed, I've entirely rewritten papers after creating a "summary figure" because of insights I gained by creating the figure that was supposed to summarize the manuscript I'd just finished. If you chain yourself to a single medium, it's like trying to sing an opera with a single note. It might work, but it's only a novelty piece.

Another more thing: Neuroscience is far more than "brain scans". Neuroimaging is a tiny part of the field. I've never done neuroimaging even though I've been working in neuroscience for over a decade.

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
I hope that you do not include classic Rhythm and Blues on your list of music-masquerading 'awful wailing(s)'.

Eric

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Why on earth would a neuroscientist address such a historical problem? That's what historians are for. One might as well ask a historian (or, even worse, a philosophy professor) to find links among genotype, parental exposure to pesticides, childhood nutrition, and risk for Alzheimer's disease later in life AND posit potentially useful therapeutic pathways.

Such a historical problem as you mention is not within the bailiwick of neuroscience, and no neuroscientist would touch it. There are already highly-trained and skilled professionals who have far more appropriate knowledge and skill sets.

Now, as for your cockamamy example, it's just plain silly. One might as well talk about, for example, philosophers insisting that we conduct discourse only by farting and then use that preposterous straw man as an argument that philosophy has a "huge problem", due to all that talking with farts and all.

I would like you to cite a single paper from any peer-reviewed source in which any neuroscientist is claiming to be able to define "art" from "scans" of subjects' brains. I'd like to see that paper--I need a good laugh. I want you to point to a SINGLE laboratory that is even working on such a truly stupid premise. Or are you just making up a load of nonsense to mock and then tell everyone that your made-up, play-pretend, never-even-met-a-neuroscientist self-parody is to be taken as normative for the practices of "neuroaesthetics"?

Maybe my problem is that I've restricted myself far too much to the reputable journals in my own field (neuroscience), so I'm not aware of what lunatics on the fringe are doing (although I could use a good laugh).

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I am new to this discussion, and trying to catch up. But I was compelled to post a response here. What is missing here is something I loathe to get entangled in, but I am afraid we must, and that is defining or understanding what "beauty" is. Just typing that made me roll my eyes. But… oh well. To use your comparison, it is entirely possible for someone not to be moved by a sunset, and to find a squashed cockroach "beautiful." I myself often find more appreciation (or equally so) for the "ugly." So what does this say about neuro-aesthetics? I don't know. But I think it says more about our assignments of "beauty," which I consider currently erroneous. 
It might be a mistake only to look at this area without including issues of sociology (wherein decisions of what is and isn't art tend to emerge) as well as cognitive theories on art, art-historiy/criticism (which is political in nature really) aesthetic philosophy and even looking at studio art processes. It would even be advantageous to look at other areas in our culture that could be considered "art-forms," such as, say chess. When discussing aesthetics we tend too often to think about the physical manifestation of "beauty" or objects.. and exclude events and ways of thinking. I would posit that a match in chess can be beautiful (or ugly) as well. 
 




2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Margaret, could you give the reference for Simon Penny 2014? Thank you. Luc.

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Cora Cruz
As a neuroscientist, I would define "aesthetic experience" as "whatever the subject considers to be one". Then I measure what the person's body does while undergoing such an experience. Using neuroscience to define an "aesthetic experience" strikes me as plain silly. It verges on reclassifying the urge to escape slavery as "drapetomania" or political dissidence as "sluggishly progressing schizophrenia". Both have been done, and both are using the trappings of the cognitive science of those days to enshrine political or cultural opinions in a Temple of Biological "Fact". If one uses neuroscience to define an "aesthetic experience", then I'm solidly in the "it's bunkum" camp.

What specific experiments have been published in reputable peer-reviewed journals in which neuroscientists have tried to define the "aesthetic experience" by means of neuroscientific measurements? Could anyone give me some citations?

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Sunsets and cockroaches, so what? And "brain scans" are HIGHLY over-rated by the hoi-polloi. They have a place in neuroscience, but they are neither the beginning, the end, nor a large chunk of the middle. As for what this experiment (yuck vs. yum) responses can "tell" us, very similar experiments have already told us a lot. They have told us that unpleasant visual stimuli can potentiate stress responses, which are connected (via other experiments) to inflammatory responses, which are connected (via other experiments) to diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, major depressive disorder, greater risk for cardiovascular disease, etc.

Yes, the "brain scan by itself" only tells us the result of that experiment. Nobody is such a buffoon (in the life sciences at least) to insist that a SINGLE experiment of only 1,000 subjects could be sufficient, in and of itself, to solve any major neurological or neuroscientific question. Maybe such unreasonable and childish demands are more tolerated in other fields. But biologists have to deal with the real world. Increments, small increments, until things finally pile up enough to support a paradigm shift, once in a great while.

Nevertheless we can learn a GREAT DEAL from such experiments in combination with a chain of other experiments if we bother to understand biology.

As for basic assumptions about "art" and "beauty", typical neuroscientific approach is to assume that, for purposes of measuring personal responses, a person's OWN assessment of a stimulus is as good a starting point as any. Since neuroscience is, like nearly all science, about finding a "typical spread", extreme outliers get shunted to the side in terms of overall conclusions. If I have a choice of helping 99% of people with Parkinson's live happy lives where they can get around on their own but 1% is biologically too far out to be helped by this method, my priority will be to help the 99%, then figure out how to identify the unfortunate 1% so as to prevent a useless treatment being given to them (false hope can kill someone, actually), and then work on that 1% and try to solve their less common situation.

At heart, it's a horrible calculus of agony, but it's one I have to make because I refuse to be paralyzed by indecision. I WANT to help 100%, but if I can't, I'll go for the biggest proportion first, and then try again for the rest. It sucks to be "the rest", it just plain sucks, but resources, time, and people are limited, not infinite.

2015-06-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
I agree with both of you, Eric, and Brian. Unfortunately the lunatic fringe that you mention are hanging out in the hallways of my field, art. The arguments being made are decisively political, in that pseudo historians and pseudo scientists are  trying to dismantle current attitudes in the art world that do not conform with their motion of what Art is, what "good" art is, and traditional notions of beauty and aesthetics. More unfortunate is that they are difficult to ignore as a number of them have infiltrated important positions in academia. 
To answer Brian's question on reputable sources: there are none. All reputable Brito-scientists who delve into neuron esthetics and art make no claims that their field can determine what art us and assign "good" or "bad" values to art objects etc. 

2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE: "I hope that you do not include classic Rhythm and Blues on your list of music-masquerading 'awful wailing(s)'."


No, that's not awful wailing but musically it has no interest for me at all. An enormous amount of music over the last century has degenerated to little more than monotonous rhythm and/or sugary melodies. A good name for it might be anti-music – rather than "popular" music. It's the equivalent of detective stories or “true-romance" in literature – which is a kind of anti-literature.

All this is directly relevant to "neuro-aesthetics” by the way. At some point in its “experiments” it will need to choose what it experiments with, and how it categorizes what it chooses. How will it decide what falls into the category “art” – or even “beauty” (the two not being necessarily related of course)? Aesthetics itself has fought over these questions for a very long time - with not the least sign of resolution. And as you can see from my position, there are widely differing views. No “neuro-aesthetician”, even armed with a boatload of ”experimental results”, is ever going to find me agreeing that Mozart is not good music and that the stuff that’s rammed down my throat in shopping malls is.

DA


2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Sorry to butt in to your exchange with Margaret but I couldn't help noticing your comment: ‘I would be far more interested in what happens to the nervous system due to exposure to "the arts"’.

How would you define “arts” for the purposes of your experiments? What would be in, and what would be out? You’d have to make those decisions, wouldn’t you – and presumably, since you are a scientist, you would want them to be grounded on solid reasons and clear definitions?

(See also my reply to Eric today which is relevant)

DA


2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: “Since neuroscience is, like nearly all science, about finding a "typical spread", extreme outliers get shunted to the side in terms of overall conclusions.”

I wonder how many artists were “extreme outliers’ who got “shunted aside” at some point,? Take your pick: Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Pisarro, Monet (believe it or not), Picasso (to begin with), Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Georges de la Tour, Bizet (he died without knowing how famous he would become), Stravinsky (his magnificent ballet music howled down)…  the list could go on and on. Rembrandt for quite some time was an “outlier”. And Mozart as we know was buried in a pauper’s grave.

And I wonder how many artists today who are “extreme outliers” may yet become famous?  

In fact, it has been the “typical” – the imitators – who have usually dropped off the radar. Still if neuroscience says it’s only the”typical” who matter, that must be right. After all, who would want to quarrel with science and its technique of the "typical spread"?

DA


2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Re: “when it comes to so-called 'art' music”.

Oh dear, what on earth is “art” music? The term reminds me of that ridiculous phrase “high art”.

There is good music and there’s the other kind.  Just as there’s good literature and visual art, and the other kinds.

DA


2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Re: “I would like you to cite a single paper from any peer-reviewed source in which any neuroscientist is claiming to be able to define "art" from "scans" of subjects' brains”

Ah, Bryan, as I said in my opening comment I’m not well read in the field so I can’t cite you such a paper. You certainly have me there.

On the other hand, if there is no such paper, I can’t understand – as I’ve pointed out – how neuroaesthetics would conduct experiments that relate to art. If it doesn’t want to – or can’t – say what is art and what is not, how would it decide to choose painting A, rather than painting B, C or D (for example), in its experiments? (And the same would go for “beauty”, if that’s what the subject of the experiment was.)

It’s really just an elementary matter of scientific procedure – something I thought you might have an interest in.

And, after all, the subject is called "neuroaesthetics". At some point, unless it's all just a silly hoax, neuroaestheticians must presumably be able to say something about art and/or beauty? (Dear me, perhaps it is all just a silly hoax?)

DA

2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,
Thank you for your post. To re-iterate: I am critical of but not unsympathetic to physicalism; my preference is for  some kind of psychicalism (re. my post on Schopenahuer). I understand neuro-aesthetics qua science as a continuation of physicalism. 

With that out of the way: do you understand aesthetic phenomena (however defined or evaluated) to possess an existence independent of neuro-biological behavior or responses? Is it possible, in your opinion, to have a fully coherent theory of art and beauty without ever once making reference to the neuro-biological experiences that you claim serves as the basis of personal/subjective aesthetic experiences? (meaning, we can bracket out biology entirely and still have an intelligible conversation)

Because I think we have two problems here: (i) using neuro-biology as a critical or heuristic device to articulate/evaluate/police/enforce artistic norms and standards (statistical aggregates as signs of the true or correct aesthetic response); and (ii) to effectively reduce art to biological sensation, rendering it almost epiphenomenal (as Dennett infamously tried to do in his tome 'Conciousness Explained (Away)'.

These are not criticisms but questions.

Eric


2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
AGREE 100%

2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I have already stated how neuroscience would deal with this non-issue: SUBJECT REPORT! The subject's own assessment of what is "art" would do. As an alternative, the opinions of professional aestheticians would be used. Only a daft git would try to use neuroscience to "define" art. What fringe kook has been telling you otherwise? What ACTUAL EXPERIMENT REPORTS have you read? A proper report will make the methods, including how conditions were chosen, quite explicit. WHY NOT LOOK IT UP FOR YOURSELF? That's what real scholars do. They don't lazily demand that everything be spoon-fed to them.

Perhaps "beauty" is just a silly hoax.

Journals exist. Do your own research in them. After all, it's not like your not up the task, intellectually, right?

It is not the job of a neuroscientist who studies the neuroscience of aesthetic response to define the aesthetic categories. As I have already stated, that is what neuroaestheticians are for, be they philosophical, historical, or of some other origin.  START with the culturally-defined categories. Discover IF they have repeatable biological correlates. THEN go from there into other directions. That is proper neuroscience. That is proper science for ANYTHING that is culturally defined. The FIRST question to ask is "Is there any repeatable connection between the culturally-determined categories and any underlying biology, chemistry, physics, etc.?" Very often, the answer might be "No, or it's so complex that it may take centuries to tease out."

Why do you wilfully refuse to accept that this is how neuroscience works even AFTER this has been explained to you?

What constitutes "fine art" for a neuroscience experiment? It COULD be whatever the subject calls "fine art". It COULD be what some panel of stuffy, out-of-touch ivory-tower critics call "fine art". It could be BOTH, with the intent of comparing biological responses depending on which set of categories is used. That could be an interesting question. Is there a different biological response between what some set of "experts" call "fine art" and what an observer personally considers "fine art" regardless of what the "experts" might claim?

But neuroscience is not interested in defining "art" in terms of biology. That's as stupid as trying to define "art" in terms of spectrographic analysis maybe a few small-potatoes physicists have tried, but they'd be fringe lunatics).

2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
And what about it?

I'm sorry that the world hasn't recognized your genius. Have a cyber-hug. The only way to properly define the outliers in a sense beyond "not typical" is to first pare away and characterize the non-outliers. Then you get a better definition whereby you explore outliers. Outliers are far more likely to have non-correlated differences from each other, making it far more difficult to study them "as a group". Now, are YOU going to fund this outlier research? Where is the money to come from?

Likewise, give a DIRECT QUOTE wherein I stated that neuroscience says that it is ONLY the typical who matter. GIVE THE DIRECT QUOTE.

You are being extremely dishonest. Reply to what I actually write, not something you conveniently twist.

You obviously have an enormous chip on your shoulder about science. Here's another cyber-hug for your unrecognized "genius" and unsung "brilliance". You're a good boy. Very good boy.

2015-06-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: "But neuroscience is not interested in defining "art" in terms of biology."

What is neuroaesthetics* interested in doing in your view? That is, what, in your view, is its central aim? (Please try to be concise...)

(* As I made clear earlier, I am interested in talking about neuroaesthetics. Neuroscience, at least in the professional medical sense, is not the issue here.)

DA


2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Sorry. Mistake. Ignore this

DA

2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: You obviously have an enormous chip on your shoulder about science.

On the contrary, I greatly admire many of the achievements of science. I would not like to have lived in the world before modern medicine – antibiotics etc – and in all sorts of ways, science has made the world a much more liveable and interesting place. Of course, it has also been responsible for nuclear weapons etc, so as well as improving the conditions of human of life, it may also one day destroy us. But nonetheless, I am not anti-science

What I do question is the importation of the scientific mindset into areas in which it is not – in my opinion – relevant, and art is one example. Which is one of the reasons why I started this thread: I was interested to see if anyone could argue a lucid case in favour of neuroaesthetics which, whatever it is exactly, appears to be an attempt to deal with art through the prism of science.

A good place to start, it seems to me, would be for someone who is a supporter of neuroaesthetics to say what they think its aim is. I’ve suggested this a couple of times but no one seems willing to put up their hand. Yet, surely, neuroaesthetics* must have an aim, even if it’s only a provisional one. Otherwise, what is it there for, and why are so many people spending their precious time and brain power on it? Is it just because it's a current fad? Surely not...

Of course, as you say, Bryan, I could read more articles about neuroaesthetics, but seriously I can’t bear the thought.  As I said at the beginning, some intellectual movements, in my view, have folly written all over them from the outset so I really can’t muster the energy to read articles or books about it. Nevertheless, if someone on this thread can provide a lucid defence – explain the aims etc – I am very willing to listen. Philpapers threads can be quite educational at times.

DA

* NB, Bryan: neuroaesthetics, not neuroscience generally. I have explained my position re this.


2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek et al.

There are so many subthreads happening that it's hard to respond as I'd like, so I'm sending this as a general follow-up.

First, I'd like to say that words like taste and beauty have become unfortunate synonyms for "aesthetics" and are therefore misleading. I prefer to avoid them. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Vico in the eighteenth century proposed a Scienza Nuovo (New Science) to account for human culture that the methodologies of the natural sciences could not do. His science, accordingly, deals with aesthetics: the science of human perception, which includes sensory-emotion-conceptual processes of human cognition.

Second, the mind-brain problem which has surfaced a little in the discussion stems from material-antimaterial debates arising from the Cartesian split between body and mind. To say that "the mind is embodied" does not necessitate a materialist position, for the simple reason there is no such thing as "a mind." That comes from what psychologists call "cognitive economy": the reification (turning action and event into object) that occurs through nominalisation (making nouns out of verbs). We have to do it to effect communication (think of what it would be like to not be able to use the noun phrase "train journey" to describe how you came to Myrifield (our institute in Heath, Massachusetts). But reification comes at a cost: it obscures the sensory and emotional and conceptual details of that specific train journey. So I try to use the word minding instead to indicate the processes of the brain that are immaterial.

Third, art for me is precisely that aspect of the human imagination that bypasses cognitive economy (Reuven Tsur calls it "delaying categorisation") in order to engage us in the sensory-emotion-conceptual aspects of our experience.

Fourth, where neuroaesthetics comes in involves a concern for understanding how the embodied brain is able to generate minding, the imaginative faculties that underlie human cognition. The arts play a special role here for the reasons outlined in #2-3.

Last, I appreciate the fact that participants in this thread are coming from very different places and disciplines. Could we please recognize that and not resort to ad hominem comments?

Thanks for your consideration.

Margaret

2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your reply.

In brief:

1. Art can equal the ugly: 100% correct. Many of the 'great'works of Art are devoted to the ugly (or squashed cockroaches) not the beautiful.

2. Syrupy music: on the very odd chance that you do not already know it, please see Deleuze and Guattari, 'A Thousand Plateaus', Chapter Eleven, 310-50 on music versus the REFRAIN. Essentially, all of contemporary commercial music has been colonized by the refrain.

3. Detective fiction: I must respectfully disagree. I teach several courses on Law and Literature and lecture frequently on the Detective and the Crime novel. Some of the greatest writers in modern American literature were primarily detective and/or crime novelists (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith), many great writers began their careers writing for the pulps (William Faulkner) traces of which appeared in their later writings, and some of the very best 20th American novels--'An American Tragedy' by Theodore Dreiser, 'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote,The Executioner's Song' by Norman Mailer--are masterpieces of these genres.

Perhaps our respective neurons are firing in a different sequence?

Eric

2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan

You're going to have to personally contact someone who is a "supporter of neuroaesthetics", then. I'm a neuroscientist. I consider the idea of using neuroscience to "define" cultural categories of "art" as stupid as the idea of using genetics to "define" cultural categories of "race".

That being said, questions like "Do any actual genetic differences correspond to the cultural construction of 'race'?"; "What are the health consequences of cultural classification by 'race'?"; etc. are all interesting questions, NONE of which rely upon biology to define "race". The categories of "race" or "art" are taken as given by the culture. The biologist then sees if anything can match up to biological responses or conditions. Do people who take the time to spend immersed in "art" have higher or lower blood pressure than those who don't? Do snobs have greater or lower overall risk of late-life degenerative disorders? Those are biological questions.

If you want "neuroaesthetics" to defend itself, you're going to have to actually make the effort to directly contact those who claim to practice it and directly ask them your pointed questions instead of using a passive-aggressive method.

2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Hi Luc!

Simon Perry posted his comments on Researchgate. He tells me he has not yet published what he wrote. However, if you send me your email address at freemamh@lavc.edu, I can send you a copy of what he wrote.

Do you think you could respond to Derek's request for a lucid statement of neuroaesthetics' aims? I note that your affiliation is the Instituto de Neuroartes.

Margaret

2015-06-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Sorry - that's Simon Penny.

Some of you might be interested in a conference he is organizing in 2016. Here's the lowdown from him:

 
Do you have expertise in Embodied Cognition and the Arts?

Colleagues. I have the good fortune to be able to host a conference called A Body of Knowledge - Embodied Cognition and the Arts, in the Claire Trevor School of the Art at University of California, Irvine, in December 2016. The goal of the  conference is to bring insights from embodied (etc) cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy of mind and related fields to bear on questions of arts practices, in a way that is generative of new perspectives in both directions, with the goals of building new arts-theoretic discourses and also challenging cognitive discourses with examples from the arts. This is provoked by the recognition that 'traditional' cognitive science has had little useful to say about the arts, and indeed has found art practices (and other embodied cultural practices) confounding, because of its commitment to a Cartesianism which denies or minimised embodied and material aspects of cognition. In this thread, I invite you to raise pertinent issues, cite relevant research, both current and historical, and to propose papers, panels, performances and demonstrations. My goals here are to develop thematics for the event which will be as relevant, contemporary and provocative as possible, as well as a more pragmatic goal of gathering material and personnel for the event. Email at <penny@uci.edu>.

Margaret


2015-06-12
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
RE: "Do snobs have greater or lower overall risk of late-life degenerative disorders?"

Interesting. What would be the scientific definition of a snob? Do they "self report"? Or are they identified by others who are blessed with scientific objectivity?

DA

2015-06-12
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

Thanks for your post. Glad you’re still with us.

I’d just like to comment on one aspect where you say:

First, I'd like to say that words like taste and beauty have become unfortunate synonyms for "aesthetics" and are therefore misleading.

I certainly agree. I remember once at an aesthetics conference in the US suggesting that there be a moratorium on the word “aesthetic” and its cognates for about ten years because it is ambiguous and therefore misleading. My comment was in jest of course – I hardly expected it to happen. To my great surprise, though, there were a number of murmurs of approval from those present.

The problem infects neuroaesthetics too, of course. Is it about beauty? Is it about art? (By no means the same things.) Is it about sensory perception – which, as you rightly point out, is one of the meanings of the term. So, quite apart from the methodological problems I have been drawing attention to, there is this basic definitional issue.

PS Thank you for your comment re ad hominem remarks comments?  I fully agree.

DA



2015-06-12
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Hi Luc

Yes let me endorse Margaret's request to you to respond to my request (sorry, that sounds a bit involved!) for a lucid statement of neuroaesthetics' aims.

That might help our discussion a lot.

DA

2015-06-12
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

My point about sunsets and cockroaches (!) was perhaps not as clear as it should have been. I wasn’t wanting to argue that art can be ugly. (I actually think the dichotomy beautiful/ugly helps us very little with understanding art. Same goes for beautiful/disgusting. I mention this because I notice that “ugly” and “disgusting” are enjoying something of a vogue in aesthetics circles at the moment. People seem to be doing all kinds of intellectual gymnastics to convince themselves that the ugly and disgusting can be pleasing, and therefore art – or something to that effect).

But I digress. The point I intended to make was that brain scans by themselves tell us nothing. It is only when we know what they are in response to that we start giving them a significance. So as I said, neuroaesthetics cannot proceed at all without some basic assumptions about art and beauty. It would have to say, for example, that a squashed cockroach is repulsive. (Which might be a problem for the current aficionados of the disgusting who seem to be arriving at the conclusion that, looked at in the right way, (!) the disgusting is pleasing.)

I’ve read very little Deleuze so I can’t comment on the refrain thing. Though I must say I’m sceptical. Refrains are not necessarily bad music. Medieval music for example has some delightful refrains.

As for detective fiction, yes, there are doubtless good writers among them. But the category is very broad (in a sense Crime and Punishment might be termed detective fiction) and I was thinking of the “pulp” end of the scale.  

My basic point is that the last century or so has seen an enormous growth of what I would call anti-arts: music, visual stuff and literature that uses the means available to art for ends that have nothing to do with art.  A great deal of modern so-called “popular culture”, to my mind, is of this kind. Of course, my view is very much in the minority and enormous numbers of people would disagree. (Bryan has solved the problem by labelling me a snob). But it does point to a problem for the budding neuro-aesthetician, don’t you think?: if the category “art” is so deeply contested, how will he or she choose what to experiment with when seeking to arrive at conclusions about responses to “art”? In visual art, there’s little sign of general agreement beyond the Mona Lisa, and even then…. (I recall standing in the crowd around the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and hearing one young woman say to her friend in a very disappointed voice: “She doesn’t do anything! She just sits there!” Clearly she wasn't impressed.)

DA


2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Dear Margaret,
Thank you for your interesting and useful post. I am not a neuro-scientist, so you will have to take my questions/comments apppropriately.

1. Art versus Beauty: can you please elaborate on this? Because the formal definition of aesthetics is the 'philosophy of beauty'with Art understood as one expression of that (sort of like the substance/attribute problem). Aesthetics can also concern itself with Love and Ugliness, Tragedy and Comedy (see Plato, The Symposium). So, I feel a little quesy about something calling itself neuro-aesthetics and then trying to define its subject mater as merely Art instead of Beauty.

2. You mentioned 'the embodied brain'. I am a little confused by this.

3. Would you accept as approximately accurate (it is modeled after Wittgenstein): "Mind"is the name that we give to the way that neurons behave.

Many Thanks!

Eric

2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Margaret, Derek.

Thank you Margaret for Penn's reference.

The term neuroaesthetics was coined by Sémir Zeki some 20 years ago in a Conference in California. He defines it as the neurology of the aesthetics.French scientist Jean-Pierre Changeux has also played an important role in the genesis of neuroaesthetics.

My understanding - not sure it is lucid even if Derek asked for lucidity: broad term used to label the study of the neurophysiological processes of the human body  in order to understand the sensory and perceptual experiences when in an aesthetic situation; the study of the human creative brain. We can debate the meaning of the term aesthetic since it had had so many definitions across time. I would refer to the Ancient Greek vocabulary to understand it.
- aisthesis - aistheton - aisthetikos - aisthanesthai 

A reference to Baumgarten's  "ars analogi rationis" is also useful. See Reflections on Poetry (1734), Aisthetica (1750-1758).  Kant and Hegel have given the term a complete different meaning. I second Margaret's comment on beauty and taste.

Since Zeki is primarily interested in the human visual system the term neuroaesthetics today is mainly related to the study of the visual system and the visual arts. It implies that several professions are interested, and involved: (neuro)scientists, philosophers, neuropsychologists artists (Warren Neidich for example) etc...

Second part of the post to follow.  Luc.


2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Second part:

In addition to the visual cortex, the neuroanatomy of creativity - see Jung, R.E. (2010), Flaherty, A.W., (2005), Cattaneo, Z. (2013), and computerized posturograhy - see Zapoula, Z et al (2011) -have become new objects (should I write subjects?) of study.

According to my understanding the term should therefore also include (among other topics) neuromusicology: the study of the musical territories in the brain (in a situation of composition, interpretation, listening).

In the case of architecture, theater and dance (ballet and contemporary) it should also include the scientific and philosophical study of proprioception; and how the brain does structure internal and external space - study of the vestibular system, superior temporal gyrus, colliculus, hippocampus, putamen. 

For the sake of space I am leaving out the studies related to other senses and art forms.

That said, I would like to stress the fact that if neuroaesthetics could shed light on the possible neurobiological correlates of "aesthetic cognitive events", it does not explain the "why", the "feel" of a subjective experience. The key here is the term experience. And neuroaesthetics does not colonize the making of art.

Cheers,

Luc


2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. Yes, I agree with quite a bit in this post (including the possibility of classifying 'Crime and Punishment'as a glorified detective novel, but as I know that you are a Dostoevsky affeciando I thought that it would be wise not to go there). As for Art and the Ugly: my only qualification is that there are tropes or forms of expression that constitute high art and yet privilege that which is repulsive--the grotesque, the carnivalesque, Horror, satire and parody (think Swift, Rabelais, Poe, Lovecraft, Rampo, Pynchon). And even that most unclassifiable of categories--the sublime--can often better be understood as being an expression more of Horror than Beauty.

I think that your strongest points are with your criticisms of the (apparent) methodological assumptions of what is called neuro-aesthetics. The selection/analysis of the brain-scan data MUST necessarily presuppose a definition/concept of Art which remains eternally hidden and unacknowledged; if we notice a spike of certain kinds or quantities of brain-wave activity in the presence of a certain type of stimulus, then that stimulus must be considered to be art. Which BY ITSELF tells us absolutely nothing about the objective nature of the object/stimulus, although of course something real is happening (the brain-waves). Which means that the entirety of the neuro-aesthetic project remains un-grounded.The only way out of this hopeless loop of circularity is to make the move to a truly hideous form of reduction/determinism: 'art' is the presence of the brain-wave activity itself, wholly independent of the objective characteristics/features of the thing that has induced the neuro-activity.In other words, there is no such thing as Art in itself, merely the neural experiencing of things to which we assign the word 'Art'.That was the point of my question to Bryan: is it possible, in his view, to discuss aesthetic  phenomena in an intelligible and coherent manner while completely bracketing out of the conversation biology? Because, if it is not, then I see no other outcome by the end of the day other than some sort of slide into reductionism.

This is where the problem of the Outlier comes in. If we make the move to neuro-determinism, then a given work of Art that meets all of the standard philosophical or cultural definitions of Beauty but yet fails to generate the neural responses must necessarily be re-classified as sub-standard or non-Art; not to do so would result in the re-establishment of Art along wholly non-biological lines, which would, I think, defeat the entire purpose of neuro-aesthetics.

2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Given that "snob" is a cultural categorization, it would have to be defined by some sort of cultural consensus or at least cultural plurality. Then we see if the behavior pattern correlates to anything biological.

Why do you have such a massive chip on your shoulder regarding science, anyway? It's obvious from the severe passive-aggressive nature of your replies whenever real science is introduced into your attempt to tilt at a straw man.

2015-06-15
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, if you are a snob so what? If you are a snob, embrace the term and glory in it. For all we know, "snobs" have some significant evolutionary advantages, either for themselves or for their breeding community/culture. Why be ashamed of being a snob?

Why be offended at being called a "snob"? After all, your tastes are certainly not in the least bit eclectic, and you have made it quite plain that things not to your taste are innately inferior to things that are to your taste.

Quacks like a duck...


2015-06-16
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Hi Bryan

RE: "Why do you have such a massive chip on your shoulder regarding science, anyway?"

As you’ll probably recall, I replied to this claim in my post of 2015-06-11.

DA

2015-06-16
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy

Hi Luc

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply at some length.

I have to say, though, that the information you provide increases, rather than diminishes, my concerns. I’ll be as succinct as possible.

A number of the statements you give define the aims of neuroaesthetics in terms of the word "aesthetic”. Eg “[Sémir Zeki ]…defines it as the neurology of the aesthetic.”

Definitions of this kind are quite inadequate in my view. The term “aesthetic” has at least three main meanings (as even most dictionaries acknowledge): relating to beauty, relating to art, and relating to the sensuous. Now, these are clearly not the same things. Art is not necessarily beautiful, and the sensuous may be neither beautiful nor art. This is not a mere philosopher’s quibble. It would have direct implications for any experimentation. On the “art” definition, one would be perfectly entitled to choose, (e.g.) Goya’s Saturn devouring his children. But one could hardly choose it as an example of beauty – or the sensuous (though that’s a slippery word). The word “aesthetic”, in short, is far too ambiguous to serve as a basis of the definition of the aims of neuroaesthetics (which, seen in this light, is not well named).  

(I also note, by the way, that you second Margaret's comment re beauty and taste. This would seem to imply that you rule out the "beauty" meaning of the term – which just leaves art and “the sensuous”…)

This kind of objection would apply equally to a definition such as “the study of the neurophysiological processes of the human body in order to understand the sensory and perceptual experiences when in an aesthetic situation”. What is an aesthetic situation?”

I see the word “creative” also crops in as in “the study of the human creative brain”.

But this will clearly not do. Creativity is not necessarily limited to “aesthetic” aims (whatever that means...)  

You also say that “We can debate the meaning of the term aesthetic since it had had so many definitions across time. I would refer to the Ancient Greek vocabulary to understand it.”

Two problems here. First the Greeks don’t have a monopoly on the meaning of words and the cultural differences are so large anyway that there are bound to be problems (for example, they had no word equivalent to our term “art”). But just as importantly, the mere fact that the meaning of the term “aesthetic” is  debatable is a huge problem in itself. How can a science proceed on the basis of concepts whose meaning is not clear? And as I’ve pointed out, this would have direct implications in any attempt at experimentation.

I'll leave it there for now. I would of course be interested in your reply. I should perhaps add that the views I'm expressing here are by no means just my own. There is a lot of debate in aesthetics about whether art and beauty are necessarily related, And I am certainly not the first to point out that the word "aesthetic" is ambiguous.

DA


2015-06-16
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify one point. When I said that the dichotomy beautiful/ugly (or beautiful/disgusting) helps us very little with understanding art, I wasn’t wanting to argue that art should be beautiful (and not ugly). I meant that this whole way of thinking about art seems to me to be irrelevant now.

The post-Renaissance world thought solely in terms of beauty, and thinking in aesthetics is still heavily influenced by this. But what we see – and look for - in art now, I would argue, is something different. Is Picasso beautiful? Is he ugly? Van Gogh? Goya? Do we think Gothic sculpture is beautiful? Ugly? Do we think African masks are beautiful? Ugly? We admire all these, and much more, but I think we constrict our thinking if we stay within the old tramlines of beautiful, and the various opposites, such as ugly etc, that people in aesthetics seem to be preoccupied with today. It’s beside the point.

What do we look for and find in art? It’s hard to put a name to it, but I think we look for and admire a certain kind of power, a certain capacity to persuade us and draw us into another world. And it needn’t be a beautiful world (like Raphael for example). It could be the quite strange world of Romanesque sculpture, or the slightly sinister world of the best African masks or Pre-Columbian sculpture. Or the serene world of Buddhist sculpture. And so on.

Aesthetics, it seems to me, has not caught up with all this. It is still in the mindset of 18th century philosophers like Hume Kant etc, whose world of art was far narrower than ours and who still did think in terms of beauty, the sublime, etc. Much has changed since then. Our world of art is vastly different.

DA

2015-06-17
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Topic for the keynote of a conference that popped into my inbox this morning:

"Neuroscience, Film, and the Philosophy of Art"

I get quite a lot like that. Neuroaesthetics is apparently alive and well. (Alas!)

DA

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Dear Eric:

I'm not a neuroscientist either, but here are my (necessarily) brief responses to your questions.

1. Art versus Beauty: can you please elaborate on this? Because the formal definition of aesthetics is the 'philosophy of beauty'with Art understood as one expression of that (sort of like the substance/attribute problem). Aesthetics can also concern itself with Love and Ugliness, Tragedy and Comedy (see Plato, The Symposium). So, I feel a little quesy about something calling itself neuro-aesthetics and then trying to define its subject mater as merely Art instead of Beauty.


The term art traps us into ambiguity. Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce notes that the products of art are not the works of art. The works of art are the aesthetic activity. Artistic products are physical objects on which the aesthetic activity stamps its intuitions of sensations and impressions. The artistic product awakens the observer’s own aesthetic activity in responding to it. In other words, the observer engages in aesthetic activity in the intuitive synthesis of responding to an artistic product. Croce is not referring to aesthetics as “taste” or “beauty,” but aesthetics as the science of perception, the integrating of our senses, emotions, and concepts into the imaginative power that creates and recreates art in all its forms. Taste and beauty are byproducts of our aesthetic activity.

2. You mentioned 'the embodied brain'. I am a little confused by this.

Sorry, that was a slip. I should have written "the embodied mind."

3. Would you accept as approximately accurate (it is modeled after Wittgenstein): "Mind"is the name that we give to the way that neurons behave.


Yes, indeed, though that "behavior" must somehow account for the imaginative capabilities we have that are not materially grounded as neurons are. (I'm showing my ignorance. Synapses across neurons are not material, are they?) Have I already said that "mind" is a reification of an activity? I prefer to use the term "minding" to capture the difference.

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Dear Luc,
Thank you for your e-mail. It was very helpful (and lucid) and I will certainly try to look at some of this material as soon as I can. I also appreciate your distinction between 'process' and 'experience' (if I can put it like that), which I think troubles some people.

But I still have a question about the referent: does neuro-aesthetics have its own definition of what Art is or does it merely take for granted cultural/social consensus? Because, if it is the latter, then neuro-aesthetics may not be able to give a fully grounded definition of itself.

Eric

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I've got a print of Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children on the wall of my study...
Used to have one on the door of my office as well.

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
You merely denied it, but the tenor of your posts give a denial to your denial. You have a great deal of hostility toward scientific incursion into what you regard as your personal territory. Instead of trying to learn the science, you demand that someone defend the straw man you have constructed of it.

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Eric,

I am not sure I understand your post. You wrote:

The selection/analysis of the brain-scan data MUST necessarily presuppose a definition/concept of Art which remains eternally hidden and unacknowledged; if we notice a spike of certain kinds or quantities of brain-wave activity in the presence of a certain type of stimulus, then that stimulus must be considered to be art.

????   ... Must be considered to be art. Really? Where does that come from? By the way, correlation is not causation.

Neuroaesthetics does not pretend to explain art; it does not investigate the artefact. Also, as I wrote in my post, neuroaesthetics does not explain a subjective experience. 

Cheers
Luc

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek,

As I wrote: We can debate the term aesthetic. The Greek don't have the monopoly, of course. And as I wrote the term has had, and still has many definitions. The term art is a recent one, the Greeks used techne. That is well known. Somehow, here in the West, we all have a Greek philosophical heritage.

By quoting ancient Greek vocabulary I wanted to suggest a starting point in our reflections to approach neuroaesthetics as a term that deals with the senses, with sensation and perception. That is what neuroaesthetics research after all (how brain, nervous systems, body interact with art.) Among others Greek thinkers Plato had much to say about sensation and perception. See Theaetetus and the so-called Sacred Doctrine - and Timaeus.

Since Zeki coined the term, it would be wise to talk to him. He does not leave out beauty, by the way. Art being beautiful or not, beauty or ugliness are still a matter of sensation, perception and culture. 

I don't see cultural differences as generating problems but opportunities to reach better understanding of the topics we reflect upon. And I fail to understand why debates are problematic. If we draw from the Chinese philosophical tradition ( Confucius, Lao Tse and Mencius in particular - and the contemporary philosopher Wang Keping) we can also understand "aesthetic situation" as a balanced relationship between humans, between humans and nature, and between humans and the institutions they create. Should we accept that point of view, aesthetics is not reduced to the arts.

Second part following, somehow cannot put the complete post together. Apologies.
Luc

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Part 2

What our reflections show is that there is no pre-determined singular meaning (identity) shared by all. There is no clear cut definitions, no Platonic idea behind a word, thruth if you wish, no paradise, no Eden, but only interpretations, fictions. Take jazz for example, everybody knows what it is but nobody can define it.
I think Vaihinger's As-if will do fine here. We need definitions for pragmatic reason; let's make as-if we get one knowing that at the end of the day terms (the world) are undetermined, fuzzy.  And that makes some people uncomfortable. We need new words; most of us tend to see words as refuge.  Does that undeterminacy take the legitimacy of the terms (or of the world, or of jazz) away? No.

I quote poet Marianne Moore:
As if, as if, it is all ifs; we are at 
Much unease.

As you know there are several ways to interpret art depending on where you are coming from. So, who is giving a definition?

My understanding of your post is that you are questioning science more than the definition of some terms. If you are, this goes well behind neuroaesthetics. Just take a look at the scientific research of consciousness.

Cheers,
Luc


2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
So: Art as the NUMINOUS?
Where is the conference being held? Sounds interesting, in a speculative realist sort of way.

2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek!

Sorry for the delay in replying to your question:

“why poets and artists since the beginning of recorded history have claimed art accesses "reality" (whatever that means) in a way inaccessible to conventional thinking; and so on?” Have artists always claimed this in fact?

The earliest records in Chinese literary thought said so. From the Great Preface (first century AD) on music: "Music originates from tone. Its root (pen) lies in the human mind's being stirred (kan) by external things" (tr. Stephen Owen, Readings in Chinese Literary Thought, Harvard University Press, 1992, p.51). Here's Owen's translation (ll. 31-32; 47) from  Lu Chi (261-303)'s Wen Fu:

He [the poet] observes all past and present in a single moment,
Touches all the world in the blink of an eye.

He cages Heaven and Earth in fixed shape,

Cheers,

Margaret


2015-06-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Cora Cruz
Dear Cora:

I have been struggling with defining aesthetic experience for an upcoming presentation, so apologies for the delay in replying. You ask good questions. Here's what I've come up with so far:

aesthetic experience involves our sensory-emotional feelings, both conscious and subliminal, in our attentive responses to the external world, both human and natural, in terms of what they mean to us. We all have the capability for what Croce calls "aesthetic activity," but we don't always exercise it. It means being aware of, paying close attention to, responding, and valuing our natural surroundings and human artifacts (whether these are material or cultural). Here a a couple of quotes:

The products of art are not the works of art. The works of art are the aesthetic activity. Artistic products are physical objects on which the aesthetic activity stamps its intuitions of sensations and impressions.                                                                                       Benedetto Croce

“Poetics is everywhere in human communication, and certainly in prosody, paralinguistic elements (sighs, laughter),resonance, interruption, suprasegmentals, pauses, and gesture (including body stance).  Not to mention singing, chants, imitations, impersonations, quotation and quasi-quotation, reported speech, enactment, embodiment.”                                                      Mark Turner

Does that answer your questions?

Margaret


2015-06-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy

Hi Luc

I’ll just comment on a couple of points and maybe come back to others in another post.

You say: “My understanding of your post is that you are questioning science more the definition of some terms.”

No, I am not questioning science. As I mentioned in a post a while back, I am in no sense anti-science. In fact, there are probably various philosophers of science impressed by the Kuhnian paradigm thing who would find my belief in science rather naïve because I tend to question it so little

But it’s a matter of horses for courses, if you’ll forgive the colloquialism, and I do question whether science can be applied to aesthetics.

To begin with, there is a basic problem of definition of aims. Now, I’m in no sense looking for what you call the “Platonic idea behind a word” etc. The issue here is very practical – quite down to earth.

What is the aim of neuroaesthetics? Is it about beauty? Art? Or the “sensuous? Those are not the same things – by a long stretch. As I’ve said, something can easily be art without being beautiful, and something can be sensuous without being either.

Here are a couple of little imaginary examples showing some of the practical implications.

Suppose I am budding neuroaesthetician and I conduct an experiment where I show my subjects Goya’s “black paintings” and the Christ in the Isenheim altarpiece. Fred comes in and says: “Why did you show them those?” I reply: “Because I think they’re examples of art?” “But they’re not beautiful!” says Fred. “Oh, I fully agree,” say I. “But is neuroaesthetics only about beauty, not about art? Someone had better make up their mind…”

Next day, undaunted, I return to the fray and conduct another experiment. This time, I show my subjects photos of rotting corpses. Fred comes in and says: “What are you doing now? They’re not beautiful and they’re certainly not art!” “I agree,” say I.”But someone (in fact it was Luc Delannoy) put me right about aesthetics and told me that it ‘deals with the senses, with sensation and perception’. These photos are definitely relevant to that, don’t you think? I’m going to show my subjects photos of filthy sewers next…”

I won’t go on. But you can see how horribly confused all this gets unless, somehow, there’s a clear definition of what the aim of neuroaesthetics is, and what it’s experimenting about. That’s not a problem with science; that’s simply a problem of knowing what one is doing.

(There are other issues but I’ll leave it there for now.)

 DA


2015-06-24
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

Thanks for your response.

I’m not sure the Chinese quote you gave me really addresses the problem.

A basic difficulty in quoting other cultures in relation to art is that the Western idea “art” existed in no other culture – including Chinese. Our notion "art” is quite specific to us – and has not even stayed the same for us either. (What Michelangelo meant by “art” is a far cry from what Picasso meant by it. I mean the very concept).

Modern aesthetics – which steers clear of anthropology whenever possible – likes to assume that all cultures thought and felt the way we do about painting, sculpture etc. But the historical evidence is all against any such assumption. One searches in vain, for example, in the language of ancient Egypt for a word equivalent to our word art – and the same is even true for ancient Greece. This is not of course to say that painting and sculpture (etc) did not fulfil a vital purpose in those cultures, but it was not as “art”. (Can you imagine an art museum in ancient Egypt? Or Greece, for that matter? Or ancient China?)

In nearly every other culture, sculpture and painting etc performed a religious purpose - or something closely related. Thus, as I said, to say that “art accesses ‘reality’ in a way inaccessible to conventional thinking” would simply have made no sense in such contexts, (a) because “art” did not exist, and (b) because the claim would have been sacrilegious – the only reality higher than everyday reality being God, or the gods.

One can, of course, try to argue, as aesthetics does when it addresses this issue (which is very rarely: modern aesthetics detests anthropology and cultural history) that although other cultures may not have said they saw their sculpture etc as “art”, in fact they “really did” . Which is as sensible as saying that although they didn’t worship the Christian God, in fact they “really did “ – i.e. it is anthropological gibberish.

Of course, this raises many other issues, as I am aware, but one thing at a time.

DA


2015-06-25
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

RE: "I've got a print of Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children on the wall of my study..."

I'm not sure what point you are wanting to make.

DA

2015-06-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hey Derek,
Here's an argument for you.

1. Aesthetics is bunkum.
2. Therefore, Neuro-aesthetics is bunkum.

I find scientific enquiry (neuro or otherwise) into the nature of beauty about as well-formed and promising as scientific enquiry (neuro or otherwise) into the nature of dignity, ghosts, and demon-possession--neuroscience at best may provide the means by which not to understand the such mysteries but to eliminate them altogether from our ontology.

2015-06-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Christy

Well, I think your claim (1) is a bit strong (and I presume you would not make it since you write about aesthetics, don't you?). I do think aesthetics is in a serious pickle these days for a number of reasons, one of which is that it has no “core” – no clear, central aim – and therefore tends to wander around aimlessly.  (But do I gather from your post that you think its central aim is to consider “the nature of beauty”?)

As for claim (2) well, I do think neuro-aesthetics is bunkum, as I said at the start, but not because of claim (1). I think so for a number of reasons, one of which I’ve been discussing in recent posts: since the term “aesthetic” and its cognates is so seriously ambiguous, and its subject matter so seriously ill-defined, any “science”  based on it seems almost bound to end in confusion.

I’m not sure I follow your final statement where, if I follow, you suggest that neuroscience might eliminate questions such as the nature of beauty from our ontology. Could you perhaps enlarge a little?

DA


2015-06-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I was taking Aesthetics to be narrowly construed as the view that making sense of certain kinds of discourse, beliefs, behaviors, practices, etc. (usually of a broadly artistic/creative variety) requires we posit some sui generis and irreducible set of properties, functions, experiences, attitudes, judgements, etc. where "The Aesthetic" refers to just this very set and Aesthetics' minimal domain just its elemental constitution.

The last bit concerned how what neuroscience might do is show there to be no interesting mapping (let alone 1-1) from purported aesthetic states (rendering an aesthetic judgment, perceiving an aesthetic property, amidst an aesthetic experience, rapt in aesthetic attention, manifesting an aesthetic attitude, etc.) to neural states and as such showing at best there being nothing cognitively/neurally special or interesting about the aesthetic or more likely, there being nothing that is the aesthetic (at least in any philosophically or scientifically interesting sense).

2015-06-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Christy

Thanks for your comment.

However, I’m a bit puzzled by your “narrow” construal of aesthetics. In fact, it sounds very broad to me. The only part that seems to narrow it down at all is where you say “usually of a broadly artistic/creative variety”. But even here, the “usually” seems to imply there can be other kinds, which would broaden things out again. And “creative” need not relate to art of course. The invention of the wheelbarrow or the lawn sprinkler was creative.

This is the kind of thing I was getting at when I said that aesthetics no longer has any clear, central aim. The formula you give here might surely underpin a wide variety of philosophical inquiries on a wide variety of subjects?

Re your second bit. You speak here of what neuroscience might do with respect to aesthetics. But again, unless and until we know what aesthetics is, and is about, this is surely premature?  You speak of “the aesthetic”, for example. What is that? That which relates to art? That which relates to beauty? That which relates to the senses? Something else? These are threshold questions one would need to answer before any experiments relating to aesthetics could get underway. (See my post above of 2015-06-23 where I also made this point – in an informal way certainly, but clearly enough, I think.)

None of this is philosophical quibbling, I should stress. If neuroaesthetics is to produce anything at all – even the nil return you seem to imagine it might produce – it would have to clarify this basic issue. What is it trying to do? Is it about beauty? Art? The senses? What? As I say, this is a threshold matter. (Others questions would follow but this has to be clarified first).

DA


2015-06-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, 
We're in agreement here. When I said that I took Aesthetics to be narrowly construed as the view that:

"making sense of certain kinds of discourse, beliefs, behaviors, practices, etc. (usually of a broadly artistic/creative variety) requires we posit some sui generis and irreducible set of properties, functions, experiences, attitudes, judgements, etc. where "The Aesthetic" refers to just this very set and Aesthetics' minimal domain just its elemental constitution."

I wasn't attempting to answer those threshold questions. Rather, I was just sketching the general structural framework within which such answers might be given so as to better clarify my own expectation that from within this framework no such answers shall be forthcoming because there is no such thing as The Aesthetic, insofar as that entails there being some sui generis, coherent and uniformly constituted set/class/group/kind/sort of property/function/experience/attitude/judgement, etc. that is some philosophically meaningful sense "aesthetic" (i.e., an irreducibly aesthetic property, aesthetic function, aesthetic experience, aesthetic attitude, aesthetic judgement). 

You are, of course, right to voice suspicion and concern with having any scientific enquiry (neuro or otherwise) be directed or at least implicitly guided by what looks to be a philosophically impoverished and under-informed notion of The Aesthetic. What I'm suggesting is not that we must get clear on just what the Aesthetic is before we start looking to science. After all, Science can't provide us a clearer understanding of the Aesthetic if there's been no such thing upon which to get clear in the first place. What science can do, however, is to shine a very bright spotlight upon this conspicuous absence.

For example, perhaps the most compelling way to show a ghost hunter that there's no such thing as ghosts is to bring all the might and resources of scientific enquiry to bear on the issue, showing that all the sights and sounds our hunter friend thought all of the same unique sort (ghostly) were all along nothing but some hodge-podge of things (foundations creaking, drafty windows, leaky pipes, doors made slightly ajar by a passing cat), none of which are related to one another save being forced into service of the explanatorily impoverished if not incoherent notion that ghosts are part of the world in which we live. Beauty I take to be no less such a bogey, and in desperate need of busting.


2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Christy

I seem to have misunderstood your previous post somewhat. Thanks for the further explanation.

However, I do have a problem with what you’re arguing, particularly where you say that “What I'm suggesting is not that we must get clear on just what the Aesthetic is before we start looking to science. After all, Science can't provide us a clearer understanding of the Aesthetic if there's been no such thing upon which to get clear in the first place. What science can do, however, is to shine a very bright spotlight upon this conspicuous absence.

The difficulty I see here is that if we don’t, or can’t, stipulate at the outset what we mean by “aesthetic”, then we are not really in a position to expect science to tell us whether that quality/property/etc is present or absent, are we? As you know, I think the whole neuroaesthetics enterprise is vain anyway, but to at least give it a chance to prove itself, someone would need to indicate clearly what it was expected to look for, would they not? (e.g. sense of beauty, response to art, response to the “sensuous”, etc)

Pursuing your ghost analogy, we could hardly ask a scientist to prove that ghosts don't exist if we didn't say in advance what we think a ghost is. (And once we said that it's commonly thought to be a spiritual being, said scientist would probably tell us that he doesn’t deal in such matters).

DA


2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Demonstrate that the use of "brain scan data" "MUST necessarily presuppose a definition/concept of Art which remains eternally hidden and unacknowledged". Demonstrate that the following cannot ever be done:

1) Use a determined definition of "art" proposed by the professors of the local philosophy department and/or art department  and measure responses to different kinds of this "art" as those (presumably) expert professors define it. Let those non-neuroscientist experts pick and classify the "art" according to their agreed-upon criteria. Measure responses to said "art" vs "non-art".

2) Let the subjects define "art" as they see fit and measure responses to types of "art" vs. "non-art".

3) And for fun, compare the two experiments.

Please demonstrate that none of what I outline is possible at all. You claim that it is impossible, since you claim that use of any sort of "brain scan data" "MUST necessarily presuppose a definition/concept of Art which remains eternally hidden and unacknowledged".

Okay, prove your contention. Show that the experiments I propose cannot be done.

As a neuroscientist, I say to let the professional aestheticians "define art". Then I can merrily measure what people's bodies do when confronted with "art" and/or different types of this "art".

How is that impossible to do?

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek:
I find your comment about art ingenuous. Just because the term art doesn't appear in the languages of other cultures doesn't mean that the concept doesn't exist. It doesn't matter how various peoples refer to their cultural artifacts. "By any other name...." The question is what and how and why they think about them the way they do. Stephen Owen's mammoth work on classical Chinese literary theory is a case in point. The cultural artifacts found in the Höhle Fels caves in Swabia are 35,000-40,000 years old, long before any written record of the culture(s) that created them existed. 

The notion of 'reality' is complex. For the cultures (including ours) that gave paintings, sculptures, etc. religious significance, that precisely IS their reality. And I don't see how the existence of museums has anything to do with the creation of artifacts produced by aesthetic activity. Surely you are not saying that early peoples didn't engage in aesthetic activity?

So, from a cognitive perspective, it's aesthetic activity and its products that count.

Cheers,

Margaret

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
A retired professor of comparative literature once provided me with this invaluable piece on the aesthetics of painting: 'If you don't want to hang it on your wall, then it ain't Art.' 

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Dear Margaret,
I would also add motivation in your definition of aesthetic experience.

Cheers,

Luc

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Christy,
I have been saying for a long time that beauty is merely a phantom or ghost, to which I get glances about. I'm glad to read that someone else feels the same way. 

Glenn

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
As possibly the only scientist in this thread, I'll say that it's not science's job to tell us whether "aestheticness" is present or absent. That's what "professional aestheticians" (artists, philosophers, fight promoters like Don King, etc.) are for. After all, we don't look to neuroscientists to define "poverty", but it is still valid to research the neurological effects of poverty.

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek, hi !
Changeux who was instrumental in the genesis of neuroaesthetics, defines art as an "intersubjective symbolic communication with variable and muliple emotional contents."  

He stresses 2 criterias for beauty: harmony and parsimony.

As I wrote, my understanding is that neuroaesthetics is about the human body not the artifact - the physical objects as Margaret put it. I personally have no beef with neuroaesthetics, it is a discipline in the making, and it is still uncertain. 

What is wrong at researching the visual cortex of someone contempling a painting, or the auditory cortex of someone listening to a piece of music?

Sorry, I don't have much time now.

Cheers,

Luc


2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Dear Christy,
Thank you for your e-mail.

This sounds like a good articulation of the 'reductive' aproach.

Eric

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Dear Luc,
Thank you for your post. Basically, my question/concern comes down to two things.

1. If neuro-aesthetics is the investigation of aesthetic experience using the principles of neuro-biology (a very broad definition but not misleading, I think) but if itself has no theory/concept/definition of what aesthetics (here, equals Art) actually is, then it strikes me as being methodologically un-grounded. That is, neooro-aestheticians may choose to study what/why goes in  the brains of a group of people who are having what they commonly refer to as aesthetic experiences. But if aestheticians themselves do not agree that the experience is a truly aesthetic one--to take Derek's example, people listing to rap music rather than classical music, false Art versus true Art--then what is it exactly that the neuro-aesthetician studying? What I tend to notice is that the neuro-aesthtician will automatically consider both types of sound (or organized rythmical acoustic vibrations) as equally 'music' and then proceed--the philosopher of aesthetics would query this very fundamental point by arguing that Rap is not really Music. Therefore, the data that the cscientist would produce might be a false correlative.

2. Given that neuro-aesthetics does not have a theory/definition of Art, its fall-back opposition becomes: 'Art is whatever it is that causes the presence of the neural phenomena that we associate (correlation, not causation) with the subject's relationship to the presence of Art.' Which is, I think, both circular and reductive. Circular because it is a replication of point 1 on a higher level and reductive because Art is defined as solely being the presence of the correlated neural activity rather than characteristics of the artistic object that complies with the philosophical (or even cultural) definition of Art but that may lack the expected correlative activity/responses.

Just to be clear that I am not anti-Science: I absolutely in no way rule out the relevance of Biology in explaining aesthetic enjoyment (e.g, John Barrow, The Artful Universe); merely, that whenever I hear the topic actually being discussed by scientists, it always strikes me as either circular or reductive, and possibly un-grounded.

2015-06-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Is it officially panty-twisting time?

http://www.livescience.com/51277-artificial-intelligence-program-sorts-paintings.html?cmpid=514627_20150622_47967746&adbid=10152826949596761&adbpl=fb&adbpr=30478646760

2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

A few comments on your reply:

RE: Just because the term art doesn't appear in the languages of other cultures doesn't mean that the concept doesn't exist. “By any other name...."

The problem here is: if, as you say, the concept existed even though the word didn’t, how would the culture in question have expressed the concept?  And certainly a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but it’s a safe bet that in cultures in which roses did not exist, neither did the word. What would have been the use of it? Why would it have ever come into existence there?

RE: “The question is what and how and why they think about them the way they do.”

Yes, exactly. And even Western culture itself didn’t think about painting, sculpture etc as “art” before the Renaissance. Insofar as the word “art” was used (and it wasn’t used much), it simply meant a skill. That’s well documented (as are all the other cases). So the challenge then is to ask ourselves, as you say, how and why they thought about the objects in question the way they did (and then later on to ask : why do we today regard so many of them as “art”). That is a far more enlightening and realistic approach than simply assuming that despite all the evidence they “really” thought about the objects in question the way we do (i.e. as “art”) Example: For a Christian in say 1200 it would have been sacrilegious to think of the statues on the Royal Portal at Chartres as “art” (and impossible too, because the idea and the associated attitudes were quite foreign to Romanesque culture - as to so many others). There is acres of solid evidence for all this.

RE: “The cultural artifacts found in the Höhle Fels caves in Swabia are 35,000-40,000 years old, long before any written record of the culture(s) that created them existed. “

I’m not sure what this you think this establishes, Margaret. We have thousands of artefacts from prehistoric times.  What bearing does this have on the subject at hand?

RE: “And I don't see how the existence of museums has anything to do with the creation of artifacts produced by aesthetic activity.

Not what I said. The point I was making related to the cultural specificity (NB not superiority) of our notion of “art”. One of its characteristics is that it is closely associated with the institution of the art museum – which existed in no other culture. Which is why I asked: “Can you imagine an art museum in ancient Egypt? Or Greece, for that matter? Or ancient China?”.  

Re : “Surely you are not saying that early peoples didn't engage in aesthetic activity?

This just takes us back to the problematic notion “aesthetic”. As I’ve pointed out, it is highly ambiguous. What exactly do you mean by it?

DA


2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

Re: A retired professor of comparative literature once provided me with this invaluable piece on the aesthetics of painting: 'If you don't want to hang it on your wall, then it ain't Art.' 

I think he should have stuck to literature.

DA



2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Hi Luc

Thanks for your reply A few comments.

RE; Changeux who was instrumental in the genesis of neuroaesthetics, defines art as an "intersubjective symbolic communication with variable and muliple emotional contents."


The definition is hopelessly inadequate. It would apply equally well to (eg) language, Morse code, semaphore,  graffiti, trashy painting, literature, music etc that had nothing to do with art, a cry for help, laughter, the list is almost endless.  If this is the quality of the thinking at the basis of neuroaesthetics…

RE: He stresses 2 criterias for beauty: harmony and parsimony.


What has this to do with the above? I thought he was attempting to define art. (And I would hardly call the paintings of say Rubens, Fragonard,  Watteau, Delacroix, Renoir, Monet, and various others “parsimonious”.)

RE: “my understanding is that neuroaesthetics is about the human body not the artifact - the physical objects as Margaret put it.”


I don’t follow this. Is the human body the “physical object”? Moreover, whatever neuroaesthetics is about (and I’m still in the dark), it obviously can’t just be about the human body. It's presumably about the human body’s reaction to something.

RE: “What is wrong at researching the visual cortex of someone contempling a painting, or the auditory cortex of someone listening to a piece of music?


Nothing is “wrong” with it. The point is: what is being “researched”? What is the aim? What is the “research” trying to prove or disprove? Or do neuroaestheticians just aimlessly contemplate brain scans? (And then there are obvious further questions: Which painting and why? Which piece of music and why?)

DA



2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,
Thank you for your e-mail. Actually, my point is not that 'the brain scan data'must necessarily presuppose a definition/conception of Art; merely that neuro-aesthetics must do so in order to make adequate sense of the brain scan data that it is interested in studying (I am being painfully simplistic here, but please indulge me).

If a branch of neuro-biology calls itself neuro-aesthetics then, semantically and logically, it must possess a functional and defensible definition of aesthetics itself in order to constitute a methodologically grounded research paradigm.

It simply cannot bracket out the definition of Art itself and continue to assume that it can provide meaningful data.

Your solution is to follow the principles established by professional philosophers as to what Art is: basically, the universal consensus. But there is no universal consensus: we do not agree what Art and Beauty are; every definition attempted can be, and has been, contested. 

The alternative--which is beginning to appear on this thread in greater force as I knew that it would--is what I call the reductive approach. There is no such thing as Art and Beauty as such (here, likened to a ghost)--merely the recordable (and quantifiable) activity of neuro-transmitters undergone by the subject when inter-acting with the presence of a thing--any thing--that triggers the brain wave activity.

Hence, Art is nothing other than the trigger itself and Beauty is nothing more than the subject's sensation of Art which is, in turn, nothing more than the neuro-transmitters clicking.

So in the end, the goal of neuro-aesthetics is to solve (or is it end?) the problem of Art by valorizing Biology.

Eric

2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hello.
Gentlemen, I think that the issue of absolute beauty is not point for science, for beauty is also construída.Gosto if discute.Em midst of so many interferences, such as making sure that a color test, figurative, whatever it is by waves or not, no longer part of something given? Because there will always be a previous model that will serve as a reference for the mind in question, no?
Now, it is important to know some reactions for example, before certain ways because we can also discuss and investigate to what extent such an object (of art) like it or not, can act positively on a subject or não.Para clinical purposes can be cool investigate , always, but from a sociological point of view, it is known that there is production of tastes and canons.
The issue of integrity that has been raised is quite clear on this sentido.Quando Eastern indicates that the integrity of a being consists of being and non-being, such non-being - that 1% - opens new chance in a different perception for further investigation, which may well turn out to be the 99% of another historical era.
So again I ask: what would effectively be a question of neuroscience would indeed around the "beauty"?
Until Angeli Rose


2015-06-30
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Thanks, Luc. I guess I was assuming the existence of motivation instead of making it explicit.

Cheers,

Margaret

2015-07-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

I think you put this well: 

"If a branch of neuro-biology calls itself neuro-aesthetics then, semantically and logically, it must possess a functional and defensible definition of aesthetics itself in order to constitute a methodologically grounded research paradigm….

Your solution is to follow the principles established by professional philosophers as to what Art is: basically, the universal consensus. But there is no universal consensus: we do not agree what Art and Beauty are; every definition attempted can be, and has been, contested."

DA

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Dear Eric,
Great post.

Agreed, there is no Art and Beauty as such; in a post to Derek I mentioned fuzzyness and undeterminacy. 

Seki and Changeux have their own ideas about Art and Beauty, they use them for their research. And they came with the term neuroaesthetics. So I think it would be good to get back to the reading of their books and / or papers so we all know what it is about - according to them.

Another perspective on neuroaesthetics comes from the art world, see Warren Neidich.

Changeux tries to define beauty looking for universal criteria (across time and cultures); according to him it implies harmony and parsimony. 

I fail to understand the identity you seem to propose: art = neuro-transmitters clicking. Correlation is not causation, as I said. We agree. But, do you say there is an identity: art = brain correlates. Also, identifying the neuro-transmitters clicking does not explain the subjective conscious experience to which you seem to refer.

Cheers,

Luc

PS You may find this paper interesting. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00218/abstract

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek!

A few responses to your points:

Insofar as the word “art” was used (and it wasn’t used much), it simply meant a skill.

But the classical Greek term techne meant art. What is your evidence for saying that art didn't exist before the Renaissance?

We have thousands of artefacts from prehistoric times.  What bearing does this have on the subject at hand?

I didn't say artefacts. I said "cultural artefacts": i.e. products that were created simply for adornment or or to represent animal and human forms in sculpture.

our notion of “art”. One of its characteristics is that it is closely associated with the institution of the art museum

I guess this is a question of emphasis. Very little art that is produced is "closely associated" with museum institutions. I invite you to Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where there is a thriving art community, none of which ends up in museums.

This just takes us back to the problematic notion “aesthetic”. As I’ve pointed out, it is highly ambiguous. What exactly do you mean by it?

I think the "ambiguity" you mention results from historical misreadings and not what linguists call syntactic or semantic ambiguity.  I replied to Cora Cruz on 6-22 with my definition of aesthetics. By the way, I wonder how effective the method of presentation of multiple posts in this thread is? Could some brilliant person come up with a better way so that the conversation could be more easily shared among all participants?

Cheers,

Margaret

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Nothing prevents the neuroscientists from consulting with non-neuroscientists to obtain a definition of "art". In the sciences, definitions may also be revised at later times.

Thus, I keep saying this is a non-issue. As a neuroscientist, I would not try to define "art", I would go to people who spend their lives defining "art" and start from there.

Art and "beauty" are not neurological categories. They are cultural categories. It might be interesting to see IF there are actual biologically measurable differences corresponding to various types of "art" as culturally defined, and if those differences are cross-cultural or confined within a culture. But that's different from reductionism.

It seems that I, the neuroscientist and molecular biologist, is arguing against strict reductionism, in contrast to those who don't spend much time in the laboratory. I wonder if I should go look for the Red Queen or have tea with a well-mannered Hornet.

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I should have mentioned as well: Art cannot be reduced to aesthetics and neither can be reduced to Beauty.
Which brings me back to Exhibit A:Goya's splendid Saturn/Cronos Devouring His Children.

I wasn't being facetious in my early post; I deliberately brought this example up because you mentioned it in one of your posts. Goya is one of my all-time favorites (I am passionate about Spanish and Dutch painting in equal measure), but much of what he created/produced wasn't pretty.

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

So, then, if there is no useful consensus at all that can be put to work for other fields, then art is just a shell game and a con job. In that case, it's pretty much disposable and ought to be ignored or consigned to the categories of "hoax", "prank", and "fraud".

So, which is it? Is art just a hoax and a fraud, is philosophy of art just a hoax and a fraud, or does philosophy of art ever actually generate anything at all that could be in the least bit worthwhile for society?

If the latter, then THAT (or the underlying definitions used thereby) is what can be used to determine "art" for neuroscience purposes. If no such thing exists at all, then philosophy of art ought to be reclassified as a form of fraud.

There is no need for a "universal consensus" to do useful science. There is only a need for a "general consensus", which means that there can even be large controversies. Scientists are not so limited and tiny-minded as to require everything be pinned down before moving forward. If you want certainty and "truth", flee from the sciences and hide under your bed. We don't do certainty and our "truth" is always provisional.

Looking to science for truth is like becoming an archbishop to pick up teenage girls.

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Greetings All,
Check out the guest post by Bill Seeley "Neuroscience&Appreciation: Very Funny Indeed" at Aesthetics for Birds:

http://www.aestheticsforbirds.com/2015/07/neuroscience-appreciation-very-funny.html

I think you all will enjoy it.

Christy

2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Hi Christy

RE: Check out the guest post by Bill Seeley"etc

As you might recall, I said in my opening post: "One tiny stipulation. Personally, I much prefer people to state their arguments on the thread, not simply send people off to this or that article. By all means refer to other articles, books etc, and even quote from them; but please try to keep the core of the arguments on the thread."

In the spirit of that, what do you see as the key point of Seeley's article? (Perhaps you could quote what you see as a key statement or two). Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

PS I would be interested in your reply to my reply to you of 29/6.

DA.


2015-07-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Fair enough, Derek. The post more or less says the following:
"Philosophers often say that the dimensions of art that matter will remain forever opaque to cognitive science. Neuroscience and psychology may help us understand how we perceptually engage with artworks, how we parse some aspects of their formal-compositional structure, recover their expressive properties, etc. They may provide some traction in understanding how we recover the melodic structure of musical works, the depictive content of images, or the mental and emotional lives of characters in narrative fictions. But, and here the philosophical folk tend to be emphatic, this explanatory strategy won't help us with a range of questions associated with the normative dimension of appreciation. It won't help us recognize or understand the artistically salient features of a work. It won't help us understand why they are artistically valuable. And it won't give us any traction in understanding the evaluative judgments that surround them. This latter point is really the crux of the matter. Buried in this rhetoric is an intuition that there is an evaluative dimension that is inseparable from our judgments about art and forever beyond the reach of psychology and neuroscience.

The short version of this concern is that cognitive science traffics in causal-psychological explanations that are ill fit to the explanatory goals of philosophy of art. Appreciative judgments in art are judgments of fit between works and the range of evaluative conventions appropriate for their particular category of art. But the same neuropsychological mechanisms support our perception and understanding of both exemplary and atrocious artworks. These kinds of explanations don't enable us to discriminate between works that are done well and works that are done poorly. As a result, they fail to reveal anything interesting about the appreciative conventions that define our concept of art in different contexts. They are equal opportunity explanations that exhibit a degree of generality good for psychology, but bad for philosophical aesthetics.

The contemporary grounds for this view can be traced back to Ludwig Wittgenstein's posthumously published lectures on aesthetics (1967) and George Dickie's (1962) paper, "Is Psychology Relevant to Aesthetics?" (see Carroll, Moore,&Seeley, 2102). Dickie asks us to imagine adjective matching and preference ordering experiments common in empirical aesthetics. In these cases, psychologists poll large samples of average (non-expert) consumers in order to tease out important facts about the nature of art. For instance, one might ask participants to match paintings to the kinds of descriptive adjectives experts use to describe them in art critical contexts. Or one might ask participants to sort a set of musical passages relative to their subjective preferences. We might find a significant correlation between the experts and average consumers in each of these cases. But, the interesting case is where we don't. What do we do then? Dickie points out that deferring to the average consumer would be like polling toddlers about grammar rules. What matters in either case isn't the agreement among the sample of participants. Rather, it is the prior reflective judgments of the experts used to set the scale --  the judgments of individuals familiar with the conventions governing practice in those contexts. No investigation of the psychological mechanisms underwriting the grammatical judgments of toddlers (or the appreciative judgments of average viewers) will reveal the appropriate conventions.

The following, often quoted, passages from Wittgenstein's lectures on aesthetics are likewise explicit in their criticism of empirical aesthetics:

7. People still have the idea that psychology is one day going to explain all of our aesthetic judgments, and they mean experimental psychology. This is very funny – very funny indeed. There doesn't seem to be any connection between what psychologists do and any judgment about a work of art… (Wittgenstein, 1967, p. 19).
8. Suppose it was found that all of our judgments proceeded from our brains. We discovered particular kinds of mechanisms in the brain, formulated general laws, etc…The question is whether this is the sort of explanation we would like to have when we are puzzled by aesthetic impressions… (Wittgenstein, 1967, p. 20).

Wittgenstein's point is that we aren't so much interested in the appreciative responses of consumers, in the immediate judgments they make, but in the reasons they give, the way they choose, the standards they use to make these judgments. For instance, the naïve viewer and the expert might equally appraise the gesture of a brushstroke. But one might see in it the exuberant energy of finger painting and an illustration of the inexhaustible hope of childhood. The other might see in it a trace of the history of expressive drawing, a thread to sort and organize a critical history, a way of understanding the salience of that noteworthy expressive gesture against a history of artistic practice. There are, as Wittgenstein asserts, "an extraordinary number of different cases of appreciation." Both appreciate the work. But only one appreciates it as an artwork, only one associates the artifact with the set of conventions associated with artistic practices, with the language games of art. Think analogously of someone who says that they've seen Robert Morriss' Rope Piece (1964) in the school gym.

Of course Wittgenstein takes things even a step further. He argues that "what belongs to a language game is a whole culture." This suggests that the reasons given, that the the standards by which one chooses, the norms that constrain our evaluative judgments about art, cannot be explicitly given in isolation, cannot be given as atomistic causes, as individual cogs in an internalist, causal-psychological explanation. Rather, they can only be understood as emergent in the totality of the shared practices of a community. Likewise Dickie borrows a metaphor from Philosophical Investigations to describe the standards governing practice of artistic appreciations, "Appreciating works of art is an ancient and encrusted activity of men: it is…part of the old city in which the streets are narrow and crooked but nevertheless we know them well, although we often get confused if asked to describe them for someone or draw a map (Dickie, 1962, p. 300).

The crux of the matter, to return to the present, is that evaluative judgments about artworks are modeled as post-perceptual judgments about the fit between what has already been seen or heard in a work on the one hand, and the normative conventions that define the appropriate category of art on the other. What differentiates the novice from the art expert is that art critical knowledge of these conventions enables the latter to differentially focus his or her attention, to select features of a prior, common perceptual experience of a work that match to the productive and evaluative conventions that determine its artistic value. The skeptics claim here is twofold. First, these cognitive processes are not appropriately modeled by the causal-psychological mechanisms that support our our perceptual engagement with the work. Second, what matters is the conventions, the prior standards against which we evaluate what we perceive in a work, not how we perceive it per se.

These are quite reasonable worries. However, I think a short discussion of current research in affective perception may forestall these concerns. Affective perception has traditionally been modelled as a direct affair, an unmediated psychological response to a special class of stimuli that naturally broadcast their behavioral significance or biological value (LeDoux, 1996; Pessoa & Adolphs, 2010). This model has been challenged in recent years. Lisa Feldman Barrett and her colleagues (2011) report a broad range of contextual effects in affective perception. Descriptions of a scene or social situation influence how perceivers identify, or categorize, emotional expressions, e.g. a scowl can be categorized as an angry or disgusted facial expression, how information is sampled from facial expressions in eye tracking studies , and even how we perceive expressive faces, e.g. situation descriptions can be shown to influence the way dynamic facial expressions are encoded in the early visual cortex. These effects generalize to individual differences in knowledge about perceived emotions, and extend to cultural differences in the general conception of the nature and significance of emotions and related behaviors.

Luiz Pessoa and his colleagues (2002) have shown further that affective responses to emotionally charged stimuli depend on the availability of attentional resources. The amygdala is ordinarily used as an indicator of affective responsiveness to stimuli.  Covertly attending to the orientation of rectangular bars in a same/different orientation task eliminated amygdala responses to fearful and happy facial expressions, even though the participants in their study were fixating on the center of the faces. 

These data suggest that affective perception is not only influenced by, but may even be dependent on the availability of cognitive resources.

What explains cognitive effects in affective perception? Barrett and Moshe Bar (2009) suggest that the outputs of an affective processing system are integrated into unimodal perceptual processes via a top-down projections form orbito-frontal cortex. The net result is a crossmodally integrated multisensory perceptual network. Their claim, consistent with a biased competition theory of attention (Desimone and Duncan, 1996; Kastner, 2004), is that a fast forward sweep of perceptual processing, at or about 180 milliseconds, is sufficient for a gist level categorization of a scene, object, event, action, or other agent (Greene and Oliva, 2009). This, in turn, drives a quick categorically appropriate affective response to stimuli that primes the body for action - approach or withdrawal. Top-down projections from prefrontal areas and orbitofrontal cortex then collect this bodily encoded  affective information and feed it back to sensory cortices, biasing perceptual processing, enhancing the perception of expected, behaviorally relevant targets and inhibiting the perception of potential distractors. These processes can be used to model attentional, contextual, semantic, and cultural effects in affective perception, and in perception more generally.

The integration of an affective dimension into perceptually processing is a cognitive shortcut, a way of quickly encoding the biological value of a perceived object, event, agent, or action. How might this work? There is no such thing as a disembodied experience. Consequently, our knowledge of the world comes naturally paired with an affective dimension that encodes the biological significance, the affective value, of objects, events, agents, and actions. Barrett and Bar argue that affect is integrated into perceptual processing as a means to unpack and utilize this knowledge in object recognition and action selection.

How would these processes contribute to our engagement with artworks? We can easily imagine how the integration of perceptual and affective processes might explain how we recognize and experience the expressive properties of artworks. One would expect, for instance, that depictions of figures and natural scenes would call on the same range of cognitive-affective processes as the stimuli employed in the experiments referred to above. Some gerrymandering might be needed to show how abstract works call on these same concepts and categories. But we can imagine that the expressionist qualities of abstract art ride piggyback on the same sets of categories and image features that drive perception in natural contexts, e.g. research in the psychology of music demonstrates a perceived relationship between the expressive qualities of biological movements and the expressive qualities of pure music that is underwritten by a shared set of psychological resources (Krumhansl, 1995; Chapados and Levitin, 2008; Vines et al, 2006). In other cases, following Barrett and Wittgenstein, we can imagine that our affective responses to artworks are artifacts of cultural context, of culturally bound standards, conventions, or associations governing behavior…just as is the case in garden variety affective perception  

The normative dimension of appreciation is not far behind. Artworks are communicative devices, artifacts designed to elicit a response in viewers or  to convey some content. The trick is that there are no ideal target procedures for artistic expression in a medium. Rather, artists develop a myriad of productive strategies, formal vocabularies, and style through trial and error. What are the constraints on this process? Communicative success. The communicative expectations of the artist and ever-evolving, shared aesthetic conventions of his or her artistic community. These expectations and conventions , in turn, function as normative constraints on artistic appreciation. But more importantly, they determine the sets of productive practices, formal-compositional conventions, and evaluative conventions that define different categories of art. Categories of art emerge from the shared practices of artists and consumers. Knowledge of these sets of conventions , art critical knowledge of the normative conventions governing artistic appreciation for the relevant category of art, plays just the same role in object recognition as does knowledge of the structure and function of objects or events in any ordinary perceptual context – they drive our attention into, perception, and understanding of artworks.

What's the rub for philosophy of art? Art critical knowledge shapes our perception of artworks just as knowledge of the structure and function of objects and events shapes perception in ordinary contexts. Likewise, the normative dimension of artistic appreciation is integrated into our perceptual engagement with art just as the affective value of any object or event is integrated into ordinary perception. Of course there is more to say…and even more to do. This is an empirical hypothesis. What I have sketched here is a schematic model whose detail and scope remains to be fleshed out.

I close with a caveat. I can imagine someone might argue that this all misses the point. What I have detailed is the how, but not the why of the story. I have provided a mechanism for how the work of normative conventions might be implemented in our engagement with artworks. But I haven't provided even a glimmer of a story for why these conventions bear their normative force. I think this criticism would be a mistake. Appreciative conventions in the arts bear normative force because they emerge from the shared practices within which they are embedded. They are part and parcel of the implicit negotiations of social behavior within a community. But I don't have much more of a story to tell about that here. What I will say is that the how of all of this is far from trivial. Empirical models are concrete tools used in the natural and social sciences to generate predictions and test theories, a means to generate normative constraints on the acceptability of theories. They can likewise be used to generate normative constraints governing practice within philosophy of art. Here my suggestion that, if the model I have proposed is sound, we will have to reconsider yet another of the boundaries that have separated the practice of philosophy of art and psychology" (Seeley 2015).

References:

William Seeley. 2015. Neuroscience & Appreciation: Very Funny Indeed. Aesthetics for Birds. http://www.aestheticsforbirds.com/2015/07/neuroscience-appreciation-very-funny.html (July 6th, 2015).

Happy?


2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

RE: But the classical Greek term techne meant art.

No, it meant something like “skill”. There is no equivalent in ancient Greek for what we mean by the word art (as in “art museum”, “fine art” etc.) Like so many other cultures, the Greeks didn’t think about literature, sculpture etc in that way.

RE: “What is your evidence for saying that art didn't exist before the Renaissance?”

Painting, sculpture etc of course existed. But it was not regarded as “art”. As for evidence, where can I start? Following my own strictures, I’m loath just to refer you to books, articles etc. But on the other hand I can hardly retype it all here. One well-known source (though I don’t think it goes far enough) is Kristeller’s "The modern system of the arts: a study in the history of aesthetics." In Essays on the History of Aesthetics, edited by Peter Kivy, 3-34. University of Rochester Press, 1992. But there are many others. I quote some in my books on Malraux (excuse the commercial).

I know this idea is hard to get used to. I found it so at the beginning. But it is really not surprising at all when one thinks about it. Indeed, it would be surprising if it weren’t so. (Unfortunately, this crucial issue is routinely stifled in modern aesthetics - especially "analytic" aesthetics - which systematically refuses to take history or anthropology seriously, and likes to assume that the past was simply a carbon copy of the present.)

RE: “I didn't say artefacts. I said "cultural artefacts": i.e. products that were created simply for adornment or to represent animal and human forms in sculpture.

My apologies. But still this doesn’t help us. We have no idea how prehistoric peoples thought about such objects (or about anything come to that).

RE: I guess this is a question of emphasis. Very little art that is produced is "closely associated" with museum institutions. I invite you to Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where there is a thriving art community, none of which ends up in museums.

No, I’m not suggesting that all art ends up in art museums. Far from it. I am simply saying that the modern idea of art is linked to the idea of public exhibition and comparison that art museums represent. No such idea has existed in any other culture. For example, many cultures buried their “art” forever in tombs. Food for thought don’t you think? (I’m not of course suggesting that the link with art museums constitutes a sufficient definition of art – simply that it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the way we think about art, whether it is destined for, or ends up in, art museums or not.)

RE: “I think the "ambiguity" you mention results from historical misreadings and not what linguists call syntactic or semantic ambiguity. I replied to Cora Cruz on 6-22 with my definition of aesthetics.

But "misreading "implies that you think there is one correct reading. As far as I’m aware there is no consensus about what that might be.

I read your response to Cora at the time. I didn’t comment because I didn’t want to interrupt. But I think the definition is too broad and loose. But I’ll keep further comment on that till next time. This is getting too long.

RE: “Could some brilliant person come up with a better way so that the conversation could be more easily shared among all participants?

I’m not sure what you mean. Could you explain? (My own grumble would be that it seems to take a long time for comments requiring approval to be approved. That tends to impede discussion and drain some of the life out of it, I feel.)

DA


2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: So, then, if there is no useful consensus at all that can be put to work for other fields, then art is just a shell game and a con job. In that case, it's pretty much disposable and ought to be ignored or consigned to the categories of "hoax", "prank", and "fraud".

Depends on your opinion, I guess.  Is Crime and Punishment “a hoax", "prank", or "fraud”? Mozart’s music? The Victory of Samothrace? Titian’s Entombment?  Endless examples of Buddhist, ancient Egyptian, African, Pre-Columbian, art, etc etc?

If you really think so – and absolutely no one is preventing you from thinking so, Bryan – then there is probably no point in you wasting time thinking about art, the philosophy of art, neuroaesthetics, or anything related. Your time would doubtless be better spent in the laboratory. After all, I'm sure you would agree with me that science - most science anyway - is not a "hoax", "prank", or "fraud". So you can feel quite confident that it is not "disposable" and should not be "ignored".

DA


2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Re: "Happy?"

Not really, Christy. I gather you have more or less just copied the article into the thread.

As I intimated, I was hoping you might make the key points succinctly, in a thread-friendly way, in your own words. Could you do that for us? Then we would know why you think it is relevant to issues under discussion, and what you think as well...

DA

2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
PS to my last:

I have just glanced at the first paragraph of the article. I am inclined to think now that Christy copied it to the thread as an example of a garbled, question-begging, jargon-laden approach to the issues at hand. (He hasn’t actually said why as yet. Perhaps he thinks it’s great stuff?)

Take even the second sentence: “… Neuroscience and psychology may help us understand how we perceptually engage with artworks, how we parse some aspects of their formal-compositional structure, recover their expressive properties, etc. They may provide some traction in understanding how we recover the melodic structure of musical works, the depictive content of images, or the mental and emotional lives of characters in narrative fictions.”

may help us”? Who said so? How?

“perceptually engage”? What is that?  Jargon for “look at” or “listen to” maybe?

"parse some aspects of their formal-compositional structure”. Yeah, right.

“recover their expressive properties etc” Recover? Did they get lost? (The "etc" as well?)

“traction in understanding how we recover etc..” Of course, “traction” had to make an appearance…

“how we recover …the depictive content of images? Er …maybe look at them?

Appalling stuff. All too common in some areas of aesthetics though…

DA


2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE: I should have mentioned as well: Art cannot be reduced to aesthetics and neither can be reduced to Beauty.

I agree fully.  And that’s one of the reasons why the meaning of “aesthetics” in neuroaesthetics must be made clear, in my view, if the study is to make any sense at all. What is it about? Beauty? Art? The “senses”? Not at all the same things. As the Goya makes so vividly clear.

RE: Goya is one of my all-time favorites (I am passionate about Spanish and Dutch painting in equal measure), but much of what he created/produced wasn't pretty.

Agreed again. André Malraux put it well: “If the words art and beauty had the same meaning, Goya would not be an artist”. Yet Malraux definitely thought he was an artist – so much so that he wrote a book about him.

I suppose one of the things that bothers me so much about neuroaesthetics – and to a large extent aesthetics itself – is that it seems so divorced from these sorts of realities. It speaks blithely of “art” and “beauty” as if they were somehow self-evident, non-controversial phenomena. Nothing could be further from the truth. Moreover, both ideas are deeply connected with history and culture (in the anthropological sense) as I’ve been pointing out to Margaret. An aesthetics or a neuroaesthetics that ignores this (as the Seeley thing Christy copied does, for example) is simply an exercise in irrelevancy to my mind. For example: Seeley quotes Dickie saying "Appreciating works of art is an ancient and encrusted activity of men.." So when the ancient Egyptians - who had no word for art - carved statues of their God-King to worship in his mortuary chapel or bury in his tomb, they were just "appreciating art" like a visitor to the Louvre? Very narrow thinking. Culture-bound, dogmatic, ill-informed. But all too common...

DA


2015-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I've just read the whole Seeley thing. It's a goldmine of absurdities!  I shall have great fun with it!

That must be what Christy meant when he said "I think you all will enjoy it". 

DA

2015-07-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Dear Luc,
Thank you for your e-mail. We certainly seem to agree upon more than we disagree.

Re. neuro-transmitters clicking: I certainly DO agree that clicking'does not explain subjective conscious experience (in this context, Art/aesthetics).

Rather, it was a response to the strictly reductionist approach that does, over time, creep into the neuro-biological literature (and research funding proposals) that I have read; an exercise in empire-building, I think.

I will check out your references.

Eric

2015-07-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,
Thank you for your post. It seems to me that we are talking past each other somewhat.

You reply with the following: 'As a neuro-scientist I would not try to define 'art'. I would go to people who spend their lives defining 'art' and start from that.''

To me, that is the entire problem: there is no single, easily identifiable 'people' to consult with. Not because Art is a hoax but because there is an objective and interminable difference of opinion over what Art is among those who are supposed to be the experts on this topic. Which, from a strictly positivist perspective, I suppose, might be taken as prima facie evidence that Art and the philosophy of Art is a hoax precisely because there is not a general consensus. Which strikes me as a circular reasoning.

Let me try to give you a real-world example of what I mean here.

I teach an introductory undergraduate course on Law-and-Literature using both novels and films as my primary texts (for teaching purposes I have to simplistically conflate lit crit with film crit which is not 100% legit). In my introductory lecture I try to identify exactly what we mean by the word 'literature'; there are many different schools of thought on this, but I select the four that are most useful for my teaching purposes.

1. The Institutional Theory: basically, the argument from authority. We accept as literature that which the professional (accredited and tenured) experts on literature formally pronounce to be literature and then consume the texts accordingly; in terms of painting, this is closely linked to the cult of the Museum. In layman's terms, this approach is often subsumed under the generic social politics of 'taste'.

2. Complexity Theory: a text is literature if it is capable, under any individual reading, of passing the complexity test: the text is capable of supporting a number (fairly high) of competing and  contesting interpretations, each equally defensible and all incompatible with each other. The classic essay on this is by William Empson, 'Seven Layers of Ambiguity in Moby Dick'.

3.The Phenomenology Theory: this is very close to Margaret's use of Croce's theory of Art (it is also very close to my own preferred position). The literary text is any text in which the author both intends and succeeds in investing the reader with those subjective and internal sensations that the culture generally accepts as constituting the literary: wonder, awe, regret, loss, dread, fear, hope, anger. The content of the list can be debated, obviously, but the concept remains the same: the nature/quality of the internal impressions of the reader when interacting with the allegedly 'artistic'text. Classically, this has been linked to Aristotle's theory of catharsis; it also takes a broadly therapeutic approach to Art,

4. The Ideological Theory: it assumes that the purpose of literature is to be subversive, both cognitively (how we understand the world to actually be) and, more narrowly, politically (things are not right and need to be changed; or, conversely, certain things must not be changed). In essence, both the nature and the quality of the work of art is to be determined (insofar as it can be) on the basis of its capacity to affect change(s) in social and political consciousness. Key words here are subversion, critique, activism and opposition.

I think that all of these definitions are defensible; they are also incompatible. 1 is the opposite of 4; 2 and 3 overlap, but neither can be easily integrated with either 1 and 4. And 4 can only co-exist with 1-3 (if at all) in a radically confrontational manner (the standard argument of bad faith).

I am going to put words in a few people's mouth, but I would suggest that your position is closest to 1 whereas Margaret is 3 and I am a hopefully productive union of 2 and 3.

But there is no over-arching, unifying consensus. And which definition one adopts will have great implications for the research paradigm of neuro-aesthetics.

1, it seems to me has no relevance for a biological approach because Taste is clearly cultural and historical. 2 and 3 woulds seem to be closer to a neural materialism but that does not obviate the problem of lack of consensus of general definition of Art (1 is elitist while 2 and 3 apparently democratic/populist). And 4, in a sense, does not even require the presence of Art itself, rather the social and political consciousness of the viewer when engaging with that-thing-that-might-be-literature.

Eric

2015-07-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Funny, I don't think those things. Instead, I used them as evidence that there IS a usable consensus regarding what constitutes "art", even if it is not very precisely defined.

So, what is your point?

2015-07-09
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
"Philosophers often say that the dimensions of art that matter will remain forever opaque to cognitive science. Neuroscience and psychology may help us understand how we perceptually engage with artworks, how we parse some aspects of their formal-compositional structure, recover their expressive properties, etc. They may provide some traction in understanding how we recover the melodic structure of musical works, the depictive content of images, or the mental and emotional lives of characters in narrative fictions. But, and here the philosophical folk tend to be emphatic, this explanatory strategy won't help us with a range of questions associated with the normative dimension of appreciation. It won't help us recognize or understand the artistically salient features of a work. It won't help us understand why they are artistically valuable. And it won't give us any traction in understanding the evaluative judgments that surround them."

How odd, that's almost what I, as a NEUROSCIENTIST" have been saying. Am I the only actual scientist participating in this thread? Is it true that everyone else is merely speculating or operating on second-hand information when they state thus and so about the neuroscience part of this matter?

The same thing claimed about "art" can be claimed about every other social construct. Neuroscience does not exist to validate or redefine any social construct. However, neuroscience of social constructs is very well suited to measure how these social constructs alter and contribute to our neurological states, including brain functions.

But no matter how many times I say that, nobody wants to listen. Evidently, hands-on experience in a scientific field is of no value in explaining what that scientific field is about and not about.

2015-07-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: “a usable consensus regarding what constitutes "art",”

Bryan, let’s look at the question from a practical point of view – an approach which, presumably, would appeal to a scientist such as yourself.

To conduct a “neuroaesthetic” scientific experiment with works of art one would need to be able to do at least four basic things:

(1) Decide that neuroaesthetics is in fact about art - and not e.g. about beauty or “the senses”,  which would be a very different matter. As I’ve been pointing out, this fundamental issue is by no means settled. Perhaps you have the definitive answer?

(2) If it is about art (and not beauty or the senses) one would then need to choose specific works of art to experiment with, which necessarily implies saying “this is a work of art; that is not”. As Eric has pointed out to you, this is a very controversial business. Opinions differ enormously. And if opinions differ about the choices, they will inevitably differ about the validity of the research. If one includes,say, Damien Hirst’s shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde, some will say the research is bogus because that has nothing to do with art; if one excludes objects like that, and sticks to good old warhorses like the Mona Lisa, others will say the research is bogus because it "bears no relationship with the modern world" etc. Do you have an answer to that quandary?

(3) Choose a selection of people to experiment with. Now, while a limited number of people think Crime and Punishment (e.g.) is a great work of art (again, I’m assuming neuroaesthetics is about art), there are large numbers of people who find it unbearably tedious and can’t get beyond the first five pages. So how does one choose one’s “subjects”? Just those people who admire the book and think it is a great work of art? That would bias things in advance, wouldn’t it? Or maybe one settles for a random selection of people, which would include large numbers who hate it. But now we would be getting very questionable responses to (what we have decided is) ”art”, would we not? – arguably, it's rather like asking blind people to describe the colour of a sunset.

(4) Assuming all these obstacles are overcome (God knows how – but perhaps you do) one would then have to decide what meaning one would ascribe to one’s “results”. For example, what relationship is there between a brain scan of a person reading Crime and Punishment (and which part?) and the experience of the person reading it?  (And how would one describe that experience?) This raises basic questions that philosophers of consciousness, among others, argue about interminably. But perhaps you have the solution to all that too?

Moral: experimenting with art – and the humanities in general – is rather different from pouring liquids into a test tube and seeing what happens.

Then again, maybe, as you suggest, the humanities are all just a gigantic hoax?

DA



2015-07-20
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

RE: “But no matter how many times I say that, nobody wants to listen. Evidently, hands-on experience in a scientific field is of no value in explaining what that scientific field is about and not about.”

The fundamental point you’re missing is whether this is a “scientific field.” 

My own view – which I have explained in some detail now (see e.g. my latest post) – is that science is powerless in this field (assuming the field has even been defined – which, as I’ve pointed out, it hasn't).

Science has brought us many wondrous things (as well as many horrors) but like all fields of study, it needs to know its limits. Unfortunately, a certain misplaced imperialism is often encouraged and fostered by philosophers themselves – especially those of the “analytic” school, many of whom seem besotted by science. (I sometimes wonder if that comes in part from a diet of too much science fiction and too little literature of real value. Which in turn is perhaps the result of analytic philosophy's apparent desire, in many cases, to place as much distance between it and the humanities as possible...) 

DA

2015-07-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Just grab one and go with it. See how good the results are. If it's neurological pfthfpppppt!, it will become apparent over time. Then move to a different theory. If it seems to correlate to SOMEthing you measure, go with it, but be sure to make some mention of the others in your discussion. Some other team of neuroscientists might decide to go with one of the other theories. Multiple teams, multiple approaches, eventually, something shakes out.

That's how science is done. It's not some silly top-down, dictated approach. We EXPECT multiple competing theoretical constructs. We EXPECT to abandon and adopt. A scientist who doesn't end up contradicting himself over the course of his career has not had much of a career. Poor fellow has made no discoveries, merely measurements.


2015-07-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Something that might help with understanding:

The natural sciences are the most intellectually anarchistic fields in academia. Bolstering an edifice is presumed to be stop-gap. The latest and greatest model is presumed to be temporary. The best knowledge is presumed to be provisional. Indeed, when a laboratory becomes fixated upon preserving a theory at all costs, it is generally deemed to have become dysfunctional. Eventually, every theory has fallen except for what stands. We have no evidence that what currently stands will continue to do so, and if history is any indication, every single accepted theory will fall to something else at some point in the future. In religion, that's doomsaying, in science, it's a shrug (and job security).

So there is no agreed-upon definition of "art". So what? There are multiple competing definitions of "art". So what? It's not a big deal. If you want to explore neuroscience of art, just grab one (or a few, or more--how much funding have you got?) and go! If you're wrong, you'll probably be able to salvage enough (even in terms of "incomplete" or "negative" results) to get just enough funding to find a more productive direction.

Certainty is for people too frightened of themselves to dance in the Abyss.

2015-07-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Neuroscience and psychology may help us understand how we perceptually engage with artworks.

Dear Bryan,

With all due respect, I do not believe that this really solves our problem; instead, it merely re-enforces it.

I would like to make clear that, while a layman of the physical sciences (although not of the Social Sciences) I am neither adverse nor hostile to neuro-psychology in general or neuro-aesthetics in particular. I am, however, sceptical about what I take (perhaps mis-take) to be both its methodological assumptions and research matrix goals.

The thing that is most obviously problematic to me is that 'artworks'--the very thing that neuro-aesthetics is supposed to be studying-- is not defined. It is simply asserted, as though it is nothing more than an issue of social consensus or, even worse, common sense. This is simply not the case, as I tried to show in my earlier posts.
I really do not know how to express my concern more clearly or simply. I am also genuinely puzzled as to why this does not bother you more.

Until this problem can be resolved--meaning formulating a precise definition of what is a work of Art for the purposes of neuro-aesthetics--then I believe that my scepticism (but not my hostility) is warranted.

Aside: I agree with Derek on this point: I am not certain what is actually being studied.However, in disagreement with Derek, I am reluctant to uphold as absolute the non-correlations among Art, Beauty and Sensation--personally, I believe they are unifiable, but that is another post. And because I really do want to link Art with sensation, I will not reject neuro-psychological approaches to aesthetics out of hand.

But back to my main point:

However, if a social consensus concerning art work can be reached then this problem of absence of methodological precision would disappear.

Which brings me to my second major concern: reduction.

You repeatedly claim that you are anti-reductive and anti-normative. 

I believe you.

But we still have the methodology problem that I have outlined above: no simple, nor satisfactory, universal definition of work of art.

We could run a rather brutal majoritarian line--what most people mainly mean most of the time when they say the word Art--but majoritarian arguments tend to fall down in the long run (the problem of the outlier which very quickly ceases being trivial).

So, the neuro-aesthetist, with a research program (plus funding) but with no clear, well-defined object of study has two choices: give up or move forward.

She will not give up.

How will she move forward?

Answer: re-define art work in such a way as to make it wholly amenable to biology. (One of the things that struck me the most in Christy's post was how neuro-aesthetics was being linked to evolutionary psychology).

I will give you an example: a functional by hyper-reductive definition of Music is the following: organized, rhythmical acoustic vibrations.

Now, although most aestheticians would reject this definition, the magic of it is undeniable: it side-steps the problem of defining of terms altogether by re-presenting music as a purely physical and quantitative (=measureable) thing. That way,Rap, Rhythm and Blues, and Mozart can all be correctly defined as Music, because the one thing that they have in common is that they all are organized, rhythmical acoustic vibrations.

Music = Sound = Acoustics = Physics = Measurement.

Now, all other considerations can be bracketed out altogether as trivial, soft, or indicative of some kind of hoax.

Eric





2015-07-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
I am definitely within that limited group of people who think that Crime and Punishment is a truly great work of literary Art.

However, I had the contrary experience with Anna Karenina: despite trying on three separate occasions, I cannot make it past the fifth page.

Eric

2015-07-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Have you EVER actually designed and carried out an experiment? It is PRESUMED that you cannot have a perfect model. Instead, you start with an APPROXIMATION, and it is permitted to be extremely crude early on. Then you go with it and see how far it takes you. Then you try again.

Yes, it is all vague, so you pick SOMETHING at SOME POINT and just go with it--see what comes up.

In science, as opposed to dogmatics, you don't have to pin everything down perfectly before you start.


2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Again, Bryan, I can only repeat what I said in an earlier post:

“The fundamental point you’re missing is whether this is a ‘scientific field.’ My own view – which I have explained in some detail now (see e.g. my post of 10/7) – is that science is powerless in this field (assuming the field has even been defined – which, as I’ve pointed out, it hasn't).

But since you dismiss all this as mere “dogmatics”, why not go ahead and conduct an experiment in “neuroaesthetics” yourself? It should be easy for you. You are a neuroscientist, I gather, so you’re well qualified, and certainly much better placed than people like me – poor scientific illiterates who wouldn’t know a scanner from a park bench. Methodology will be no problem for you either. To quote you, one only needs to ‘”pick SOMETHING at SOME POINT and just go with it--see what comes up".  So, it should all be easy peasy.

The rest of us – those who are, as you say, simply too frightened “to dance in the Abyss” – will, I’m sure, await your results, and your interpretation of them, with bated breath.

DA


2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE: I am definitely within that limited group of people who think that Crime and Punishment is a truly great work of literary Art. However, I had the contrary experience with Anna Karenina: despite trying on three separate occasions, I cannot make it past the fifth page.

What can I say, Eric? Personally, I prefer Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy too, though I do think Anna Karenina is great literary work.  

People’s tastes differ – though I confess I was stunned when a leading light in “analytic” aesthetics, at a conference I attended in the UK last year, scoffed at the idea of reading Dostoyevsky. (I had quoted a character in The Possessed as a counter-example to some point he was making).

When self-proclaimed philosophers of art scoff at an author who is probably the greatest novelist of the last 150 years, one seriously wonders what the “art” in their job description relates to. His own tastes seemed to run to second rate Edwardian stuff. My heart goes out to his students...

DA


2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE:  (in your post to Bryan): Aside: I agree with Derek on this point: I am not certain what is actually being studied. However, in disagreement with Derek, I am reluctant to uphold as absolute the non-correlations among Art, Beauty and Sensation--personally, I believe they are unifiable, but that is another post.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on the point, Eric.

My thinking here is quite straightforward:

Art and beauty are not synonymous. The Christ in the Isenheim Altarpiece is not beautiful. (I have even had people complain to me afterwards when I used it as a slide in a PowerPoint show. “Hard to look at”, they said – which is true in a sense.)  But it is – in my view anyway – a powerful work of art. Same point can be made re numerous other works (e.g. Goya’s black paintings). The conflation of art and beauty is one of the persistent illusions of modern aesthetics – a hangover from Hume, Kant and co. "Analytic" aesthetics in particular continues to make very heavy weather of the issue – which is surely quite straightforward – because, as a discipline, it is still firmly yoked to 18th century thinking.

As for sensation, that could apply to art, beauty (e.g. a sunset), or something that's neither. A nasty burn is a sensation. The category is far too vast and ill-defined to be of any use in this context.

DA

   


2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Dear Margaret,
Could you explain the distinction you make between material and cultural human artefacts? 
Thank you.
Cheers

Luc

2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,
Thank you for your post. Your reply was genuinely helpful, answered some of my concerns (I think) and made me reflect more. So, good post.

I still have a few concerns, however. It comes back to the issue of measuring of subject's response to the presence of the art-work. I still feel that there is an element of circularity or reduction here, because the problem of definition will not go away.

Let's consider my example of the Cult of the Museum argument: if we rely upon a sensation/phenomenological definition of Art (which also sub-textually imports all of the painful difficulties of art, beauty, pleasure and aesthetics not strictly correlating), then it may be the case that the consumers in a museum may be responding to artworks very differently than they would be in a different context--such as a blues session in club listening to Johnny Lee Hooker Jr (a supreme aesthetic delight I enjoyed a while back).

In other words, the museum consumers are experiencing the artwork that does not truly engage them; in which case, they are experiencing very few sensations or perhaps sensations of an entirely different kind (such as boredom). Whereas, at the music concert, they are undergoing the Dionysian throbbing of organized, rhythmical, acoustical vibrations on an extremely intense level (also, their social behavior will be quite different--a group activity versus allegedly private contemplation).

I know that I am simplifying, but the researcher may generate a zero response for the museum and a 100% response for the concert. So, she might conclude (reductively) that the stuff in the Museum is not art-work properly so called (when subjects were exposed to the stuff, no response noted) or, in the alternative, she might conclude (a bit less reductively) that there are qualitatively different types of sensations (although all measurable and quantifiable) because her comparative data of museum versus concert empirically proves that.

Because all of the subjects in both venues were being exposed to artworks while their brain waves were being monitored.

But here's the rub.

It it possible, using Art Theory, to quite legitimately challenge the fact that either (or even both) groups really were exposed to art-works properly so called.

The neuro-researcher is definitely recording something. No question. And, since aesthetic appreciation is, among other things, a mental activity, at least some aspects of this activity will be traceable.measurable). But until something like a compelling definition of art-work can be formulated in the very first instance, I must share Derek's concerns here: it strikes me as un-grounded.

2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
In science, as opposed to dogmatics, you don't have to pin everything down perfectly before you start.
But this is my essential point: to do neuro-aesthetics, you do not need to pin everything down, but you do need to pin something down.

What is Art?

Until that is done neuro-aesthetics remains under-theorized.

Which means that it is methodologically un-grounded in its current form.

2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
As a passionate literary Russophile, I am most keen to be provided with the reasons for the scoffing.
I might hazard a guess: the English tend to be down on Russian writers (American too) because they are perceived to be overly serious in their hand-wringing, and fail to give adequate narrative weight/balance to the proper subject of great literature: the successful negotiation between individual preferences and social obligations (the ultimately successful and 'comic' harmonization of self and society. To put it another way: by the end everyone finds out what his and her rightful place is).

That's why deviant English novels--Wurthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Heart of Darkness, Lady Chatterley's Lover--are such stand-outs. Electrifying works.

D.H Lawrence wrote that the two national literary traditions that the English are guaranteed to dismiss as humbug are the Russian and the American. Both immature and under-developed.

Re. Tolstoy: had no trouble at all with War and Peace. Spent an entire week engrossed. And, no, it wasn't just because there was a big battle init (although that helped).
Very simply: I cared passionately about the characters. But the thought of a week spent with Anna and Count Vronsky really put me off my lunch.


2015-07-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your post. Although my (brief) answer belongs in what I think should be a separate post, I will give one here.

I agree 100% that Art cannot be strictly correlated with beauty (nice anecdote about the Isenheim Altarpiece, although I would be game to argue that it is beautiful in that certain sublime or horrific images, especially those conveying exceptional emotional resonance do constitute Beauty).

My point was more that the sensory underpinning of both Art and Beauty (and the Sublime, and the Horrific) needs to be re-theorized IF a unified form of aesthetic theory for contemporary usage is to be achieved (and assuming, of course, that it is even desirable to provide one).

Part of my reasoning, here, is my own background and interest in phenomenology which, quixotically or not, does undertake the quest for a purified essence of experience.

I am knee-deep in work at the moment, but I would say simply that if one does have a phenomenological bias to one's research interests, then the drive to unify what may be otherwise disparate phenomenon becomes a practical goal.

And of course part of the goal is to mount a comprehensive defense of Art and Art Theory in an age of accusations of 'hoax' or 'fraud' if mathematical forms of precision cannot be provided.

Eric

2015-07-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE: “I’m most keen to be provided with the reasons for the scoffing.”

He gave no reasons.  Just said something like, “Well, if people want to spend their time reading Dostoyevsky…” – in a derisive tone. It’s quite possible he had never read The Possessed and was trying to hide the fact.

I often have the impression that “analytic” philosophers of art are not really interested in art anyway – it just serves as a useful pretext for various pet philosophical topics. Hence the huge amounts of time wasted on arid and irrelevant issues like “the semantics of fictional names” etc. 

As a general rule, I think one can safely say that if one seriously wants to avoid learning anything enlightening about art, analytic aesthetics is the best choice.

RE: “… fail to give adequate narrative weight/balance to the proper subject of great literature: the successful negotiation between individual preferences and social obligations (the ultimately successful and 'comic' harmonization of self and society. To put it another way: by the end everyone finds out what his and her rightful place is).

Yes, I think this was about the level of thinking of the speaker in question. Literature as edifying moral tale, spiced with a little humour to keep things cheery and bright.  “Proper” literature....

DA


2015-07-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Re: "nice anecdote about the Isenheim Altarpiece,

It’s not just an anecdote, Eric. It illustrated a very natural reaction to the Isenheim. And there are countless other works that, likewise, it would be absurd to call beautiful. Think of the numerous masks etc from the Pacific Islands now included in our world of art. Think of the Pre-Columbian monster-gods. Think of Goya’s etchings and black paintings (Malraux: sums this up well: “If the words art and beauty had the same meaning, Goya would not be an artist.”). Think of the leering devils on medieval cathedrals. Or turning to literature, think of Dostoyevsky, Kafka etc. Is the murder scene in Crime and Punishment beautiful? Seriously? It’s powerful - almost unbearable. But beautiful???  

Of course, one can call all these things beautiful if one chooses. If one chooses, one can call anything beautiful. (Where, after all, would one draw the line?). But one does so at the cost of rendering the word meaningless and simply blunting one’s critical apparatus. The continuing fixation of many philosophers of art on the idea of beauty is, in my view, simply a last-ditch attempt to save traditional aesthetics – Hume, Kant etc – on which so much of it still rests.  But it’s ridiculous, surely. Who can look at the Isenheim and seriously say : “Gee, that’s beautiful!” Who could say it of Goya’s Witches Sabbath or his Disasters of War - e.g. those showing dismembered bodies stuck on the branches of trees? 

The “art = beauty” thing is a hangover from the Renaissance and from Enlightenment aesthetics (when it was accurate). But the world of art has changed hugely since then. Both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment would not even have accepted that the works mentioned above are art – they would have regarded them as utterly beyond the pale. But the necessary connection between art and beauty has long gone.

RE: “My point was more that the sensory underpinning of both Art and Beauty (and the Sublime, and the Horrific) needs to be re-theorized IF a unified form of aesthetic theory for contemporary usage is to be achieved (and assuming, of course, that it is even desirable to provide one).”

But why try to unify art and beauty?  It was unified once – hence Kant, Hume etc. But it no longer is, or needs to be – in fact, any such supposed unity is a huge red herring.Some art is beautiful, but some art isn't, and obviously doesn't seek to be.

The challenge for us now is not to unify art and beauty but to develop a unified theory of art that can include beauty but which is no longer dependent on it. That means abandoning Kant, Hume etc. But so what? Are we determined to keep our minds firmly stuck in the 18th century?

DA


2015-07-31
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy

Hi Luc

Re: Dear Margaret, Could you explain the distinction you make between material and cultural human artefacts?

Pls excuse me butting in but if it’s of interest to you, I'll offer my thoughts on the matter.

The question as it stands is in fact rather ambiguous, because the word “cultural” is ambiguous. A stone tool or an arrow head, for example, can be both a material and a cultural artefact: they are both material, but they can also be evidence of the nature of the culture from which they came – hence cultural (as well).

The important distinction to be made is between artefacts that are of purely historical value and those that transcend their culture and are still vital and alive for us today – i.e. those artefacts we call art. A stone tool from Lascaux is an artefact of purely (pre)historical value; the cave paintings at Lascaux transcend history and have lived on as (what we call) works of art. An arrow head from, say, Mesoamerica is of purely historical value; some of the finest sculptures from Mesoamerican cultures have lived on as works of art.

The difference is mirrored (if at times only roughly) in the distinction we make between art museums and museums tout court (i.e. history museums). The stone tool and the arrow head usually find their way into the latter, the Mesoamerican sculpture into the former (as would the cave paintings at Lascaux if they were moveable). There are of course endless examples of this contrast. I’ve only chosen a couple at random.

This distinction raises the crucial question of the capacity of certain works (those we call works of art) to transcend time. This question is almost totally neglected in modern aesthetics (which prefers to devote its time to burning questions like “the semantics of fictional names” …)

DA


2015-08-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Time on my hands so I’ll reply to a part of your post I missed:

“And of course part of the goal is to mount a comprehensive defense of Art and Art Theory in an age of accusations of 'hoax' or 'fraud' if mathematical forms of precision cannot be provided.’

In my view, “mathematical forms of precision” will only ever tell us very trivial things about art. (So, for example, “neuroaesthetics” and the currently fashionable “digital” approach to literature are simply wastes of time.)

But so what? Art is not science any more than it’s history, or politics, or philosophy. One of the persistent stumbling-blocks of art theory today, in my view, is the refusal by so many thinkers to entertain the idea that art (in the general sense of the word) is, as lawyers would say, “sui generis”. “Analytic” philosophers of art keep wanting to turn it into philosophy - and frequently discuss it as if it is; and “continentals” usually want to turn it into politics. (I’ve just been reading a book by Rancière – and there it is again: art as politics.)

Why this constant dread of thinking that art might be sui generis? I think there are probably two reasons – both bad: (1) It’s assumed that this will lead necessarily to an “art for art’s sake” position, which no one, apart from a few latter day Wildeans, wants to espouse any more; and (2) (which is connected) people very much want to give art a “practical” purpose (without thinking carefully about what "practical" might mean), and calling it philosophy or politics or an offshoot of science seems to meet that need.

But why assume that a sui generis explanation of art will lead inevitably to “art for art’s sake”? It might lead somewhere quite different. And why might a sui generis explanation not show that art is just as important, if not more so, than philosophy or politics – or science?

I sometimes think that philosophers of art – on both sides of "the divide" – often lack a genuine faith in art. They seem to think it can only be truly valuable if it’s really something else.

DA


2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Dear Luc:

I had to search my posts to see what I said. It was in response to Derek's comment:

We have thousands of artefacts from prehistoric times.  What bearing does this have on the subject at hand?

I wrote:

I didn't say artefacts. I said "cultural artefacts": i.e. products that were created simply for adornment or or to represent animal and human forms in sculpture.

My response was limited to the context of Derek's argument that art didn't exist before the Rennaissance. Of course, any human artefact may be said to be cultural in the broadest sense of that term. Perhaps the distinction I was trying to make is rather between material and aesthetic artefacts, though even this is dubious since one can have aesthetic appreciation of tools. Still, I think there is a case to be made in the context of trying to identify "art."

Thanks for the catch.

Margaret


2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. Re. anecdote/Isenheim: I meant that in the good sense of the term, an individual incident that points to an intuitive perception of a wider reality. The same for your Dostoevsky-bashing Edwardian.

The beginning of semester has turned into an avalanche I expected, so I will have to keep my reply brief.

It seems that my response should be in two parts.

How can we re-unify the aesthetic sciences: in fairness, I think this should be the subject of a separate post.

Should we attempt to re-unify the aesthetic sciences? Yes; I have two reasons.

1. One reason came through with some of Bryan's posts, when he suggested, in a robustly positivist manner, that if a generally agreed upon definition of Art and/or aesthetics is not available (and perhaps never will be), then Art and the philosophy of Art are hoaxes. Although I disagree with this strongly (I edited a book once in which one of the contributors suggested that English should be mandated as the sole language of international scholarship on the grounds that universal consensus on all issues could be reached if only the inherently imprecise languages of the Continent could be excluded from the conversation), the sad fact is that we live in an age of a no-holds-barred revolution in quantitative reductionism and (neo-) materialist determinism (Dawkins, Hawking, Churchland, Dennett, Sam Harris et al). If aesthetics is to retain its status as a ''legitimate' field of study (or a 'principled' discipline), then I think that the quest to re-unify is quite timely (although perhaps ultimately futile).

I am also in very strong agreement with everything that you have said about the analytic squad. Unfortunately, the seem to hold the high ground at the moment and are hard at work to ostracize as trivial anything that does not conform strictly to their quasi-mathematical prescriptions. Even the Continental philosophers are jettisoning traditional (Humanist) modes of thought in the face of the onslaught of 'scientism' (e.g. Speculative Realism).

2. An attempt to re-unify might shore up the position and role of the 'art critic''. As I argued in an earlier post, an essential function of academic training in Art theory is to police the orthodox meta-principle of a hierarchy of values and the correct and proper delimitations of 'taste'. We have had some interesting exchanges on exactly this point: R&B versus classical music, the detective novel as high literature. I have always been skeptical of the canon but, by the same token, I am equally suspicious of the post-modern urge to nihilistically relativize everything and anything. My own preferred approach, when teaching subjects like Law and Literature or Noir crime fiction, is to apply, or 'import' the critical heuristics of High criticism and apply it systematically to a 'low' subject in order to see what kind of results I can achieve and what conclusions I can draw. Here, I feel that a re-unification, especially one based on phenomenological principles, might be fruitful--or at least interesting.

2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek, Margaret and Luc,

You all might appreciate this 'anecdote'.
In 1870 Karl Marx attended a massive exhibit on classical Greek pottery (Attic, 6th-5th centuries BCE, the eternally fetishized black-on-orange and orange-on-black) held in the British Museum. After imbibing his full (Marx was a passionate Hellenist) he wrote a letter to Engels. In that letter, Marx expressed the following deep concern (which, in fact, explodes the whole of the Marxist project when we think about it).

To wit: Marx was confident that his theory could explain why the Athenians produced the sort of pottery that they did. What was keeping him up at nights was what his theory could not explain: why 25 centuries later, we continued to find the pottery so beautiful.

Eric

2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I sometimes think that philosophers of art – on both sides of "the divide" – often lack a genuine faith in art. They seem to think it can only be truly valuable if it’s really something else.

Well, you can put all of the blame squarely on Plato, The Republic, Chapter Ten--an aesthetician's nightmare but one of the single most important texts in the history of philosophy.

It is one of the vagaries of European history that the Western philosophical tradition has chosen to make representation the seminal problem of critical thought rather than hermeneutics. 

If the opposite had prevailed, then the status and discourse of Art in our culture would have been very different.

Strongly agree with you about Ranciere: just one more over-priced neo-Marxist hatchet man.

2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Por que é tão difícil dizer que algumas obras são realmente fraudes?Há um determinado nível de subjetividade do crítico que de fato decide que alguns objetos são fraudes,outros ,não.Construir uma teoria em cima disso é saber de antemão que haverá lacunas a ponto de interesses particulares virem a tona.Começo a achar que a neuro-estética andará pouco se for por este caminho.
Uma questão é criar dispositivos que possam  investigar reações de espectadores,com fins terapêuticos, por exemplo;outra questão é querer tirar uma teoria do que vem a ser arte ou não só com a neuro-estética e seus testes.
Para pensar...
Angeli Rose

2015-08-10
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

Interesting comment, thanks.

Margaret has made the distinction in an earlier post.

Transcend their culture? I think Gadamer and Ricoeur talked about the transhistorical aspect of the works of art.

Ok, but then you need time to assess that. So, no-thing today could be called art? Is art a term you apply a posteriori on artefacts? Can art be pre-existent to historical time?

The semantics of fictional names, what the heck is that?

Cheers,

Luc

2015-08-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Luc Delannoy
Hi Luc

RE: “I think Gadamer and Ricoeur talked about the transhistorical aspect of the works of art.”

Do you know where exactly, Luc? Frankly I’d be very surprised if they address the issue I’m referring to. Apart from Malraux, I’ve found no one who has in modern times.

Which is extremely odd because the issue is in no sense esoteric – in fact it’s as plain as day.

It is simply the difference, as I say, between an object that is of purely historical interest – those we put in history museums – and those (e.g. from the same period) which are, as I say, still vital and alive for us which we place in art museums.

Take two simple examples (from literature this time): a legal document – say a decree about public worship – from Elizabethan times, and Shakespeare’s plays. The document might perhaps find its way into a historical collection; but no one would dream of saying that Shakespeare’s plays are purely of historical interest and should just be kept under glass in a history museum (though of course one could do that as well with early folios etc).

There are umpteen examples of this, going right back to prehistory – the difference for example between a hand axe and the cave paintings at Lascaux.

So the obvious question is: what is the nature of the strange power that certain objects have to transcend time – because that is obviously what they do: Shakespeare’s plays are still vital and live for us while the legal document is simply evidence of times gone by and ends up under glass. This is not the old “test of time” furphy. It’s a question about the nature of the power in question: what it is and how it operates.

The traditional answer to this – which began in the Renaissance and still lingers on today – was that works that transcend time do so because they are “eternal”, “timeless”, i.e. exempt from time. This answer has been tremendously influential in European thought (think of Shakespearean’s sonnets for example) and was simply taken for granted by Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant and Hume whose thinking about art is still so influential. But it is no longer a viable answer. I won’t go into why here – it would take too long. But the consequence is that there is a huge ignored question in modern aesthetics: if art does not transcend time because it is timeless, what is the nature of its power of transcendence?

This is what I call the “forgotten dimension of art” in aesthetics, and it's forgotten by both analytic and continental aesthetics – which is why I would be surprised to find it Gadamer or Ricoeur.

RE: The semantics of fictional names, what the heck is that?

Just one of the many irrelevant questions analytic aesthetics wastes its time on. It's a question asked by people who use art (literature in this case) simply as a pretext for discussing pet philosophical issues. In short, an irrelevance. No philosopher of art worth their salt would trouble their mind with it.

DA


2015-08-11
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?

Hi Margaret

Re: ‘My response was limited to the context of Derek's argument that art didn't exist before the Rennaissance.”

I thought I should make it clear that it’s only in a certain sense that I think that “art didn't exist before the Renaissance”.

Of course, there was sculpture, painting, poetry, etc before the Renaissance, much of which today we regard as art. It includes works from the Middle Ages, ancient Egypt, Africa, China, India, etc, etc, and among it are some of the masterpieces of world art.

But the term “art”, with the meanings Europe has ascribed to it, has only existed since the Renaissance – indeed it was one of the inventions of the Renaissance.

So we have a curious and intriguing situation: Michelangelo (for example) considered his sculptures to be “art”, but a sculptor in ancient Egypt (for example) did not – and could not anyway because there was no such word in his language. Yet despite this, we now – since the early twentieth century – have come to regard many Egyptian works as major works of art and willingly place them in our art museums (together with the Michelangelos etc).

Intriguing is it not?

Modern aesthetics steers well clear of problems like this. Inter alia, it requires us to think about the relationship between art and history, and modern aesthetics – especially of the “analytic” variety – seems constitutionally unable to do that. (It can't tear itself away from fascinating topics like the semantics of fictional names!)

(I think there is a solution to the problem, by the way, but I won’t launch into it here. )

 DA


2015-08-12
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

RE: “Well, you can put all of the blame squarely on Plato, The Republic, Chapter Ten--an aesthetician's nightmare but one of the single most important texts in the history of philosophy.”

Well, perhaps; but I tend to think that the causes of the “see-art-as-something-else” syndrome lie somewhat closer to us in time.

In the eighteenth century there was no fundamental angst about the nature/purpose of art. There were differences of opinion about how exactly one might define taste, beauty and aesthetic pleasure but no one really questioned that these were they keys to what art was about.

Problems began in the 19th century with Hegel: if art is part of history, how can it be about “timeless beauty”?  Things got worse with Marx: if art is part of an economic/social process, does it exist merely to give “pleasure” – and what happens to the idea of taste? (Bourdieu has answered that one!)

By the time we reach the 20th century, the 18th century solution is in dire straits. Art had therefore to be given a different rationale (without jettisoning Kant, Hume, etc altogether – these, after all, were the founding fathers.) For continental aesthetics, art became a lever in the social process or a product of it (Sartre, Bourdieu, Badiou, Rancière, etc); and for the analytics it became a surrogate philosophy (so it dotes on questions like “What is representation?” Or “What is the difference between fictional and non-fictional statements?" etc – questions in which art functions at best as a pretext.) For both schools of thought, the possibility that art might have a purpose sui generis is ignored: art is either a social lever or a pawn in a philosophical game. Which is why, I assume, both schools of thought increasingly prefer the term "aesthetics" to "philosophy of art". The latter is an uncomfortable reminder of something they would prefer to forget…

RE: It is one of the vagaries of European history that the Western philosophical tradition has chosen to make representation the seminal problem of critical thought rather than hermeneutics. 

Could you enlarge a little on what you mean here, Eric?

DA


2015-08-13
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Thanks for your post and the interesting comments.

I confess I am not quite sure what you have in mind when you speak of “re-unify[ing] the aesthetic sciences”. Do you mean trying to bring analytic and continental together? Or do you mean bringing them into line with science in some way? (I think both paths would be unproductive but I won’t launch into why here in case I’m misreading you.)  

Re: “I am also in very strong agreement with everything that you have said about the analytic squad. Unfortunately, they seem to hold the high ground at the moment and are hard at work to ostracize as trivial anything that does not conform strictly to their quasi-mathematical prescriptions.

Yes, this is very much the case. Analytic aesthetics, to my mind, has a fortress mentality with the drawbridge let down only for those who mutter the right code words. In one sense, it's the reverse of an academic discipline because it flatly refuses to engage seriously with ideas outside its own little realm (e.g. history, anthropology), no matter how relevant they may appear to be. It makes an exception in the case of science because it sees it as non-threatening (hence the tolerance for “neuroaesthetics”). But anything that questions its basic assumptions is strictly verboten. So it’s less a field of study than a set of dogma, keeping itself going much as scholastic philosophy did by endless petty disagreements over points of doctrine.

None of this should really matter because analytic aesthetics obviously has zero impact in the public sphere. But in the end that’s what's so distressing. To my mind, art (in all its forms) is one of the very few things left in the modern world that can mean something to people. An aesthetics – or, rather, philosophy of art – worth its salt should be able to say something worthwhile and illuminating to them about the subject, but analytic aesthetics (with continental not far behind) is a million miles from being able to do that. And to make matters worse, it doesn't even seem to care...

DA


2015-08-19
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Analytic aesthetics, to my mind, has a fortress mentality with the drawbridge let down only for those who mutter the right code words

Too true.

I suppose my thinking here is slightly different from yours, as my field (Jurisprudence; Criminology) has largely succumbed to the will-to-quantification-and-metrics (which, I admit, has seen some striking successes; profiling and metropolitan policing, such as in LA, have been convincingly touted as signifiers of success, although some important second-order criticisms can be made). Given the groundswell, I am more predisposed to fight a holding action and argue for the non-hoax status of non-reductive phenomena and approaches, which does require a degree of collusion with the opposition. My bottom line is not so much proving the erroneous nature of quantification as arguing for/demonstrating the independent validity of non-quantifiable approaches. 

Do you mean trying to bring analytic and continental together?


To a degree yes, but my thinking here is more eclectic than anything else. Since starting a second career in Law-and-Literature studies about five years ago, I have undergone two major changes in my thinking: (i) I re-discovered phenomenology and (ii) working with students while employing reader-response theory I learned all over again how to appreciate the 'literary effect' view of High Art (I discussed this in an earlier post to Bryan that you commented on). In short, I take with great seriousness the proposition of Art as aesthetic sensation. Although I would prefer to restrict my thinking to purely philosophical approaches, such as phenomenology (or even its deranged twin existentialism) I do have a basic interest in the approach of neuro-aesthetics and its arguable potential. At the moment, though, I am still dissatisfied with the level of methodological rigor (or lack thereof) on display.

I was quite interested in your comments concerning Art as sui generis. In fact, there is one major philosopher who has adopted such an approach: Schopenhauer. Art and Beauty are primordial expressions of the Will which, as the totality of Noumenal reality itself, eternally eludes a finite conceptualization through the derivative categories of the phenomenal. Therefore, Art will always appear to us as an absolute Unknowable.

2015-08-19
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Could you enlarge a little on what you mean here, Eric?

Oh, all that I meant was that if hermeneutics and hermeneutical approaches (such as textual exegesis and literary criticism) had managed to gain more of a foothold (as they did in the East Asian philosophical schools, such as Confucianism and Taoism), European philosophy would have undergone two major developments.

1. Philosophy would have been much more self-aware (and self-critical) of itself as a process of interpretation rather than as a moment of revelation or uncovering (aletheia). This would have reversed many of the binary oppositions that we have inherited from the Socratic revolution (Philosophy versus Sophistry; Writing versus Rhetoric; Truth versus Illusion; Fact versus Opinion; Mathematics versus Poetry; Science versus Literature).

For our purposes, the most practical result would have been that we never would have witnessed the spectacle, ongoing since the 17th century, of reducing Painting to Optics.

2. The world, as the 'proper' object of study of Philosophy, would have been understood as an aesthetic phenomenon in and of itself or, in the alternative, as the bearer of aesthetic categories and attributes, which would have been understood as natural. Hence, none of that shattering dichotomy of Nature versus Culture (or Art, as artifice, as the artificial).

2015-08-20
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Re: My bottom line is not so much proving the erroneous nature as arguing for/demonstrating the independent validity of non-quantifiable approaches. 

The major deficiencies I see in analytic aesthetics are not related to quantification in any essential way. As you know, I think neuroaesthetics is bunkum but I doubt if, in the end, hard core analytic devotees place much importance on it anyway. They’re happy to give it house room for the time being because they see it as non-threatening, but if it all sank beneath the waves tomorrow I doubt if they would lose much sleep.

The deficiencies in analytic aesthetics are more deeply rooted. They relate mainly to an inability to think outside the tiny (and antiquated) square of 18th century thinking about art (Kant, Hume etc) and a refusal to question any of the underlying assumptions on which the thought of that period is based. 

Hence, for example, the complete divorce between analytic aesthetics and historical thinking, and the  neglect of crucial issues such as the relationship between art and (the passing of) time. Which results in, inter alia, the longstanding and ridiculous separation between aesthetics and art history and the inability of analytic aesthetics to say anything significant about art museums – even though that's how most people today encounter visual art. Etc, etc. It's fortunate, actually, that analytic aesthetics has zero impact in the public sphere because it functions principally as a barrier to our understanding of art rather than an aid.

Re; “I take with great seriousness the proposition of Art as aesthetic sensation.”

Personally I avoid the word “aesthetic” like the plague. In my experience it contributes nothing but confusion to discussions about art. Another unfortunate hangover from the 18th century…

RE: “I learned all over again how to appreciate the 'literary effect' view of High Art.

I don’t know what “high art” is. To my mind, there is art and there is the rest. The dividing line is always imprecise (and it’s pointless trying, as analytic aesthetics so often does, to produce formulae to make it precise) but the difference is nonetheless very real.  One might, for example, quarrel over whether The Three Musketeers is art but the difference between Crime and Punishment and a Batman comic is nonetheless stark. As Malraux puts it, art is defined by its poles not by its borders.

DA


2015-08-21
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

I think the single most important step aesthetics could take would be to show a little intellectual courage and integrity and have a genuine look at its own history and genesis. I don’t mean the usual history-in-a-bubble thing (Plato, Aristotle, jump to the 18th century – Hume Kant etc.) I mean a careful examination of European aesthetic ideas in the context of the cultural and artistic context in which they emerged. So one could see, for example, that pet concepts such as beauty, pleasure and taste were not sudden philosophical discoveries of “timeless” ideas emerging out of a vacuum but reflections of a particular 18th century state of mind in relation to art and culture.

That, of course, would only be a beginning. Much, much more would need to be done – including an honest acknowledgement that “art” is a specifically European idea, and a recognition that some solid rethinking is required to take account of this fact (given, for example, that so much of our modern world of art is from non-European sources past and more recent).

In short, a history of European aesthetics that recognises that, like all philosophical movements, it was never insulated from the culture in which it emerged.

One result of all this, I believe, would be an eventual realization that Enlightenment aesthetics, including Hume, Kant and co, can be more or less disregarded as serious explanations of art as we know it today. Enlightenment aesthetics would still have a place in the curriculum but purely as a phase in the history of European ideas.

Needless to say, I don’t see any of this happening…

DA


2015-08-26
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail.

In brief:

1. Quantification: I use this as short-hand to cover a lot of different things: metrics, bio-metrics, computational reasoning, profiling, prediction. Essentially, the entire gamut of materialist reductivism.

2. High Art: this is also short hand for all complexes (neuroses?) attaching to the cult of the museum (which you have repeatedly trashed with some effect). Like you, I also do not believe in High Art, but I approach the problem from a slightly different angle. Whereas your reasoning is binary (Art vs. Non-Art) mine is iterable: I want to reverse/subvert many of the distinctions between the categories of High and Low that the 'Establishment' wants to generally police (I have filed this under the Argument from Authority approach). But I also resist pure relativism; I believe that many works of low, or traditionally despised forms and genres (Noir; crime fiction) can be objectively proven to possess the characteristics of Art.

3. History: yes, I agree in general but not in full. I am 100% in accordance with your general take on the positivist/analytical approaches (several years ago a friend of mine who teaches American History at the University of San Diego asked me why the analytical tradition has no tolerance, or even conception of History; my reply was that for the Bertrand Russell crew Temporality is deemed to contaminate the purity of the thought experiment).

However, I do feel that some of your posts reflect a willingness (desire?) to conflate History with Historicism, which is a form of determinism/reduction in its own right. Although classical aesthetic theory does regard the historical (along with the social and the cultural in general) as trivial (which is transparently erroneous), I do not believe that Art or artistic appreciation/response can be explained wholly within terms of the historical; see my earlier post referencing Marx's letter to Engels.

Also your favorite example of the Egyptians burying their statuary as an example of an historical relativism of the beautiful; although this example clearly proves the culturally specific treatment of the artifact it tells us nothing about whether or not Egyptian Art (using the contemporary term) does or does not correspond to arguable trans-cultural notions of Beauty. Indeed, the fact that so much was buried can attest to the Egyptian devotion to their Forms, as the interred artifacts were meant to serve as votive offerings to Eternity, which certainly reflected a sense of the Egyptian's assessment of the artistic merit of their own creations.

I believe that there is a residue of Art which is absolutely vital to it that escapes the restrictive parameters of Time (History being the study of Time measured in social units).

And let's not forget that your historicist rigor, from a Platonic perspective, ultimately betrays itself as symptomatic of the very thing that philosophy is intended to rectify: uncertainty, imprecision, and opinion.

As Nietzsche memorably put it (along with so much else): Only that which is without history can be accurately defined.


2015-08-27
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Just a few points (not necessarily in the order of your post)

RE: “to the cult of the museum (which you have repeatedly trashed with some effect).”

I don’t understand. I am in no sense wanting to trash museums. In fact, I think they are of major importance and need to be given a lot more attention and thought than aesthetics usually gives them. Analytic aesthetics has virtually nothing to say on the subject; continental is almost invariably negative. I have lots more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it there.  

RE: “my reply was that for the Bertrand Russell crew Temporality is deemed to contaminate the purity of the thought experiment.

This reminds me of a recent comment by a leading UK analytic aesthetician (whose name I shall omit to protect the guilty):  “…all these earlier thinkers might have been confused in their analyses so why dwell on mistaken views. Analytic philosophy seeks the truth about the subjects it addresses, and timeless truth as far as that is attainable”.  From which we presumably deduce (a) that “these earlier thinkers” were not seeking the truth (what were they doing I wonder?); and (b) that one can readily distinguish “timeless truths” (i.e. truths impervious to historical influence) from non-timeless truths. (Do the latter carry warning flags, I wonder?).

Analytic philosophy is particularly naïve, not to say obtuse, in this respect. Interestingly, it has already abandoned some of its own earlier views. (They were presumably only masquerading as “timeless”.)

RE: “I do not believe that Art or artistic appreciation/response can be explained wholly within terms of the historical.

Neither, emphatically, do I. But I also do not think that one can simply dismiss history – including one’s own place in it – with a disdainful (and largely ignorant) wave of the hand as analytic aesthetics standardly does (e.g. as in the statement above).  

RE: “the fact that so much was buried can attest to the Egyptian devotion to their Forms, as the interred artifacts were meant to serve as votive offerings to Eternity, which certainly reflected a sense of the Egyptian's assessment of the artistic merit of their own creations.”

This strikes me as a case of what psychologists call “projection”. We know for a definite fact that there was no word – and therefore no concept – for “art” or “artistic” in the Egyptian language (or in hundreds of other languages). Yet because we think in those terms, we insist that the Egyptians must have done so as well.  We today certainly regard many Egyptian objects as art. The challenge – not an easy one – is to understand how objects that were not regarded as art when created have become (what we call) art today. Simply arguing that the Egyptians must “really” have regarded them as we do is to short-circuit that challenge and deny historical fact. Of course, conveniently, the Egyptians are not here to express an opinion…

And the idea of eternal “Forms” (without or without a capital) is surely very dubious. What “eternal forms” are shared by, say, an Egyptian statue, an ancestor figure from the Sepik River (some excellent examples on display at the NGA at the moment), a Sung landscape, and Titian's Pieta? The idea of eternal forms in art is viable only to the extent that one carefully avoids saying what they are... Aesthetic phantoms.

RE: “And let's not forget that your historicist rigor, from a Platonic perspective, ultimately betrays itself as symptomatic of the very thing that philosophy is intended to rectify: uncertainty, imprecision, and opinion.”

I usually distrust labels and I don’t know exactly what you mean by “historicist”. If it means that history is the be-all-and-end-all, then it certainly doesn’t apply to me. But I do not think one can simply ignore history and (a) pretend it never happened, (b) assume – on the basis of what? – that one's own position/methodology is exempt, or (c) pick and choose what one accepts and rejects (so, for example, one rejects the clear evidence re the absence of the concept art in many cultures). Analytic aesthetics' position in this regard is, to my mind, simply ridiculous – a clear case of the intellectual ostrich. Continental, of course goes to the other extreme and puts history (and politics) on a pedestal.  There is no need to do either.

 DA


2015-08-31
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
HI!Tenho algumas questões e se "Alguém aí?" puder dialogar comigo,agradeço.
Primeiro,gostaria que precisassem o que chamam de Estética clássica,o que se refere a Hegel ou Baugarten?
Ainda:a questão da temporalidade interrompida,a descontinuidade,como aspecto caracterizador da Experiência estética nos séculos anteriores,especialmente,XVIII,tem uma transformação grande considerando que hoje teríamos um cotidiano adensado pela experiência estética,como se criassem um continun estético.Hoje não nos referimos também aos "grandes escritores",por exemplo,no caso brasileiro,falamos de Machado de Assis, Guimaraes Rosa,o que equivaleria a falar de Joyce,entre outros.
Então,a capacidade de surpreender que decorre de um impacto causado pela intervenção, pela interrupção,pela descontinuidade do tempo causado pelo objeto de arte(a obra) - o que já foi comentado em relação à historicidade - não seria exatamente o que estaria dificultando a análise estética?Isto é,como exemplos,a comida estetizada,os objetos utilitários completamente estilizados,com as devidas questões decorrentes de acesso econômico.

Ainda:a instabilidade própria da experiência estética,numa perspectiva clássica, não estaria se confundindo com a instabilidade cotidiana causada por diferentes fatores que não só estéticos,ou melhor,artísticos?(ainda que com problemas talvez de nomenclatura,espero ter colaborado para pensar e discutir ,se for o caso,o tema dos grupo!)

Angeli Rose


2015-08-31
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your stratified e-mail!

Sort of feels like Last Man Standing doesn't it?

In brief reply.

1. I wasn't trashing museums either--what I was critiquing was the CULT of the Museum (which I think you also  attack) which is the primary mechanism through which the establishment policies the highly liminal boundaries between High and Low Art. My concern is political and educational, not aesthetic. In literary contexts, this is known as the Canon. It also tends to be used as a convenient referencing technique for defining what Art actually is--I think that both Margaret and Bryan make this move.

And, just to be clear--I am actually in strong sympathy with your notion of Art versus non-Art. Where my concerns differ from yours lies within the orthodoxy of High versus Low Art: I like to engage with low forms of literature (noir, the graphic novel--including Batman--crime and detective fiction) and subject them to the close and critical readings that are normally assigned to High works. So, I am interested in subversion, reversal, and iterability. But I understand these demarcations as social and political, not aesthetic per se. Because the attributes of Art (proper) are trans-genre.

2. Agree with absolutely everything you say about the despised analyticals. Please keep posting.

3. Forms: I wasn't intending to broadcast Platonic Idealism here (although I am actually interested in Platonic thought on this matter, especially via some 19th successors: Schelling, Schopenhauer, the early Nietzsche). By forms in the context I meant this to mean the various forms or artitfacts that the Egyptians produced.

4. Historicism and the Egyptians: I agree you you fully about the historical etymology of Art and its inapplicability to pretty much everything prior to western Europe c. 1600. with the rise of the Dutch Golden Age and the beginning of the true commercialization of artistic production. My point is that there is a repeat of the old canard of use-value versus exchange-value in your posts. The use that someone puts an object to does not, by itself, tell us anything about how they value it--or evaluate it. The fact that the Egyptians buried so many of their 'artistic' artifacts does not mean that their no feeling of beauty and adoration attached to these objects; probably the reverse. So, although they had no concept of Art, they certainly had a pronounced sense of beauty, evidenced not only by their own actions (religious, devotional) but by our own responses to their 'forms'. Which is good prima facie evidence of the trans-temporal phenomenon of aesthetic sensibility--as evidenced in Karl Marx's response (no softie idealist he) to the Hellenic pottery.

Eric

2015-09-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

A lot of issues in your post but let me just focus for the moment on the question of beauty.

We belong to a culture in which, from the Renaissance onwards, there was something called “art” (there wasn’t before) and it was inseparable from beauty – though, even then, beauty of a certain kind: the statues on the Royal Portal at Chartres, for example, were certainly not “beautiful”: they were “Gothic” in the very pejorative sense of that term.

This thinking became deeply ingrained in the way the Europe talked about (what it called) art, and was of course given a solid boost by Enlightenment figures such as Hume and Kant who simply accepted the Renaissance inheritance and built a philosophical “aesthetics” on it – an “aesthetics” that still more or less dominates the philosophy of art today – especially the “analytic” variety.

But there is nothing inevitable about this way of thinking. It’s crucial to see what we call art today includes vast numbers of works (Egyptian, Buddhist, African, Oceanic, Byzantine, Romanesque, medieval etc, etc) that both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment would have firmly excluded from the realm of art. Which suggests – does it not? – that, if we insist on claiming that the reason why we regard many works from these cultures as works of art is that they are “beautiful” (as you suggest), then the “beauty” we claim to see in them is not what Kant, Hume and Co called by that name. How could it be? They would have roundly rejected them. (Not that Kant knew much about art anyway…)

This doesn’t mean that Kant and Co were “wrong”; it simply means that the notion of art has changed radically since their time (rendering their thinking, alas!,irrelevant). Yet many in aesthetics remain determined to cling on to the notion of beauty. Why? Simply because  it is "traditional"? Why not clear the decks, try to go back to basics and ask ourselves genuinely if it is “beauty” or something else that lies at the heart of what we call art? (Remembering that art today includes, for example, the Isenheim Altarpiece, Dostoevsky (Is the murder scene in C&P “beautiful”?), Goya’s etchings and black paintings, ancestor figures from the Pacific Islands, Pre-Columbian monster-gods, etc, etc, etc.)

DA

2015-09-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

Another comment in response to your last:

You write: "My point is that there is a repeat of the old canard of use-value versus exchange-value in your posts. The use that someone puts an object to does not, by itself, tell us anything about how they value it--or evaluate it."

I’m not quite sure what you mean by “versus exchange-value” here, but let’s concentrate for the moment on “use-value” which you say “does not, by itself, tell us anything about “how they value it--or evaluate it”.”

You seem to be suggesting that the fact that the Egyptians (e.g.) consigned their paintings and sculptures to tombs and sacred places such as mortuary temples is no guide to how they thought and felt about them. If this is so, then, by the same token, the fact that we usually place objects we regard as art in art museums is also no guide to how we think and feel about them. OK?  What’s sauce for the goose…

But this would be a very odd claim, surely. It’s a clear, well-established historical fact that the emergence of “art” in the Renaissance was accompanied, first, by the emergence of private collections and then, later, by public art galleries. And it is a clear historical fact, likewise, that art museums existed in no other culture and at no other time.

This does not, of course, give us a definition of art. I’m certainly not suggesting, à la Danto and Dickie, that (briefly put) art is whatever is put in art museums. That’s obvious nonsense (which, nevertheless, has its adherents …) But it does tell us certain things. It tells us, for example, that the objects we regard as “art” are objects we admire (in a certain way) – as distinct from objects we worship or make offerings to. It tells us that we see no problem in juxtaposing works from different cultures and epochs – which would have been unthinkable in ancient Egypt, and in many, many other cultures. (Try to imagine an art museum in ancient Egypt – or even Greece for that matter.) And it even tells us, I would argue, that we today tend to respond to art partly via the comparisons that art museums make possible (so e.g. Picasso sometimes seems to evoke certain prehistoric sculptures, and vice versa; Cezanne evokes Poussin and vice versa, etc).

As we work our way towards understanding what art means to us today, and try to escape the dead hand of Enlightenment aesthetics, are you suggesting that we should just dismiss all this and resist any attempt to factor it in to our thinking? Should we just ignore the evidence of history, anthropology and archaeology?  Analytic aesthetics, of course, believes we should...  

DA

 

2015-09-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
PS: Yes it does feel a bit like "Last Man Standing". Not sure why. We have wandered off neuroaesthetics (not really surprising - it's a rather limiting subject); but the issues we are discussing are central to aesthetics more generally.

DA

2015-09-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
HI!I have some questions and "Someone there?" can talk with me, thank you.
First, like they needed what they call classical Aesthetics, which refers to Hegel or Baugarten?
Yet, the question of temporality stopped, discontinuity, as characterizing aspect of aesthetic experience in previous centuries, especially XVIII, has a major transformation considering that today we would have a dense everyday by aesthetic experience, as it would create one continun estético. Not in also refer to the "great writers", for example, in Brazil, we speak of Machado de Assis, Guimaraes Rosa, which would amount to talk about Joyce, among others.
So the ability to surprise that results from an impact caused by the intervention, the interruption, the interruption time caused by the art object (the work) - which has already been reviewed in relation to the historicity - would not exactly what was making it difficult to aesthetic analysis? That is, as examples, the aestheticized food, utilitarian objects completely stylized, with appropriate issues arising from economic access.

Still, the very instability of aesthetic experience, a classical perspective, would not be mingling with everyday instability caused by different factors not only aesthetic, or rather artistic (albeit with problems perhaps naming, I hope to have contributed to thinking and? discuss, if applicable, the theme of the group!)

Angeli Rose

2015-09-04
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Hi Angeli

Sorry, I can't really understand what you are saying.

DA

2015-09-14
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

Sorry for the delay in my reply. I definitely think that we are the only two survivors in the life-boat, adrift at sea.


Responses to two of your points.


We belong to a culture in which, from the Renaissance onwards, there was something called “art” (there wasn’t before) and it was inseparable from beauty – though, even then, beauty of a certain kind: the statues on the Royal Portal at Chartres, for example, were certainly not “beautiful”: they were “Gothic” in the very pejorative sense of that term. 

I still have a problem with your reasoning here, as I feel that there is some sort of confusion of categories. That is why I brought in the use-exchange value dichotomy vis--vis your discussion of artifacts and Egyptian funereal practices. On the first point, I simply meant that a common mistake of Historicism is to reduce value to function: the 'price' assigned a thing put into circulation and deployed within public space at no time stands in any necessary connection to the objective utility (for the purposes of a defined community) of that object/item (what is the market price of oxygen? or water?) 

So, to deconstruct: you are 100% percent correct that the Ancients had no sense of Art in our commodified sense which can be shown by their absence of the Cult of the Museum which can, in turn, be proved by the burial (or ritualistic destruction; the potlatch) of items which, if they had our sense of Art/artifact they would have preserved. But the uses, in their non-Museum sort of way, to which they put their artifacts does not tell us about the value that they assigned them: the ritualistic destruction/burial of these objects signifies an adoration of the art/artifacts which might be used as the basis for re-constructing a sense of Art-as-special (=) -beautiful item but not in our specific sense of the museum/gallery/repository.
This is one of the problems I had with Bryan's framing of the research paradigm of neuro-aesthetics: not only was it politically suspect because he appears (although he never directly confessed) to have been relying upon the Museum = Art fallacy, but that he compounded the first methodological error by recapitulating the Art = Beauty canard.

Are you familiar with the Chomsky-Norvig debate over artificial intelligence (AI)? To a degree, our responses to Bryan (and Margaret, a little bit) repeated the broad outlines of this argument. For Chomsky, before we can have a meaningful concept of AI we need a comprehensive and validated definition of human intelligence so that we can tell whether or not the AI objectively possesses the essential (structural?) qualities; for Norvig, all we need are successful instances of simulated behavior (based upon probabilistic reasoning) in order to get an effect that is, from the external perspective, just as good as--and, therefore, in the end, the same as--the 'real' thing.

Remembering that art today includes, for example, the Isenheim Altarpiece, Dostoevsky (Is the murder scene in C&P“beautiful”?), Goya’s etchings and black paintings, ancestor figures from the Pacific Islands, Pre-Columbian monster-gods, etc, etc, etc. 

Once again, I cannot help feeling that we are talking past each other. I find everything in your list utterly beautiful, but I know that my subjective sensations of the beautiful in each is manifold: the grotesque as surrealist humor, Goya as the invocation of the dark sublime, Pre-Columbian monster-gods as the spectacle of mutated form, and South Pacific islander art as awe-inspiring insight into a different field of perception.

And I haven't even touched upon the beauty of some of the art works of the insane, or Brut Art.


2015-09-14
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

RE: “I find everything in your list utterly beautiful”.

Of course one can call anything beautiful if one likes. And why stop at the battered body of the Isenheim Christ or Goya’s dismembered corpses hanging from tree branches? If they’re “beautiful”, why not corpses infested with maggots, or horrific facial burns, or photos of war injuries in which, say, half the face has been blown away by shrapnel and the mouth is left as a huge gaping hole in the side of the face? (I remember seeing such a photo – it was very hard to look at.)  

Surely, if all that is beautiful, nothing is not, and the very word “beauty” loses all value and meaning, thereby becoming quite useless for descriptive or analytic purposes.  (And in a way, it strikes me as a cruel pretence: in all sincerity, are we really going to tell someone who has suffered horrific facial injuries that they are “beautiful”?) 

We are led into this untenable position, I believe, because we’re weighed down by traditional aesthetics (Kant et al) which is wedded to the idea of beauty (though there are occasional dissenting voices these days).  We have effectively brain-washed ourselves into assuming that if something is art it must be beautiful (or “sublime” – which, in aesthetics, is a kind of fall-back position for beauty), even if, in cases like the Goya corpses etc, that conclusion runs counter to obvious common sense. Why persist with this?  Why assume that the only power of art resides in a power to be beautiful? Why not a power to fascinate? Why not an inherent power of art that can manifest in many different ways of which beauty is only one?

I think the notions of beauty and the sublime, instead of helping is to understand art, often hold us back. Some art is beautiful (Veronese’s Venus and Adonis surely is) but a lot is not and doesn’t seek to be. Once we realize this, we release ourselves from the useless burden of trying to convince ourselves that the Isenheim Christ (for example) is beautiful when it is so palpably not. We can certainly recognise that such an object is a powerful work of art, but we can look for the reasons elsewhere.

RE: “So, to deconstruct: you are 100% percent correct that the Ancients had no sense of Art in our commodified sense which can be shown by their absence of the Cult of the Museum which can, in turn, be proved by the burial (or ritualistic destruction; the potlatch) of items which, if they had our sense of Art/artifact they would have preserved. But the uses, in their non-Museum sort of way, to which they put their artifacts does not tell us about the value that they assigned them: the ritualistic destruction/burial of these objects signifies an adoration of the art/artifacts which might be used as the basis for re-constructing a sense of Art-as-special (=) -beautiful item but not in our specific sense of the museum/gallery/repository.”

I should be quite clear that I am in no sense suggesting that museums “commodify” art. On the contrary, art museums, in my view, are one of the main ways we today respond to art (though they would have been unthinkable in, say, ancient Egypt or Greece). They don’t in any sense devalue art; they help us see its value – as art.

And the notion of art as “special” (Dissanayake used this a lot) seems a dead end to me.  All kinds of things are “special” and are not art. And equating special with beauty just puts us back in the circle I describe above.

No I’m not familiar with the Chomsky-Norvig debate but based on what you say, I don’t see the connection with what we are discussing.

DA



2015-09-21
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. I will give myself some time to think about your first reply. I think that this goes to the core of the definitional aspect of the discussion we were having re. neuro-aesthetics and I would like some time to prepare my response.

But on maggots and massive facial wounds (I am currently working on a book on serial murder and popular culture that takes WWI trauma into account): traumatized flesh may not be a source of beauty per se but it can be sublimated via artistic appropriation to create an effect or sensation of the beautiful; Goya did this with his 'Disaster of War' series.

And re Museums: sorry, but I respectfully disagree. I think that the Museum has become one of the primary 'factories' of the commodification of artistic consumption.

Re. Chomsky v Norvig: what I meant was that Bryan's rejection of our demand that he define Art closely mirrored Norvig's rejoinder to Chomsky: that AI research does not require a definition of human intelligence in order to progress; simulation via mimicry is sufficient. Like Norvig, Bryan deliberately bracketed out of the conversation the very thing that we thought essential in order for neuro-aesthetics to succeed as a research paradigm.

As Chomsky put it: it is a very strange way to do Science if you do not attempt to define the nature of the thing that you are studying.

Of course, as Norvig said, Chomsky's demand for a substantive definition of human intelligence constituted an older way of doing Science. All that matters is the raw data.

2015-09-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Thanks for your reply.

RE “…traumatized flesh may not be a source of beauty per se but it can be sublimated via artistic appropriation to create an effect or sensation of the beautiful; Goya did this with his 'Disaster of War' series.”

I think we should call a spade a spade. Surely it is gilding the lily to say that horrific facial injuries “may not be a source of beauty per se”. They are often simply unbearable to look at.  Have you ever noticed how rarely they are shown in books or on TV – even in war documentaries? Yet there have no doubt been many thousands of them, especially after the two world wars – tragically disfigured people who have spent their lives in institutions where they could be given special care and sheltered from the public gaze. To speak about “beauty” at all in this context strikes me as quite incongruous.

Where art is concerned, however, the issue is quite different. No genuine artist depicts horror simply for the sake of it (if they did, Hollywood would beat them hands down) so here we’re not simply talking about horrific images. Works such as Goya’s Disasters or Grunewald’s Crucifixion make use of suffering for specific artistic purposes – which, I would argue, have nothing to do with beauty. Goya, for example, uses suffering and humiliation to create a universe of the lost, a sinister netherworld from which all trace of humanity has disappeared – the polar opposite of art in the humanist Renaissance tradition, including that of Goya’s contemporaries such as Watteau, Tiepolo, Fragonard etc where beauty plays an indispensable role. Place, say, Saturn devouring his children beside Watteau’s  Embarkation for Cythera and you’ll see what I mean. Any hint of beauty would destroy Goya’s etchings and black paintings and he works very hard, in terms of both subject matter and style, to remove all trace of it. (Hence by the way his affinity with much modern art.)

This incidentally is the kind of issue neuro-aesthetics entirely ignores. There seems to be an assumption in everything I’ve read in that area that art is always, and necessarily, connected with beauty – a very naïve view, in my opinion, and one that suggests a lack of genuine interest in art.

RE: I think that the Museum has become one of the primary 'factories' of the commodification of artistic consumption..

I find the word “consumption” decidedly odd in the context of art. Do I “consume” Crime and Punishment when I read it? (It would be far better to say that it consumes me!)  Do I “consume” Mozart when I listen to his music? I enjoy it, admire it, even love it, but consume it? How? It’s hardly a packet of  potato crisps!  Likewise, do I consume the wonderful and sinister Sepik river masks currently in the NGA when I go to see them, or the works of Picasso and contemporaries located nearby?  At a pinch, I would agree that visual art is “consumed” when it’s bought and sold by art dealers. But I don’t want to buy the works I see in art museums, and who does these days, apart from private collectors – whose collections usually end up gifted to public galleries anyway.

Talk of "consumption", "commodification" etc in relation to art seem to me to reflect ideological preoccupations that throw little or no light on the nature of art, or the importance it has for us.

As for the Chomsky-Norvig debate I would definitely agree with Chomsky. Norvig’s reply, you say, was: “AI research does not require a definition of human intelligence in order to progress; simulation via mimicry is sufficient.” That’s fine as long as one admits that one is not claiming to create human intelligence but something else. Once can hardly create X if one does not know what X is. And Norvig's use of the term “mimicry” here is misleading. How does one mimic something when one doesn’t know what it is?   

Similar reasoning applies in the case of neuroaesthetics of course. One can hardly make pronouncements about the brain’s reactions to art if one has no way of strictly separating art from non-art. Which we will never have (and don't even need). Thus: exit neuroaesthetics.

DA


2015-09-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. For now, a very brief and short reply.

1. I think that the second half of your response expresses very well what I meant (or intended to mean) with the use of the term sublimation. When Goya sublimated the horrors of war, he did not produce beauty (at least not in any orthodox sense) but he produced a series of works of tremendous artistic power--and sensibility (sensation?) Again, I agree with you about the category error of correlating Art with Beauty but I do continue to hold that the determination of the presence of true Art (as opposed to some other kind of stuff) can be grounded upon strictly phenomenological principles--which may or may not strictly correspond with neural phenomena.

2. Agree 100% with your take on Chomsky-Norvig. Like you, my bias/preference is for Chomsky here, although this would tend to flag us both as antiquated.

I disagree with you though about consumption. Jameson rightly (and concisely)) defined the dilemma-curse of post-modernism as the hyper-commodification of aesthetics. Baudrillard ruthlessly unveiled the simulcral nature of artistic production/distribution of art work as a specialized domain of the casino economy, our collective windows of perception but been encumbered with the blinders of virtual reality, and Andy Warhol effectively brought painting to an end through the exposure of its affinities with mass production and circulation. The modern museum, I would insist, does function as the site of a form of production.

Eric

2015-09-22
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Perhaps, then, art doesn't actually exist as something that can be universally separated from non-art in a way that is valid at all times and in all places.

Gasp! Context might be important? The horror! What next? Rejection of the Great Chain of Being?

2015-09-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
RE:” Perhaps, then, art doesn't actually exist as something that can be universally separated from non-art in a way that is valid at all times and in all places. Gasp! Context might be important? The horror! What next? Rejection of the Great Chain of Being?”

Actually, Bryan, the prevailing opinion in philosophical aesthetics, especially of the very influential “analytic” variety, is that art can – or should be able to be – “universally separated from non-art in a way that is valid at all times and in all places”. Indeed, one of their number once famously said that if philosophers of art can’t do that, then they “gibber”. It was this view that I was by implication rejecting. I think it’s nonsense. (Interestingly, if the “gibber” claim is correct, analytic aesthetics has been gibbering for many decades now because it is no closer to the required “separation” definition now than it was then).

That said, I’m not sure what your point about “context” is. Perhaps you could explain – with maybe one or two examples…?

DA

2015-09-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

We may be talking at cross-purposes to some degree.

Whether or not the production/distribution of art works is “simulcral”, it is, I agree, a little like a casino, especially where visual art is concerned: one buys one’s ticket (painting etc) and one takes one’s chances. But so what in a sense? Nothing that happens, or can happen, in the market affects the intrinsic value of a work – its quality as art. If various wealthy individuals want to gamble on sharks in formaldehyde etc, let them (we can’t stop them anyway); the thing will still be what it is (in my view a waste of space). It’s no doubt true that money and advertising hype have a distorting effect in the field of visual art, and doubtless many mediocre artists (e.g. Hirst) have “succeeded” at the expense of better ones. But ‘twas ever thus, to some degree, and none of it affects the value of a work of art as art. Powerful art – if it manages to see the light of day – will still be powerful art and mediocre stuff will still be mediocre, no matter what the “casino” does.

As for the art museum, no doubt its purchases in the field of contemporary art are affected to some extent by what happens in the market (so it will buy Hirsts etc) but (a) fortunately the world of art is far bigger and far more interesting, than the little world of contemporary art (though one would hardly guess that from most modern aesthetics which often seems fixated on it) and (b) the dross will eventually be swept away into storerooms anyway.

As for Warhol, I think his importance has been hugely overrated (thank you Danto) and in the longer term he will be seen as a mere drop in the art history ocean.

DA

2015-09-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,
Thank you for your e-mail. Glad to know that you are still with us! As I said to Derek, I thought that he and I were the last two survivors.

The Great Chain of Being aside what you suggests definitely has merit, particularly if we re-define Beauty as an accidental and not a necessary attribute of Art (many works of Art may actually be ugly, whereas many things which are beautiful may not meet the formal definition of Art).

Derek and I certainly agree on this one, although we disagree on the related topic of Beauty-in-Art. I think that the aesthetic responses/sensations that Art generates may be well outside the field of the beautiful (horror, the sublime, surprise, mystery, suspense morality, fear, laughter, wonder). So, the entire gamut of aesthetic responses are not restricted to the beautiful, and we cannot--and should not expect--Art to always conform to the beautiful. But that does not, by itself, demonstrate that Art is nonsensical--merely that Art, aesthetics and Beauty are overlapping terms of reference and that extreme care and precision are needed to separate them. This is one of the basic reasons why there is so much dispute over the definition of Art: what people are really doing is arguing over the relative merits of their sensation of beauty. It also explains part of the reason why Derek and I disagree over what constitutes Art (or Beauty-in-Art); I find elements in low form (crime fiction) that I feel that I can prove meet the requirements for Literature, although many people might find these texts in some sense ugly.

My main concern with neuro-aesthetics, apart from broader problems with the philosophical difficulties of reductionism and determinism, is that--just as with Chomsky versus Norvig--one would need either:

(1) A comprehensive and intelligible definition of Art if it really is Art that is the focus of the study and;

(2) A clear and defensible distinction between Art, Beauty and Aesthetics in the case that neuro-aesthetics is really studying the range of aesthetic sensation which, as I think I have shown, is not identical with Art. 

My understanding as an interested layman is that neuro-aesthetics is really more concerned with aesthetic sensation and perception rather than Art per se; however, it frequently references Art in its discussion of the neural mechanics of the beautiful. I have serious reservations about this.

Eric

2015-09-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
But is that "prevailing opinion" backed up by empirical evidence or merely a bunch of elaborate frameworks? The Great Chain of Being is quite the theoretical edifice, far more elegant and self-consistent than natural selection. The original models for DNA codon correspondence to amino acids was quite elegant, far more "rational" and "analytical" than the messy reality. What evidence is there that art is any different?

As for "context", that's simple. There are dogmatics who love to harp that paintings after a certain era do not constitute "art", while others claim they do. Is a given piece of music art or not? That probably depends upon the context of the individual critic's set of dogmas, nothing at all about anything objective, empirical, and independently verifiable.

So, then, we can have a bunch of dogmats nattering on and congratulating each other on the elaborateness and byzantine ornamentation of their arguments, but that doesn't make what they say an empirical, verifiable truth.

2015-09-23
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

But is that "prevailing opinion" backed up by empirical evidence or merely a bunch of elaborate frameworks? …

This is a question to address to those who hold the prevailing opinion I mentioned. As I said, I think the view in question is nonsense. Searching for definitions that will allow one to neatly separate art from non-art is a monumental waste of time. And even if, per impossibile, one found such a definition, what use would it be?  If we told someone who is bored stiff by Mozart’s 22 Piano Concerto (for example) that it exactly matches the alleged definition of a work of art, are they going to suddenly start enjoying it? Will it make one iota of difference to their reaction to it (assuming they are honest)?

Re: “As for "context", that's simple. There are dogmatics who love to harp that paintings after a certain era do not constitute "art", while others claim they do. Is a given piece of music art or not? That probably depends upon the context of the individual critic's set of dogmas, nothing at all about anything objective, empirical, and independently verifiable.

I agree… sort of.

RE: “So, then, we can have a bunch of dogmats nattering on and congratulating each other on the elaborateness and byzantine ornamentation of their arguments, but that doesn't make what they say an empirical, verifiable truth.

Again, I agree… sort of.

PS.  Bryan, you seem to have a basic animosity towards art or art critics. (Maybe both?)  Am I correct? Where does that come from?

DA

2015-09-24
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

I read your reply to Bryan and I just wanted to clear up what might (or might not) be a possible misunderstanding of my position. You write: “ So, the entire gamut of aesthetic responses are not restricted to the beautiful, and we cannot--and should not expect--Art to always conform to the beautiful. But that does not, by itself, demonstrate that Art is nonsensical…”

I am not in any way suggesting that art that is not beautiful (and there's a lot that isn’t) is nonsensical.  Far from it. Goya’s etchings and black paintings (e.g.) are in no sense a pursuit of beauty but they are certainly not nonsensical. Heaps of other examples.

(Maybe I am misreading you.)

DA


2015-09-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,

Thank you for your post. Concerning your comment about the inherent weakness of the dogmatist's definition of art:


nothing at all about anything objective, empirical, and independently verifiable.


Can you please provide for us an objective, empirical and independently verifiable definition of what Art actually is?

Because, I think that if you cannot do this, then you are simply naively replicating whatever a particular consensus of Art merely happens to be (say, the stuff we put in museums or the CDs that people buy from Music stores) and then uncritically treating it as though it clearly were Art.

Which takes me back to a concern that I expressed in an earlier post--neuro-aesthetics is working backwards, in a reductive/inductive manner--to determine the nature of Art purely from the observable neural activities recorded, rather than measuring responses to works that are selected on the basis of their conformity with an adequate definition of Art.

Again, I think this is Chomsky versus Norvig all over again.

Eric

2015-09-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. Re. Warhol--although he may be over-rated in terms of the objective merits of his work, Warhol did, in my opinion, conclusively frame the logic of perception in the late 20th century--mechanized simulation. Just as Picasso destroyed utterly any lingering belief in the autonomy of Form, Warhol made it impossible to believe that Art is anything other than mechanical reproduction (a la Benjamin),

As for the Museum: for a stunning example of the Museum as Baudrillardian simulacra factory come down to Melbourne and check out the Treasures of the Hermitage existence; I have never seen so many Rembrandt paintings transposed to t-shirts and lady's hand-gags in my life. A cornucopia of post-modernist aestheticus sensorium.

Eric

2015-09-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
No animosity toward either art or art critics. I have great animosity toward those who treat their mere personal prejudices as normative or, even worse, think a descriptive model is and must be valid merely because it is self-consistent.

Perhaps one of the threats posed by neuroscience to the world of the aesthetician is the possibility that there might be no fundamental difference in the response of most people to "art" vs. not-"art". Then they risk losing what little social status they might gain from their profession.

2015-09-28
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Sorry for the misunderstanding. When I spoke of Art as not being nonsensical I was referring to Bryan's point that Art should be considered a hoax if it cannot be established on the basis of objective and empirical principles.

Eric

2015-09-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

RE: Perhaps one of the threats posed by neuroscience to the world of the aesthetician is the possibility that there might be no fundamental difference in the response of most people to "art" vs. not-"art". Then they risk losing what little social status they might gain from their profession.

Is there much social status involved? Personally, I rarely discuss my preferences in music, literature or visual art with people I meet. I discuss them on this thread because it’s about aesthetics and they’re relevant here. But most people I know – there are a few exceptions – would think that a love of (e.g.) Mozart’s music, or Dostoyevsky, or Romanesque sculpture is slightly weird – a strange, if largely harmless, eccentricity.  (Actually, I’ve even found this to be true among writers in aesthetics: most are much more interested in philosophising about art than art itself and their own preferences are often decidedly undiscriminating. Strangely, I sometimes have the impression that art doesn’t really interest them…)

It’s worth adding, perhaps, that, in general, writers in aesthetics are (unlike me) quite well-disposed towards neuroaesthetics. I really don’t get the impression that they see it as a serious "threat” (it often figures on conference agendas for example). Why is this the case? Not sure. Partly perhaps because it’s quite a fashionable topic, especially among the young, and they don’t want to be seen as "out-of'date", reactionary etc, and perhaps also because they suspect it will never amount to much anyway.

My own objection to neuroaesthetics, as I’ve explained, is that I see it as a waste of intellectual time and effort. Nothing to do with threats to social status.

DA


2015-09-29
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

Re: As for the Museum: for a stunning example of the Museum as Baudrillardian simulacra factory come down to Melbourne and check out the Treasures of the Hermitage existence; I have never seen so many Rembrandt paintings transposed to t-shirts and lady's hand-gags in my life. A cornucopia of post-modernist aestheticus sensorium.


This kind of thing really doesn’t bother me. Much better to have Rembrandt on t-shirts and hand-bags than some commonplace image or “funny” comment.  And if art museums make money out of it, so what? It’s in a good cause and they need the money.  I often buy fridge magnets at exhibitions if I can find images I like. My fridge is crowded with them now – much better than just looking at blank white metal or plumbers’ business cards.

Is this “commodifying” art?  If so, a postcard of a Rembrandt painting must presumably be also. And if that is, why not reproductions in art books?  I am in no sense opposed to reproductions of art works. Quite the contrary – they play an important role in familiarising us with art and a reproduction can sometimes be almost as good as the original. I think there’s a lot of semi-superstitious thinking surrounding the idea of an original (due in large measure to Benjamin – of whom, I have to say, I have a rather low opinion.) Originals are important and irreplaceable but just as we can come to love great music from CDs, not only from live concerts, so we can develop a love of visual art from reproductions.

(This is also relevant to points in your first para, but I’ll leave it there for now.)

DA

2015-10-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson
Hi Eric

Re: I was referring to Bryan's point etc

I see. No problem.

While I'm here, just a PS on the issue of reproduction.

I read recently that 3D technology will be able to reproduce paintings and sculptures in forms indistinguishable from the originals. I remain a little sceptical but let’s suppose this is true and that it will be possible to have copies of, for example, Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera or Picasso’s sculpture Woman with Pram which even the most expert eye cannot tell from the original.

What should be our attitude towards such copies? If, for example, art galleries around the world began to place them on exhibition alongside other works in their collections (i.e. originals,) should we condemn them for doing so?  Hard to say, don’t you think? After all, the galleries would be giving some visitors a chance to see works they may never otherwise see in their lifetimes – not just as reproductions in books but in true-to-life, life-size form.  A little like being able to listen to a symphony not just via a CD but with the orchestra in one’s living room.

Another intriguing thought. All works of art, especially paintings, gradually weather over time despite the best efforts of galleries. But presumably 3D copies would not do so – or would do so at a slower rate. So, if after say 100 years, experts noticed that the copy seemed somewhat sharper and brighter than the original, what should they conclude? That the original is still preferable even though it’s more degraded?

The circumstances are a little hypothetical (will 3D technology ever reach this stage?) but they highlight an interesting point: What is more important – being able to view a work of art in the best form available (which may, after a time, be the copy) or viewing the original, no matter what, just because it’s the original?

The answer seem self-evident to me – the first is more important. Surely it’s the experience afforded by a work of art that matters, and just as we would prefer a novel without pages missing or a symphony played from an accurate score, so we would surely prefer a painting in a form closer to its original state – which, under the circumstances I’m discussing, may not be the original.

Hypothetical though it is, the case helps us see that the real dangers of “commodification” come not from reproduction (as usually claimed) but from tendencies to fetishize the original – to see it first and foremost as a thing, a commodity, and not as the source of a certain kind of experience.

DA

2015-10-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

If there is nothing independently verifiable, it is merely a collection of fad after fad. Thus, there is no such thing as "higher" or "lower" or even "art" beyond the passing fad of what constitutes "art". Any criterion is ultimately just an expression of personal taste or collective consensus of taste, thus no piece of "art" is inherently different from any piece of "non-art".

If philosophers of aesthetics can't come up with anything other than their own opinions, however internally "consistent", why bother listening to them? Where do they connect to the world at large? Can they? Have they made themselves so extremely out-of-touch that they're simply irrelevant, a place to shunt off the erudite who become pathologically self-referential?

These are not rhetorical questions. If there is no such thing and cannot be any such thing as as an empirical and independently verifiable--or at least replicatable, I'll surrender "objective" criteria set for what constitutes "art", what good are the self-appointed "critics", "experts", and "philosphers"? How would the rest of the world distinguish them from merely aping Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty in his use of language?

Or is that their actual role, to give us all something to laugh at as magnified mirrors of our own ridiculous behaviors?

2015-10-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
that there might be no fundamental difference in the response of most people to "art" vs. not-"art".

Dear Bryan,

Thank you for your post. Again, I think this statement (or its means of expression) reveals where the point of divergence is.

If our focus is upon Beauty then it is quite possible (whether because of neural processes or not) that there is no fundamental differences in people's responses to art/non-art simply because beauty is not a necessary condition for art. There are many different types of beauty--natural, moral, sexual--that are not Art in any proper sense, and there are innumerable examples of Art that use different forms of Beauty in different ways, or sometimes not at all. This is the root of my disagreement with Derek over the separate question of Beauty-in-Art, which is, I think, a second-order question, not a first-order one.

Because I am interested in phenomenology, I am interested in finding out what neuro-aesthetics can and cannot tell us about our primary sensations of Beauty and how these relate to the body. But since Art stands in a non-necessary relationship with Beauty, neuro-aesthetics can only take us a very little way in understanding the latter. And since Art is, by definition, a cultural and an historical thing, neuro-aesthetics practice of adopting an uncritical 'common sense' definition of Art is inherently problematic.

Eric 

2015-10-01
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
As I see it: Is an artwork more to be a work of art or is it more to be an expensive collectable commodity? If the latter, then such a level of copy would be a problem. If the former, what's the problem.

I'm also not one to subscribe to mumbo-jumbo, either.


2015-10-02
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney

Hi Bryan

Excuse me butting in to your conversation with Eric but I just can’t resist commenting on these remarks:

If philosophers of aesthetics can't come up with anything other than their own opinions, however internally "consistent", why bother listening to them? …

These are not rhetorical questions. If there is no such thing and cannot be any such thing as an empirical and independently verifiable--or at least replicatable, I'll surrender "objective" [--] criteria set for what constitutes "art", what good are the self-appointed "critics", "experts", and "philosphers"? ...

Or is that their actual role, to give us all something to laugh at as magnified mirrors of our own ridiculous behaviors?

Well said. And actually you’ve hit a very raw nerve in philosophical aesthetics. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of their number once famously said that if they can’t come up with what you term “empirical and independently verifiable criteria” separating art form non-art, then they “gibber”. Despite many decades of searching, no such criteria have ever been devised. Hence the uneasy feeling among many writers in aesthetics (rarely admitted to) that they do in fact “gibber”, or as you put it, that they might not be worth listening to.

The search goes on of course: the faith that, somewhere out there, lies the holy grail of the incontrovertible criteria is still alive and well, and every now and then a philosopher will announce that he has found them at last. But alas, it always turns out to be a false report and with every passing decade, the flame burns just a little lower…

I think the belief that such criteria might exist reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of art but I’ll refrain from explaining why because it would take much too long. I’ll just make a point I made in my earlier post: If we told someone who is bored stiff by Mozart’s 22 Piano Concerto (just for example) that it exactly matches “empirical and independently verifiable” criteria distinguishing art from non-art, would they suddenly start to enjoy it? Would it make one iota of difference to their reaction to it (assuming they are honest)? Or to put that another way: what would be the use of the criteria, assuming they existed?

DA



2015-10-03
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
RE: "As I see it: Is an artwork more to be a work of art or .. etc"

Yes I agree.

DA

2015-10-05
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Both axes can be studied.

So, therefore, give a cross-cultural, universally-valid, incontrovertible standard of "beauty" that can be used as the basis upon which to make such comparisons. If none is forthcoming, then where to go but a big circle-jerk?


2015-10-05
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Bryan and Derek,
Thank you for your posts. And no problem from me for butting in.

Bryan--I still thank that you are laboring under a simplistic correlation of Art with Aesthetics. I am interested in the possibility that the varieties of the subjective experience of beauty may be finite in number and form (like the keys of a piano) and that they may be grounded, in whole or in part, in neuro-biological processes.

It might even be possible to move from this to a direct application of neuro-aesthetics to Art if we accept a definition of Art as artifact that incites/evokes/recalls the primary categories of aesthetic perception and experience; these can cover an awful lot of ground (beauty, terror, suspense, wonder, awe, mystery, excitement, drama, compassion, fear) and are certainly not reducible to the beautiful alone.

But Art is, in turn, not reducible to Beauty per se; the relationship between Art and Beauty is one of contingency, not necessity. And the further we move towards a non-reductive definition of Art, the more we leave the Body behind and the closer we approach the non-reductive realms of History and Culture. 

If we took a radically historical approach to Art, we would see that many of the primary factors that determine whether or not a given artifact in a given culture is understood to be Art involve factors that bear no necessary relationship to Beauty--ideology, tradition, ritual, religious belief, authority, education, training, sensibility, distinction/snobbery, class-consciousness, utility, and so on. And I simply find it impossible to accept that all of these determinants can be reduced to the biological.

This is one reason why I am being a bit Thomistic in my insistence (as with Chomsky versus Norvig) that you must assume a defensible definition of what Art is before you can study it. Your approach strikes me as reductively inductive: accept X as the thing that you study and observe
the reactions to it. Then move to Y; if the reactions are the same, then it follows, by inductive reasoning, that Y=X. Move to Z; if the reactions are different, then Z does not equal X.

But compiling a series of observations does not amount to an explanation, let alone an adequate definition.

Insofar as you do possess a working definition of Art, it seems to me to be the Cult of the Museum argument: Art is the stuff in museums that people go to look at and signify in their conversations when they talk about what they mean by Art (the Mona Lisa syndrome).

But if what I have said about the historicity of Art is true then three things necessarily follow:

1. Many things that may not really be Art may be in museums.

2. Many things that may really be Art may not be in museums (this is where Derek and I diverge; I accept as Art many things that he would find to fall below the standard, such as crime fiction or the graphic novel).

3. Even if the thing in the museum really is Art, it may be there there for reasons that have nothing to do with Beauty (which may be biologically measurable as I have already conceded)but with wholly social, political, ideological or class factors, all of which defy reduction to biological explanation.

Derek--your comment on Mozart's 22nd Piano Concerto. Since so much of artistic appreciation--and therefore definition--consists of issues of sensibility, sense, distinction and social identity (see Pierre Bourdieu, 'Distinction') are you really so certain that no one would start enjoying Mozart simply because the accepted authorities tell them that Mozart's music is Art? This is where patterns of consumption come in; people listen to the music to self-consciously celebrate the superiority of their taste which, as a matter of social praxis, is a vital part of the enjoyment of Art.

And, yes--I find Mozart sublime (although I prefer Bach)

Eric

2015-10-05
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
Thank you for your e-mail. I really haven't thought much about 3-D reproduction (or should I say simulacra?), so I will need reflect a bit before I offer a more thought out reply.

For now, just a few, perhaps dis-jointed, comments.

Re. art reproduction in books--I have nothing against this. As a matter of fact, this is precisely how I consume most of my visual art intake. I do, believe, though that, so far, photographic reproduction is objectively inferior to the original. So much of the nuance, and the tactile, or even the visceral, dimension of painting is lost. If you are sceptical, go to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam; his paintings are practically sculptures.

More importantly--the issue (or fetish) of the original. Like it or not, the artist's signature, or imprimatur (think of the workshops of Rembrant, Reubens and Hals), has, since the Renaissance, been taken as a validation not only of the objective quality of the work but also the truth within the painting--that the work reflects, in a more or less correlative manner, the artist's own vision which is a sign of his or her genius.

Now, this may be complete superstition (it is also historically bound to a ridiculous degree, being very much a product of early European modernism) but it is, in fact, the basis of much of our cultural evaluation of the status of the art work as a work of Art. In a sense, your criticism of Baudrillard is beside the point. He is making the historical observation---almost anthropological, really--that the abolition of the primacy of the original through the hyper-commodified logic of reproduction instigates a loss of the referent which is identical with the abolition of meaning in toto. Therefore, there can be no longer any collective belief in the Truth of Painting--wholly independent of the metaphysical veracity of this supposition--which has engendered a crisis of the social meaning and cultural value of Art; precisely because one of the justifications of Art has been its relationship to Truth.

Of course, if you are like Bryan and suspect, deep down, that Art is a hoax, this constitutes nothing more than a belated realization of the obvious.

Which, unfortunately, happens to be the antithesis of what our Civilization has chosen to believe.

No small matter, that.

Eric

2015-10-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Just a couple of points:

Re: Many things that may really be Art may not be in museums (this is where Derek and I diverge; I accept as Art many things that he would find to fall below the standard, such as crime fiction or the graphic novel).

I agree that many works of art – often great works of art – are not in museums but I’m thinking of things like the statues on Chartres Cathedral or the bas-reliefs at Borobudur. In other words I’m thinking about what Malraux calls our musée imaginaire (the world of art both inside and outside art museums).

Also a quick answer to this point:

Since so much of artistic appreciation--and therefore definition--consists of issues of sensibility, sense, distinction and social identity (see Pierre Bourdieu, 'Distinction') are you really so certain that no one would start enjoying Mozart simply because the accepted authorities tell them that Mozart's music is Art? This is where patterns of consumption come in; people listen to the music to self-consciously celebrate the superiority of their taste which, as a matter of social praxis, is a vital part of the enjoyment of Art.

Pace Bourdieu, I do not call loving great art “celebrating the superiority of one’s taste.” I just call that snobbery.

I should add that I have very little time for Bourdieu. Most of what he writes seems to me to be a statement of the bleeding obvious. His big idea is that people’s artistic interests/loves are often influenced by their social/class backgrounds. What a surprise!  Who would have thought it? Of course Fred, who is exposed to (e.g.) Mozart’s music, is more likely to develop a love for it than Jack who is not. How on earth can Jack like Mozart if he’s never, or rarely, heard him? But on the basis of these (very unsurprising) findings, Bourdieu rushes in and, like the good post-Marxist he is, comes up with some grand, class-based theory of artistic taste (I forget the details. Frankly they bored me, and his writing is very tedious).

Why not take the far more obvious step (as Malraux did) and provide opportunities to enable more Jacks to listen to Mozart? – and see more visual art etc. To my mind, Malraux’s answer reflects a strong faith in art; Bourdieu’s just reflects a kind of depressing cynicism.

(Sorry, I have strong views about this.)

 DA


2015-10-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Eric Wilson

Hi Eric

Re: “I do, believe, though that, so far, photographic reproduction is objectively inferior to the original.”

Yes, I’m not contesting that – though I do contest the idea that reproductions should be frowned on simply because they are reproductions (an impression I occasionally get from some writers). Anything that leads us to the work of art is to be encouraged, in my view. (We should thank our lucky stars that we have photographic reproduction. For hundreds of years the only form of reproduction was etching). Reproductions are like CDs with music: they're not the same as a concert performance but they take a long way towards it.

But the 3D thing raises a somewhat different point. It’s claimed, I gather, that this technology makes possible the exact replication of the original – all the contours of the paint, the lot.  I don’t know how true this is (though I’ve read the claim several times now) but if it is correct it poses some interesting questions don’t you think? (As I mentioned in the earlier post).

Re; “Like it or not, the artist's signature, or imprimatur (think of the workshops of Rembrandt, Reubens and Hals), has, since the Renaissance, been taken as a validation not only of the objective quality of the work but also the truth within the painting--that the work reflects, in a more or less correlative manner, the artist's own vision which is a sign of his or her genius.”

I don’t really follow. Signatures are often taken to indicate authenticity (though they have frequently been forged) but that’s surely all they do.  The quality is for the viewer to decide. And I don’t understand what you mean by “the truth within the painting” etc. If a mediocre painter (let’s say Goya’s mentor, Bayeu) signs his painting, in what way does that “validate the truth within his paintings” or afford a sign of his “genius”?  Though competent, Bayeu is surely a mediocre painter whether he signs his work or not?

And you also say that “this is, in fact, the basis of much of our cultural evaluation of the status of the art work as a work of Art.”  I can’t agree. We don’t say that Botticelli’s paintings are works of art because he signed them (I don’t think he did; nor did many others at the time – da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, lots of others.) 

Then you say that : He [Baudrillard] is making the historical observation---almost anthropological, really--that the abolition of the primacy of the original through the hyper-commodified logic of reproduction instigates a loss of the referent which is identical with the abolition of meaning in toto. Therefore, there can be no longer any collective belief in the Truth of Painting--wholly independent of the metaphysical veracity of this supposition--which has engendered a crisis of the social meaning and cultural value of Art; precisely because one of the justifications of Art has been its relationship to Truth.’

If this is Baudrillard’s argument, it’s very dubious. First: Setting aside the 3D thing, I see no evidence that the primacy of the original has in fact been abolished, at least where painting is concerned.  If it has, why do thousands stream through art museums like the Louvre and the Met every day? Second, even supposing the said “primacy” had been abolished, why would this abolish the “meaning” of the painting or its “truth”. To take an extreme case: suppose Titian’s Entombment (both versions) had been completely destroyed. There are scores of reproductions, some very good. We would certainly regret not having the original but we could still glean an enormous amount from the best reproductions.  Its meaning might be clouded a little, but hardly lost.

Re;” Of course, if you are like Bryan and suspect, deep down, that Art is a hoax, this constitutes nothing more than a belated realization of the obvious.

I most certainly don’t think that art is a hoax (despite the odd exception in contemporary art.) I think that art (and I don’t just mean Western art – I mean the art of all times and all cultures) is one of humanity’s greatest achievements – a simple point but one, oddly enough, that modern aesthetics, both analytic and continental, always seems very reluctant to make. (I think they see it as unsophisticated or politically incorrect or something…)

DA


2015-10-06
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Bryan Maloney
Dear Bryan,

Thank you for your post.


If none is forthcoming, then where to go but a big circle-jerk?


I really don't know how many more times I can say this, but I will try again.

1. I am perfectly prepared to accept in principle (but am not yet convinced in fact) that there might be universal categories of Beauty which, either in whole or in part, may be grounded upon neuro-biological processes and/or structures. One reason why I am broadly sympathetic to the topic of neuro-aesthetics is that it affords us the possibility of re-visiting--without necessarily resurrecting--some of the classical 18th century theories concerning sense and sensibility which I am personally very interested in.

2. While all of this might be true, it is of only of limited value at best in enabling us to understand Art: Art is not just Beauty but the repository of a wide variety of factors which cannot be reduced merely to the Beautiful--and, by implication, the neuro-biological (provided that what I have said in 1 is true). The cultural and historical specificity of Art necessarily means that Art cannot be reduced to biological explanation (any more than History in toto can be) and that, therefore, one can have a wholly meaningful discussion about Art (just as with History, Culture or Anthropology) while eschewing the necessity of Universalism. Something can be completely true (objectively verifiable and logically coherent) and, at the same time, be radically grounded upon the particular and the contingent.

Eric

2016-07-07
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
I am a clinical psychologist and have worked many years in neuropsychological laboratories doing extensive testing with some research-oriented neuropsychologists who systematically assembled groups of prisoners to, for example, look at the underpinnings of psychopathy, to examine through assessment, groups of Native Americans, who have, I believe, dark spiritually been purposefully afflicted with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (which we determined does appear to drastically impede learning from malexperiences over time, inspiring marked behavioral and adaptive disruption for these soulful peoples) thus fueling moneyed, materialistic agendas by virtue of handicapping benevelent tribal cultural influences that combat superficial ugliness.

All that said, I feel that there is a place for neuroscience as a tool to understand reductionistically the brain in the context (holistically always) of the body, heart, mind and soul.  I'm also a school psychologist and a psychometrician and know that a skilled clinician and assessor who evaluates individuals in the context of their past, present and desired life circumstances can inform less intrusive interventions that Hippocrates would more heartily sanction.

I have also vastly observed the misuse and limitations of neuroscience.  As in a Dave Matthews song that I love, in examining or even attempting to assist the butterfly, we can damage the intricate, delicate organism, reducing it to so much smashed color powder on our human hand, as with any beauty.  


2016-07-08
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Tami Williams

Hi Tami

You do sound as if you have an extensive background in the field. I am not questioning the value of neuroscience in a medical context (though even there I suspect it would need to be used with extreme care). My concern is the use being of made of it in areas like philosophy, ethics and aesthetics.

You say you have “vastly observed the misuse and limitations of neuroscience” so perhaps you share some of my concerns.

DA


2016-07-08
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek--
My main point was that at a high level of abstraction, I think that applying neuroscience an individual who is an integrated whole is as potentially disruptive to appreciating the gestalt of the aesthetics of that being (the aggregated collection of qualia, units of perception and being, as we have been discussing in another area), as it is to the conceptual areas of study and their component issues that we are discussing here.  

The body of knowledge of neuroscience takes something quite complex and dynamic and extracts guiding principles to understand it.  Judiciously applied to people (as it sounds you agree), it can be helpful, but ultimately, if over or misapplied, it can dissect a person, a butterfly, an experience to a place where it is no longer observed as a synergistic whole that is vastly more than the sum of its parts.  

I'm fascinated by this forum, because I'm not a philosopher, so much of your vernacular, literature and well-developed concept areas are new to me.  As a psychologist, I studied philosophy in graduate school, but not nearly to the extent of the scholars gathered here.  I've been musing at the benefits of placing a microscope upon fine-grained aspects of how we perceive and aggregate perception philosophically, and how that relates to existential presence in a pregnant moment of sensory fulfillment.  I read only your initial post on this thread prior to my response, but I have the sense that you share the concern that neuroscience could disrupt the aesthetics of experience if misapplied.  

However, as is often the case, a body of knowledge, a tool, can be a tremendous asset to understanding, if systematically and carefully applied, the results of that application careful observed and assessed and subsequent actions adjusted accordingly.  


2016-07-17
“Neuro-aesthetics” anyone?
Reply to Tami Williams

Hi Tami

RE: “but I have the sense that you share the concern that neuroscience could disrupt the aesthetics of experience if misapplied.”  

I’m not sure about the phrase “aesthetics of experience”, but I certainly think neuroscience could disrupt aesthetics, the discipline (not that there’s much to disrupt anymore, but that’s another story).

"Neuroaesthetics "has been around for some time now. As far as I’m aware (and someone might like to correct me) it has not revealed the slightest illuminating thing about art, not the slightest.

Neuroaesthetics, and neurophilosophy in general, often remind me of the bad old days of behaviourism. When people asked behaviourism groupies what progress it had made, the reply was always: “It’s early days, just be patient.” Now, of course, no one wants to admit they ever had anything to do with behaviourism. Give us, say, 10 to 15 years and neurophilosophy will have gone down the same ignominious gurgler.

It’s not surprising really: neurophilosophy is really only behaviourism on a micro scale: instead of tracking rats, one tracks neurons.


DA