The Mind in Pictures

The Monist 86 (4):608-631 (2003)
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If it is true, as one of its founders, George Miller, tells us, that cognitive science was born in 1956, then by human aging standards it is coming upon a mid-life crisis. Crises, as Kuhn has taught us, often precipitate radical change, in science as well as in individuals. It should therefore not be surprising to find that cognitive scientists have begun to look to the future and predict, or hope, that it will include both the beautiful and the good. Thus it is that the neuroscientist, Semir Zeki, has recently declared: “We are at the threshold of a great enterprise” which he calls neuroesthetics. His optimism about that enterprise has been echoed by a number of other researchers; and for the most part, their hopefulness is based on discoveries about how pictures are perceived. So, for example, V. S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein have said that by understanding the neuropsychological principles of picture perception, we may come to understand the very “essence of art”. Indeed, by identifying perceptual principles in the right way, according to David Gilden, we may discover common ground for normative disciplines of all stripes; a theory of “what is sexy, what is virtue, or what is a good buy”.



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