Art and the Brain, Vol. 6 (Journal of Consciousness Studies)

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9780907845454: Art and the Brain, Vol. 6 (Journal of Consciousness Studies)

First of a three-volume series of the "Journal of Consciousness Studies", which asks if it is possible to take a natural science approach to art and uncover general laws of aesthetic experience, or is that taking reductionism too far?

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About the Author:

Joseph Goguen is professor of computer science, UCSD

V.S. Ramachandran is director, Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD

Nicholas Humphrey is a senior researcher in evolutionary psychology, London School of Economics

Erich Harth is professor of physics, Syracuse University

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

(Ramachandran and Hirstein). Any theory of art (or, indeed, any aspect of human nature) has to ideally have three components. (a) The logic of art: whether there are universal rules or principles; (b) The evolutionary rationale: why did these rules evolve and why do they have the form that they do; (c) What is the brain circuitry involved? Our paper begins with a quest for artistic universals and proposes a list of 'Eight laws of artistic experience' - a set of heuristics that artists either consciously or unconsciously deploy to optimally titillate the visual areas of the brain. One of these principles is a psychological phenomenon called the peak shift effect: If a rat is rewarded for discriminating a rectangle from a square, it will respond even more vigorously to a rectangle that is longer and skinnier that the prototype. We suggest that this principle explains not only caricatures, but many other aspects of art.

....

(Humphrey). The emergence of cave art in Europe about 30,000 years ago is widely believed to be evidence that by this time human beings had developed sophisticated capacities for symbolization and communication. However, comparison of the cave art with the drawings made by a young autistic girl, Nadia, reveals surprising similarities in content and style. Nadia, despite her graphic skills, was mentally defective and had virtually no language. Humphrey argues in the light of this comparison that the existence of cave art cannot be the proof which it is usually assumed to be that the humans of the Upper Palaeolithic had essentially 'modern' minds.

....

(Harth). Our brains are characterized by sensory pathways that are highly reflexive, allowing higher cortical centres to control neural activity patterns at peripheral sensory areas. This feature is characterized as an internal sketchpad and involves recursive interactions between central symbols and peripheral images. The process is assumed to be the fundamental mechanism underlying most cognitive functions. The paper attempts to portray the beginnings of art and language as natural extensions of these pre-existing internal processes, made possible by the greatly enlarged human prefrontal cortex. It views these highly social activities as originating in subjective, private discourse between the emerging self and its externalized expressions.

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