The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity

The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity

The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity

The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity

Synopsis

All normal human beings alive in the last fifty thousand years appear to have possessed, in Mark Turner's phrase, "irrepressibly artful minds." Cognitively modern minds produced a staggering list of behavioral singularities--science, religion, mathematics, language, advanced tool use, decorative dress, dance, culture, art--that seems to indicate a mysterious and unexplained discontinuity between us and all other living things. This brute fact gives rise to some tantalizing questions: How did the artful mind emerge? What are the basic mental operations that make art possible for us now, and how do they operate? These are the questions that occupy the distinguished contributors to this volume, which emerged from a year-long Getty-funded research project hosted by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. These scholars bring to bear a range of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary perspectives on the relationship between art (broadly conceived), the mind, and the brain. Together they hope to provide directions for a new field of research that can play a significant role in answering the great riddle of human singularity.

Excerpt

The great riddle—of archaeology, cognitive science, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, political science, linguistics, religious studies, and the humanities from literature and music to dance and art—is how we became human, how we acquired modern minds.

Human beings with mental architecture like ours came into existence only yesterday, evolutionarily speaking—perhaps fifty thousand years ago. At least, the archaeological record as we have it shows no robust evidence of cognitively modern behavior before that epoch. The staggering behavioral singularities that come with cognitively modern minds—advanced tool use, decorative dress, language, culture, religion, science, mathematics, art—present us with the greatest scientific embarrassment, for they appear to indicate a mysterious and unexplained discontinuity between us and the entire rest of Life.

To have a cognitively modern human mind is to be robustly artful, and conversely. This equivalence provides the inevitable starting point for a research program aimed at answering obvious yet hard questions: What is the evolutionary path from our remoter ancestors, who somehow lacked artful minds, to the existence of cognitively modern human beings, who cannot fail to be artful? How did the artful mind emerge? In a leap, or through slow development? What are the basic mental operations that make art possible for us now, and how do they operate? What neurobiology subtends these abilities? What is the interplay, in the phenomena of artfulness, between biological dispositions, individual experience, and cultural history?

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