The Neural Imagination: Aesthetic and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts

The Neural Imagination: Aesthetic and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts

The Neural Imagination: Aesthetic and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts

The Neural Imagination: Aesthetic and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts

Synopsis

Art and technology have been converging rapidly in the past few years; an important example of this convergence is the alliance of neuroscience with aesthetics, which has produced the new field of neuroaesthetics.

Irving Massey examines this alliance, in large part to allay the fears of artists and audiences alike that brain science may "explain away" the arts. The first part of the book shows how neuroscience can enhance our understanding of certain features of art. The second part of the book illustrates a humanistic approach to the arts; it is written entirely without recourse to neuroscience, in order to show the differences in methodology between the two approaches. The humanistic style is marked particularly by immersion in the individual work and by evaluation, rather than by detachment in the search for generalizations. In the final section Massey argues that, despite these differences, once the reality of imagination is accepted neuroscience can be seen as the collaborator, not the inquisitor, of the arts.

Excerpt

Art and technology have been converging rapidly in the past few years; an important example of this convergence is the alliance of neuroscience with aesthetics, which has produced the new field of neuroaesthetics.

The Neural Imagination examines this alliance. Neuroscience has demonstrated its relevance for aesthetics in several ways. First, it has identified specific neural accompaniments to aesthetic activities of both artists and audiences. One of the means by which such “localizations” are established is through the study of artists (such as Ravel) who have brain lesions. Nowadays, of course, this work is greatly facilitated by the use of brain imaging techniques. the changes in an artist’s work after a stroke, for instance, help to localize the constituent elements of artistic production at the neurological level. Thus an injury to a particular area in the right hemisphere might interfere with a musician’s appreciation of melodic contour without affecting other aspects of his/her musical abilities, and one might conclude that the injured area has an important role in “processing” melodies. As for audiences, Jonah Lehrer (2007, pp. 141–142) proposes that the 1913 riot at the first performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was caused by the effect of unfamiliar sounds on certain neurons which, when overstimulated, precipitate a flood of dopamine that can, in turn, produce symptoms resembling those of schizophrenia. (The example of individuals such as Boris Pavlovich Nikonov, in whom music induced seizures, is perhaps more persuasive [cf. Avanzini, 2003]. I understand that Jock Murray of Halifax, Nova Scotia is studying musicogenic epilepsy.) . . .

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