Preface
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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.Asforaudiences,JonahLehrer(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.) Preface Massey Book1.indb ix Massey Book1.indb ix 9/9/09 2:51:22 PM 9/9/09 2:51:22 PM x Preface A second way in which neuroscience has become relevant for the arts is by providing the content of certain works. So, for instance, the behaviors associated with neurological syndromes such as Tourette’s or Asperger’s, or the effects of commissurotomy (the division of the two halves of the brain), are now regularly the subject of novels and films. An even more direct contribution of neurology to the arts comes in the form of “readouts” from the brain: the patterns of electrical activity that carry the codes through which we experience our environment are transcribed directly into sound or into visual displays and are then used as the basis of musical compositions or projected into the plastic arts. On the other hand, the area of motivation—that is, why we want to have aesthetic experiences—has remained relatively opaque to neurological investigation. It is true that some of the events in the brain accompanying the aesthetic response have been localized. Semir Zeki (1999) argues that painters who specialize in certain techniques stimulate particular electrochemical processes that give us satisfaction. Other researchers have identified groups of neurons that seem to respond to beauty as such, or, at least, to whatever the subjects of those experiments consider beautiful. For the most part, though, the aesthetic as a global experience has remained hard to explain, and the motivation for that experience is not easily distinguished from other forms of pleasure. What makes the problem still more difficult, from the point of view of localization, is the fact that some of the most important elements of the aesthetic experience do not have anything to do with beauty or pleasure, but may be primarily strenuous, thought-provoking, or even painful. It then becomes harder to know what we are trying to localize. Some of the above subjects are mentioned in other works on the psychology of art. What is particularly new in The Neural Imagination is the comparison of a neuroscientific approach to the arts with a humanistic approach. If we are to understand the contribution of neuroscience to aesthetics fully, such a comparison is essential. In addition to examining the general problems outlined above, then, this book juxtaposes three essays on the arts that use a neurosciMassey Book1.indb x Massey Book1.indb x 9/9/09 2:51:22 PM 9/9/09 2:51:22 PM xi Preface entific approach (Chapters 2, 3, and 4) with a second part in which the differences between a humanistic and a neurological approach are emphasized. Each of the essays in the first group deals with one large area: the visual arts (Chapter 2); literature (Chapter 3); and music (Chapter 4). In these chapters, several hypotheses are advanced. In the chapter on the visual arts (Chapter 2), I begin with a historicalexplorationof possible relations betweennineteenth...


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