Thursday, January 19, 2006

Critical remarks about art in the brain

An online published paper by John Hyman provides a thorough criticism of two major contributors to the emergent field of neuroaesthetics, V.S. Ramachandran and Semir Zeki.

Art and Neuroscience

From the article:

I want to discuss a new area of scientific research called neuro-aesthetics, which is the study of art by neuroscientists. The most prominent champions of neuro-aesthetics are V.S. Ramachandran and Semir Zeki (fig. 1). They have both made ambitious claims about their work. Ramachandran says boldly that he has discovered ‘the key to understanding what art really is’, and that his theory of art can be tested by brain imaging experiments, although he is vague about the experimental design. And Zeki, who originally coined the term ‘neuro-aesthetics’, claims to have laid the foundations for understanding ‘the biological basis of aesthetic experience’

(...)

The main defect in the work I have discussed is that both authors propose extravagant generalizations about art – all art is caricature; all great art is ambiguous – and then discuss a small number of examples, which are chosen to illustrate the generalization they favour and not to test it. Would Zeki or Ramachandran tolerate this procedure in their own subject? I expect they’d laugh at it. How easily we shrug off our academic training when we take the brave step outside the furrows we were taught to plough!

Read the full article.

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