In March, the Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny hosted a conference on the “Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics”. The list of speakers was pretty impressive. Luckily, the lectures were taped and are now available on You Tube. Here is a video with lectures by Antonio Damasio on emotion, Helen Fisher on love, and Isabelle Peretz on music. I will probably post some of the other talks at a later point.
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I am sure loads of you neuroscience buffs out there will be interested in hearing that a new book on neuroaesthetics has just been published. Edited by myself and Oshin Vartanian, it is published by Baywood. You can buy it directly from Baywood, or from retailers such as Amazon. To learn more about the book, read the introduction [pdf].
Research into the neurobiology of aesthetic behavior, one of the truly unique human traits, has undergone a revolution in the last ten years. In large part due to the possibility of imaging the human brain in various non-invasive ways it has become possible to investigate the neural mechanisms behind the perception of visual and auditive art, creative behavior, or aesthetic valuation of works of art. Quite a few psychologists and neuroscientists have heeded this call.The result is an ever-increasing number of research reports in peer-reviewed journals. Still, many of these results remain unknown, even overlooked. To take an example, when science writer Jonah Lehrer recently wrote a short article entitled “Unlocking the mysteries of the artistic mind” in Psychology Today, he restricted his discussion to a rehash of Semir Zeki [pdf] and V.S. Ramachandran’s [pdf] two famous papers published ten years ago in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. True, these two papers in many ways ignited the recent interest in neuroaesthetics, but much have happened in the decade since, and one of our ambitions in publishing this new book lies in the highlighting of this body of work.
Besides a lack of publicity, the field of neuroaesthetics is also marred by two other concerns. The first and most important is a lack of a coherent theory of what neuroaesthetics amounts to and, consequently, which kind of questions neuroaesthetics should be concerned with. This kind of methodological befuddlement is hardly unheard of in the early days of a new scientific field, but to make any headway naturally such questions need to be raised and debated. A central aim of the book is to further this debate. Secondly, research on the major art forms are too separated from each other. Scientists interested in visual art seem to know very little about the work going on in the labs of music researchers, and vice versa. To rectify this misère a little, and to insist that neuroaesthetics encompass all art forms, we have included chapters on visual art, music, literature, and film in the book. (If the book had been put together today, it would also had been possible to include chapters on dance and architecture as distinct forms of visual art.)
I shall not be the judge of whether or not the book accomplishes these goals. But I do hope that some of you will take the time to take a look at it.
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