Presentation on theme: "Nicolas J. Bullot | University of Toronto Altering the Mind/Brain’s Base Routines Through Aesthetic Attention Art & the Brain, Illinois at the Phillips,"— Presentation transcript:
Nicolas J. Bullot | University of Toronto Altering the Mind/Brain’s Base Routines Through Aesthetic Attention Art & the Brain, Illinois at the Phillips, April 18 2007
Outline | Interdisciplinary Research I will present an article which suggests that cognitive sciences combined with humanities can help us obtain a better understanding of artistic phenomena in general, the differences between ordinary and aesthetic cognition.
Outline | Altering Cognitive Routines (S1) To that aim, the first section introduces a conceptual framework grounded in the concepts of an “artistic apparatus” and of an “anchoring situation.” (S2) A second section sketches the “externalist” idea that interactions between agents and external artistic situations modify and constrain agents’ attention. (S3) A third section introduces a hypothesis according to which a distinctive feature of many artistic situations (esp. in modern art) is that they operate as modifiers (or inhibitors) of base routines controlling object-directed attention. In other terms, works of art are hypothesized as providing us with a variety of tools to “frustrate” or “foil” our most automatic mental actions.
Outline | Altering Cognitive Routines The article aims to describe the differences existing between the routine attention directed at ordinary individuals (objects, events) and the aesthetic attention directed at art individuals (objects, events). On a second level of reading, the present work is an attempt to understand and defend the “experimental” traditions developed during the history of modern art.
1 Ontology of Works of Art | Artistic Apparatus To refer to the complex system encompassing the actual encounter of perceivers with artistic works, I will use the concept of an “artistic apparatus”. I will consider that an event, or a state of affairs, is an “artistic apparatus” if, and only if, it encompasses two components:
1.1 Artistic Apparatus | Anchoring Situation The first component is a situation for sensory-motor anchoring, or anchoring situation. An “ anchoring situation ” is the complete set of spatio-temporal individuals, or physical events, which can be scrutinized during the perceptual and motor exploration of the work of art. It is a set of things that can be traced in perception, such as sculptures or paintings, acoustic events produced by musical instruments, installations or theatrical events. It is an artificial situation built in order to (with the intent to) receive the status of artistic apparatuses of a certain kind.
1.2 Artistic Apparatus | Exploring Agents (Trackers, Explorers) The second condition is a set of “ exploring agents ” who explore or visit, interact with or scrutinize this anchoring situation and adopt aesthetic attitudes while perceptually tracking some target elements of the anchoring situation. Thus, the exploring agents are a group of persons whose bodies, brains and sensory-motor systems are modified by, and modify in return, the artistic apparatus (and sometimes even modify substantially the anchoring situations).
1.3 Artistic Apparatus | Exploratory (Im)Possibilities An anchoring situation thus can be conceived of as a combination of (i) a set of exploratory possibilities and (ii) a set of exploratory impossibilities, which are available for the exploring agents and constraining the behavior of exploring agents. Roughly, the artistic apparatus as a whole is the sum of (i) the complete set of elements in the anchoring situation and (ii) the complete set of behavior adopted by exploring agents.
2 Externalism in Aesthetics | Situated Attention The aforementioned concepts can allow us to specify the nature of certain procedures associated with the modus operandi of a given artistic apparatus. The study of attention capacities should allow us to describe interactions that take place between (i) the mental/brain states of the exploring agents and (ii) the physical states of the anchoring situation. One can specify this point through the formulation of constraints that a particular anchoring situation exerts on perceptual capacities and attention selection.
2 Situated Aesthetic Attention | Externalist Constraint Thesis of the Externalist Constraint : In an artistic apparatus, the relations taking place among the exploring agents and the elements of the anchoring situation (i) modify the agents’ mental states and, more specifically, (ii) constrain and compel their attention systems by virtue of the causation exerted by determinate modifiers (i.e., singular attractors or interventions which can be made explicit by a description of the physical states of the anchoring situation). Aesthetic Consequence of the Externalist Constraint : Arguably, the causation exerted by determinate modifiers (or interventions) in the artistic anchoring situation support the exercise of aesthetic attention. Corollary : A particular artistic anchoring situation can be interpreted as a strategic system of which purpose is to modify attention/ brain systems through the reflected use of mental modifiers.
3 Aesthetic Attention | Comparative Approach The third section will deploy the Externalist Constraint in the context of the comparison between (i) ordinary routine attention directed at physical individuals (material objects or persons) and (ii) aesthetic uses of attention (i.e., “aesthetic attention”). I will provide conceptual tools to specify the nature of canonical artistic interventions with regard to the capacity for perceiving and acting on an individual. The analysis takes advantage of the fact that the capacity to perceive individuals and the notion of objecthood (Fried, 1998; Wollheim, 1980) have been questioned and investigated by numerous artistic projects.
3 Hypothesis | Artistic Alteration of Routines (AAR) According to the Externalist Constraint, the interactions between agents and elements in the artistic anchoring situation imply the submission of the agents’ selective-attention to constraints or interventions. The idea can be specified within the framework of the theory of the role of attention in the perception of individuals. I propose the following hypothesis: Hypothesis of the Artistic Alteration of (Base Sensory-Motor and Cognitive) Routines (AAR): A key modus operandi of artistic apparatuses is the alteration (or inhibition and thus indirect control) of subsets of sensory- motor and cognitive routines that ordinarily control the attention directed at physical individuals (objects or agents).
3 Aesthetic Attention | Argument for AAR For the sake of clarity, I will mainly focus the discussion on the alteration of perceptual routines, although the hypothesis should not be restricted to this important case. The hypothesis AAR can be derived from two important premises, which I shall consider in sequence: Premise 1 (of the grounding of active perception in sensory-motor and cognitive routines): The ordinary active perception of individuals is grounded in the exercise of mind/brain routines controlling selective attention (directed at physical individuals) (in an exogenous or endogenous way). Premise 2 (of the inhibition and control of perceptual routines): The interactions of exploring agents with certain artistic anchoring situations determine the alteration (or inhibition) of subsets of sensory-motor or cognitive routines (which ordinarily control the attention directed at physical individuals).
3.1 Premise 1 | (Ar1) Perceptual-Motor Routines for Recurring Acts Consider Premise 1: Why need we accept that, in situations encountered in daily life, our attention is controlled by mind/brain routines)? First argument: there is a justification that has its roots in common sense. Routines are procedures which play a role in the daily and recursive activities, such as preparing a meal, making a bed, opening a door with a key, starting or driving a vehicle, booting a computer, writing, using familiar objects of daily use. Routines are exerted on paradigm target individuals, which can be domestic artifacts such as:
3.1 Premise 1 | Target Individuals for Routines | Tea Pot
This man, for example, is much more likely to be interested in going to lunch, than paying attention to the characteristics of this token “do not enter” sign. He can not be certain that the one he sees today is the same as that which he encountered yesterday. Usually, and in contrast to our knowledge of works of art, one does not care about having a knowledge of road signs as particular unique individuals (singular knowledge), although one may use them daily.
3.1 Premise 1 | (Ar1) Perceptual-Motor Routines for Recurring Acts Thus, routines are procedures that enable one to accomplish a set of recurring acts on familiar targets that are triggered by similar contexts. Insofar as daily activities include recurring acts carried out on familiar individuals, one can expect that each human agent must learn and update routines to perform such actions.
3.1 Premise 1 | (Ar2) Hierarchy of Recursively Embedded Routines Second, there is a theoretical argument in support of Premise 1. Theoretical frameworks studying routines provide a fine-grained (almost “grammatical”) analysis of our daily actions as encompassing a hierarchy of recursively embedded routines. Research on routines in daily activities (Ballard, Hayhoe, Pook, & Rao, 1997; Glover, 2004; Land, Mennie, & Rusted, 1999; Zacks & Tversky, 2001; Zacks, Tversky, & Iyer, 2001) suggests that one can reduce each routine-based action in hierarchical structures. In addition, the study of perceptual routines has provided a way to develop empirical investigation of epistemic aspects of perception, such as in S. Ullman’s (1984) visual routines (see also Cavanagh and Pylyshyn).
3.1 Premise 1 | Perceptual-Motor Routines | Object Perception Third, experimental research (p. ex. Ballard et al., 1997; Land & Hayhoe, 2001; Land et al., 1999; Zacks & Tversky, 2001; Zacks et al., 2001) supports the idea that daily perception and action depend on the performance of routines associated with the endogenous or exogenous control of attention systems. The role of attention and ocular fixations in visuo-motor control, required for the normal execution of the daily activities.
3.1 Premise 1 | Perceptual-Motor Routines | Object Perception For example, Land and collaborators (Land et al., 1999) have studied the patterns of ocular fixations during the realization of a routine task of daily life, preparing tea. Their aim was to classify the monitoring actions performed by the visual system in this type of task, which implies different types of oculomotor coordination. Their analysis of experimental data discloses the distinctive characteristics of the hierarchical structure I have just described.
3.1 Premise 1 | Routines | Routines: 3 Characteristics Final notes on routines: Firstly, the performance of a routine is frequently dependent on automatic procedures. Apparently, many routines need neither voluntary control nor awareness of the sub-personal computations (or, at least, they can be performed without a direct consciousness of the spatio-temporal details of the operation in progress, such as precise guidance of eye movements). Secondly, routines do not uniquely relate to the control of muscles and body parts; they also operate during the control of mental activities linked to the tracking, identification or recognition of external individuals. Thirdly, the execution of a routine can determine or control the choice of the targets of attentional selection. However, the problem of the relations between routines and attention systems is complex (its solutions depend on the precise conception one adopts of each notions).
3.2 Premise 2 | Inhibition/Control of Routines (Outline of the Argument) In the sense defined by the aforementioned claims, the idea that ordinary perception and action are grounded in “routines” is not trivial. However, if Premise 2 of the argument is true, this way of apprehending the status of routines in daily activities is not applicable to the case of the perception and interactions with a work of art. Recall Premise 2 : The interactions of exploring agents with certain artistic anchoring situations determine the alteration of subsets of routines (which ordinarily control the attention directed at physical individuals). What are the arguments in support of Premise 2?
3.2.1 Premise 2 | Exhibition & 1st Order Inhibition (Ar1) First, a specific reason is linked to the procedure of exhibition, which is used in artistic apparatuses. Given an individual i (or a specific signal of this object, such as its acoustic signature), the fact that i is exhibited in an artistic anchoring situation implies, in most (but not all) cases, a withdrawal from its usual domain. It can then be used for other goals associated with its exposure in a situation. Thus, the exhibition generally implies the inhibition of grasping and manipulating gestures: in most cases, grasping or handling of the exhibited individuals are prevented or prohibited (e.g., through the use of glass boxes, stages, straps to maintain people at a distance, warnings).
3.2.1 Premise 2 | Exhibition & 1st Order Inhibition (Ar1) De facto, the exhibition of something in an apparatus amounts to withdrawing it from the routines it is subjected to in domestic or industrial contexts. From this first point, it is tempting to think that a function of artistic anchoring situations is to untie the exhibited individuals from their dependency to mind/brain base routines. This idea may be relatively trivial when applied to the case of exhibited individuals in museums. However, the idea can be formulated within the framework of a theory of attention in which any banality disappears.
3.2.1 Premise 2 | Exhibition & 1st Order Inhibition (Ar1) From the standpoint of the relation between selective attention and cognition, the exhibition of a physical object in an artistic situation tends to imply the inhibition/alteration of sensory-motor routines controlling the active perception of this physical object during its use in an ordinary context, in favor of other types of mental activities (constitutive of aesthetic experience). In this case, the remark is not trivial, because it can correspond to, for example, the inhibition/alteration of routines related to the recognition, the categorization and the identification of individuals. (The latter are cognitive processes which are essential parts to our intimate cognitive life, and which may be objects of meta-cognitive investigation through reflexive aesthetic attention and judgments.) Hence, there can be a relation between the alteration of routines and the cognitive processes on which aesthetic experience is dependent.
3.2.1 Premise 2 | Exhibition & Attention Targets (Ar1) In addition, the individuals exhibited in the anchoring situations frequently have intrinsic properties (rarity, monumentality, virtuosity of realization, ritual function) that distinguish them from more ordinary physical objects, and which allow to explain their statute of valuable exceptions with respect to a specified culture. The process of exhibition of an artistic apparatus supports the singular knowledge of the individuals in the anchoring situation. This contrasts with the standard interactions with the targets for base routines (cf. our lack of singular knowledge for the road sign). One can thus consider that an artistic apparatus has the function to compel (singular and epistemic) attention to be directed at properties of the exhibited individuals, which are valuable with regard to a particular culture.
3.2.1 Premise 2 | Exhibition & Attention Targets (Ar1) Marcia M. Eaton (2000: 146): “ x is a work of art if and only if (1) x is an artifact and (2) x is treated in aesthetically relevant ways; that is, x is treated in such a way that someone who is fluent in a culture is led to direct attention to intrinsic properties of x considered worthy of attention (perception and/or reflection) within that culture and (3) when someone has an aesthetic experience of x, he or she realizes that the cause of the experience is an intrinsic property of x considered worthy of attention within the culture.” (Eaton 2000: 146). Suggested conclusion: an artistic apparatus is a strategic system that has the function to direct (singular, conscious, epistemic and reflexive) attention to intrinsic properties of the exhibited artifact, which are valuable in the relevant culture.
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Arts of objecthood (Ar2) A second argument provides additional support for Premise 2, which primarily uses considerations about the history of modern art. At least during the history of modern art, many works have been devoted to the representation and questioning of the status of physical individuals/objects—and have raised problems concerning the criteria and understanding of objecthood. Many artistic “experiments” yield to the construction of anchoring situations the properties of which are going to prevent the execution of routines subsets. I will present a few examples.
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Objecthood & Readymade (Ar2) Duchamp’s “readymades” are a paradigm case. Typically, a “readymade” is a physical object—generally an artifact of industrial origin—which has not been modified from the standpoint of its physical or topological organization. Usually, merely its context of viewing has been modified: Duchamp has placed the individual artifact in the context of an artistic exhibition.
Marcel Duchamp, Porte bouteille ou Séchoir à bouteile ou Hérisson (1914), Ready-made : porte-bouteille en fer galvanisé.
Marcel Duchamp, Porte-chapeau, 1917, Ready-made : porte-chapeau en bois suspendu au plafond
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Objecthood & Readymade (Ar2) Hence, the individual in the readymade cannot be a target for the routines it is tied to in the tedious business of non-artistic daily life. Roughly, the principle of this artistic intervention (the “Readymade Experiment or Intervention”) is based on these two rules:
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Objecthood & Readymade (Ar2) Modus operandi of the “Ready-Made” Intervention ( Intreadymade ): Rule 1 : Choose a physical individual (artifact) x, usually target of the routines r i associated with the selection by attention in the relevant ecological situations; Rule 2 : Present x in a particular artistic exhibition in order to withdraw it from the routines r i, and insert it in a context in which it will be related to an aesthetic use of selective attention. Main operator of the intervention : the context shift of a spatio-temporal individual.
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Man Ray, Gift, 1921 Modus operandi of the “Gift” intervention: Rule 1 : Choose an individual artifact x (here: an iron), usually target of the routines r i associated with a function F (ironing) in the relevant ecological situations; Rule 2 : Modify the part directly associated with the function F in order to ironically discourage any attempt to perform the routines associated with function F.
Bertrand Lavier, Composition n°17, 1987, peinture acrylique sur panneau routier, daim. 110 cm, coll. Particulière, Paris. Lavier.
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Sounds and Recognition Routines One finds another series of significant examples in research carried out in “concrete” or “electro-acoustic” music elaborated from recorded ecological sounds (McAdams & Bigand, 1993, 1994; Schaeffer, 1952, 1966; Schaeffer & Reibel, 1998 ). The recent history of this music offers interesting examples related to the alteration of routines in auditory recognition. In the case of hearing, as in the case of vision, the recognition of different kinds of sound can trigger other types of multimodal brain routines allowing an agent to perform appropriate sensory-motor interactions with individuals. For example, to recognize the voice of the person x can result in greeting x, to recognize a ringing of a telephone x can trigger the grasping of the phone, and to recognize the siren of an alarm bell a can trigger emotional or behavioral reactions.
3.2.2 Premise 2 | Sound and Recognition From the advent of the techniques of sound recording, many composers started to make a systematic use in their musical compositions of “non musical” sounds (“concrete sounds”, “sound effects”), stemming from the acoustic environments of the daily urban and rural life and of new instruments. In this case, one finds the same structure (of routine-alteration) than that previously noted: the insertion of a recorded sound related to a type of resonating object resonating within the context of an artistic anchoring situation prevents the listener from performing the routines which are associated with the sound in an ordinary ecological context. Presumably, this procedure supports aesthetic effects (within the strategy associated with a particular work). Moreover, the improvement of the computer-assisted techniques of electro- acoustic composition allows composers to integrate subtle alterations of selected attributes (e.g., tonal, spectral, and spatial properties), and thus allows composed to produce sophisticated experiments on auditory recognition.
3.2.3 Premise 2 | Aesthetic Meta-Inhibitions (Altering Artistic Routines) Artistic reflexive inhibition. If aesthetic attention proceeds through the alterations of routines, it should be able to apply this reflexive process to itself —that is, to the routines which have been developed throughout the history of art. A number of artistic apparatuses seem to exhibit this reflexivity.
Intervention of Dust Breeding : Rule 1 : Chose a set of individuals ( dust aggregates ) that are parasitic upon a unique work of art ( Le grand verre ), which has function F (to be a work of art). Rule 2 : Exhibit the parasitic individuals instead of the work of art. (Display what is usually prevented or prohibited from being exhibited.)
Carl Andre, 10 x 10 Alstadt Copper Square, Düsseldorf, 1967, Cuivre 100 unités, Guggenheim Museum.
Interactive work: the spectator is free to walk on the piece. Intervention: Rule 1 : Choose a set of rules associated with the artistic genre “sculpture” such as (a) standing on a pedestal, (b) to tend to be above average agents’ height, (c) to be preserved from deformation and destruction. Rule 2 : Propose a work that violates the former rules because it presents thin copper square on the floor without pedestal (violation of (a)), on which agents are encouraged to walk (inhibition of (b)) in a way that will deform their surfaces (inhibition of (c)). Main operator : Presentation of traces of causal interactions between elements of the anchoring situations and exploring agents.
Bertrand Lavier, Philips dans Rue de Passy, 1987, Congélateur sur fauteuil, 190 x 110 x 90 cm
4.1 Conclusion | Notes on the Function of the aesthetic alteration of routines If this analysis of aesthetic attention is correct, it raises a fundamental question: What is the function of the artistic alteration of base mind/brain routines? What could be the function of such a systemic use of the alteration of subsets of routines? While following a speculation which remains to be analyzed further, one can imagine that the types of suitable answers should have the following profile. A first type of answer states that the function depends on the artistic apparatus in question, or on the moment considered in the development of an artistic apparatus. An analysis of each particular case is thus necessary, because each artistic apparatus implements a particular strategy of routine alterations.
4.2 Conclusion | Notes on the Function of the aesthetic alteration of routines Another type of answer is, however, possible. It offers the premise of a more general explanation: the alteration of a routine can contribute to the reflexive consciousness of a property of the physical individual to which the routine usually relates. Consequently, one of the functions of these alterations could be to favor the reflexive consciousness (or meta-cognitive awareness) of a series of properties, which are precisely those which block the performance of the relevant routines. Thus, these alterations would support the collective and public consciousness of the series in question, in connection with the communication and critical function of the artistic apparatus or of their contribution to perceptual learning. This framework is an account to be explored and which would make it possible to connect covert non-conceptual alterations and traditional descriptions in terms of explicit aesthetic judgments.
4.3 Conclusion | About the Core Hypothesis Notes about the Core Hypothesis and the methodological approach: (i) It is compatible with a number of characteristics of traditional analyses in aesthetics (e.g., the reflexivity of aesthetic judgment). (ii) It can be developed in the context of empirical research in cognitive (neuro)sciences (e.g., on covert and overt attention systems, eye movements, routines and emotions). (iii) It can be developed in the context of research in humanities and social sciences, which is appropriate to study the irreducible historical dimension of artistic apparatuses.
4.4 Conclusion | About Some Background Theses Works of art (artistic apparatuses) are experimental designs that play with, or fool the cognitive faculties of our brains. Works of art (artistic apparatuses) develop critical procedures about how we perceive, act and think. To understand this: one should do research about the correct ontology of works of art; one should not restrict the cognitive study of works of art grounded in the study of a single perceptual modality (such as vision or audition); one should instead apprehend work of art as situations that affect multimodal perception and crossmodal attention; one should integrate the analysis of the cultural background of works of art in the study of their cognitive and psychological effects. This methodology should disclose that there exists an aesthetical cognition, and an aesthetical knowledge, which have distinct modus operandi than academic knowledge.