Fifth International School On Mind, Brain And Education

2010, August 1-6

Learning, Arts,
and the Brain

Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: James Croft
Harvard Graduate School of Education. USA

An epistemological critique of Neuroesthetics
The purpose of my study is to attempt an answer to three questions: “How might we understand the growing field of “neuroesthetics” in the light of recent research into interdisciplinary epistemology?”, “What are the potential epistemological, logical and methodological pitfalls that attempts to use neuroscience to explore art might encounter?” and “What might be a fruitful epistemological framework under which further interdisciplinary study of art and the brain might proceed?” I suggest that current approaches to neuroesthetics sometimes fail in a number of ways: they fail to meet disciplinary standards in either aesthetics or neuroscience; they fail to blend disciplines in a generative way; they add little new that could not be investigated more fruitfully at other levels of analysis; they use inappropriate methodologies given the puzzles they are trying to solve; and they are logically flawed and cavalier with definitions of key terms, particularly as they move to higher levels of analysis. Examples from the work of Zeki, Ramachandran, Levitin, Martindale, Byatt and others are explored within this context.
In response to these potential pitfalls I recognise an example of excellent work in the field, try to explain why it is excellent, and make some recommendations for future researchers. Namely, I suggest that researchers in neuroesthetics must consider the following: what are the questions we want answered about the relationship between the arts and the brain, and what sort of explanations do we want in response to those questions? Without deeper consideration of these central epistemological questions, future attempts to link the study of art with the study of the brain are likely to remain confused and fruitless.