Art for Love’s Sake

Recent neurobiological research has shown that viewing art stimulates the brain in a way that mirrors the experience of romantic love. The study, conducted by Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at University College London, scanned and mapped the brains of participants who had been asked to look at a variety of paintings from such artists as Botticelli, Turner, Monet and Cezanne. It was found that experiencing art releases into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain a significant quantity of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a biochemical associated with love, happiness and sociability, as well as drug use and certain psychological disorders.

The result comes at an ideal time for the art world in Britain, which has felt itself to be targeted by the extensive cuts in public spending. The correlation between aesthetic experience and happiness gives extra leverage in justifying the arts according to standards of public interest, a justification which normally consists in pointing out the economic benefits of the revenue which art institutions can generate. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Stephen Deuchar, director of the arts charity Art Fund, said:

I have always believed art matters profoundly so it is exciting to see some scientific evidence to support the view that life is enhanced by instantaneous contact with works of art

Professor Zeki’s work in neuroaesthetics also stands to be of high value to the philosophy of art. This latest link between art and love is just one of many discoveries made by Zeki which coincide almost seamlessly with what artists and theorist about art have said for centuries, perhaps even for thousands of years. Plato, in his dialogue The Symposium, recounts a speech in praise of Love (Eros) made by Socrates which describes a journey of ascent from sexual love, through aesthetic appreciation of the body, to a spiritual love of the soul, arriving finally at the contemplation of the Platonic Form of Beauty itself. Continue reading “Art for Love’s Sake”

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Stuff in the Way can Help with Perception

QuasarPerception is a hot topic in philosophy.  Do we directly perceive objects in the world, or only the images of objects on our retinas?  Does the answer change when we see something reflected by a mirror or refracted through a lens?  As anyone who needs glasses knows, sometimes putting something between your eye and an object can help you to see it better.  Surprisingly, sometimes the most useful ‘lens’ is made of solid matter.

Solid matter can help us see distant objects by bending spacetime.Gravity Lens It may sound far-fetched, but physicists routinely rely on this effect to see distant stars and galaxies that would otherwise be Continue reading “Stuff in the Way can Help with Perception”

Philosophy of Illusions

Thurston_magician_posterResearchers from Edinburgh University have claimed to show that stage illusionists and magicians rely on the phenomenon of “change-blindness” for their tricks. Although we may feel that we normally have visual awareness of an entire stable scene all at once, experiments show that subjects can be surprisingly bad at noticing large-scale changes that occur right before their eyes. In fact, our eyes “saccade” around a scene, very rapidly shifting a very narrow point of focus. Changes that occur during such shifts and outside the narrow range of focus will not be noticed by the subject.

Continue reading “Philosophy of Illusions”