Raymond Tallis on the sterility of neuroaesthetics

“An extreme expression of the faith of neuroscientism is the emergence of a so-called neuroaesthetics that looks to neuroscience to explain aesthetic experience. Neuroaesthetics has attracted adherents from many disciplines. Certain literary critics, musicologists, and art critics are excited by the idea that examination of the brain of a person enjoying a work of art will throw light on what art does, is, and means. Artists, they believe, are unconscious manipulators of our nervous systems, awakening particular regions of the cortex, or particular types of neurons, singly or in combination.I first became aware of neurological approaches to literature when I read a Commentary in the Times Literary Supplement by the novelist A.S. Byatt (TLS, Sept. 22, 2006). She argued, on the basis of theories advanced by the neuroscientist Pierre Changeux, that the particular pleasure associated with John Donne’s poems was due to syntactic structures which made them especially…

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