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A short commentary on ‘The Science of Art’

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[opening paragraph]: Dr. Ramachandran is a distinguished researcher in the field of cognitive neuroscience whose work is grounded in impressive clinical data. As a scientific materialist, he has provided powerful arguments against the metaphysical notion of the ‘self', suggesting that our consciousness is really a biological function of the brain. He and his collaborator, William Hirstein, have now turned to human artistic activity, putting forward the argument that it is essentially a product of neural mechanism. They employ the experimental ‘peak shift effect’ to sustain this hypothesis. The experiment demonstrates that a rat's cognitive achievements are related to the reward it receives for discriminating different shapes. Applying this principle to human responses to the visual image, they argue that certain simplified and exaggerated images, as for instance, caricature, appeal to our emotions and have the innate ability to give us pleasure. Furthermore, the binding of correlated features creates unitary objects that provide further grounds for aesthetic appeal. This is because, given our limited ability to concentrate, the most appealing art is one that produces heightened activity within a single dimension.
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Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: History of Art Subject Group, School of English and American Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9RQ, UK.

Publication date: 01 June 1999

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