Aesthetics and Neuroaesthetics : the pleasures of thought and the terror of beauty
The relations between aesthetics and neuroscience have been largely over determined by questions of beauty and the fatal allure of universal principles and criteria for value judgements. It is more relevant to question the gap between this reductionist desire for testable and repeatable criteria and the elusive quality of pleasure, first identified by Gustav Fechner, that escapes such definitions. If, as Quentin Meillassoux asserts in his ‘philosophy fiction’ rereading of Bergson in ‘Subtraction and Contraction’, the body chooses from the enormous multiplicity of the real and then in a secondary process the mind selects from this filtered material, then human perception functions as a form of impoverishment of the real. Aesthetics in this context is as much a cultural and circumstantial response to this accumulation and recognition of partial data. It may prove more useful to focus on an alternative term for beauty, such as pleasure, as more genuinely inclusive of the range of intellectual and natural stimuli affecting the brain. More significantly, neuroscience and its myriad imaging systems may offer the tantalising prospect of moving beyond the limits and hegemony of the senses and opening up the possibility of new forms of experience.
Associate Professor, Donal Fitzpatrick is currently Deputy Director Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Australia. As a creative academic he has held numerous senior posts as head of schools of Art and Design, at Curtin University in Western Australia, Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory, Massey University in Wellington New Zealand, Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and at the University of Western Sydney, Nepean. He is an artist and theorist with a particular interest in the relationship of art as an extended material practice of memory. He has a substantial exhibition record in Australia and overseas and was formerly the art critic for the Western Australian newspaper.