Book review : The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton.

(Editor's note) It would be difficult not to notice the buzz around Denis Dutton's The Art Instinct, (see Nigel Warburton's review, Michael O'Donnell's, and Brian Morton's – and even the Colbert Report). It's always a pleasure to see an accessible and much advertised book written in a naturalistic perspective reach the many. However, it's in the nature of such books to stir controversy. We have asked philosopher Roberto Casati to read and comment Dutton's book, and we look forward to the discussion of his critical review.


Denis Dutton, The art instinct. Bloomsbury Press: 2009.

The importance of Denis Dutton's book lies in its frank endorsement of two very extreme and controversial theses. The theses are, first, that art is an adaptive cultural phenomenon, one that is rooted in an art instinct, and, second, that this rooting has not only, as one may expect, an explanatory import as to how artworks be or look like, but also normative import as to how artworks should be or look like.

The boldness of the two claims is pretty clear. Even if one agrees that the proper explanation of art must use Darwininan resources, one can aling oneself on milder positions, and consider artistic phenomena not the effects of adapatations but by-products or consequences of adaptations; one may even deny that the notion of an art instinct constitute a natural kind. And even if one agrees on Dutton's claim that an art instinct is indeed an adaptation, one can be more cautious in drawing normative consequences therefrom.

Let me confess a general sympathy for an evolutionary approach to culture in general and to art in particular. I take it for likely that if there is a prospect of naturalizing culture, this will be in the framework of a theory of evolution. However, there are many nuances to be discussed and options to be assessed. I think there are various reasons to resist both of the book's claims on the basis of evidence that contrasts with the evidence alleged in Dutton's book, or reinterprets the latter differently.

Dutton's evolutionary hypotheses

At several points in the book, Dutton endorses the strongest possible version of extremely controversial hypotheses, without much arguing.

For example, on p. 147, he endorses Geoffrey Miller's theory of sexual selection for language and creativity, in the following way :

“It is clear that no more than a couple of thousand words at most would have been adequate for communication in the Pleistocene. The excess vocabulary of sixty-thousand-plus words is explained by sexual selection: the evolutionary function of language is not only to be a means of efficient communication byt to be a signal of fitness and general intelligence”.

And later on, pp. 174-175:“We admire clarity, accuracy, and relevance in realistic, descriptive uses of language and regard these qualities as showing that a speaker possesses desirable intellectual qualities (…) Speech performances… are Darwinian fitness indicators”.

Intriguing as it may appear, I cannot see much support for this hypothesis as Dutton states it. The relation with sexual selection appears to be a bit questionable, on the account that as far as the record goes for many centuries the official destinees of many articulated speech performances were males. Elsewhere, the evolutionary theory of art often gains victory by forfeit after a very short fight in which the challengers didn't really stand a chance. This is blatant in the book's account of fiction and stories :

“Story plots are not… unconscious archetypes but structures that inevitably follow, as Aristotle realized and darwinian aesthetics can explain, from an instinctual desire to tell stories about the basic features of the human predicament”.

Here, the victory of the evolutionary explanation is just an artifact of having framed the problem in terms of the alternative between (implausible) Jungian archetypes and evolutionary explanations. But there are other possibilities; for instance, some attractors may command the logical space of plots – in other words, some types of stories may be more likely than others to be told and repeated. Some features of the attractors may indeed be related to adaptations; we do not want stories to be a billion pages long. But I think it is fair to say that we can tolerate a fair lot of distortions, for instance in accepting and enjoying complex temporal structures as those of the movie Memento. But alternatives like this one are not mentioned.

The definition of art

The theory claims to be based on a definition of art. Dutton lists ten criteria :

1.Direct preasure
2.Skill and virtuosity
4.Novelty and creativity
7.Special focus
8.Expressive individuality
9.Emotional saturation
10.Intellectual challenge
11.Art tradition and institutions
12.Imaginative experience

But that is a list of jointly sufficient criteria; hardly a definition (contra Dutton p. 61), that would have to specify necessary conditions as well. Some “background features” are furthermore not listed but should be counted in:

13.Being an artifact
14.Being normally made or performed for an audience

This tolerance for vagueness is a bit surprising given the pretty high standards that are called for elsewhere in the book (For instance, p. 93, Dutton tackles Stephen Jay Gould for his "punch-pulling use of “may”, “most”, and “might” in making his claims (…) he is exasperatingly vague when he turns to patterns of human behavior”) Maybe, as a suggestion, one could ask for at least some hierarchies among the criteria?

When it comes to discuss counterexamples, we learn a bit more. A World cup Final satisfies many criteria (1, 2, 5, 7, 9) but is not a work of art. “The reason to resist calling such games works of art has to do with the absence of what must be weighted as one of the most important items on the list: (12) imaginative experience”. So now imaginative experience is a quasi-necessary condition (elsewhere, it is just a criterion among others). I'm afraid we are never given a final word on the real status of criteria.

Dutton is similarly vague when contrasting art with religion (a notion that is the topic of a good deal of work inspired by evolutionary theory). Dutton states, “[1] Religion by its very nature makes grand claims about morality, God, and the universe. It follows necessarily that [2] explaining religious beliefs in terms of an evolutionary source attacks religion at its core. [3] Works of art, however, seldom make overt assertions of fact or instruct people on how they must behave. [4] Art's world of imagination and make-believe is one where analysis and criticism spoil none of the fun”.

Anthropologists know of many religions that render point (1) false. Even then, (2) does not follow from (1). It is not our world, arguably, but nothing prevents religious beliefs to be adaptive because true – as happens with many other beliefs. And works of art that have normative or political content are not so rare as 3 suggests. Spoiling the fun is not the issue – we have here one of many changes of subject – if the point was to draw a parallel with religion.

Defining, or prescribing art ?

If we leave this issue of fuzziness aside, the most serious problem with Dutton's definition of art is, to put it bluntly, unashamed normativity. The author is never afraid of selling his personal vision of what art should be like, for a definition of what art really is :

“…bringing an understanding of evolution to bear on art can enhance our enjoyment of it. A determination to shock or puzzle has sent much recent art down a wrong path. Darwinian aesthetics can restore the vital place of beauty, skill and pleasure as high artistic values.”

From that statement – and from much of the book – it is clear that the move consists in equating artistic objects with objects that can be the object of an aesthetic experience, where the latter is mostly a type of hedonistic experience. Caution should be obviously exerted at this point, as consensus dictates that there are many unpleasant or anti-aesthetic artistic objects, as well as many beautiful objects that are not artistic. Here is another instance of undisguised normativity in Dutton's definition of art :

“A play in which a man brews a cup of tea, throws it down the drain without tasting it, makes another an throws it out too, and another repeatedly to the end, might be a Dadaist experiment, or an illustration of an on obsessive disorder, but it would be better described as an anti-story rather a story. A character's motivation, as I indicated earlier in this chapter, involves the expression of will, normally towards the fulfillment of a desire, and against resistance and obstruction of some kind”

On top of flagging the trespassing of the line between desciption and prescription, it is to be said that one could have been more generous towards actual artworks. Subtle performances take all their strength from the irresistible force of repetition. (cf. the Jimmie Durham video, "Cousine mutique des Deschiens et de Monsieur Cyclopède"). Likewise, there are more charitable ways of judging works of art based on smell than the author's judgment : “…smell shows no solid signs of becoming the basis for a high art tradition”. The alleged examples in support of this claim are biased by a rather restricted set of imagined possibilities (Beardsley's “scent organ with keys by which perfume or brandy… could be wafted into the air”). It may be that a better proposal would be something on the scale of a garden (a blind friend of mine has indeed created a garden with a large variety of essences disposed partially according to their smells). We could design small paths in such a garden, with dramatic revelations of scents, or preparations to epiphanies built up slowly with small hints, occlusions, false promises. Some imagination is required here, but why condemn smell without even trying?

Art as institution

This normative agenda is what allows Dutton to downplay the institutional aspect of art. This may be seen for example in the way he tells us how to "properly experience" a work of art :

“Properly experienced, a work of art is bracketed off, detached, disengaged – not from close attention but from immediate personal needs, desires, and practical plans”.

I am not sure this is an accurate description of “proper experience”? I pride myself in possessing some works of art. It is part and parcel of my attitude to them that I possess them. And it is part and parcel of my attitude towards some masterpieces hanging in museums that I desire them. Possession is a necessary condition of pride (it may be loose possession, as when your country's museum acquires a masterpiece), which in turn is a source of pleasure. But maybe this is a reason Dutton needs to use the detachment requirement? The pleasures of possessing an artwork are better explained in an institutional framework.

Roughly speaking, an institutional theory of art states that a work may be genuinely artistic merely by being included in a network of social practices and institutions such as the art market, the european institution of museums, etc. Such theories of art are one of the main target of Dutton's book (full disclosure : I have defended what I take to be a substantive version of the theory elsewhere).

For instance, according to institutionalists, Dada artworks are interesting not much because they incorporate the essence of art, but because they reveal an aspect of artworks that was always present but not visible because of many other functions artworks happened to play. Second, Dada artworks – as many a Duchamp's statement makes clear – are not (or I should say: ought not) supposed to introduce a new standard of taste. You may never really end up liking or enjoying Webern's melodies or Duchamp's Fountain or Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, no matter the amount of exposure to those and similar works of art you are prepared to endure. This fact does not deprive them of the “artwork” label. Failing to explain this amounts to a change of subject in aesthetic discussion.

That's what makes Dada the real hard test case for Dutton's definition. Duchamp's readymades only satisfy his criterion (11); which is of course a necessary condition for the Institutional Theory of art. Dada is discussed extensively later on: “…any artifact that has all, or nearly all, of the other twelve features on the list does not need to have this one to be a work of art; such an object could not fail to be a work of art in the absence of only this feature” (p. 200). This amounts to saying that the institutional feature is a non-necessary feature. In my view, this amounts to a change of subject.

One of Dutton's main argument against institutional theories of art is a charge of naïve social constructivism, that he leads against XXth century art theory. Art criticism thrives on a ridiculously shallow empiricist/associationist psychology, according to which matters of taste and of cultural acceptance are a matter of exposure to paradigms. He gives a nice illustration when mentioning the work of Kumar and Melamid. They famously found important similarities in people's aesthetic preferences, which they polled and then graphically presented in paintings reflecting those preferences in terms of surface allocated to the canvas. Dutton wittingly quotes Arthur Danto's worried remarks on discovering their performance : Danto appears to be so puzzled by the polls that he proposes to explain the data in terms of exposure to reproductions that massively confer an advantage to landscapes among artworks – wich does not seem to put culturalist accounts of universal art preferences on a sound basis.

However, we should not be distracted by Danto's reaction and attempt to explain preferences in terms of cultural imprint. Nor should we be distracted by Anton Webern's claim that “the postman on his rounds might someday be overheard whistling an atonal tune” (p. 205). We may simply concede that no amount of “time and familiarity” could suffice to make atonal music or Dada enjoyable – incidentally, Duchamp accepted this premise. The proper claim is not that by exposing people to calendars or atonal melodies from their infancy they will end up liking those things. The proper claim is that liking or disliking certain artifacts is immaterial to their being or not being artworks.

Dutton is so busy showing that art is much less constrained by cultural institutions than is usually assumed by art theorists, that he sometimes lets mistakes slip into his demonstrations. On the relations of artists to science, he states that “the use of mixed colors in the history of painting has always been intuitive and singular, and never especially dependend on observing the rainbow or on Newton's demonstration of the spectrum”. This appears to be inaccurate. A number of artists were keen on color science, although more on psychological than physical discoveries. Many Impressionists read Chevreuils' work on the effects adjacent colors had on each other – and used it. In older ages, the use of complementary colors in chiaroscuro was systematic.

The art instinct

For what I could find in the book, I fail to see that Dutton has made a case for an art instinct: a specific, dedicated module or system modeled on the language module or instinct, that would react automatically and mandatorily in front of artworks in the way, say, in which the language system reacts when presented with linguistic stimuli. I simply suspect that we are not in the presence of a natural kind here. One can hold a weaker thesis, according to which interpreting artworks is the business not of Darwinian module, but of a system has neurological dignity and gets consolidated in an intensive training process – such as the system for reading (Cf. Stanislas Dehaene's work on reading). However, this would be a completely different, nonadaptive hypothesis, and would require a close inspection of a vast domain of relevant evidence.

This alternative account is seldom given due attention. For example, speaking of Stephen Jay Gould's idea that “high-order cultural activities [are] spin-offs of the oversized human brain”, Dutton claims it is a “false picture” ignoring “the fact that arts, like language, emerge spontaneously and universally in similar forms across cultures, employing imaginative and intellectual capacities that had clear survival value in prehistory”. We find many patterns of argument like this in the book. Use is made of an alleged fact – the universality of art – and of a hypothetical explanation of the fact, in order to criticize an adverse hypothesis. In the case in point, the explanation as it is does not refute Gould's hypothesis, as it is perfectly consistent with it. Thus I cannot see the relevance of statements such as “Art may seem largely cultural, but the art instinct that conditions it is not”. There is no fact to be explained that an art instinct would explain here.

Towards metaaesthetics ?

The most promising line of enquiry in Denis Dutton's book is his exploration of agreement and disagreement about aesthetic matters.

“If we look at [work in aesthetics]… we find that the paradoxes on which aesthetics as a discipline depends – the conflicts that generate incisive analysis instead of bland description – are manifestations of varied and conflicting feelings about art that lie deep in the psyche. The logical analysis requirement… is unable… to explain where these competing feelings and intuitions come from. For this level of explanation, we need to turn to evolution”

If what the author is interested in is a metaaesthetical study of aesthetic agreement and disagreement – a very stimulating idea – and not a characterization of art or a normative claim about what is art, I am indeed prepared to concede much of what the book says! I would really love to see developments along those lines in psychology or sociology. Data are also needed on the converse topic of aesthetic agreement. Dutton writes :

“From Lascaux to Bollywood, artists, writers, and musicians often have little trouble in achieving cross-cultural aesthetic understanding. The natural center on which such understanding exists is where theory must begin”.

The use of 'often' renders the claim less urgent, of course. But what is the psychological evidence for cross-cultural understanding? I would expect a whole area of experimental aesthetics to fluorish here; but so far, the results of this forthcoming research programme are a desideratum, not a fact.

Rhetoric Intimidation

Before concluding, let me make a couple of remarks about the style and attitude of the book : to my taste, it tries to impress readers in a slightly too conspicuous way. The author's habit of intimidating name-dropping occasionally gets tiresome – "the Iliad, the cathedral at Chartres, Leonardo's Lady with an hermine, Breughel's Hunters in the snow, Hokusai's Thirty-Six views of Mount Fuji" etc. (p.7, the list goes on and on). I would like to object here to the rhetoric. If I want to learn something about the arts, I need to know what is it that makes Schubert's Winterreise a masterpiece, and it is not by enlisting it along other masterpieces and adding that “their nobility and grandeur … flow from their ability to addres deep human instincts” that we'll make progress in understanding. In the midst of this Victorian grandeur, Dutton occasionally cracks a few untasty jokes that are all the more surprising in a book so keen on the value of beauty (notice the the pages about Manzoni's cans).


Overall, in my view, Dutton's account of art leaves out too many aspects of art. For instance, like it or not, art has today a remarkable political function (among many others), one that is recognised as such in many contexts (incidentally, p. 232 appears to run together the political function of art with a politically based criticsm of the arts.) And an educational function as well. Many parents have remarked the intriguing preference children have for contemporary art over old master's museums, and exploited it to bring childrens in contact with the artworld. These functions – and the many others that art has, had, and will have – do not request any of the alleged titillations of ancient idyosyncratic preferences. I, for one, am quite happy with the idea of a mature, unconstrained art.


  • comment-avatar
    Oran Kelley 27 April 2009 (17:03)

    The thing about Dutton’s project is that the case he is really trying to make is the case for his own continuing relevancy as a scholar rather than as an internet commentator. Why does Gould use “may” and “might?” Because most of the science in this area is speculative and/or incomplete. Why does Dutton want cocksure expression in spite of this? Because that science, however uncertain, is the basis of his own “revolution” in literary and aesthetic studies. It is precisely *because* Dutton cannot make headway in showing us that Winterreise is a masterpiece that he has to revert to this awful concoction of half-understood science and burned-out art criticism. The reason why Gould did not write anything like this book, in spite of the fact that he could have, is that he understood the science far better than does Dutton. One thing that I am surprised Dutton does not understand is the dangers of trying to convert one’s own aesthetic sensibility into a theory of the development and function of art.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 28 April 2009 (11:57)

    The review of Dutton’s book by Roberto has dissuaded me from trying to read it. It seems to be the same old mixture of vague concepts tied up in one way or another to the evolutionary idea by the author’s own artistic tastes. As Kelley says, Gould knew better than Dutton what science was about. And I would add: Dutton doesn’t seem to be very fluent in cognitive studies either -as Casati makes clear a couple of times. To begin with, we would like to know what object, event, relationship or whatnot is pointed to by Dutton’s term “art”. Is this verbal pointer similar in any way to the pointer “beauty”, or are they pointing to different things? From what Roberto says, it seems that both concepts are scrambled together all along the book. The collection of characteristics that, according to the reviewer, are proposed by Dutton would perhaps be accurately treated at the implementational level of analysis, which as known, is the third of Marr’s levels of Analysis. That means that there should be two previous levels to clarify before tacking this one. My dumb question is why has this book stirred so much interest? Just because of its title?

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    Denis Dutton 28 April 2009 (15:06)

    Dear José-Luis — Don’t be too sure that you have an adequate picture of The Art Instinct on the basis of Roberto’s discussion. Check out some more reviews here: I will have more to say when time allows about Roberto’s interesting comments. Perhaps the best overall picture of the ambitions of the book could be gained from the Introduction. I see that Oxford University Press has posted that on the Web. It is here: If you read this Introduction and say to yourself, “This book has no attraction for me,” then fair enough. As I say, more, later. Thanks. Denis Dutton

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    joseph carroll 28 April 2009 (21:19)

    Quijarro poses an interesting question: “My dumb question is why has this book stirred so much interest? Just because of its title?” Here are some answers: (1) Casati’s review gives both positive and negative evidence for why Dutton’s book has been so widely and positively reviewed. The positive evidence is that Casati himself acknowledges, in a vague and inconsistent way, that an evolutionary perspective on matters of human interest, including the arts, is virtually inevitable. Humans evolved. Evolution shaped their anatomy, physiology, and behavioral dispositions–their bodies, senses, and brains. Evolution thus necessarily also shaped their powers of creating imaginative constructs and artifacts. All of this is a reality, scarcely disputable. It is also a rich, open, essentially unexplored territory, awaiting development, inviting research and reflection, beckoning with the certain prospect of discovery about things that matter to us most–our own experience and the products of our own minds. Casati pretty much concedes that “the proper explanation of art must use Darwininan resources.” All he can offer then in resistance is an appeal to “milder” and more “cautious” ways of approaching the subject. The positive evidence he offers then is that Dutton has a rich subject and the right angle of approach to that subject. The negative evidence Casati offers is the fragmentary, vague, scattered, merely reflexive and reactive form of his own critique. A first-class critique, whether negative or positive in tone, subsumes the subject within some distinct perspective articulated in a coherent, integrated set of propositions. Casati doesn’t come close, doesn’t even try. He is passive, lame, feeble, taking scattered, half-formulated pot shots that add up to pretty much nothing. Kelly kicks in with an Appeal to Authority. He actually says nothing himself–so little that it is impossible to tell whether he actually has read Dutton’s book. He merely stands up to testify that Gould would not have written this book, and that’s enough for him. “We don’t know enough.” That basic strategy can be designed the Appeal to Ignorance. Appeals to Authority and to Ignorance are not winning strategies in an open intellectual environment. Despite the efforts of ideologues like Gould, Lewontin, and Kamin, the humanities and the social sciences have now become part of an open intellectual environment. Ideological taboos on connecting biology, human behavior, and the arts, no longer have coercive, preemptive force. With their concerted effort to demonize Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The Ne Synthesis (1975), Gould and Lewontin tried to lead a counter-revolution that would forestall the development of the evolutionary human sciences. Thirty-four years later, we can look back and say decisively that they failed, utterly. See what Dutton himself has to say about Gould, or look at Carroll’s critique of Gould, summarizing expert opinion among evolutionary biologists, in Literary Darwinism. Do we know enough now already, just three decades into the sociobiological revolution, to make genuinely valuable, compelling arguments about the relations between the evolutionary human sciences and the subjects of the humaniites? Yes indeed we do. Read Dutton. Read Brian Boyd’s new book On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Read The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (ed. Gottschall and Wilson). Read Ellen Dissanayake’s Art and Intimacy, Harold Fromm’s The Nature of Being Human, Jon Gottschall’s The Rape of Troy, Gottshcall’s Literature, Science, and a New Humanities, Marcus Nordlund’s Shakespeare and the Nature of Love, Human Nature: Fact and Fiction (ed. Headlam Wells and McFadden), Headlam Wells’ Shakespeare’s Humanism, Joseph Carroll’s Literary Darwinism, Brett Cooke’s Human Nature in Utopia, David Bordwell’s Poetics of Cinema, Torben Grodal’s Embodied Visions, the soon forthcoming anthology that draws selections from these and other such works Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (ed. Boyd, Carroll, and Gottschall), or the soon forthcoming journal The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, culture (ed. Andrews and Carroll). A rich field of interdisciplinary research making rapid advances, full of promise and opportunity, committed to clear and straightforward thinking, lucid writing, intellectual honesty—and you have to ask why a book like Dutton’s is gaining attention? Two things here can be predicted with absolute certainty: (1) the field will continue to attract real talent like that Dutton displays, and will thus continue to develop in rich and interesting ways; and (2) feeble protests from the sidelines, like those registered by Casati and Kelly, will continue to be heard. They don’t matter. They are part of the noise that always attends the emergence of any genuinely important intellectual movement.

  • comment-avatar
    Olivier Morin 29 April 2009 (02:48)

    I am glad to see this post raise so much debate. However, the debate is becoming a little aggressive. Several ad hominem attacks have been made (Oran Kelley : “Dutton is really trying to make the case for his own continuing relevancy as a scholar” ; Joseph Carroll : “Casati is passive, lame, feeble”. I fail to see how these attacks add anything to the debate. From now on this thread will be moderated, and comments containing personal attacks will be deleted.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 29 April 2009 (19:59)

    I thank Dennis Dutton to have pointed to me the link where I could read the preface of his book. I have dutifully done so and have even commented every one of its paragraphs –which would make a too long answer for this occasion. I am prepared, however, if you are interested, to send them to you privately if you tell me what your personal e-mail address is. I had a similar, and very enriching interchange with another art researcher, Elen Dissanayake, a few years back, and although we were not totally in agreement we have remained good (and interested in one another’s work) friends). Let me start by saying that (1) I cannot agree more with you on the natural evolved condition of any human faculty, (2) I find it very urgent to attempt to clarify the cognitive import of the so-called spiritual achievements of humans ([i]ie.[/i], religion, humour, science and art, among others). (3) I think therefore, that your effort is very useful [i]per se[/i]. Having said that, and taking into account that I know your work only by Roberto’s review and your prologue, I think that, important as it is, your work might be not as accurate as it could have been, had you taken a strong view about the levels of adequacy a cognitive research is supposed to achieve. According to what I have been able to interpret about your book, you seem to have totally failed in fulfilling the OBSERVATIONAL level of adequacy ([i]ie,[/i] what are you pointing to when you talk about “art” and/or “beauty”). At least to me, it is not clear whether you are pointing to one concept with the two terms, or if you consider that there are really two concepts to analyse cognitively –which, BTW, is what I think (although what I do think is not at stake here, I know). This vagueness is, from my point of view, a serious matter that may obscure your (and your interlocutors’) debate in a very negative way. If we go on debating after this, I will try and explicitly tell you what I point to with both words, “beauty” and “art”. You have obviously named your book after the one written by Pinker on language. It may be that this title has stirred all that reported interest in your work, I don’t know. Unluckily, you have not taken into account a number of possibilities that this “linguistic” approximation might have made you consider. According to the train of thought that Pinker favours, language is both an instinct (i.e., a mandatory reaction, as you signal somewhere in your prologue) [b]and[/b] a formatting social process that has also been described cognitively. I think it is very hard to show that “art” may be an instinct in the way language is for Pinker (and for myself!). However, I would consider it acceptable if you had named your book, [i]The Beauty Instinct[/i], for I find it easier to compare that experience to a linguistic instinct able to be formatted by experience after a while. See what inconveniences your failing to fulfil the adequacy requisite brings about to a feverish mind such as mine? There is a story about somebody not liking Don Quichotte’s book and his interlocutor answering that this was not the fault of Cervantes. The fact that you leave me in doubt all the time is maybe not your fault either. I am just pointing to my difficulties in following your train of thought –nothing else. You may ignore them, or try to clarify simple ideas to a thick mind like the one I seem to have when reading you. The trouble is that you go on mixing levels of adequacy which finally turn your interesting attempt to clarify things along naturalistic frames into [i]the hermetic discourse that deadens so much of the humanities[/i] to put it in your own expression. In short, what I, as a cognitivist linguist of chomskyan persuasion, would like to read in a work with that title is what you think are the essential and sufficient conditions for ART to appear in the human World. That is, an ordered set of causes with a good casual account of why you think they should be presented in that way.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 30 April 2009 (11:43)

    [i]Two things here can be predicted with absolute certainty: (1) the field will continue to attract real talent like that Dutton displays, and will thus continue to develop in rich and interesting ways; and (2) feeble protests from the sidelines, like those registered by Casati and Kelly, will continue to be heard. They don’t matter. They are part of the noise that always attends the emergence of any genuinely important intellectual movement.[/i] I don’t know whether I am as certain as you seem to be about your predictions. In any case, I would like that point number 1 be fulfilled in the future. I have always been interested in these matters and your prediction makes me feel happy in expectations. However, I am sorry to say that I disagree almost totally with you on the 2nd point, for various reasons –of which I am only going to comment two: (1) Why do you get the feeling that Casati’s review is [i]feeble[/i]? Is it because it contradicts your obvious liking of the book? Hardly a sound argument to allow you to indulge in negative qualifications of a person’s work. If I were the one reviewed, I assure you that Roberto’s text would have been highly welcomed. I think his review is a model for future reviewers –not something dismissable in such a cavalier manner. I wish any of my papers on that same topic would have had a review like this! I don’t know what your experience is, but for me, negative reviews have always helped me to grow substantially. Positive ones, in my case, are naturally nice to hear, but they are useless in the intellectual sense. 2) Therefore, I think that what you call “noise” (implying that it is an unnecessary side-effect) is a very strong component in the mental mechanism that allows science to advance. I would not want the World to think that what is contrary to my taste should be also considered bad by others; I would prefer to be able to express my own tastes with a lot of rational arguments that could be discussed rationally by intelligent minds. Which is exactly what Casati has so well achieved in his, for me, modelic review.

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    Oran Kelley 30 April 2009 (16:29)

    Sorry about the swipe. [i] Carroll: Casati’s review gives both positive and negative evidence for why Dutton’s book has been so widely and positively reviewed. The positive evidence is that Casati himself acknowledges, in a vague and inconsistent way, that an evolutionary perspective on matters of human interest, including the arts, is virtually inevitable. Humans evolved. Evolution shaped their anatomy, physiology, and behavioral dispositions–their bodies, senses, and brains. Evolution thus necessarily also shaped their powers of creating imaginative constructs and artifacts.[/i] Who disputes this? Did Gould? No. The issue is not whether an evolutionary explanation of art is “inevitable.” That’s like saying the telephone was “inevitable” in 1830, the proper response to which is “so what.” Yes, art arose out of our biological beings and our biological beings arose out of the laws of chemistry and physics. So what? The question is how much do we really [i]know[/i] about the evolution of higher level capacities like the aesthetic? I’ll read Dutton’s book as I’ve read some of Carroll’s work, but in the past what I’ve seen hasn’t been particularly impressive. In a lot of cases, the research is merely suggestive or unrigorous or unspecific, but I’ll keep reading. And, if the form holds true, I’ll probably find in Dutton’s book what I’ve found in other books of this type: uninspired and uninspiring readings of the art objects that come under the evolutionary lens; readings that either belabor the obvious (agon in Iliad) or impoverish the meaning of art in the way that cliche Marxist readings were said to. (Remembrance of Things Past?: Proust had rent to pay) Almost ten years ago the Panksepps more or less savaged the entire field of evolutionary psychology (the inheritor of the “Sociological Revolution”). In his view, which I’ve never seen properly disputed, the field had a fundamental problem with lack of rigor and ignorance of essential applicable knowledge from other fields. And, the fact is that 30 years into the sociobiological revolution, we don’t know very much that revolutionizes or even adds much to our view of Catch-22. We don’t know when a lot of our capacities may have developed. We don’t know why. And we don’t know how the sociocultural subsystems we live in today work and how they may transform the phenomena for which biology, chemistry and physics no doubt serve as the basis. I don’t think there is any urgency to provide bad explanations for art or literature on the basis of highly incomplete science. Gould is disliked by some in the field of evolutionary biology because he was skeptical of its powers to explain other fields. He thought the tools of evolutionary biology were not nearly as powerful as others in his field thought–that the picture was far more complicated and layered and that building some ambitious new totalizing understanding of culture on a highly imperfect and developing understanding of human evolution was stupid. Not surprisingly, this assessment was not popular among those who wanted to champion their field in the public sphere. Just because culture has a biological basis does not mean a) that we have obvious good ways to apply the current state of biological knowledge to art; or b) that any attempt in that direction deserves our praise; or, further, c) that any attempt in that direction has much potential usefulness given the current state of knowledge of our biological evolution and the interaction of our biological selves with socio-cultural subsystems.

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    joseph carroll 30 April 2009 (19:08)

    Kelly: “we don’t know very much that revolutionizes or even adds much to our view of Catch-22. We don’t know when a lot of our capacities may have developed. We don’t know why. And we don’t know how the sociocultural subsystems we live in today work and how they may transform the phenomena for which biology, chemistry and physics no doubt serve as the basis.” “We don’t know; we can’t know; stop looking; all this is too difficult; it either isn’t interesting (“so what?”) or exceeds the scope of human intelligence for the foreseeable future.” People who adopt this head-in-the-sand, obstructionist approach to the advancement of knowledge might be animated by sheer lack of imagination, or they might want to cordon off certain areas for ideological reasons. Gould clearly fell into the latter category. As to what we actually do know now about evolved human dispositions, the shape of human evolutionary history, and the relations of evolved dispositions to cultural formations, I would not recommend Kelly as a reliable guide. Instead, I would recommend a number of good recent books, including Dutton’s and the several I mentioned in a previous post: Nicholas Wade, [i]Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors[/i]; John T. Cacioppo, Loneliness (on evolved human social dispositions; Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, and Goleman, Social Intelligence (on the evolved structure of our emotional systems); Steven Gangestad and Jeffrey Simpson (eds.), The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies; David Sloan Wilson, Evolution for Everyone; Michael Gazzaniga, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique; Roy Baumeister, The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life; Mellars, Boyle, Bar-Yosef, and Stringer (eds.), Rethinking the Human Revolution David and Ann Premack, Original Intelligence: Unlocking the Mystery of Who We Are Daniel Lord Smail, On Deep History and the Brain Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires Robin Dunbar and Louise Barrett (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology One has a couple of options here: (1)stand back shouting “I don’t know nothin’, don’t want to know nothin’, and nothin’ can’t be known”; or (2) go read these books and find out just how much actually is known, and how many areas that just a few years ago seemed beyond the reach of empirical knowledge are opening up to virtually certain new exploration and discovery. The first option saves time, but is intellectually uninteresting. It is, to coin a phrase, “noise.”

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    José-Luis Guijarro 30 April 2009 (20:25)

    The real interest of this thread is not whether we know an awful lot, know very little, or whatever. The issue is whether Dutton’s work has been successful or not. From what I have read so far, Dutton’s effort has unluckily missed the point. He did not even try to reach [i]the first[/i] level of observational adequacy: he mixes ART and BEAUTY from the very start. Not a very promising fact to characterize a sound and clarifying analysis. Therefore, I have no intention to read the book –which is sad for two main reasons: (1) he put a lot of effort and hope in his theory, and (2) I have always jumped at the occasion to read books and papers on that topic which interests me a lot. Now, I think it is Dutton’s (and his supporters’) privilege to make an effort in order to make readers like me change my mind, by destroying all the misunderstandings reviewers and other people may have indulged in. In short: I wish to be convinced I must read the book. This is the gist of the debate. Is Dutton’s theory a good start in these matters or is it? So far, I have only negative evidence (from Roberto’s review and from what I have understood in his prologue). Instead of giving us a massive bibliography on related topics, why don’t we concentrate in destroying the negative arguments that some people like me have been exposed to? Personally, I am interested in these aspects: (1) What is Dutton pointing to when he talks about ART (and/or BEAUTY): is it a (special sort of) [b]object[/b]? Is it a (creative) [b]power[/b]? Is it a (given type) of [b]reception[/b]? What? (2) How does Dutton propose to characterize those [i]special, creative, given type[/i] qualifications employed above, if indeed he is pointing to any of those things mentioned in 1? Particularly: (a) What sort of computations are achieved to arrive at those qualifying expressions; (b) how are they represented in our,and perhaps, other cultures? (d) How are they implemented in each community? (3) Has Dutton a sound evolutionary explanation of these [i][b]clearly[/b] pointed to[/i] and [i][b]explicitly[/b] described[/i] concepts? Or are some of these goals not yet attainable according to him? THAT would be a positive and interesting debate –at least from my point of view!

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    Bill Benzon 30 April 2009 (20:48)

    Note that “evolutionary psychology” is not the only kid on the block. When the Panksepps criticized evolutionary psychology, they weren’t doing so out of ignorance about biobehavioral matters. Rather, they were advocating a different understanding of them. One can be familiar with the biological substrates of human behavior (through primate ethology, comparative psychology, neurobiology and neuroscience) without being somehow forced to think about the arts in the way that Carroll or Dutton do. The evidence does not interpret itself in that or any other way. Thus, while I have been sharpely critical of literary Darwinism [URL=](in my review of [i]The Literary Animal[/i])[/URL] I have also called on the cognitive and neurosciences in accounts of poems by Coleridge ([URL=]”Kubla Khan,”[/URL] [URL=]”This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”[/URL]) and have outlined [URL=]a naturalist program in literature that is grounded in the newer psychologies[/URL], but not cut to the evpsych pattern. Would it be too much to also mention that I’ve also published a book on music the calls on the neurosciences, a large cross-cultural survey of song styles that was conducted in the ancient days of the 1960s, and various more conventional sources: [i]Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture.[/i] Joseph Carroll is correct, ignorance of this literature has little intellectual value. It is there, it is fascinting, and it is relevant to the study of the arts. But there is no reason to interpret it in the way he does, or Dutton does, or I do. Each of us is surely wrong in matters both small and large.

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    joseph carroll 30 April 2009 (21:04)

    Guijarro: “The real interest of this thread is not whether we know an awful lot, know very little, or whatever. The issue is whether Dutton’s work has been successful or not…. Instead of giving us a massive bibliography on related topics, why don’t we concentrate in destroying the negative arguments that some people like me have been exposed to?” Actually, if the real interest of the thread is Dutton’s work, the only sensible place to start is to read his book. True, that would take time–time that could otherwise be enjoyably spent discussing the book, engaging in debates about the book, declaring what contexts are relevant to the book, assessing other people’s responses to the book, and–above all–making one’s self heard in public, blogging away. So, there is a cost to be paid in taking the time to read the book. But then, in compensation, if one wished to discuss the book in public, one’s opinion might conceivably have more weight and value, a higher proportion of informed observation and reflection, as opposed to noise.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 30 April 2009 (22:55)

    You are probably right. But you see, life is short, there are too many interesting things to read which don’t come marked by negative hints, and I am far from perfect, laziness overcomes me. I promise to read the book if you, the author or whoever wants to, convinces me it is worth reading. So far I have not found this sting in my dull mind, I am sorry. The ball, as I said before, lies in your vicinity. Do you think playing with me can be interesting? Go ahead and throw it to me. I will respond, for sure…

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    Colin Holbrook 1 May 2009 (04:41)

    “Humans are animals and the mind evolved; therefore, all curious people must support the quest for evolutionary psychology.” – Stephen Jay Gould, 2000 Too bad this book review discussion grew so needlessly acrimonious. Too bad for Dutton, too bad for Gould, too bad for people who care about evolutionary approaches to human nature. Names like “Gould” are thrown around as coalitional red flags, more or less decoupled from the people they reference. Since Dutton is thankfully still here to speak for himself, I would like to speak up for Mr. Gould for just a moment. Gould did not oppose the development of evolutionary psychology any more than Fodor opposed modularity. Gould’s main concern was about the undue emphasis placed on natural selection, (which he conceded as obviously the primary evolutionary process), in producing the various facets of human behavior. His objection was that other important processes were being overlooked, when they might often provide more plausible explanations. These concerns were largely anticipated by Williams decades earlier, and should be taken seriously. Much like the case with Dutton’s book, too few people read the text before shouting arguments to the heavens.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 1 May 2009 (12:38)

    I don’t know about other posters’ acrimony! In my case, I am really keen on reading and understanding ideas along the lines Dutton claims to be holding in his Prologue (which I have read). But, such is life, books get reviewed and these reviews may be deep and serious enough to make you refrain from looking for the book, buying it, reading it … and (as things seem to stand) … finally deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort. [b] I AM VERY MUCH INTERESTED [/b]in this approach to ART (and/or BEAUTY), and therefore, I am asking Dutton or his supporters to convince us that all this previous effort will be relevant. Maybe Dutton does not appreciate that somebody like Casati writes such a review. I really don’t understand this. It has been a pleasure for me in all my professional life to have intelligent critics pointing to the many flaws and inconsistencies they think they had found in my work. It has given me the chance to clarify some of my ideas and even change them. To have Casati as a reviewer, no matter how he disagreed with my ideas would have been a real honour for me. What I would not do is to keep silent after such a review. I would have immediately jumped at the occasion and would have tried to show that my reviewer did not interpret my ideas in the right way. or, ta least, in the way I would have done myself. Acrimony is not an accurate qualifier for my intentions in joining this debate. I would rather call it REAL INTEREST in the topic and an [b]urgent need[/b] for someone to convince me that I MUST read the book (with something that contradicts and destroys Roberto’s interpretations which, for the time being, are the ONLY ones I have -reinforced by what I have indeed read in the prologue Dutton submitted).

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    joseph carroll 1 May 2009 (16:47)

    Holbrook: “Gould did not oppose the development of evolutionary psychology any more than Fodor opposed modularity. Gould’s main concern was about the undue emphasis placed on natural selection, (which he conceded as obviously the primary evolutionary process), in producing the various facets of human behavior. His objection was that other important processes were being overlooked, when they might often provide more plausible explanations.” Actually, Gould was a master of double-talk–giving lip service to the general idea of evolutionary psychology and ridiculing all actual efforts; giving lip service to adaptation while consistently seeking to undermine it. Anyone who reads a coherent theoretial program into Gould’s virtuoso equivocations is playing a sucker’s game (Carroll, [i]Literary Darwinism[/i], pp. 227-45.) Many qualified commentators–Richard Dawkins, David Hull, Conway Morris, John Alcock, Daniel Dennett, E. O. Wilson–have been alert to Gould’s theoretical charlatanism. The most widely cited assessment is that of the distinguished theoretical biologist John Maynard Smith, writing in The [i]New York Review of Books[/i]: “Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on this side of the Atlantic [England]. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory.” (1995)

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    Oran Kelley 1 May 2009 (18:25)

    Anyone who reads a coherent theoretial program into Gould’s virtuoso equivocations is playing a sucker’s game (Carroll, Literary Darwinism, pp. 227-45.) Many qualified commentators–Richard Dawkins, David Hull, Conway Morris, John Alcock, Daniel Dennett, E. O. Wilson–have been alert to Gould’s theoretical charlatanism. The most widely cited assessment is that of the distinguished theoretical biologist John Maynard Smith, writing in The New York Review of Books: This, quite frankly, is oft-repeated bs. Most of these “qualified commentators” were in fact targets of Gould’s criticisms–they aren’t neutral commentators at all. Gould was involved in pretty intense conflicts with these folks. And before you start throwing around terms like charlantanism, you really ought to let us know precisely what you are talking about. You sound like a hot-head. What Gould objected to was conjecture masquerading as real science. The Panksepp’s later analysis is out there: [i]Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are such attractive scientific views (e.g., FREEDMAN 1979; SCOTT 1989; SEGAL et al. 1997) that they need to be carefully cultivated and constructed as accurately as possible, continually constrained by genetic and cross-species brain evidence from our fellow animals rather than by the sea-swell of imaginary neuropsy- chological possibilities in humans. If we continue to proceed without considering all the available evi- dence, we will only produce more of the polarized views that have been endemic to this troubled cor- ner of evolutionary thought. Now that we have a real chance of bringing serious evolutionary views to the study human mind and behavior, we should proceed in as disciplined a manner as possible. If we do not pursue such reasonable courses of action, we may become mired in myth making rather than remaining on the shores of sound scientific inquiry.[/i] In other words, Gould wasn’t alone in his objections to actually existing EP: because, generally, it was being done badly. And calling Gould a heretic doesn’t change anything.

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    joseph carroll 1 May 2009 (19:09)

    Warning, long posting: Kelly: “This, quite frankly, is oft-repeated bs. . . . You sound like a hot-head.” Hmm, let’s see, theorists like Maynard Smith, E.O. Wilson, Conway Morris, and David Hull are won’t to sling “bullshit.” And critics who cite their opinion of Gould are likely to be “hotheads.” My irony bone tingles. Panksepp and Panksepp are good and serious critics of orthodox or “narrow-school” evolutionary psychology. Other critics who fall into that category would include Kim Sterelny, Richerson and Boyd, David Sloan Wilson, Steven Mithen, Paul Griffiths, and Nicholas Wade. All of these commentators, like the critics of Gould previously mentioned, are different from Gould in that they are not intellectual charlatans. They are honest, straightforward thinkers. They aim to make sense, not to create confusion. Kelly: “And before you start throwing around terms like charlantanism, you really ought to let us know precisely what you are talking about.” Fair enough. I cited the chapter in [i]Literary Darwinism [/i]in which I make this case. Here below, I’ll excerpt some of the main contentions in that chapter (warning, about 2,000 words): Gould’s chief claim to scientific eminence is to have proposed putative corrections and alternatives to mainstream Darwinism, especially to the idea that adaptation through natural selection is the main engine of evolutionary change. In reality, Gould has offered no truly original and genuinely significant contributions to evolutionary theory. Instead, he has created a vast rhetorical tissue of sophistical equivocations. . . . As an evolutionary theorist, Gould provides an illuminating contrast with Darwin in two ways. The sophistical procedures through which he constructs his critique of Darwinism contrast sharply with the integrity of argument that is so signal a feature of Darwin’s own work, and the pseudo-revolutions generated by these sophistical procedures contrast sharply with the real revolution in thought and knowledge that was produced by Darwin. . . . Gould’s claims for revolutionary revision depend on combining a few basic techniques of sophistical argument. In its simplest version, Gould’s technique involves two steps. The first is to create a straw man by giving a falsely simplified description of the received view. The second is to propose what is actually the received view and to present this standard view as if it were a revolutionary correction. In his falsely simplified representation, the Modern Synthesis and its current acolytes consist of “ultra-Darwinians” and “panadaptationists” who are oblivious to all adaptively neutral phenomena and who fervently believe that all of evolution consists in the production of maximally efficient adaptations unconstrained by inheritance or contingent historical circumstance. In order to rescue evolutionary theory from these strangely narrow and obsessive “Darwinian fundamentalists,” Gould propounds an array of concepts to which, he intimates, they are strangers. These broader concepts include the observations that adaptations are not ideally perfect but only relatively, competitively perfect, that inherited structures constrain adaptive change, that previously existing structures can be modified for some new adaptive purpose, that some structures are not themselves adaptive but are nonetheless sustained by natural selection because they happen to be connected, in inheritance, with structures that are adaptive, and that evolutionary change proceeds at a varying pace, depending both on the appearance of favorable variations and on alterations in the total set of ecological conditions. In reality, all of these concepts are standard features in the complex of ideas that constitutes the Modern Synthesis. . . . The term that Gould uses to link himself with Darwin and set himself and Darwin together in ostensible opposition to the Modern Synthesis is “pluralism.” By this word, Gould means a view of evolution that takes account of an array of causal mechanisms different from natural selection. Darwin himself consistently declared that adaptation through natural selection is the main but not the only mechanism of evolutionary change.. . . . There are three sophistical twists in Gould’s appeal to Darwin’s “pluralism.” (a) He takes Darwin’s pluralism as a precedent for his own, blurring over the fact that the supplementary mechanisms Darwin acknowledged have been scientifically disconfirmed and were never, in any case, central to Darwin’s argument. (b) He identifies as the constituents of his own “pluralism” ideas that are already part of the Modern Synthesis and that are either compatible with adaptation through natural selection or actually integral with it. And (c) he poses this putative “pluralism” as if it is an alternative to the “adaptationism” of the Modern Synthesis. The ideas that are already part of the Modern Synthesis and that are compatible with natural selection include correlated growth, adaptively neutral changes, and variable pace in evolutionary change. . . . In modern genetics, correlated growth is associated with the term “pleiotropy,” meaning genes that have multiple, diverse effects.) The chief idea that is actually integral with natural selection is that of inherited constraints on adaptive structure. . . . Darwin’s supposed “pluralism” consists of one major and two minor mechanisms for the creation of adaptive structure. In addition to these mechanisms, Darwin acknowledges the whole array of phenomena that Gould identifies as the key components of his own pluralism, and these components are also standard parts of modern evolutionary theory as it was constituted by the Modern Synthesis. . . . The two ideas for which Gould has generated the most publicity are “punctuated equilibrium” and “spandrels.” The elements in these two ideas that are substantive and valid were integral parts of Darwinism before Gould formulated them, associated them spuriously with anti-adaptationist intimations, and popularized them with catchy phrases. Gould’s own distinctive contribution to these two concepts, insofar as they have consisted of ideas that were substantive and that were not already part of the Darwinian synthesis, have proven to be either compatible with mainstream adaptationist thinking, relatively unimportant, or simply wrong. . . . Gould’s one other big idea is that of “spandrels” or non-adaptive structures. “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme” is probably Gould’s best-known essay. . . . In making spandrels into a biological metaphor, Gould blends two legitimate Darwinian concepts, but he spuriously represents this blended concept as an alternative or supplement to the idea of adaptation through natural selection. One of these legitimate Darwinian concepts is pleiotropy or multiple genic effects: what Darwin calls correlated growth. The other legitimate Darwinian concept is the idea that previously existing structures can be altered through natural selection to fulfill adaptive functions. Darwin offers as an example the swim bladder that in the course of evolution is transformed into a lung (2003, chap. 6, p. 214). The tetrapod body plan also caught Darwin’s attention (pp. 219-220) and has remained a favorite example among evolutionists. The forelimbs evolve from fins to legs, and from legs sometimes to wings and sometimes to flippers. Another favorite example, discovered after Darwin’s time, is that of the reptilian jaw bones that have been transformed into the mammalian ossicles–the bones of the inner ear. (See Young, 1992, pp. 185-186; Moore, 1993, pp. 176-177, 412-414.) For adaptations that use either previous adaptive structures or previous structures of no adaptive value, Gould and Vrba (1982) have invented the term “exaptation.” This term is a variant of a term that was previously current—“preadaptation”–and the concept is itself a commonplace in standard Darwinian theory. . . . Despite the confusions and ambiguities introduced through the architectural metaphor, none of the implications in the idea of spandrels is in any way contrary to standard adaptationist thinking. What Gould and Lewontin have attempted to do, though, is to use the metaphor to suggest, without quite saying it, that major features of complex functional structures have been produced independently of adaptive processes. Put this baldly, the claim is simply and obviously false, but unless it is put this way, the claim has no actual content that is not already part and parcel of standard Darwinian thinking. Since the time of his youthful foray into saltation, Gould himself has usually been careful, whenever he implies or suggests this false idea, also to say that he recognizes that complex functional designs result from adaptation, or that adaptation through natural selection is an “important” feature of the evolutionary process. The false and obfuscatory implications in the more radical understanding of “spandrels” are nonetheless its raison d’être, its chief purpose and function. It subserves the larger Gouldian program of minimizing in whatever way he can the general significance of adaptation through natural selection. In order to achieve their aim of minimizing the significance of adaptation through natural selection without clearly and decisively cutting themselves off from mainstream Darwinism, Gould and Lewontin are driven to the necessity of perpetual equivocation, and the equivocation is rendered all the more impenetrable by being commingled with a pseudo-concept produced by breaking a single, valid concept into two parts and representing these parts as antithetical. The single, valid concept is that of “selection,” and the two parts are “selective force” and “constraints.” We shall begin with the equivocation and then consider the pseudo-concept. Once again spuriously invoking Darwin as an antecedent for their own anti-adaptationism, Gould and Lewontin repudiate the idea that Darwin was himself “a radical selectionist at heart who invoked other mechanisms only in retreat, and only as a result of his age’s own lamented ignorance about the mechanisms of heredity” (1979, p. 589). “This view,” they declare, “is false.” But then they also declare, in the very next sentence, that “Darwin regarded selection as the most important of evolutionary mechanisms. As do we.” As do we. Strange, then, that the whole thrust of their essay should be toward the conclusion that “constraints restrict possible paths and modes of change so strongly that the constraints themselves become much the most interesting aspect of evolution” (p. 594). Or as they explain in the head note to the essay, “the constraints themselves become more interesting in delimiting pathways of change than the selective force that may mediate change when it occurs” (p. 581). Selection is the most important mechanism, but despite its importance, it is still not very interesting, somehow, not nearly so interesting as other things that are not so important. The idea of a selective force operating independently of constraints–the idea of selection operating in a vacuum, independently of all actually existing conditions–is something like the idea of one hand clapping. When the idea of selection is placed in antithesis to the idea of constraints, it ceases altogether to be an intelligible idea. It becomes a pseudo-concept, a rhetorical term that is devoid of any conceptual content other than the confusion caused by the faulty way in which it is formulated. One might suppose that this feature of the concept–its lack of any content other than the confusion generated by the way it is formulated–would help to explain why it is so uninteresting, but it could hardly also explain why it is still “important.” Gould and Lewontin have here drifted into a very strange region of “thought,” a region much more familiar within the confines of postmodern literary theory than within those of evolutionary biology. Like Derrida or Foucault, Gould and Lewontin bring to bear sophisticated analytic and rhetorical skills, but these skills are oriented not to the production of clear and distinct ideas but to exactly the opposite, to the construction of pseudo-concepts that obstruct clear thinking.. . . . In his eagerness to minimize the significance of adaptation through natural selection, Gould is, in wish and emphasis, anti-Darwinian. But since, within the range of scientifically reputable evolutionary theory, there is no actual alternative to Darwinism–no alternative, that is, to adaptation through natural selection as an explanation for complex functional structure–Gould can never say fully what he wants to say. His plight recalls that of “Atticus” in Alexander Pope’s “An Epistle from Mr. Pope to Dr. Arbuthnot.” In Pope’s depiction, Atticus (Addison) wished to satisfy envy and spite without making himself vulnerable through open attack. He thus developed a proto-Gouldian rhetorical technique that enabled him to “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, / And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer; / Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike, / Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike” (1969, ll. 201-204). . . . Among Darwin’s contemporaries, the one figure who most resembles Gould in his use of sophistical equivocation is the paleontologist Richard Owen (1804-92), who wished, on the one hand, to affirm that animal forms are determined by “archetypes” that are not related to one another by lineage and, on the other, to represent himself as having originated proto-Darwinian evolutionary ideas. Darwin responds to Owen’s equivocations in the historical sketch appended to the third edition of the Origin, and he there comes closer there to a snort of satirical contempt than he ever comes in responding to any other writer, even to Lamarck. “It is consolatory to me that others find Professor Owen’s controversial writings as difficult to understand and to reconcile with each other, as I do” (2003, p. 84). Darwin himself operates in good faith, and his overriding assumption is that others do also, even when he fundamentally disagrees with them. In his Autobiography, he remarks, AI have almost always been treated honestly by my reviewers, passing over those without scientific knowledge as not worthy of notice” (1958, p. 125). Coming from a man who had received so many violently hostile reviews, this remark reflects a presumption of good faith so ingenuous in its benignity as to fall little short of the sublime. But Owen is so flagrantly and unmistakably not operating in good faith that even Darwin’s simplicity of good will is finally roused to an awareness of Owen’s deviousness and duplicity. One can only speculate how Darwin would have responded to Gould. He might well have wondered whether Gould is, as Maynard Smith characterizes him, merely confused, or, as Dawkins characterizes him, downright dishonest. To my own eye, it seems evident that Gould is not himself confused, though it is his purpose that his readers should be.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 1 May 2009 (19:27)

    It’s probably the fault of my special brand of Broken English, but, be it what it may, I am unable understand all this fuss about Gould, an off topic theme, as far as I am concerned. However, the last part of the above gouldian quote, namely, [i]Now that we have a real chance of bringing serious evolutionary views to the study human mind and behavior, we should proceed in as disciplined a manner as possible. If we do not pursue such reasonable courses of action, we may become mired in myth making rather than remaining on the shores of sound scientific inquiry[/i], is something that, I take it, everybody would subscribe to. The “disciplined manner” I would have used was sketched above in one of my former postings. My foremost interest is -as yet- to point to something clear with the words “art” (and/or “beauty” –I repeat as if it were [i][b]gazpacho[/b][/i] ([i]i.e.[/i], a cold Andalusian soup with lots of garlic that keeps [i]repeating[/i] itself all day in your throat, once you’ve eaten it) BTW, something similar, as you all know, has been done to clarify the word “language”. Traditionally it has been pointing to a collection of structured spoken sounds that are indulged in while communicating ([i]i.e.[/i], the [b]external[/b] language idea). The mentalists (chomskyan or otherwise), however, proposed pointing to a mental structure of representations ([i]i.e.[/i], the [b]internal[/b] language idea) Language at this point is not yet described, let alone, explained. We may agree with the externalists or with the internalists, though, without being committed to a given description and/or explanation. But already at this level you may be able to have a clearer view of, say, the fact that in every known society today, even the most remote and, with the permission of politically correct anthropologists, “primitive” community has a FULL language (and not a primitive pidgin of one sort or another). So, as you see, there are different levels of discussion that may clarify certain facts, which is the least we may expect from a disciplined manner. Is anyone in this thread prepared to point clearly to a given object, event, relation or whatever when using the word “art” (and/or “beauty”)? This would centre the debate again without getting lost in discussing how good or how bad X or Y were, which, frankly, is of absolutely no interest to the topic of this thread!

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    José-Luis Guijarro 1 May 2009 (19:52)

    A question keeps buggering me up. Suppose that you see a broom standing on the corner of a Modern Art Museum. You may probably think that the cleaning staff of the Museum has forgotten it there. Take the very same broom, and hang it on one of the walls of the museum, and give it a title … there may be people who will still think someone is trying to pull their leg, but don’t you think it may be indeed possible that other people may consider it as … A R T !! I am interested in that changing consideration. If we were able to determine what has happened, then we might find a likely conceptual place to be pointed to with the word “art” (but, fancy that, hardly with the term “beauty”). Now, do you think this an interesting problem to be solved as [b]a first step[/b] in an [i]ordered manner[/i] type of research, or do you?

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    Bill Benzon 1 May 2009 (23:43)

    José-Luis, I think your question about the broom would fall under the institutional theory of art, which Casati has discussed in his review and on which, presumbably, Dutton is prepared to talk at length. * * * * * * In any event, I’d like to try to push this conversation forward in a way more useful that batting SJGould around. That’s a bit difficult for me because, while I’ve read a fair raft of evolutionarily tinged psychology (including having read Bowlby’s seminal work on Attachment in typescript), some Darwinian literary criticism, and various essays and reviews by Dutton, I’ve not read his book (though I’ve seen his delightful conversation with John Horgan). So I went over to [URL=]the NYTimes site[/URL] and read the opening of his first chapter, which starts out by discussing a high-class joke the Komar and Melamid sprung on the art world (and, I suspect, on themselves as well). What our jokesters discovered is that people all over the world seem to prefer a certain kind of painting, which Dutton has characterizes as a “blue, watery landscape” with a certain amount of open space, along with clumps of trees here and there, and some low hills. Dutton observes that, apparently unknown to our jocular duo, there is a tradition of psychological research on the matter that even predates evolutionary psychology: [quote] It is a wide-ranging literature, some of it statistical (not unlike Komar and Melamid’s poll) and also theoretical, offering hypotheses to explain pervasive tastes for natural habitats. Though the ideas behind it are old, it was initiated in its contemporary incarnation in the 1970s by Jay Appleton, particularly in his book The Experience of Landscape. Appleton’s ideas were deepened and extended by Roger S. Ulrich, connected to larger issues of cognition and perception by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, and validated and given a summary expression by Gordon H. Orians and Judith H. Heerwagen. Orians put forward a general account of the kind of ideal landscape that human beings would find intrinsically pleasurable. In his formulation, this landscape has much in common with the savannas and woodlands of East Africa where hominids split off from chimpanzee lineages and much of early human evolution occurred; hence it is called “the Savanna Hypothesis.” [/quote] The chapter exerpt ends shortly after that, so I don’t know what Dutton goes on to say. However, I did skim though Gordon H. Orians and Judith H. Heerwagen, “Evolved Responses to Landscapes,” a 1992 review of that literature. I’m not inclined to dismiss this work. (FWIW, I’ve also read, but cannot cite, an article from [i]Science[/i] reporting a study showng that hospital patients who looked out a window onto greenery recovered more quickly that those who saw only other buildings.) So there it is, one ungainly chunk of evidence about a non-trivial cross-cultural aesthetic preference. So what? One reviewer [URL=,25197,25035538-16947,00.html](Miriam Cosic in [i]The Australian[/i])[/URL] quotes Dutton as asserting of Rothko’s abstractions: “There’s something of the sublime, there’s something of the sense of a horizon, there’s something about the mysterious margins of the rectangles that they almost look like mountains in the distance.” Cosic thinks that’s a bit of a stretch, yet something like that seems implied by the cross-cultural evidence. Whatever it is that the genes are up to, it’s got to be fairly abstract, so abstract that it could be evoked by (very) abstract art if only one can learn how to set aside the fact that it doesn’t look like anything other than forms and colors.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 2 May 2009 (12:25)

    Whenever we find two theoretical hypotheses to deal with a certain problem, the only way to decide which is best is to find out which one predicts more things. If both hypotheses predict the same amount of things, they can be further valued by the economy of their postulates. Bill tells me that my question about the broom falls under the institutional theory of art –fair enough. My next question would then be: is this “institutional theory of art” an altogether different hypothesis from a possible “general theory of art”? Or is it the same theory considered from a different level of adequacy? I would prefer the second answer, since I believe it is possible to abstract necessary conditions for art to exist, which would also explain the cases that fall under the institutional hypothesis, instead of presenting two altogether different theories. In short, if we decide to follow Gould sound advice, to work in an orderly manner, we may not need to have two theories, but two descriptions, each in the same general frame. Be it as it may, let me tell you another personal story that I also would want a theory of art to be able to answer. Long time ago, my car broke down in London, on my way home to Spain. As I had nothing better to do, and I enjoy modern art, I went to the Tate Gallery to have a look at its collections. I was admiring some paintings, feeling elated, etc., … until all of a sudden I came to a big hall where enormous canvasses hung on its walls. They were all representing black rectangles inside red environments or vice-versa in different sizes. I threw a quick look at the canvasses and felt so insulted that I began to call the culprit painter all the worst names I could imagine (and in Spanish you may find really tough appellatives, I can assure you). I went away in a real rage. I went on looking at the other marvels in the museum until, eventually, I found myself in the very same hall again. It was like an illumination. I stayed in that hall for a whole hour incapable of doing anything else. Since then, Mark Rothko has been my favourite modern painter, although I am sad to say, I have never ever had the same incredible experience with his works. A theory of art, at least for me, should be able to explain that sort of experience as well –in its proper level. I wish Dutton’s theory could do so!

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    Oran Kelley 2 May 2009 (19:10)

    The Gould discussion does seem to have gotten somewhat out of hand for this context, so I’ll take up my Gould-related issues with Carroll in my own sandbox: [url=]Adverse City[/url]. However, these general issues–how seriously to take evolutionary psychology and how it is to be applied to art–pervade Dutton’s book. Now, I am not saying that the fact that then human minds seem to have innate limits as to, say, what sort of musical intervals it can really appreciate is unimportant. What I’m saying is that these sorts of limits do not play the sort of strong role in defining art and beauty that Dutton would have. So, for instance, we are told that language is filled with excess: 1000 words or so will serve most functions of language; 4000 about covers all the words that get used very often. So why have a vocabulary with, on average, 60,000+ words? How would this be useful in the Pleistocene? (The very question, btw, the Panksepps urge us not to ask immediately in this context. And throughout Dutton bases his work on research written (and speculates himself) in the very manner the Panksepps complain about.) Because of sexual selection. What’s sexual selection–the locus classicus of sexual selection is the male peacock tail display, which has no use vis-a-vis survival in the outside-the-species environment, but which serves as a sign of fitness for potential mates. Typically traits are assumed to be adaptive–that is, the biologically minded assume that if a trait is common, it must be selected for. And typically the assumption is that a trait has some sort of function in helping an individual survive and eventually reproduce in its particluar environment–fur keeps it warm, teeth may serves as weapons, claws help it dig and create shelter. Sexual selection gives us one way of explaining how “runaway” traits can occur. The tails of peacocks are so large not to make the peacock more fit vis-a-vis the environment, but to serve as a sign of such fitness to peahens. So, until the tails lead to males to, say, commonly get eaten by predators before mating–a more impressive tail leads to greater reproductive success, a more impressive tails get selected for in spite of their lack of utility. BUT there are other ways of explaining this kind of excess from a biological point of view. Such traits can be side effects of other, functional traits, for instance. Or, in the case of language, the trait in question may create or be part of a subsystem with a logic of its own–governed ultimately by biology, but with dynamics that emerge only at a level higher than biology proper. Much like biology, while governed by the rules of chemistry and physics, has a dynamic [natural selection] that only emerges with life and then take on a life of its own, so to speak. With the emergence of the social–and I’d take the social as beginning in its simplest forms with sexual reproduction–I think we have a new set of dynamics on our hands, of which sexual selection is only the simplest. With humanity, society, culture, history, language etc., etc. this set of dynamics has become incredibly rich and complex, NOT just in its epiphenomena, but in the dynamics and rules which should define it for us. Dutton’s basic strategy throughout his book is to force discussion down to this lowest level of complexity and to ignore and denigrate any other consideration of how this higher order works. For instance, in speaking of the origins of language again, Dutton tells us that “as a form of cognitive foreplay in courtship, language can give us, in Geoffry Miller’s words, ‘a panoramic view of someone’s personality, plans, hopes, fears, and ideals.'” But the world in which subtle shades of personality, plans, hopes, fears and ideals all matter critically for mate selection did not emerge until language helped us create it. It is Dutton’s frought relationship with that complex world (always we go back to the simplicities of the Pleistocene), and the absolute inextricability of art or language from that complex world that is the ultimate failure of this approach. there may be an art instinct, but that instinct is so far from defining art that it is counter-productive even to try. Art is not only about the relationship of two minds [artist & receptor; seducer and seducee], but also about the individual’s relationship with that emergent complexity that now defines our species. I do not deny that there are biological-based pleasures in art, of course there are. But to focus on these and neglect the complex and shifting social role that art plays is impoverishing and simplistic.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 2 May 2009 (20:49)

    If I understand you accurately, my ideas run along the same path you seem to be sketching above. That’s why I have kept insisting in the need of achieving some theoretical results in every level of adequacy. In the first level, we could, indeed, determine a very simple and abstract sort of [i]object[/i] to start with. But then, as we proceed our analysis through other levels, we will have to characterize all sorts of social representations and implementations that are certainly inextricably interconnected but should also be causally related to this original one. This is an incommensurable endeavour, to be sure, but it must be seriously tried in order to make justice to the intricacies of biologically/socially driven abilities humans now posses –art among others. There is one thing, however, which bothers me. I don’t really fancy Gould’s [i]spandrels[/i] idea that there be certain biological traits not explainable in adaptive terms. Maybe we cannot explain them [i]now[/i], but I have the strong ([i]wishful[/i], I agree) belief that they might (and MUST) be eventually. You see, I have been brought up in a very strong miracle-laden theory of the World ([i]i.e.[/i], Catholicism in Franco’s Spain), which has costed me a lot of effort and pain to dismiss, to return to it at the end of my life. Maybe this personal experience should not be a valuable motive to shape my scientific stance, but there you are, nobody’s perfect!

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    Oran Kelley 3 May 2009 (00:55)

    Anyone who reads a coherent theoretial program into Gould\’s virtuoso equivocations is playing a sucker\’s game (Carroll, Literary Darwinism, pp. 227-45.) Many qualified commentators–Richard Dawkins, David Hull, Conway Morris, John Alcock, Daniel Dennett, E. O. Wilson–have been alert to Gould\’s theoretical charlatanism. The most widely cited assessment is that of the distinguished theoretical biologist John Maynard Smith, writing in The New York Review of Books: This, quite frankly, is oft-repeated bs. Most of these “qualified commentators” were in fact targets of Gould\’s criticisms–they aren\’t neutral commentators at all. Gould was involved in pretty intense conflicts with these folks. And before you start throwing around terms like charlantanism, you really ought to let us know precisely what you are talking about. You sound like a hot-head. What Gould objected to was conjecture masquerading as real science. The Panksepp\’s later analysis is out there: Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are such attractive scientific views (e.g., FREEDMAN 1979; SCOTT 1989; SEGAL et al. 1997) that they need to be carefully cultivated and constructed as accurately as possible, continually constrained by genetic and cross-species brain evidence from our fellow animals rather than by the sea-swell of imaginary neuropsy-chological possibilities in humans. If we continue to proceed without considering all the available evidence, we will only produce more of the polarized views that have been endemic to this troubled corner of evolutionary thought. Now that we have a real chance of bringing serious evolutionary views to the study human mind and behavior, we should proceed in as disciplined a manner as possible. If we do not pursue such reasonable courses of action, we may become mired in myth making rather than remaining on the shores of sound scientific inquiry. In other words, Gould wasn\’t alone in his objections to actually existing EP: because, generally, it was being done badly. And calling Gould a heretic doesn\’t change anything.

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    Alessandro Pignocchi 4 May 2009 (20:14)

    In order to reinforce Casati’s warning against the normativity which lurks behind description, I would like to frame the basic premises of an argument which states that minimalist conceptual pieces of art such as Manzoni’s Merda d’Artista are the quintessence of art and that artists should produce more of this kind of artworks. The argument is blatantly unsound of course, but what matter is that it seems possible to develop it with the appearance of making purely descriptive claims: (1) Art has an important communicative function. More precisely, many (not all, of course) artworks can be helpfully understood as having, among other functions, the function to communicate ideas, emotions, feelings and theories that, for one reason or another, would be hard or impossible to communicate using more explicit tools such as standard language. (2) Communication in art shares the same basic structural features as oral communication. A good description of these features can be found, for instance, in Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory. Adapting relevance theory to the case of art gives the following two theses: (i) artworks, at least the one which have an important communicative function, are presented to an audience with a presupposition of relevance. I.e. they implicitly convey a claim about their own relevance. This means – if we refer to the technical definition of relevance provided by Sperber and Wilson – that they convey the implicit claim that they deserve attention because the cognitive benefit that we can gain from them exceeds the cognitive effort that has to be made to understand them. (ii) When presenting an artwork to an audience the artist makes a bet similar to the one made by any speaker : he makes the bet that he shares enough knowledge with its audience for the audience to understand the work more or less as he intends to. (3) Minimalist conceptual pieces of art, such as Merda d’Artista, because of their being minimalist, do not need, theoretically at least, much cognitive effort to be understood. If, as a matter of fact, this kind of artworks are frequently misunderstood, or not understood at all, it is because the audience does not share with the artist enough knowledge for his communicative act to be properly understood. (4) When properly understood, minimalist conceptual artworks can deliver important cognitive effects. They put their audience in an adequate state of mind that makes it possible to draw plenty of inferences and, more generally, to meditate and formulate deep questions about very important subjects such as art, the society, the place of art in society, etc. Minimalist conceptual artworks will not provide answers to these questions of course, but this does not diminish their cognitive effect. Marcel Proust, in Sur la lecture, argues that leaving the reader in the adequate state of mind that allows her to formulate important questions which, at the moment, cannot find answers, is one of the more important functions of literature; a claim which can be extended easily to communicative art in general. (6) It follows from (3) and (4) that minimalist conceptual artworks are extremely relevant, in the above technical sense (high ratio effect/effort). As relevance is a criterion to evaluate a communicative act, it can be used to evaluate the degree to which an artwork fulfills its communicative function. (7) It follows that minimalist conceptual artworks such as Merda d’Artista are the artworks for which the communicative function of art reaches its maximal power. After millennia of slow evolution and improvement, the artistic vocabulary has finally reached an optimal and fascinating efficiency. The argument is of course full of gaps, but the point is that, in the same way in which Dutton disqualifies Merda d’Artista (and associated artworks), the normativity is introduced in an hidden fashion behind each falsely descriptive premises. Producing normative discourse in art is a great thing; it is one of the driving forces of the vital evolution of the artworld. But normativity has to be explicit. In any cases, it ought not to hide behind descriptive (scientific) data.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 5 May 2009 (15:34)

    You start by saying that “art has an important communicative function” and then you elaborate: “ many (not all, of course) artworks can be helpfully understood as having, among other functions the function to communicate ideas, feelings…” You then go on, stating what a good relevant message would be and how this could be applied to the artistic message (presuppositions of relevance, some aspects of mutual manifestness, cognitive effects, etc.). I will (perhaps, unjustly –the “not all, of course” in your text mystifies me, I must say!) interpret those two first paragraphs of yours as stating that, for you, the word “art” points to a given act of communication. This would be your idea about how the observational level of adequacy could be attained. There are many researchers that do point to that act of communication as a likely object being pointed to by people that use the word “art”. If I remember rightly, Pratt & Traugott, long time ago, in their Speech Act Theory of Literature (I think it was named, I don’t have the book with me now), tried to characterize this sort of communicative act as performing two such speech acts: the one that displays the content of the communication and the one that elaborated on the form of the text. Hence, for them, Literature was a complex communicative act performing two acts (the displaying one, and the elaborative one. Ellen Dissanayaque, on the other hand, used ta similar, though simpler idea to characterize those acts. She only used the elaborative one and called it “making special”. As a cognitivist linguist of the Chomskyan and Sperber & Wilson persuasion, I have followed Deirdre’s advice (in one of her Semantic courses) to characterize such so-called speech acts as rather cognitive attitudes. According to Dan & Deirdre’s suggestion in their Relevance book, I have further considered that when I use the term “attitude” I will point to a case of embedding of propositions. It is not the same, as you know, to tell somebody, “you are a good chap”, than to embed this very same proposition in say {Ironically (you are a good chap)}. The high order proposition, as you know, may be overtly expressed with a linguistic text, or it may be interpreted by implications that have the context as another premise of the communicative act, and which may be derived by your tone of voice, gesture, etc. Conclusion: for me, whenever I speak of “art”, I will be pointing to a human attitude which could be rendered “{I value artistically (whatever)}, or, more schematically, ART ==> {Va (X)} Although tis little formula has often been though to be a horrible and incomprehensible reductionism (something that can only be submitted by a crank –like those Pascal Boyer was mentioning the other day), it does not say anything specially obscure or interesting. It says in a clear way, that art, from my point of view, exists only when some one (the creator, the audience, etc.) considers something to have that quality. The problem is not the little formula, which is only a first necessary step to have an adequate observational object in view. The real problem comes when trying to attain the level of descriptional adequacy in order to describe the little “a” (i.e., artistically) after the “V” (ie, “value”). Before going on, I would like to know whether you, and anybody else, could admit that this formula would be a mighty good place to start moving towards the other levels of adequacy.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 5 May 2009 (19:36)

    When I wrote the above post this morning, I suddenly realized that I had to do something terribly important, so that I did not check the text (shame on me!), as I normally do, and sent it right away without managing to express a couple of ideas to make my case look sounder. Let me add them now. I agree with you, Sandro, that the communicative idea of ART is basically correct. Irony, for instance is a stance that may be communicated and thereby have a lot of communicative effects that would not have existed if I had said “You’re a disgustingly wicked chap” (in my above example). I also agreed with Ellen Dissanayake’s idea of the behavioural effort to make things special (i.e., the [i][b]elaborative[/b] act[/i], according to Pratt & Traugot) But, it seems to me, that [b]before[/b] acting you do need to have an attitude. It’s only thereafter, that you communicate it, if ever. That’s why, looking for the necessary (but probably not sufficient) condition that allows humans to experience ART, I decided to go as deep down in the observational level as possible. We are, as far as we are aware, the only ART experiencers in the World because we are able to embed representations into other representations, namely, any “X” representation inside the evaluating “a” sort of representation. Ellen Dissanayaque’s simplification of Pratt & Traugot two basic communicative acts, considering that for ART to exist, the elaborative act is sufficient, is matched by my own cognitive simplification, deciding that it would be best to concentrate in the “a” stance, [i]i.e[/i]., the attitude which, when I communicate it, results in displaying something for other people to admire and share, if they are capable of doing so. If you happen to have recently watched Vittorio De Sica’s old Film, [i]Miraccolo a Milano[/i], you may remember the scene where Toto, to make his neighbours of that derelict Milan slum of the fifties enjoy life a bit, tells them to collect some chairs and watch the setting of the sun. They are terribly thrilled, and, when the sun disappears, they all start applauding with relish. They had seen the sunset every day of their lives, but they had never been prompted to look at it to evaluate it as an artwork. We are normally very anthropocentric in considering what ART may be (painting, music, sculpture, etc.), but some other “things” could be considered ART if we start with my formula: culinary art, Japanese flower art, personal names in some African societies, [i]anything[/i] could be so cognitively processed and become art. In our culture, two war reports by Julius Caesar have become ART and are now studied as Latin literature, without changing a comma. There is still a lot of homework to do, of course. We have to be able to describe the workings of the little formula in the computational level, the representational level and in the implementational level of analysis, to end up, attaining the Explanatory Level which, when really achieved, would make us wiser as to what is the real importance of ART for humans.

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    José-Luis Guijarro 7 May 2009 (22:21)

    Let me end my idea of a cognitive methodology, by going to the descriptive level of adequacy in its three extensions (proposed by Marr, as yo all know): [b]Computational level[/b] The following are just vague proposals I have managed to organize in order to show clearly what I think could become a serious cognitive theory of ART. As above, with Pratt, Traugot and Dissanayake, etc. ideas, I am only giving possible hints as to how one could articulate some of them in an ordered methodology –which, naturally, has to be expanded and better adapted as we proceed hypothesising in a more exhaustive way than what I present here as an illustration of the goal I would like to achieve. This time, I use an idea that Arthur Koestler proposed forty years ago, trying to adapt it to the cognitive level of adequacy that concerns the necessary computations for ART to happen in a human mind. He called it the AH reaction by which he though humans are able to integrate different contexts of interpretation and thereby experience a resetting situation in which the world is somehow enlarged for us: [b]The polarity between the integrative and self assertive tendencies is (…) in all hierarchic order and manifested in every level, from embryonic development to international politics. (…) The single individual considered as a whole, represents the apex of the organismic hierarchy, but at the same time he is a part, and elementary unit in the social hierarchy. (…) The self transcending emotions show a wide range of variety. (…) [i]their common denominator is the feeling of integrative participation in an experience which transcends the boundaries of the self[/i][/b]. (Koestler, 1967: [i]The Ghost in the Machine[/i] 220-221. His italics) If we could create a causal simulator (a kind of Turing machine or any other type) that somehow managed to blend two contexts to interpret the same object / event / relationship at the same time, we could perhaps show how the last obscure and italicised paragraph above would materialize our computational analysis. Let me suppose, for present illustrative reasons, that it can be done and that this may be the basic computation our mind does when adopting the Va attitude of my formula. We can then turn to the [b]Representational level of analysis[/b] How do we represent the ART experience in our minds, in our culture, etc? I suppose that it is here that Dutton’s twelve points, as presented in Roberto’s review could be analysed, namely, [b]1.Direct pleasure 2.Skill and virtuosity 3.Style 4.Novelty and creativity 5.Criticism 6.Representation 7.Special focus 8.Expressive individuality 9.Emotional saturation 10.Intellectual challenge 11.Art tradition and institutions 12.Imaginative experience [/b] This would be a long endeavour, for one would have to clarify (1) some of the functioning of the general basic computations we have proposed above in relation to the representations that Dutton proposes as defining what the ART experience does for him, and (2) specify whether those representations are based on cultural tradition, or are the product of his own experience (which may also, certainly, be conditioned by his own culture). When one frames his theory along the adequacy requirements, it is sensible to present everything that has made us experience ART in one way or another. But it should be clear that this is only the description of the possible representations one has, individually and culturally. It is not a description of ART –only part of it. [b]Implementational level of analysis[/b] In this level, we should be able to describe the things that have been culturally construed to trigger the ART experience. In my example of the broom, for instance, the fact that it is hanged on a wall of a museum with a title underneath, may be one of these triggering means. But there are many others of course. The “Tree of the Word” ([i]L’arbre à la palabre[/i]) is another such triggering means to experience ART in some African societies oral narrative acts. The changing tone of voice in a specific way, in certain given occasions and by institutionalised speakers (say, [i]griots[/i] or other specialised storytellers) invites people to have the ART experience from a genealogical enumeration of names. Some people also consider that whenever an object, event, or whatever is talked about in a group, this may trigger the ART experience. On the other hand, objects such as books, canvasses, and so on, may also be considered triggers. There is an unending collection of implements in every society that are meant to make us experience ART in one way or another. Strangely enough, this sort of analysis is seldom tried by art theorists, but from a cognitive point of view, it seems to be as important as the analysis we may achieve in the representational level, which, BTW seems to be considered the only interesting one in theoretical accounts. If I understood Roberto’s review rightly, this also seems to be the case of Dutton’s attempt. [b]Level of explanatory adequacy[/b] The ultimate level of analysis is obviously the one that explains why things mental are the way they are, if they are indeed adaptations or spandrels, for instance. Many pitfalls must be avoided in these matters and our conclusions may have to be revised again and again as we gain understanding in evolution and natural selection processes. Some of the explanations one finds in the literature seem to be too superficial to be considered serious explanations. Probably the selected mutations that make possible a mental experience are very abstract and have little semantic relationship with what we think it does (to us) nowadays. For instance, the mutation that allowed humans to embed representations into other representations in such a complex way, may be, as I said earlier, the basic process to explain in a natural selection frame. Only when this be achieved, may be go on looking at the special functions this embedding faculty has in different mental abilities. I am not yet fully prepared to give an interesting account on these matters; my ideas are too vague and I prefer to leave this final level unexplored for the time being. With a program such as this, I think, one may overcome the pre-paradigmatic (in Kuhn’s terms) character of ART studies. If I am not a [i]crackpot[/i], I think that this method has achieved in putting these studies in the cognitive paradigm.

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    Olivier Morin 12 May 2009 (11:12)

    Denis Dutton has posted a reply to Roberto Casati’s review [url=]here[/url] on our blog. Please post new comments under his post : this thread is closed. Thank you very much, everyone, for the discussion.