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Philosophy of the Arts

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Cognitive neuro-science and the burden of proof

So, we are our brains? And everything we think, feel and do has a neural counterpart? Is it the brains which cause us to think, feel and do things?

Wittgenstein once remarked that it would count as a bigger miracle if we had been capable of devising a pill which would make one paint the Creation of Adam, than one which made us feel something in the stomach.

“Suppose I give you a pill
(1) which makes you draw a picture—perhaps `The Creation of Adam’;
(2) which gives you feelings in the stomach
Which would you call the more peculiar effect? Certainly—that you draw just this picture. The feelings are pretty simple.”

… Is it really the brains which cause us to think, feel and do things?…

Contemporary Cognitive Neuro-science, in contrast, seems to think that there is no big gap between the two effects, since everything someone does or feels has its counterpart in neural brain-activity.

So, just to get the burden of proof back where it belongs: I dare cognitive neuro-scientist to produce something (a pill or computer-guided neural stimulating) that causes someone who has no experience in art whatsoever to paint `The Creation of Adam’. Ah, no, not `The Creation of Adam’, because that would be cheating, a forgery.

I dare cognitive neuro-scientist to produce something that causes someone who has no experience in art whatsoever to paint something as highly valued aesthetically, i.e. with as much artistic merit as Michelangelo’s `The Creation of Adam’.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1938–1946. Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 30:3.