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18 - Brain, Body, Habit, and the Performative Quality of Aesthetics

from Part III - Socially Embeddded and Culturally Extended Habits

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2020

Fausto Caruana
Institute of Neuroscience (Parma), Italian National Research Council
Italo Testa
Università degli Studi, Parma
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If cognitive neuroscience is meant to investigate what makes us human, cultural artifacts and artistic expressions should be at the top of the list of its explananda. Cognitive neuroscience, in tight cooperation and dialogue with the humanities, can shed new light on several theoretical issues related to aesthetics, traditionally dealt with exclusively within the camp of the humanities. A succinct description of embodied simulation theory in relation to aesthetic experience is proposed, and some accomplishments of this bottom-up approach to the experience of visual art and film are illustrated. The notion of “habit” is introduced, it is connected to its potential underlying neural mechanisms, and to the production and reception of human cultural artifacts. Capitalizing upon pragmatism, Pierre Bourdieu, and practice theory, the relationship between body, habit, practice, and rituals and its bearing on the creation of symbolic objects and cultural artifacts is analyzed from a neuropragmatist approach, which emphasizes the procedural and implicit forms of human cognition. The suggested gradual transition from tool-making to symbol-making grants the following: (a) It shows that utilitarian and symbolic behavior are both chapters of the same cognitive technology trajectory; (b) it does not require one to assume that symbol-making is the late externalization of a previously existing inner symbolic thought, because symbolic thought and symbol-making are the co-constructive outcome of the development of shared performative practices and habits; (c) it is fully compatible with the neurobiological characterization of human relational potentialities as instantiated by embodied simulation. It is proposed that through the repetition, combination, and memorization of particular shared behaviors and actions, and their mimetic ritualization, the social group infuses new cultural meanings into reused bodily performances.

Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory
, pp. 376 - 394
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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