Thursday, February 28, 2008

Critique of V.S. Ramachandran’s ideas

Subject: Re: Synesthesia
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2008 15:12:51 +0200
Bonjour, dear Y.........
- I observe that a lot of messages in the section Synesthesia have no direct relations with the phenomenon of synesthesia but generally speaking with the relations between arts and the new field of neurosciences. I consider that to be very meaningful. The term synesthesia is used more as a metonymy for something much more extensive, which would include neuropsychology, neurobiology, cognitive psychology and what is called neuroesthetics.
- The idea of” that artists and writers are able to explore specific functioning of the cognitive system through their works” has nothing new. It is largely used by Semir Seki in Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain. Oxford University Press: Oxford. (1999).Zeki who coined the term neuro-aesthetics illustrated every specialized cortical era by a painter. Fauvism was supposed to have explored the V4 era, specialized in the colour processing, and kinetic art would correspond to the specialization of V5. In his conference on the “Beautiful”, Jean-Pierre Changeux gives the example of Matisse as a neurophysiologist artist. There is an excellent article called « Art and Neuroscience », written by John Hyman, on line ( ), from a conference on line about art and cognition organized by ENS/ CNRS/ Institut Jean Nicod in 2005. John Hyman reminds the idea that artists would be neurologists as studying the brain with their own techniques is just a modernized rewriting of Helmhotz’s theory of 1871. According to Helmholtz, artists were explorers of visual system. John Hyman quotes Helmholtz in a text of 1871:
"We must look upon artists as persons whose observation of sensuous impressions is particularly vivid and accurate, and whose memory for these images is particularly true. That which long tradition has handed down to the men most gifted in this respect, and that which they have found by innumerable experiments in the most varied directions, as regards means and methods of representation, forms a series of important and significant facts, which the physiologist, who has here to learn from the artist, cannot afford to neglect. The study of works of art will throw great light on the question as to which elements and relations of our visual impressions are most predominant in determining our conception of what is seen, and what others are of less importance. As far as lies within his power, the artist will seek to foster the former at the cost of the latter."
After this quotation, Hyman comments: “In this passage, Helmholtz combines the idea that artists test and explore the visual system Most visual scientists have abandoned Helmholtz’s theory of vision. They no longer talk about sensuous impressions, or about the unconscious mind interpreting sensuous impressions. Instead, it is generally held that different parts of the brain are simultaneously performing various highly specialized tasks, reacting to form, or to motion, or to colour; and that somehow or other the results of these processes are combined to form a unified visual perception, although nobody is sure yet how this synthesis occurs.”
The article is furthermore a devastating critique of V.S. Ramachandran’s ideas on neuroesthetics.
3 For relations between arts and neurosciences, and especaillya arts and neuropsychology, I would recommend some books or articles:
- Rose, F. C. (Ed.), (2004). Neurology and Arts: Painting, Music, Literature. London: Imperial College Press.
-Bogousslavsky, J., & Boller. F. (Eds.). (2005). Neurological disorders in Famous Artists.
-Basel: Karger AG. Chatterjee, A. (2004). “The neuropsychology of visual artistic production”, Neuropsychologia, (42) 1568-83.
4 Sorry for that, I would indicate some personal papers. But one was done in Leonardo Conference in Prague, called : « neuroaesthtics, neujrological disorders and creativity”, which begins by: « Neurology of the arts or neuroaesthetics is a new branch of neurology especially concerned by neuropsychology of visual artistic production and cerebral localisation of musical perception and musical memory (Seki, 1999; Rose, 2004; Chatterjee, 2004; Bogousslavky & Boller, 2005). Among the different activities the new field of research is gathering, such as study of pictorial representation of neurological symptoms in the art history, diagnosis of artists’neurological diseases, this article will focus on the study of relations between cognitive disabilities for neurological disorders and artistic production by visual artists. Neurological deficits can change the work in content or in style, but can be used also as sources of inspiration, especially in the case of epilepsy and migraine. But some final diagnosis remain controversial as regards for instance the nature of the disease of Ravel, Van Gogh, or Giorgio de Chirico, (Bogousslavky & Boller, 2005) or even De Kooning!. According to Anjan Chatterjee (2004) writing about the breakdown of the visual representations: “The work produced by artists who have suffered from brain damage can contribute to our understanding of these representations“(p.1568) and it is also the opinion of Bogousslavky and Boller (2005): »Among more personal writings:
- Article, « Art et cerveau : vers la neuro-esthétique ? », in « Rencontre », Recherches en esthétique, Revue du C.E.R.E.A.P, n°12, 2006.
Cette revue reliée au Laboratoire d’Esthétique Théorique et Appliquée de l’Université de Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne est dirigée par Dominique Berthet, dans le comité de rédaction : Ernest Breleur et Marc Jimenez. - Colloque MutaMorphosis: Challenging Arts and Sciences, International Conference, Prague. A Leonardo 40th Anniversary celebration, Prague, novembre 2007.
Titre de l’intervention : “Neuroesthetics, Neurological Disorders and Creativity“ (La neuro-esthétique, désordres neurologiques et créativité)- Article en ligne : « Littérature, arts visuels, neuroesthétique »,
Épistémocritique, revue d’études et de recherches sur les littératures et les savoirs, Université du Québec - Intervention : « Dernières traces : l’ultime possibilité créatrice dans la maladie neurologique », Colloque Voyages Au Noir, organisé par le Centre des cultures et des arts de la Caraïbe et la délégation académique aux arts et à la culture, du vendredi 23 novembre au dimanche 25 novembre 2007, Martinique ( on line in the next months)
5 I am preparing an article for a conference on Besançon on memory at he ed of mars and one of my theme is on what Jonah Lehrer wrote on “Proust as an neuroscientist”.The theme is nothing new as we saw with Zeki and even Lemholtz. And furthermore a lot of authentic scientists have wrotten on relations between Proust and neurosociences. . As early as the 9th of november 1998, a specialist of Proust, Yves Tadié had presented in front of the Académie des Sciences morals et politiques, pusblished in the Revue of the Académie an article about “Proust neurologue”. In his recension for books and articles on it, there were, D.Shacter, Searching for memory, I. Rosenfield, Invention of memory, G. Edelman, Bright air, Bright fire, without speacking of Changeux and Vigouroux. What would be original in what he wrote on the theme should be on the speculative explanation of involuntary memory by prions, - whitout entering in easy commentaries of bizarre errors on Proust’s work. It is why in the article I compare this kind of new scientific fantasies with Narby’s explanation of memories in the nature. The well-know Jeremy Narby’s «hypothesis » in The cosmic snake: DNA and the origins of Knowledge postulates a link between the genetic code and shamanic knowledge, refering to a speculative hypothesis, that of Popp, Gu and Li. about biophotons like cellular language. In both texts, Narby’s and Lehrer’s you have the same importation of highly speculative theories connected to the genetic code to explain memory mechanisms. Of cause, my point of view is not to judge or condemn, but from an anthropological point of view, to describe phenomena of the contemporary imaginary.
Hervé-Pierre Lambert
Institut Nicod. EHESS


Innovation said...

Hie, my name is Hervé-pierre Lambert. and i am who wrote this little commentary you put on your blog. I am curious to know why you looked interested by it.
Thanks for your attention.

my.block said...

I found very interesting the article "Art and Neuroscience"
of John Hyman's critique to V.S. Ramachandran's ideas and I thought it was properly right to post the source of my discovery.
Thank you for your interest