The Mellon Humanities Futures "Ancient Mind: Neuroarcheology" Working Group and the DIBS/FHI Neurohumanities Research Group [NRG] Present:
Mind, Art, Artifact: A Workshop with Lambros Malfouris and Semir Zeki
Followed by a Faculty Roundtable
Friday September 14, 1:30-5:00 PM
Holsti-Anderson Room, Rubenstein Library, Duke University
Dr. Lambros Malafouris, Keble College, University of Oxford
"Art and Material Engagement: Towards a Process Archaeology of Mind"
What is that thing we call "mind" in the archaeology of mind? This basic question is usually neglected or taken for granted. The job of archaeology is not to question what the mind is and does but more simply to discover and to interpret the varieties of traces left by it in the archaeological record. All that makes good sense. But there are also some hidden caveats. Cognitive archaeology struggles still in coming to terms with the nature of mental action and the boundaries of the mind. An unhelpful ontological gap separating cognition, embodied action, and materiality still persists. I believe the main source of this epistemological anxiety is a well-known assumption: we cannot dig up minds. But why is that? Where is that mind that we cannot excavate? I will argue that by neglecting cognitive ontology we have weakened the epistemological basis of archaeology and the value of the archaeological analysis. The aim of my paper is to try flesh out a possible alternative proposing a theory of material engagement. Specifically, I will attempt a comparative exploration into the deep history and ontology of mind focusing on aesthetic experience. Using various archaeological examples I will present the view of aesthetics as a situated process of enactive discovery and creative material engagement. On that view aesthetic experience is something that we do rather than something that happens to us, or in us. Rather than identifying aesthetic consciousness with its objects or use it to define and delimit some pure, detached, and autonomous realm of aesthetic contemplation, the approach taken here aims to ground aesthetic experience into the manifold interfaces of embodied material praxis in way that highlights the vitality of matter and primacy of material engagement.
Dr. Semir Zeki, University College London
The Constancy of Form:
From Cycladic art to Francis Bacon via The Sphinx and Polykleitos
It is perhaps remarkable that we recognize so readily the simplistic forms of Cycladic art as representative of the human figure, even though they were produced during a period from which we are removed by millennia. The Greek sculptor Polykleitos, among many others who succeeded him, understood the key to this capacity when he asserted that the perfect human body can be mathematically sculpted from parts which bear a constant mathematical relationship to one another. In this lecture I shall propose that what Polykelitos was alluding to, but never stated explicitly, is that we have, in our brains, an inherited template of the proportions and symmetries that qualify a stimulus as that of a human figure or a part thereof (for example, a face) on the one hand, and qualify it as beautiful on the other. The template is similar in all humans, regardless of race and culture. Its activation leads to a distinctive pattern of activity in a part of the emotional brain which is always active when we experience beauty. It is this inherited template and the linked pattern of brain activation that it produces that the English painter Francis Bacon, implicitly and without knowing it, tried to subvert when pursuing his aim of giving a "visual shock". I will discuss the neurobiological background and the broader implications of this view.