• Artworks are attentional engines. They are artifacts intentionally designed to direct attention to what we might call their artistically salient features. The artistically salient features of a work are those aspects of their formal-compositional structure that carry information about what they express, their point, purpose, or meaning. These aspects of a work reflect the range of compositional strategies and choices an artist has employed to produce their work. Critically, artists deploy exogen…Read more
  • Attentional Engines: A Perceptual Theory of the Arts
    Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    What is it about art that can be so captivating? How is it that we find value in the often odd and abstract objects and events we call artworks? William P. Seeley proposes that artworks are attentional engines. They are artifacts that have been intentionally designed to direct attention to critical stylistic features that reveal their point, purpose, or meaning. In developing this view, Seeley argues that there is a lot we can learn about the value of art from interdisciplinary research focused …Read more
  • The olfactory system was traditionally thought to lack a thalamic relay to mediate top-down influences from memory and attention in other perceptual modalities. Olfactory perception was therefore often described as an outlier among perceptual modalities. It was argued as a result that olfaction was a canonical example of a direct perception. In this paper we review functional and anatomical evidence which demonstrates that olfaction depends on both direct pathway connecting anterior piriform cor…Read more
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    Visual stylometry is a new interdisciplinary research field that sits at the junction of digital humanities, empirical aesthetics, and computer science. Research in this field employs image analysis algorithms to study key aspects of artistic style. The nature of artistic style is the subject of ongoing debate within art history and philosophy of art. Computational and statistical methods in visual stylometry allow researchers to quantify and compare aspects of artistic style over the course of …Read more
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    There is a standard skeptical concern within philosophy of art that causal explanations in psychology and neuroscience apply equally to our engagement with art that is done well and art that is done poorly and so do not contribute to our understanding of the normative dimension of artistic appreciation. This skeptical concern is often used to challenge the relevance of psychology and neuroscience to our understanding of art. I sketch a crossmodal model for perception which demonstrates that thos…Read more
  • What is the Cognitive Neuroscience of Art…and Why Should We Care?
    American Society for Aesthetics Newsletter 31 (2): 1-4. 2011.
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    The neuroscience of dance is a vibrant, fast growing field which embodies the promise of a genuine and productive interdisciplinary rapprochement between neuroscience and art. The strength of this field lies in the way it ties the experience of dance to sensorimotor processes that underwrite our ordinary perceptual engagement with the environment. Motor simulation and mimicry enhance our capacity to interpret the goals, motives, and emotions of others. Recent studies demonstrate that these same …Read more
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    Artworks are attentional engines, or artifacts intentionally designed to direct attention to formal features that are diagnostic for their artistically salient aesthetic, expressive, and semantic content. This is nowhere more true than the movies. Moving pictures are constructed from a suite of formal and narrative devices carefully developed to capture, hold, and direct our attention. These devices are tools for developing content by controlling the way information is presented throughout the d…Read more
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    The philosophy of art and empirical aesthetics are, to all outward appearances, natural bedfellows, disciplines bound together by complimentary methodologies and the common goal of explaining a shared subject matter. Philosophers are in the business of sorting out the ontological and normative character of different categories of objects, events and behaviors, squaring up our conception of the nature of things, and clarifying the subject matter of different avenues of intellectual exploration vi…Read more
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    Art, Meaning, and Aesthetics: The Case for a Cognitive Neuroscience of Art
    In Joseph P. Huston, Marcos Nadal, Francisco Mora, Luigi F. Agnati & Camilo Jose Cela Conde (eds.), Art, Aesthetics and the Brian, . pp. 19-39. 2015.
    Empirical aesthetics and philosophy of art are often framed as disciplines in conflict with one another. Psychologists working in empirical aesthetics argue that philosophical theories of art reflect the evaluative biases of critics and experts and so fail as objective accounts of artistic practice. Philosophers argue that the causal-psychological explanations appealed to in empirical aesthetics can not account for the role normative conventions play in appreciative judgements, and so fail to d…Read more
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    Cognitive Theory and the Individual Film: The Case of Rear Window
    In Ted Nannicelli and Paul Alexander Taberham (ed.), Cognitive Media Theory. pp. 2350252. 2014.
    It has been argued that motion picture theory, or as we prefer to call it theory of the moving image, is too abstract, generalized , or theoretical to be of use for movie makers and critics interested in the production and analysis of particular films. We apply the framework and resources of Cognitivist Film Theory to explain some of the particular ways that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window works to engage audiences with an eye to allaying the skeptics doubts.
  • Neuroscience and Literature
    In John Gibson and Noel Carroll (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature. pp. 267-278. 2016.
    The growing general interest in understanding how neuroscience can contribute to explanations of our understanding and appreciation of art has been slow to find its way to philosophy of literature. Of course this is not to say that neuroscience has not had any influence on current theories about our engagement, understanding, and appreciation of literary works. Colin Martindale developed a scientific approach to literature in his book The Clockwork Muse (1990). His prototype-preference theory dr…Read more
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    Recent findings in affective and cognitive neuroscience underscore the fact that traumatic memories are embodied and inextricably integrated with the affective dimensions of associated emotional responses. These findings can be used to clarify, and in some cases challenge, traditional claims about the unrepresentability of traumatic experience that have been central to trauma literary studies. The cognitive and affective dimensions experience and memory are closely integrated. Recollection is al…Read more
  • Categories of Art and Computers: A Question of Artistic Style
    American Society for Aesthetics Newsletter 37 (3): 9-11. 2017.
    Recent interdisciplinary research in visual stylometry employs digital image analysis algorithms to study the image features and statistics that underwrite our experience of artworks. This research brings psychologists, computer scientists, and art historians together to explore the formal image qualities that define artistic style. We introduce the field of visual stylometry, discuss it's implications for our understanding of both the nature of categories of art and the role artistic style play…Read more
  • Naturalizing Aesthetics: Art and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Vision
    Journal of Visual Arts Practice 5 (3): 195-213. 2006.
    Recent advances in out understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of perception have encouraged cognitive scientists and scientifically minded philosophers to turn their attention towards art and the problems of philosophical aesthetics. This cognitive turn does not represent an entirely novel paradigm in the study of art. Alexander Baumgarten originally introduced the term ‘aesthetics’ to refer to a science of perception. Artist’s formal methods are a means to cull the structural features nece…Read more
  • Psychological studies (Proffitt, 2006) have demonstrated that what one sees is influenced by one's goals, physiological state, and emotions. These studies demonstrate that there is a positive correlation between the physical demands (energetic cost) and perceived valence (emotional cost) of a task and the appearance of slant and egocentric distance in the environment. The studies are compelling. However, one can question whether their results are due to changes in the way participants perceived …Read more
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    Kinesthetic Understanding and Appreciation in Dance
    Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2): 177-186. 2013.
    The idea that choreographic movements communicate to audiences by kinetic transfer is a commonplace among choreographers, dancers, and dance educators.1 Moreover, most dance lovers can cite their own favorite examples—the bounciness of the Royal Danish Ballet, the stomping of Bharata Natyam performers, the stag leaps in the thundering Greek chorus in Martha Graham’s Night Journey, or the contagious rhythmic transfer that takes over our feet when we watch classic tap dancers like Buster Brown. Th…Read more