Is it neurons firing or is it the art? Alva Noë explores perceptions at EMPAC

Alva Noë (Photo: KUG/Wenzel)

Alva Noë (Photo: KUG/Wenzel)

Why do so many people love art? And what, exactly, comprises art? It’s a question often proffered by cable channels as fodder to fill the spaces between commercials, barely scratching the actual topic’s depth. Thinking deeply about art and how we humans experience it helps us understand a lot of things about ourselves, our lives, our cosmos.

Once again EMPAC at RPI gives us a rare chance to get deep into the subject, exploring new ways of thinking. Coming up is a chance to hear one of the leading experts on the nature of visual consciousness whose talk will allow us to reconsider art and its place in our lives. In this lecture, Alva Noë, a leading figure in cognitive science, will argue that art is philosophical and philosophy is aesthetic. Against this background, new possibilities are presented for understanding what it is to be a person, questioning if our experience of the world stems from the firing of neurons in our brains or from our interactions with our surroundings.

Alva Noë is a writer and a philosopher living in Berkeley and New York. He works on the nature of mind and human experience. He is the author of Action in Perception (MIT Press, 2004); Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009); and most recently, Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012). Noë received his PhD from Harvard in 1995 and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He previously was a distinguished professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company, a dance company based in Germany. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and is a weekly contributor to National Public Radio’s science blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture.

The Observer Effects talk series invites thinkers to present their highly integrative work in dialogue with the fields of art and science. This lecture series takes its title from a popularized principle in physics that holds that the act of observation transforms the observed. Outside the natural sciences, the idea that the observer and the observed are linked in a web of reciprocal modification has been deeply influential in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, and politics.

The talk is free and open to the public.

Evelyn’s Café will open at 5 PM with a full menu of meals, snacks, and beverages as well as a selection of wines. Service continues after the event. Parking is available in the Rensselaer parking lot on College Avenue.

More information can be found on the EMPAC website: empac.rpi.edu. Questions? Call the EMPAC Box Office: 518.276.3921.

EMPAC—The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—is where the arts, sciences, and technology interact with and influence each other by using the same facilities, technologies, and by breathing the same air.

Situated on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, EMPAC is dedicated to building bridges between our human senses, to modes of perception and experience, to creating meaning in a physical environment, and to the intangible world of digital technology.

Four discrete venues are designed with unique technical infrastructure to enable audiences to see, hear, and move in space in endlessly different ways. EMPAC hosts artists and researchers to create new work and presents events which ask audiences to join the quest for new perspectives.

One thought on “Is it neurons firing or is it the art? Alva Noë explores perceptions at EMPAC

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