Sunday, 2 January 2011

Sensuous Science

"Science states meanings; art expresses them." -John Dewey

In the context of Dewey's thoughts on Art as Experience, this all seemed well and good when I read it this morning. That was, until I read the following 'scientific' description of thresholds of human perception (limina) quoted on Mind Hacks:
"Approximate absolute sensitivities, expressed in everyday terms:

Vision – A candle flame seen at 30 miles on a dark, clear night

Hearing – The tick of a watch under quiet conditions at 20 feet

Taste – One teaspoon of sugar in two gallons of water

Smell – One drop of perfume diffused into the entire volume of a three-room apartment

Touch – The wing of a bee falling on your cheek from a distance of one centimeter"
- Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. Holt, Rinehart, Winston.
Dewey again:
"Scientific statement is often thought to possess more than a signboard function and to disclose or be "expressive" of the inner nature of things. If it did, it would come into competition with art, and we should have to take sides and decide which of the two promulgates the more genuine revelation."


Frangipan said...

You have a very interesting blog here, are you interested in art therapy at all?

J. Hamlyn said...

Thanks for the comment Frangipan. Art therapy is not really my field so I could only claim a passing interest in it. Why do you ask?

Anonymous said...

Ever read any Primo Levi? His cool scientific description of his experience of Auschwitz is more damning than anything more flowery could ever be.

J. Hamlyn said...

Absolutely, I've read everything I could get my hands on by Levi. I'm not so sure I'd call it a "cool scientific description" though - far from it. I totally agree though that a more flowery approach would be wholly inappropriate. The real power in Levi's writing, in my opinion, is its profound admiration for the vast wonder of life which comes across in everything he wrote and, of course, makes it all the more poignant and troubling that he committed suicide, if indeed he did.

I assume you've read "The Wrench"? if not, you must - it's written for you!

Anonymous said...

I have read everything he wrote, other than the posthumous essays(even the poetry)as well as a thick biography, called The Double Bond", which looks at the suicide issue amongst other things.

Don't you think his description of the horrors is very clear and measured, and that he hides his (lasting) hatred of the actions of the Germans well?

I think Anthony Sher's stage interpretation is a lot more overtly emotionally expressive than Primo's written version, though I do think the emotions are correctly assigned.

J. Hamlyn said...

"Measured" - I couldn't agree more - his greatness has everything to do with his ability to harness the experience but not to let the intensity of feeling overwhelm the expression. This is exactly the point that Dewey makes in the book I'm reading ("Art as Experience").
I remember that Michael Ignatieff wrote a fantastic obituary about Levi immediately after his death which I was hoping to find reproduced online but no luck.

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