In Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, philosopher and cognitive scientist Alva Noë raises a number of profound questions: What is art? Why do we value art as we do? What does art reveal about our nature?
Drawing on philosophy, art history, and cognitive science, and making provocative use of examples from all three of these fields, Noë offers new answers to such questions. He also shows why recent efforts to frame questions about art in terms of neuroscience and evolutionary biology alone have been and will continue to be unsuccessful.
What members say
Eight hour opinion-dressed-as-fact lecture
I've met a number of philosophers in the course of my professional life as a clinician and researcher. Some are incredibly valuable as stimulators of thought around ethics, rights, responsibilities and so forth, but others are opinionated obfuscators presenting their own world view as fact. From this book, I have to say Noe seems to be one of the latter. He's multi-qualified, held or holds posts in prestigious universities, and has been associated with an institute of cognitive and neurosciences, so I expected balance, evidenced argument and an ability to give space to disciplines whose entire focus is probing meaning from perspectives that have considerable value but aren't his own. Instead, he is scathing about science, disparaging about key individuals (Steven Pinker comes in for a bit of a patronising pasting), and almost grandiose in the scope of his supposed authority whilst simultaneously showing remarkable ignorance about people and behaviours outside his circumscribed circles. Listening to the audio book (and I commend the narrator's supreme efforts in putting life into this eight hour lecture), there was barely an utterance that didn't have me shouting at my screen or laughing out loud. When Noe says 'We' he means 'I' but draws us into collusion with his speculations delivered as fact. When 'we' don't know something, it means he doesn't (but many other people do); and when 'we' believe/behave/do/don't do something, it means he does or doesn't (and whole populations from different cultures, different social groups, different levels of intellectual capacity or (dis)ability don't or do). At one point he says, "Adults don't get bored, the preconditions for boredom don't exist in the adult world", then "Why is art boring? Because that's its purpose." This kind of arrogant insularity of thinking, uncontended and unchallengable, pervades this book. It will certainly make you think, so if that's the intent, it will succeed, but only if it doesn't enrage you with its complete dismissal of every other avenue of intellectual effort and the evidence of your own social and cultural experience. I wanted to enjoy this. Maybe he's not like this at all in real life. Maybe his other work is more collaborative and considered. Maybe, maybe.