- Dinosaur

Hugh Miller, Misplaced Boulders, and a Problem for “Historic Cognitivism” — Extinct

Nonetheless, does this imply that one thing was missing about his earlier aesthetic engagement with the panorama? Once more, a historic cognitivist should reply “sure.” False beliefs undermine aesthetic engagement, and Geikie mistakenly recognized the boulder as one thing apart from a glacial erratic. But it surely isn’t clear how Geikie’s engagement with the panorama was undermined by his perception that the rock arrived by way of an iceberg fairly than an overland ice sheet. Geikie’s false perception appears to have oriented him completely properly to the aesthetic qualities of the boulder: issues like its general composition and morphology, its place within the ravine, and its distinction from the underlying rocks. Positive, an advocate of the ice sheet speculation would have defined these options in another way, however it appears unlikely that such a geologist would have alighted on options that Geikie did not establish. This implies that the falsity of the iceberg speculation was irrelevant to Geikie’s aesthetic engagement. His false perception served him simply in addition to a real one would have. But when that is proper, then historic cognitivism wants a tune-up. At the least it doesn’t appear to be the case that false beliefs all the time undermine aesthetic expertise, or that they produce shallower engagement than true beliefs, all else being equal. (Adrian Currie has reached the same conclusion primarily based on a thought experiment, which leads him to reject the “factive” element of Turner’s place.)

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To date this dialogue has resounded with the “uninteresting thud of conflicting intuitions.” Is there any approach of getting round this, to achieve some actual traction on the disputed factors? One possibility is to look at Turner’s examples of aesthetic engagement gone awry and see whether or not they actually help his conclusions. Doing so reveals that Turner could have been misled by their obvious simplicity to assert greater than they warrant. So, for instance, Turner relates the story of a rich collector who paid a big sum of cash for a coprolite (a fossil turd) that turned out to be simply a lumpy stone. In Turner’s phrases, “The client is a bit just like the creationist who goes to the Grand Canyon and marvels about how Noah’s flood might have carved out such a amount of rock” (Turner 2020, 22). In each circumstances, “[there] is a few aesthetic engagement occurring, however it’s misfiring badly.” But the one cause Turner offers for pondering that one thing is fallacious with the client’s aesthetic engagement is that “[our] aesthetic appreciation of [an] object is determined by what we consider it to be. And our beliefs can turn into false” (21). Granted. However this solely reveals that false beliefs, if a topic comes to treat them as false, can alter the topic’s aesthetic appreciation of an object. Extra is required to indicate that false beliefs corrupt aesthetic engagement whereas they’re sincerely believed, or that true beliefs are all the time extra conducive to aesthetic engagement than false ones.

What the cognitivist wants is an account of how true beliefs direct us to the aesthetically related options of pure objects. With out this, it’s laborious to see why scientific information must be particularly conducive to aesthetic engagement, or why false perception ought to corrupt it. Turner mentions that rocks and fossils can “join us” to locations, which presumably means they will change our expertise of a spot by revealing options of its historical past which can be invisible to naïve observers (Turner 2020, 9). However this fails to elucidate why false beliefs concerning the previous are aesthetically problematic. Are false beliefs incapable of fostering a way of place or connecting us to the locations we inhabit? To reply “sure” is to disclaim fantasy and custom any position in these issues besides insofar as they converge on historic fact. This strikes me as unsatisfactory (however, you already know, thud thud).

My very own mind-set concerning the relationship between information and aesthetic expertise focuses on the form of attentiveness information makes potential. I agree with Turner that scientific information will not be essential for a “correct” appreciation of one thing like a panorama. However as Helen Gordon factors out, “should you do have this [knowledge], one thing modifications about the best way you exist in that area.”

A named panorama thickens. It’s to do with historical past and context but in addition… with the standard of consideration. To assign one thing its [scientific] identify, it’s good to take the time to select figuring out options. You search for longer. And the extra you already know, the extra issues cease being a backdrop… and develop into someway extra current in view, extra insistently themselves, the best way a well-recognized face stands out in a crowd. (Gordon 2021, 273)

That is Geikie earlier than the boulder. What an extraordinary particular person would overlook, Geikie discovered riveting. It was as a result of he (thought he) knew what he was taking a look at that he knew it didn’t belong. It stood out like an obelisk on the streets of London. However geology confirmed the way it hung collectively. The rock, the ravine, the heavings of historic icebergs—historical past resolved the discordance into the next concord. It scarcely issues that a very powerful a part of the story turned out to be false. What mattered for his aesthetic engagement was that his consideration was mounted on that boulder, which led him to hint out a sequence of implications in an ever-widening circle.

Data, then, is a thickening agent. It’s certainly one of a number of issues that offers new hues and textures to expertise, focusing consideration on in any other case unremarkable options and offering pointers for the creativeness. For Miller, geology turned an eroded contact between rocks right into a magic portal, giving onto the huge sea of time. This imaginative and prescient was not precluded by these components of his thought that turned out to be false. Arguably it was even facilitated by them. In Miller’s writings, sacred and geological historical past have been superimposed in a approach that imbued his topic with a heady combine of non secular and quasi-mythical overtones (O’Connor 2007). This was a potent supply of aesthetic engagement, and I collect a key a part of his enchantment to the general public that clambered for his books. However—I want to counsel—it was solely potential due to the restrictions and distortions of his geological information. It’s troublesome to think about something resembling Miller’s reveries rising from the geology of as we speak, and on this sense, not less than, false beliefs served his aesthetic engagement higher than true ones ever might have.

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