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Theory of Mind: Why Art Evokes Empathy
That painting is not complete until the viewer responds to it.
We have a sense of empathy with works of art. If we see gestures in a portrait, we actually almost simulate those gestures in our mind. We often implicitly act as if we are moving our arms in response empathically to what we see in the painting.
We also respond empathically to what we think the sitter is experiencing in their head. So we have what is called “a theory of mind” in which when I look at you, I have a sense of where you’re going and you have a sense of where I’m going. We have an enormous capability by just looking at the person we are interacting with, and particularly if we’re having a conversation, to predict certain aspects of future events simply by looking at them. This is an extraordinary capability that human beings have.
Of course, we have motivational systems that drive us in various ways. So we now understand this, not only in psychological terms, in cogno-psychological terms, but we understand this in terms of the specific regions that are involved. One way we’ve learned about the many functions of the brain is by people who have disorders of the brain. So there are people who have difficulty with recognizing faces. That’s a disorder called Prosopagnosia, which a clinician by the name of Joachim Bodamer first described in the 1940s. And he was the one that realized it’s this inferotemporal region that is involved in it. We now realize that that is not so rare. Ten percent of people are born with some degree of face blindness. It can be modest. It can be severe.
For example, Chuck Close, the great portrait painter, is face blind and compensates for that in a number of wonderful ways. He deals with paintings as if they were flat, which makes it easier for him to work with them.
We have people who suffer from autism, which is a disorder in social interaction which is extremely important in the beholder’s share. Without social interaction you can’t empathize with the person with whose face you’re looking at. In fact, most autistic people don’t have a beholder share. They don’t participate in the social interaction that’s involved in looking at a painting.
We also know that modulatory systems get recruited. For example, the cover of my book is a painting by Adele Bloch-Bauer for with Ron Lauder paid $135 million - the most ever paid for a painting at that time. What caused him to pay that much for this, granted, beautiful painting? Well it has a long history. He fell in love with the painting. And we know that if you fall in love, it’s like an addictive process. The dopaminergic system that gets recruited for pleasurable stimuli gets dramatically recruited for this.
So, if I show you a picture of a person you love, the dopaminergic system goes wild. If that person rejects you in a love relationship and I show you the picture, the dopaminergic system goes even wilder. So I like to think that when Lauder was 14 years old and saw this painting, his dopaminergic system went into high gear. And then he experienced unrequited love for all those years. He didn’t have the resources or the opportunity even to buy it until quite recently when the Austrians finally restored the painting to the family that had owned it. They put it on the market and he was, for the first time, in a position to buy. So this is unrequited love going over a period of decades that really sort of fired his dopaminergic neurons in my imagination, and drove him to really want this painting very badly. He bought it and he now gets enormous pleasure from having it hang in the Neue Gallery.
This is only a beginning. We don’t have a deep understanding of the beholder’s response, but it’s interesting that if you put together what we know from disorders of brain function and the normal physiology, we begin to understand an outline of what the beholder’s response is. And this is so important because in 1906 when Freud was active and Klink, Tolkuchka and Sheely, the artists were active, there was a major person at the Vienna School of Artistry called Alois Riegl. And he said that the problem with art history is, it’s going to go down the tubes because it’s too anecdotal, it’s too descriptive. It’s got to become more scientific. And the science it should relate itself to is psychology. And the key problem that it should address right off is the beholder’s share. You have a painting. That painting is not complete until the viewer responds to it.
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.