University of Florence

Nov 18, 2021

2 min read

Early art and the evolution of grounded emotions

From Firenze University Press Journal: Aisthesis

Gianluca Consoli

One of the topics studied and discussed more in recent years, both in the cognitive sciences and in aesthetics, is constituted by the emotions. In neurocognitive research there has been a real explosion of studies: each year hundreds of papers are published. Also in aesthetics a very broad debate has taken place, especially concerning aesthetic emotions.

These are emotions prompted and guided by fictional representations, such as the representations conveyed by literature. These kinds of emotions are grounded on decoupled beliefs (disconnected from the current state of affairs) and on other-centered goals (derived from the other’s condition). Beliefs and goals are both simulated off-line: they do not produce actual decisions and behaviors.

Much of the debate has regarded the so-called “paradox of fiction”, characterized by this discordant triad. (a) I’m moved by fiction: I feel the emotion x (for instance, pity) for the fictional character y (for instance, Anna Karenina); (b) -I believe that -to feel an emotion for y requires that y really exists; (c )-I know that -what is portrayed in fiction is not actual and real: the fictional character y does not actually exist.

So, are aesthetic emotions authentic, genuine, sincere, appropriate, consistent, true, and real? In this way, the approach based on the paradox of fiction not only questions the formative and cognitive value of aesthetic emotions, but it also makes problematic even the basic func-tioning of them (Davies [2009]).

This essays ties together cognitive sciences and aesthetics, providing a general thesis that completely overturns the approach based on the paradox of fiction. Very far from be-ing a paradoxical and marginal phenomenon (a shallow imitation of daily emotions), aesthetic emotions represent in evolutionary terms an indispensable means that allowed the emergence of the ordinary emotions, especially of the so-called «secondary emotions».

This proposal will be articulated on the basis of a theory of emotions inspired by grounded cognition (Barsalou [2010]) and it will be developed in an evolutionary perspective through the reference to the archaeological evidence regarding the first art.


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