A Bayesian hermeneutic

A preprint of “A Bayesian hermeneutic” — the cogsci paper Thomas Rutten & I worked on last summer in Mexico City — is available at Research Gate here.

In layman’s terms, we argue that contemporary art (fr. modernism to conceptualism & beyond) acts as a superstimulus that “exploits” the brain’s natural predictive system, i.e. its models of the world (since predictions of the future originate in the assessment of the present’s conditions). Slightly more technically, from the abstract:

Recently, cognitive scientists like Clark (2016) and Hohwy (2013), as well as computational neuroscientists such as Karl Friston (2006, 2013) have theorized the mind as a hierarchical prediction system, at levels varying from the “merely” sensory to the highly conceptual. Here, we extend this thesis by incorporating concepts from work in cognitive science on Bayesian knowledge structures. This synthetic model of a probabilistic, Bayesian or Bayesian-approximate mind is then employed as a means of understanding the hermeneutic process as it relates to textual and artistic encounters. We argue that one of the foundational mechanisms of the artwork, as it’s contemporarily conceived, can be meaningfully conceptualized as an exploitation of the mind’s predictive system. We further show how this mechanism, and a predictive cognitive framework, help explain a host of traditional literary, aesthetic, and art-historic values, including ambiguity, defamiliarization, and reversal.

The research is an extension of previous work on artistic surprisal, Schmidhuberian compression, schema subversion, and the relationship between art and cognitive science.