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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. Nevertheless it isn’t clear how Geikie’s engagement with the panorama was undermined by his perception that the rock arrived by way of an iceberg moderately than an overland ice sheet. Geikie’s false perception appears to have oriented him completely nicely 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, but it surely appears unlikely that such a geologist would have alighted on options that Geikie didn’t determine. 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. A minimum of 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 an identical conclusion based mostly on a thought experiment, which leads him to reject the “factive” part of Turner’s place.)

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    Thus far this dialogue has resounded with the “boring thud of conflicting intuitions.” Is there any approach of getting round this, to realize some actual traction on the disputed factors? One choice is to look at Turner’s examples of aesthetic engagement gone awry and see whether or not they actually assist his conclusions. Doing so reveals that Turner might 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 may 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 motive Turner provides for considering that one thing is improper with the customer’s aesthetic engagement is that “[our] aesthetic appreciation of [an] object is dependent upon what we imagine it to be. And our beliefs can become 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 data ought to 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’ll 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 clarify why false beliefs in regards to 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 reality. This strikes me as unsatisfactory (however, you already know, thud thud).

    My very own mind-set in regards to the relationship between data and aesthetic expertise focuses on the type of attentiveness data makes doable. I agree with Turner that scientific data isn’t needed for a “correct” appreciation of one thing like a panorama. However as Helen Gordon factors out, “for those who do have this [knowledge], one thing adjustments about the best way you exist in that area.”

    A named panorama thickens. It’s to do with historical past and context but additionally… with the standard of consideration. To assign one thing its [scientific] title, you want to take the time to pick figuring out options. You search for longer. And the extra you already know, the extra issues cease being a backdrop… and turn out to be by some means extra current in view, extra insistently themselves, the best way a well-known face stands out in a crowd. (Gordon 2021, 273)

    That is Geikie earlier than the boulder. What an atypical particular person would overlook, Geikie discovered riveting. It was as a result of he (thought he) knew what he was 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 historical icebergs—historical past resolved the discordance into the next concord. It scarcely issues that an important 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.

    Information, then, is a thickening agent. It’s considered one of a number of issues that provides 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 parts 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 spiritual and quasi-mythical overtones (O’Connor 2007). This was a potent supply of aesthetic engagement, and I collect a key a part of his attraction to the general public that clambered for his books. However—I want to counsel—it was solely doable due to the constraints and distortions of his geological data. It’s troublesome to think about something resembling Miller’s reveries rising from the geology of at this time, and on this sense, no less than, false beliefs served his aesthetic engagement higher than true ones ever may have.