I have come to see the delight in making connections – of which metaphor-making is one of the most intense – as perhaps the fundamental reason for art and its pleasures. Philip Davis, at Liverpool University, has been working with scientists on responses to Shakespeare’s syntax, and has found that the connecting links between neurones stay “live” – lit up for longer – after responding to Shakespeare’s words, especially his novel formations of verbs from nouns, than they do in the case of “ordinary” sentences. In Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s Aux Origines des sciences cognitives (1994; translated as The Mechanization of the Mind, 2000), an extraordinary account of the 1950s meetings of the cybernetics group which discussed minds and machines and what it was to be human, a neural network designer suggests that we delight in puns because the neurone connections become very excited by the double input associated with all the stored information for two arbitrarily connected things or ideas.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A. S. Byatt at the TLS on matters related to art and neuroscience: