The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science

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Ellen Dissanayake: The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics. Special Issue on Aesthetic Cognition. Cognitive Semiotics 5, 148-173.



An ethological description of mother-infant interaction suggests that it was adaptive during human evolution. From their early weeks, infants universally respond to certain affect-laden elements of maternal communication that can be called “proto-aesthetic.” I hypothesize that these capacities and receptivities, which evolved from about 1.7 million years ago to enable mother-infant bonding, became a reservoir of affective mechanisms that could be used subsequently by ancestral humans when they first began to “artify”—that is, when they invented the “arts” as vehicles of ceremonial religious experience. The ethological, evolutionary, and cross-cultural foundations of the Artification Hypothesis challenge current influential ideas in cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics about human aesthetic capacities and behavior. The hypothesis offers a broader and deeper view to these fields by emphasizing preverbal, presymbolic, pancultural, cross-modal, supra-modal, participative, temporally organized, affective, and affinitive aspects of aesthetic cognition and behavior. It additionally proposes that artifying is an unrecognized but vital evolved component of human nature.

Extended Abstract


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