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Enactive model of aesthetic perception through rhythm and entrainment

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ENAMARE (Enactive model of aesthetic perception through rhythm and entrainment)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2020-05-31

ENAMARE was a project aimed at studying and modeling the aesthetic component of experience from an enactive perspective – i.e. non-representational, embodied, action-oriented – combining philosophical research, results from cognitive science, and dynamics systems theory. The conceptual backbone of the project is a notion of rhythm as entrainment that stems from John Dewey’s thought. This notion differs from the standard one of rhythm as measure. Yet, the notion of rhythm as a formal aspect that emerges at the interaction of brain, bodily, and environmental oscillations that constrains the same process from which it emerges is not completely new either. It goes back until the very first existing account of rhythm, composed by the Greek mercenary and poet Archilocus. For him, rhythm is form. Both constituting us and our relation with the environment and constraining it.
This project assumed that the philosophical field of aesthetics is a valid point to understand our relationship with the environment, for every object, agent or event is able to afford the activation of an aesthetic component of experience. This conceptualization allows to consider the aesthetic component not as an isolated cognitive component triggered by a specific what, but as a particular how of general experience. The aesthetic emerges as not restricted to particular events or objects, such as artworks, but to specific engagements between human beings and the environment. Hence, aesthetics becomes a way to address, explore, and understand how certain interactions take place, their roots, dynamics, and potential outcomes. For example, this aesthetic component can be useful in an educational context to try to enhance attentional and memory processes by controlling environmental circumstances such as light conditions, background music, and the affordances of educational tools. It also allows to develop an understanding of how the aesthetic is constantly used as a backdoor to manipulate us into certain actions. In sum, this focus on the aesthetic component of experience underlines the continuity and dynamics of the aesthetic not only in the exceptional circumstances of museums, concert halls and forests, but in our daily life activities connected with education, shopping, and intersubjective relations.
The first and main objective of this project was elaborating a theoretical model of this aesthetic component of experience. A second objective is to further the research on enactive approaches to cognitive processes. To this end, the specific model of the aesthetic component of experience was trimmed into a more general one ruled by three dynamic notions: rhythm, entrainment, and constraint. This model, along with complementary information in the form of a glossary with the most relevant terms of dynamic systems theory used during this project, will hopefully help researchers interested in these interdisciplinary approaches.
I fulfilled the objectives of the project and exceeded some of them.
In terms of research, I have carried out a thorough survey of pertinent literature for the different aspects of the project, I have developed a non-representational notion of rhythm, elaborated a specific model of an aesthetic component of experience and a general one of cognition based on rhythm and entrainment. These results have contributed to the specific field of aesthetics and the general of cognitive science by offering a useful and comprehensive conceptualization of rhythm, a model for a specific situation –the aesthetic component of experience– and a general framework for non-representational, radically embodied, dynamic approaches to cognition.
In terms of training, I established a continued relationship with prof. Paolo Pellizzari and other members of the “Complexity: Research for global challenges” Research Group in order to be trained and acquire skills in Dynamical Systems Theory. I stayed at different institutions as part of my secondment in which I acquired knowledge and training in different empirical approaches to the embodiment of rhythm, empirical visual aesthetics, and the influence of bodily oscillations in cognition.
In terms of dissemination and communication, I wrote and presented 4 papers to peer-reviewed journals (2 already accepted and published, 2 under review). I took part in 5 international conferences as speaker, and organized and participated in seminars in Venice and abroad (Oslo, Vienna, Aarhus, Warsaw). I increased a network of contacts by attending to conferences and seminars and by participating in projects with fellow researchers. I co-taught (10 h), at Ca’ Foscari’s University a course on aesthetics in which I presented some of the most relevant research on contemporary aesthetics from fields such as neuroaesthetics, embodied aesthetics and enactivism (I did not receive any payment for the teaching). I organized a three-day lecture by Shaun Gallagher at Ca’ Foscari’s University (Venetian Lectures: Art/Performance). I disseminated results of the research to general public through talks, visits to museums, videos, and podcast. I developed a collaboration with members of RITMO, the Interacting Minds and of other universities and departments. I became member of Ca’ Foscari’s “Complexity: Research for global challenges” Research Group, of the “Cognition, Language, Action and Sensibility – Venetian Seminar” and of the “Associazione Pragma”.
In terms of impact, I have established myself as researcher in the field of non-representational and embodied approaches to cognition, I have acquired relevant knowledge for interdisciplinary approaches to cognition through training at Ca’ Foscari and the secondment at different research institutions.
This project has contributed to advance the state of the art in different ways. Probably the main theoretical achievement of the project is the development of an original model of an aesthetic component of experience based on the rhythmic integration of narrative and attentional cognitive processes at the crossroads between brain, body, and environmental oscillatory activity able to constrain pre-reflective and reflective aspects at both sides of experience in relevant temporal frameworks in an emergent continuity that connects classic aesthetic experiences and other not so obvious but also aesthetically driven experiences. Yet, this model was built upon an original definition of rhythm that integrates different traditions: pragmatist, pre-Socratic, and phenomenological understandings of time, temporality, and experience. This definition of rhythm in itself affords the possibility of expanding the research on the implication of rhythms in different contexts, for it can be integrated with other relevant concepts of social cognition such as a resonance or attunement. This path has already been initially explored in ENAMARE through the elaboration of a second, and simpler, model focused on non-representational, radically embodied, dynamic approaches to cognition. This model advanced the state of the start by proposing an enactive framework in which different oscillations enact a global rhythm of nested constraints that limit and enable perception, action, and any kind of behavior. All these three interrelated aspects constitute the core of the research developed in this project and its potentially most impactful features.
The image of the flight of this flock of birds entails the ideas of rhythm and entrainment.