Neuro-Reason. Sellars’ Legacy and its Implications for Art
Bassam El Baroni

There exists a general concern about how neuroscientific research may change our views about free will, agency, and responsibility for the worse through its tendency to explain how our brains cause behaviour. This is a seemingly old story boosted by new discoveries and exploited in art, film, and literature. It has also been augmented by its attachment to areas of research related to AI and the automation of the economy. The underlying worry, or even horror, seems to be that societal frameworks will begin to collapse (or have already) if, through establishing consciousness as a matter of neural correlates, people are encouraged to believe that freedom is an illusion, and with it, responsibility and agency. This horror has been expressed as ‘the semantic apocalypse’ in RS Bakker’s novel Neuropath (2009). In this talk I will first briefly explore how such concerns might be misplaced. Neuroscience explains the causes for our behaviour and should be taken seriously; freedom, agency etc. are concepts which have developed through reasoning between agents across histories, locations, and cultures. The distinction between causes and reasons is central to what Wilfrid Sellars called ‘stereoscopic vision’ which can be defined as: the process of working towards an eventual fusion of the scientific image (the natural space of causes) and the manifest image (the logical space of reasons) in which the manifest image is not overwhelmed in the synthesis. The talk will briefly explain Sellars’ framework and suggest what it might contribute to the expanded field of art, in particular to image construction. Time permitting; it will look at how taking up this framework has enabled serious new work on the much-maligned concept of dialogue, recategorizing it as a specific cognitive operation that has social and political aims.

Bassam El Baroni is a curator from Alexandria, Egypt and a member of the faculty at the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He was co-curator of Manifesta 8, 2010, Murcia, Spain and director of Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum, 2005 – 2012. In 2016 he curated ‘Nemocentric’ at Charim Galerie, Vienna. And in 2015, he curated ‘What Hope Looks like after Hope (On Constructive Alienation)’ at HOME WORKS 7, Beirut. Other exhibitions include AGITATIONISM the 36th edition of Eva International - Ireland’s Biennial, Limerick, 2014; the Lofoten International Art Festival, Norway, 2013 (with Anne Szefer Karlsen and Eva González-Sancho ); and ‘When it Stops Dripping from the Ceiling (An Exhibition That Thinks About Edification)’ at the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, 2012.