Monday, June 19, 2017

A Well-Trained Esthetic Sense

Misha Burnett writes: 
To return to the analogy of scientific truth, if one happened to believe a particular theory–say that all planets in the solar system rotate on their axis in the same direction–and then encounters evidence that contradicts this theory–the axial rotation of Venus and Uranus–then suppressing the evidence in order to hold onto the theory is wrong. Either the evidence is bad, in which case further study will contradict it, or the theory is wrong, and to continue to cling to it in the face of evidence against it is an act of willful ignorance. 
However, the above analogy is also predicated on the assumption that you understand the science–the math involved, how to apply the theory, how to determine the proper frame of reference, knowing in what way the science is applicable as a model for the real world. 
In the same way, if a work of art is beautiful, if it moves you, then it is expressing a truth and if that contradicts an opinion that you hold, that may be evidence that your opinion is wrong. It may also be evidence that your esthetic sensibilities are unequal to the task of understanding the work in question. 
The way to avoid being taken in by junk science is to develop an understanding of real science. You don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to understand how to tell when a sample size is statistically significant or when a conclusion does not follow logically from a premise. 
In the same way the defense against propaganda is not suppression of bad art, but an understanding of esthetics sufficient to recognize it as bad art.  A good grasp of mathematics will inoculate one against pseudoscientific scams, and a good grasp of narrative and story will inoculate one against propaganda masquerading as fiction. 
A well-trained esthetic sense will also allow one to understand the applicability of the work to the real world. Just as a trained scientific intellect will understand what a scientific theory does and does not imply regarding reality, a trained esthetic sense will understand what art does and does not imply about reality, and to see the significant parallels while discarding the spurious ones.  The message of The Lord Of The Rings, for example, is not that short people are better than tall people.
I am loathe to add more, except that we are currently seeing this lack of a well-trained esthetic sense play out in the arts today.

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