Alva Noë

Alva Noë is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. He is writer and a philosopher who works on the nature of mind and human experience.

Noë received his PhD from Harvard in 1995 and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He previously was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company and has recently begun a performative-lecture collaboration with Deborah Hay. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.

He is the author of Action in Perception (MIT Press, 2004); Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009); and most recently, Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012). He is now at work on a book about art and human nature.

When I was a boy, I had a book about a father who sends his child to bed without dinner because he won't remove his tall hat at the table.

The boy goes to sleep hungry and dreams that he is in a forest where the trees are threatened by an evil lumberjack. One of the endangered trees turns out to be the boy's father. In the illustrations, you can see the father's tears in the gnarly bark of the tree.

I can't remember the title and I haven't been able to track this book down. I've asked book sellers and I've searched online. (If any of you know, please drop me a line!)

Can We See Taste?

Sep 20, 2016

Eaters and cooks know that flavor, in the jargon of neuroscientists, is multi-modal.

Taste is all important, to be sure. But so is the look of food and its feel in the mouth — not to mention its odor and the noisy crunch, or juicy squelch, that it may or may not make as we bite into it. The perception of flavor demands that we exercise a suite of not only gustatory, but also visual, olfactory, tactile and auditory sensitivities.

Neuroscientists are now beginning to grasp some of the ways the brain enables our impressive perceptual power when it comes to food.

There is a church in Florence where women and girls are asked to put on a blue robe if their dress is considered too revealing.

It is no doubt an accident that the blue of the gown perfectly matches the blue of the painted night sky of the small cupola in the old chapel and also the blue field of color in a Ghirlandaio painting that hangs near by. Far from concealing these church visitors, the effect, rather, is to draw the eye and throw them into architectural relief.

If you know Theo Jansen's strandbeests, then you surely have in mind images of mammoth, artificial creatures — made of PVC, plastic ties and bottles — roaming the northern beaches of the Netherlands on the watch for rising seas.

Attitudes toward animals are a delicate and complicated matter.

We can group animals into vertebrates and invertebrates, into the wild and the domestic — or into those we keep as pets, those we eat and those we regard with disgust as vermin.

It's OK to love them — but only so much.

It is a remarkable fact that we treat men and women, boys and girls, differently.

I'm not talking about wage disparities and implicit bias. No, I mean that we openly and freely treat males and females as if they were simply different kinds of people.

A few examples of what I have in mind:

  • Boys and girls, men and women, are typically separated for sporting activities regardless of size, strength or ability
  • Commonly, it is expected that men and women go to the toilet in different rooms

According to Oscar Wilde, life imitates art. In his The Decay of Lying — An Observation (1891), he wrote:

"Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows? To whom, if not to them and their master, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace curved bridge and swaying barge?"

In a post a few weeks back, Tania Lombrozo drew attention to research showing that students using laptops and other digital devices in the college classroom are less likely to perform as well as students not using them.

There sure has been a lot of sports in the news these days. NBA Finals, UEFA Cup, Wimbledon, the ongoing endurance test which is Major League Baseball. Sports is a lens on what we can and cannot do.

It's a celebration of ability and disability.

Today, I'm going to introduce you to a sport I just learned about: beep baseball.

In the last 400 years or so, since the time of the scientific revolution, we have come to find it natural to suppose that the world is comprehensible.

Nature and its laws, operating in things most small as well as in the cosmos as a whole, are understandable.

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