In his keynote address for CAST’s first symposium, Seeing/ Sounding/ Sensing, Bruno Latour (Professor at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris) observed that “Much of our philosophy comes from the still life; it’s a disease of the Dutch. Descartes and Locke spent a lot of time in Holland and saw too many still lifes.” With the joking aside, Latour elaborated on how the still life is emblematic of “matters of fact,” which dull the senses. The traditional relationship between subject and object that a still life sets up is false. Citing the art historian Erwin Panofsky’s writings on perspective, Latour emphasized the artificiality of the construct in which a subject views objects through an imaginary plane with monocular vision. In reality, objects have a trajectory; they are not fixed. Latour suggested that to be aesthetic – in its true etymological sense, meaning “to make oneself sensitive to” – it is better to imagine oneself in motion in the world.
Latour’s directive to approach things dynamically and from all sides could be seen as the guiding principle of the symposium itself. The symposium’s organizers MIT Professors Caroline Jones and Stefan Helmreich, along with Mellon postdoctoral fellow David Mather, brought together artists, philosophers, cognitive neuroscientists, historians, anthropologists and scholars from various branches of the humanities to contribute to this cross-disciplinary investigation of the senses. The speakers explored their respective subjects, “Seeing – Color,” “Sounding –Resonance” and “Sensing – Action,” with kaleidoscopic diversity, each illuminating another aspect of sensory experience. Latour stated “I will make no distinction – because that is the goal of our symposium – between making oneself sensitive through scientific instruments or making oneself sensitive through the arts,” and in that spirit, each of the three panels involved researchers from both the science and arts communities.
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Full transcripts and video coverage of the CAST symposium are available here.