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Hardcover | $42.00 Short | £34.95 | 544 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 31 b&w illus. | December 2017 | ISBN: 9780262036757
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Making Sense

Cognition, Computing, Art, and Embodiment


In Making Sense, Simon Penny proposes that internalist conceptions of cognition have minimal purchase on embodied cognitive practices. Much of the cognition involved in arts practices remains invisible under such a paradigm. Penny argues that the mind-body dualism of Western humanist philosophy is inadequate for addressing performative practices. Ideas of cognition as embodied and embedded provide a basis for the development of new ways of speaking about the embodied and situated intelligences of the arts. Penny argues this perspective is particularly relevant to media arts practices.

Penny takes a radically interdisciplinary approach, drawing on philosophy, biology, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, critical theory, and other fields. He argues that computationalist cognitive rhetoric, with its assumption of mind-body (and software-hardware) dualism, cannot account for the quintessentially performative qualities of arts practices. He reviews post-cognitivist paradigms including situated, distributed, embodied, and enactive, and relates these to discussions of arts and cultural practices in general.

Penny emphasizes the way real time computing facilitates new modalities of dynamical, generative and interactive arts practices. He proposes that conventional aesthetics (of the plastic arts) cannot address these new forms and argues for a new “performative aesthetics.” Viewing these practices from embodied, enactive, and situated perspectives allows us to recognize the embodied and performative qualities of the “intelligences of the arts.”

About the Author

Simon Penny is Professor of Art at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine, teaching mechatronic art, media art history and theory, and interdisciplinary seminars interfacing contemporary cognitive science and philosophy of mind with the arts. Trained as a sculptor, he has spent much of his career building interactive art environments with custom robotic and sensor-based systems.


“At once a primer and a manifesto of postcognitivist media art as well as a passionate defense of intelligent practice, Simon Penny makes a compelling case for an ‘Aesthetics of [skilled] Behavior.’ Lucidly distinguishing the past era of integrative cybernetics from today’s stealthy computationalist AI paradigm, Making Sense joins the growing ranks of deeply interdisciplinary works in support of embodied performance and an artful, interactive materiality. At one stroke, this book bridges the conceptual gap between Jack Burnham’s prophetic Beyond Modern Sculpture and the new kinds of knowledge required for better design.”
Barbara Maria Stafford, author of Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images

“This urgent and insistently transdisciplinary monograph offers an extraordinarily rich set of alternative resources for reworked extended cognitivisms, embodied and situated intelligences, as well as holist approaches to the complexities of media art and contemporary cultural practices. If you ever wondered how paradigms of abstract disembodied reasoning, mathematically rule-governed manipulations of symbols, mind-body dualisms, and computationalist worldviews got to hold sway and what is wrong and less than intelligent about that, this is the volume to consult. Making Sense is the key book to engage with, because in your company an enactment begins—of one of these new aesthetics of behavior in accord with which we (and other living beings) are situationally and performatively smart.”
Ulrik Ekman, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen; editor of Throughout: Art and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing, coeditor of Ubiquitous Computing, Complexity and Culture