3/13/2018

cognitive impenetrability of some aesthetic perception

For me, one of the interesting experiences of getting older is seeing, from the internal first-person perspective, many of the generalizations one hears about 'getting older' come true in my own life. One of the most obvious/ salient ones for me is about musical tastes. I love a lot of hip hop from the early-to-mid 90's. (This is probably still my favorite hip hop album of all time.) I do also like some of the stuff that is coming out now, but on average, the beats in particular just sound bad to me. In particular, the typical snare sound -- I can't get over how terrible and thin it sounds.

But on the other hand, I know full well that, as people get older, they start thinking 'Young people's music today is so much worse than when I was a kid!' And that I heavily discounted old people's views about new music when I was in school.

Yet this makes absolutely no difference to my perceiving the typical trap snare sound today as really insubstantial and weak -- just ugly. The theoretical knowledge makes zero difference to my experience.

This reminded me of Fodor's famous argument from the Müller-Lyer illusion* for the cognitive impenetrability of perception. No matter how many times I am told that the two horizontal lines are the same length, no matter how many times I lay a ruler next to each line in succession and measure them to be the same length, I still perceive one line as shorter than the other. My theoretical knowledge just can't affect my perception. In a bit of jargon, the illusion is mandatory.

My experience of the typical hip hop snare sound today is similarly mandatory for me, despite the fact that I know (theoretically/ cognitively) that, as an old person, I should discount my aesthetic impressions of music coming out today.

This seems like it could make trouble for a Fodorian who wants to use the mandatoriness of illusions as an argument that perception is unbiased/ theory-neutral -- in a conversation about the best hip hop albums of all time, my aesthetic data would extremely biased towards stuff that came out between 1989-1995.

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*(Have you seen the dynamic Müller-Lyer illusions? Go here and scroll down to see a few variants.)

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