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CfA: Art and Affect in the Predictive Mind

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Department of Philosophy, University of York, 24th-25th September 2020

Deadline for submissions: 24th May 2020

We are delighted to invite contributions for ‘Art and Affect in the Predictive Mind’, a two-day international and interdisciplinary conference that will be held at the University of York, UK, on 24th and 25th September 2020.

The conference will bring together philosophers, art historians and cognitive scientists for the first systematic exploration of the rich and still largely uncharted interactions between predictive processing and aesthetic experience.

Keynote speakers:

Karl Friston, University College London

Ladislav Kesner, Masaryk University

Claudia Muth, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg

Diana Omigie, Goldsmiths, University of London

Sander Van de Cruys, KU Leuven

Johan Wagemans, KU Leuven

The Theme

Predictive processing (PP) is an emerging framework at the cutting edge of theoretical cognitive science, and its philosophical implications are currently being hotly debated. This wide-ranging approach describes the human brain as an embodied probabilistic model of the world, constantly generating predictions about the causes of its sensory states and updating itself when a prediction error is encountered, in an effort to maintain a sustainable and homeostatic exchange with its environment. This prediction error minimization process is often taken to be an imperative of every biological system and a possible unifying principle for understanding perception, action, attention, experience and learning.

Recently, PP has attracted the attention of a number of scholars working in philosophical aesthetics and in the psychology of art. A growing body of research is linking beauty and aesthetic pleasure with the need of the predictive agent to resolve uncertainty about its sensory states. According to this view, artworks are essentially uncertainty-resolving, epistemically-rewarding streams of information that gain their satisfying character by continuously affording competing predictions about possible outcomes and then dispelling uncertainty over such predictions. What is emerging from the applications of this intuition to several art forms is a promising way to unify artworks as diverse as a painting, a symphony, a novel, a film and a cathedral under a common analytical framework, and a fresh reconceptualization of long-debated issues in aesthetics such as the nature of aesthetic pleasure, the beholder’s share and the cognitive value of art.

In the meantime, art and aesthetics are becoming increasingly interesting subjects for PP advocates. Artworks (especially paintings, musical pieces, narratives) are beginning to be seen as powerful tools to investigate the fundaments of the predictive brain, as they afford a unique perspective on how predictions are formed and deployed in the processing of richly structured sensory streams. On the other hand, traditional notions of philosophical aesthetics such as that of disinterestedness are challenging bedrock ideas of the PP framework and are animating a discussion that can lead to a better understanding of such issues as affect, valence, reward, motivation and exploratory behaviours for the predictive agent.

We are looking for well-informed contributions that might be of interest to an interdisciplinary audience. Topics include but are not limited to:

  • PP and Bayesian accounts of specific art forms (visual art, music, narrative, literature, etc.);
  • Differences and commonalities between prediction error minimization dynamics in different art forms;
  • Prediction error minimization, positive affect and aesthetic pleasure;
  • Prediction error minimization, insight and ‘Aha’ experience;
  • Expectations, surprise and emotional response in aesthetic experience;
  • The role of negative affect in the enjoyment of art from a PP perspective;
  • PP accounts of suspense, rhythm and narrative tension;
  • The ways in which aesthetic experience illuminates or challenges PP accounts of novelty-seeking, curiosity and exploratory behaviours;
  • The ways in which art and aesthetics can shed light on underexplored issues in PP such as affect, valence, emotion and conscious phenomenal experience;
  • The potential of art as a useful paradigm to investigate PP in the brain;
  • The ways in which active inference and top-down processes in PP can inform the debate in aesthetics on the beholder’s share (Gombrich) and the historicity of vision, and vice versa;
  • Bayesian model-updating and the cognitive value of art.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be sent in the form of 400-500 word abstracts in Word or PDF format to artandaffectinpp@gmail.com by 24th May 2020. Abstracts must be written in English and prepared for blind review. In the body of your email please include your name, institutional affiliation, and contact information. Final papers should be suitable for 30 minutes presentation followed by a 15 minutes discussion.

We adopt the Good Practice Policy recommendations of the British Philosophical Association and the Society for Women in Philosophy (bpa.ac.uk/resources/women-in-philosophy/good-practice). We therefore especially encourage women and members of other under-represented groups to submit and we will take diversity into account when making decisions for inclusion in the programme.

Important Dates

Deadline for submission: 24th May 2020
Notification of acceptance: 7th June 2020

Conference date: 24th-25th September 2020

N. B.: We are monitoring closely the evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the time being, in the absence of precise predictions, we have decided to leave the date of the event as it is, trusting the projections that predict a significant drop of the disease before autumn this year (and a possible new increase in winter). Should a postponement be unavoidable, we will issue a notice in due course and we will consider abstracts already received for the postponed conference.

Organising Committee:
Jacopo Frascaroli (Department of Philosophy, University of York)

Firat Altun (York Music Psychology Group, University of York)

Monika Axmannova (Department of History of Art, University of York)

Tracey Davison (Department of History of Art, University of York)

Genevieve Stegner-Freitag (Department of History of Art, University of York)

The conference will be free and open to all.

Information about venue, travel and accommodation is available at:


We aim to make the conference as accessible as possible, in line with the BPA/SWIP Guidelines for Accessible Conferences. Disabled parking is available, and the venue (including toilet facilities) is wheelchair-accessible. The conference room is equipped with induction loops. Other accessibility requirements can be provided upon request, including but not limited to: a signer, a sighted guide, formatted materials (large print, Braille, etc.), food and water for assistance animals, and extra presentation time. Please do not hesitate to contact the conference organisers to discuss accessibility requirements.

All questions and correspondence should be addressed to the conference organising team at: artandaffectinpp@gmail.com