Stare at a painting on the wall. No matter how long you wait, it’s not going to tell you what it’s about. To find meaning in the spattering of paint, you must step back and gaze from many angles. For philosopher Alva Noe, this process of interpreting art is a useful metaphor for a broader understanding of how we grasp the world around us. In his new book, “Varieties of Presence,” Noe explores the many ways we use knowledge and skills to achieve a “presence” for the world in our thoughts and perceptions.

Alva Noe, professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media

  • Melissa

    Can Dr. Noe comment on how his theory may relate to the effectiveness of advertising and its influence on how we invest objects with meaning?

  • Laura

    Mindfulness, paying attention, listening, focusing on the moment, it will change the way you experience the world. 

    With all due respect, I would say the world is not dependent on your reading or understanding, I would offer emptying your mind of your efforts to interpret the world and experience it without preconceived notions.

    • Aiden

       This gets at my question.  Is the world REALLY already there, plain and simple?  Or do we co-create it in some way?

      • Yes.

      • Laura

         I would just say in my experience, both. The world is just there plain and simple and at the same time is always changing. I think we co-create the world with our minds, how we see things, the stories we make up about the world, ourselves and other people. Leaving aside the example of art because I think that is a more complex example but let’s say a building, we can walk by it, it’s just a building sometimes just something to walk by, or it can be the place that your ex girlfriend works in and the place where she had an affair with her boss, who by the way is married with children  and on top of it all she got a raise out of the whole thing and there you are left alone and walking by that building everyday to go to the job you hate… While all the time, it’s just a building having nothing to do with the story, and yet you hate it.  

        And then I think when we get to the point where we can see ourselves as one with no boundaries and big mind we know that everything is always continuously changing due to causes and conditions so at some point we benefit from not trying to figure it out, but just showing up. And if I understand your question about the given, this view is not achieved but realized, it does not need study, but needs space.

        • Aiden

           do you think the world is “just there plain and simple”?  it is not easy to understand how anything in a constant state of flux can be THERE.  this is part of nagarjuna’s critique of essence.  of course, this may still be a proper view.  maybe there is a changing thing that is THERE. 

          on the other hand, the proper view may be no view at all.  which makes it an odd view to “see ourselves” as anything at all, whether seeing ourselves as “big mind” or seeing ourselves as “one with no boundaries”.  with no boundaries, who is there to see? 

          part of overcoming the myth of the given seems to involve overcoming any simple view of “co-create the world with our minds”. 

          an aside: let me say that NONE of this is an attack on your expressions.  we are thinking together.  this is not a narrow criticism. 

          co-creation means the world creates us.  it means we do not “have” a mind.  THIS is mind.  this whole thing.  each moment is mind.  each moment is the plain and simple universe. 

          the building we walk past makes us.  we often fail to notice these subtle things.  as you may know, if i ask you to hold something warm when i first meet you, you will find me a warmer person than if i had asked you to hold something cold.  a cup of coffee made you and made me. 

          but i was just wondering about alva noe’s position.  very specific.  i wondered if he himself had any thoughts about his work vis-a-vis the myth of the given.  sorry to tag it onto your question, but yours was being read just as i was posting.

          in any case, i look forward to reading the book.  

          thank you for your thoughts, laura.  enjoy the moment.

    • Harmonia

      On the other hand, an unknown sage said,
      “if the mind doesn’t stir inside, the world doesn’t
      arise outside.”

  • Annmarie

    When the analogy of walking into a room with handwriting on the wall was made I was reminded of a peeve of mine. Why would an artist scribble on a canvas or other art medium in non-script?  I’ve seen this frequently lately in ceramic art. A form is created and then something that resembles handwriting is applied to the surface. This is deliberately unreadable whether as created or  text that has been rendered unreadable in transfer ,blurring etc.
     To me it seems an all too obvious attempt at mystery…aggravating!

  • The history of society and our individual lives is an essential part in
    ourselves as a perceiving subject, but art is often meant as a thing of value in itself. Despite our desire to see the art as a thing in itself, the artistic tradition is often what informs the viewer about the artist’s intentionality. Does Alva Noe have any contributions as to the role that the historical artistic tradition plays in constructing the experience of the phenomena of a work of art and how it informs the values of the subjective viewer?

  • Peter 316


    Hello Mr.Krasny and Professor Noe! 

    Professor Noe, I was in a philosophy course of yours at UCSC. I recognized it was you speaking before Mr.Krasny even announced you! Professor, it is so great to hear you on the air.

    I studied Physics and Psychology at UCSC.  In Physics, we learn that our experiments will always yield an answer in the shape that we are looking for. the wave particle duality of light is a perfect example.  If you use experiments which look at light as a wave, light will always appear as a wave.  If you look at light with a particle detector, it will always look like a particle. 

    Can you speak to observer created reality? 

    This interests me in relation to art, science, our cultural and human experience.  We create what we see by looking at it with preconceived notions, specific scientific apparatus or biases.

    Thank you very much. Congratulations on your new book!!!

    Peter Federico 

  • Aiden

    i don’t see this as a serious problem for your view, and maybe you
    yourself have no major concerns about this, but here’s my question:

    do you think your view falls prey to the myth of the given?   are we
    assuming a givenness, a kind of potential which we must achieve or
    realize?  or is it the case that the achievement or realization of
    experience, moment to moment, in its own way creates the real?

  • Our church choir sang for the wedding of one of our members–the owner of an art gallery–yesterday. We created art (a cappella SATB) by singing in t his gallery, surrounded by visual art (paintings, photographs, etc.) that he had curated and/or created while surrounded by as many of the two grooms’ friends and family as the small and gorgeous space would permit. It was indeed a “presence,” and all in attendance created and responded to the liturgy (service) that we all helped create.

  • Ashley Rowe Palafox

    University Press Books hasn’t changed its name! Still the same as it ever was. Looking forward to the event there next month– 2430 Bancroft in Berkeley.

  • Margaret Purcell Bristow

    a very sensitive & enlightning interview ~ the brilliant conversation between Micheal Krasny & the author Alva Noe~was so . . .fine tuned and is etched in my memory. Thanks to both of these two gracious erudite gentlemen ~  Alva Noe & Michael Krasney.

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