ARTE3113/PHIL3113: Strange Tools

Artistic Inquiry & Embodied Cognitive Science


‘Strange Tools’ is a term coined by Alva Noë which alludes to the power of combining the fields of philosophy, embodied cognitive science, and artistic inquiry. It is vital that these disciplines be understand as inter-connected in order to develop and apply strange tools to solve complex or wicked problems facing humanity. The University of Cincinnati’s Strange Tools Research Lab is part of the Digital Futures Research Initiative and uses the strange tools concept to form a primary research platform to foster innovation and development of strange tools to solve complex problems in human society. 

This course investigates what strange tools are, how they are applied and perhaps most exciting, seeks to have student develop their own strange tools in their fields of study for future innovations. At a basic level, this course explores the connections between art, philosophy, and embodied cognitive science in the development of new ‘strange’ tools used in research. Topics include: Embodied Experience, Virtual Environments, Human Evolution, Cognitive Science, Artistic & Aesthetic Inquiry, The Philosophy of Technology, The Learning Sciences, Reason, and Consciousness. Most of these topics required the development and application of strange tools in order to understand their significance and use in research.  

To develop strange tools, researchers need to rethink the central tenets of research design, application and dissemination. Strange Tools research asks: What if instead of making things simpler and reduced everything to scientific modes of knowing the world, we instead took the opposite path, and made things more complex and aesthetic? In other words, tools are typically ways of making things easier and more efficient to solve problems. This works in many cases when the research problems are easily defined and understood. But what about large complex problems like consciousness or embodied aesthetic experiences? Or what about the complex problems yet to emerge in the future? What tools will research need to develop? This is the territory strange tools research, and the Strange Tools Research Lab at the University of Cincinnati operates in. One might say that strange tools research solves problems in the ‘opposite direction’. Complexity, subjectivity, aesthetic concerns, embodied experience, etc. are all sought and investigated in strange tools research to compliment traditional scientific approaches. 

Students will not be required to have knowledge of cognitive science, design (ontological design), aesthetic theory, or contemporary art to be in this course. Rather, we envision this course as a way to create informed explorers and connoisseurs of embodied cognitive science, art and design inquiry that understand and articulate the way scientists and artists-designers have, in both ancient and modern times, employed research methods and technologies to make sense of the world around them. This approach is aimed at developing strange tools research as a methodological approach student can then apply in their fields of study. 

We are situating art and design as a vital inquiry and/or research process in global culture, natural sciences, and the humanities. As a result of this combination of domains (the strange tool ethic), students will: 1) become acquainted with the aspects the history of art and design in terms of aesthetic theory, and embodied cognitive science, 2) be aware of issues that reveal how art-design inquiry ‘makes the world,’ (ontological design) through the use of embodied cognitive scientific discourse, and 3) perhaps most importantly, students will gain respect, understanding, and become advocates for the strange tools method of inquiry – a vital practice reflecting the implicit embodied structure of our species.