This is a book about art. What is art? Why is it so important? What does art tell us about ourselves? In Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature I engage these questions. 

The books has three animating ideas. First, art is not a technological practice; however, it presupposes such practices. Works of art are strange tools. Technology is not just something we use or apply to achieve a goal, although this is right to a first approximation; technologies organize our lives in ways that make it impossible to conceive of our lives in their absence; they make us what we are. Art, really, is an engagement with the ways in which our practices, techniques, and technologies, organize us and it is, finally, a way to understand that organization and, inevitably, to reorganize ourselves.

The job of art, its true work, is philosophical. This is the second animating idea. Art is a philosophical practice. And philosophy—however surprising this may seem—is an artistic practice. This is because both art, and philosophy—superficially so different—are really species of a common genus whose preoccupation is with the ways we are organized and with the possibility of reorganizing ourselves. 

A third and final animating idea is one that will only itself acquire meaning after we have advanced considerably: art and philosophy are practices, as I put it, bent on the invention of writing.

Art, according to the conception developed here, turns out to have a great deal to do with biology, that is to say, with human nature, for organization, so central to the account I offer, is, finally, a biological notion. In Strange Tools I also explain why scientific approaches to art—both neurobiological and evolutionary biological—have failed to be successful, despite so much fanfare.

This book is a work of philosophy. It is my hope that it will engage readers of very different backgrounds.


Kieran Setiya →
- Times Literary Supplement

Adam Frank ➞
- 13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR

Nancy Princenthal ➞
- Art in America (PDF)

Anil Ananthaswamy ➞
- CultureLab, New Scientist

Giovanni Frazzetto ➞
- Science ($)

Kirkus Reviews ➞

J. Thomas Westbrook ➞
- The Harvard Crimson

Off the Shelf ➞
- Harvard Magazine

Josh Potter ➞
- Shelf Awareness

Arlice Davenport ➞
- The Wichita Eagle

Mohan Matthen ➞
- Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Tess Taylor ➞
- Barnes and Noble Review

Interviews and Discussion

Is Art Essential to Human Nature? (audio) ➞
- The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC

Philosophy and Choreography Together in SF ➞
- Andy Horwitz, Culturebot

Are You Afraid of the Art? Bringing Modern Art Back to the People One Blow at a Time ➞
- Nicole Disser, Bedford + Bowery

Alva Noë on his book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (audio) ➞
- The Middle Way Society Podcast

The One Divide Between Porn and Art that Can Never Be Overcome (video) ➞
- Big Think

How Art Shapes our Nature (audio) ➞
- Jeff Schechtman's "Specific Gravity"

"The Writerly Attitude" in Alva Noë's "Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature" ➞
- John Protevi's Blog

On the Notion of Philosophy in Alva Noë's "Strange Tools" ➞ 
- John Protevi's Blog

Notes on "Organization" in Alva Noë's New Book, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature ➞
- John Protevi's Blog

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature ➞
- Richard Bright, Interalia Magazine

Alva Noë: Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (audio) ➞
- Inquiry with Mark Lynch, WICN

Philosopher Alva Noe on the Limitations of Understanding Art Through Neuroscience (audio) ➞
- Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED

Strange Tools: Art And Human Nature (audio) ➞
- The Roundtable with Joe Donahue, WAMC

Alva Noë on Art, Perception, and Neuroscience ➞
- Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (audio) ➞
- Commonwealth Club of California Podcast

Using Art As a Gateway to Human Nature (audio) ➞
- Town Hall Seattle

Art Is a Tool for Reorganizing Our Lives: A Conversation With Cognitive Philosopher Alva Noë ➞
- Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire

Alva Noë: "Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature" (video) ➞
- Talks at Google

What Scientists and Philosophers Get Wrong About Art (video) ➞
- Big Think

Debate: Can Neuroscience Help Us Understand Art? ➞
- Alva Noë and Gabrielle Starr, NYU Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness

Interview: Choreography as a Strange Tool, an Interview With UC Berkeley Professor Alva Noë ➞
- Joe Ferguson, SciArt in America

Related Articles

Is It Bad If Art Is Boring?  
- 13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR

Art and the Limits of Neuroscience ➞
- The Stone, Opinionator, The New York Times

How Art Reveals the Limits of Neuroscience ➞ 
- The Chronicle of Higher Education

What Art Unveils ➞ 
- The Stone, Opinionator, The New York Times