Today, in my philosophy of art class, we were pondering the question: "What gives a work of art its artistic value?"
One prominent answer that many philosophers have given to this question is: Experience. According to these philosophers, a work of art has whatever artistic value it has because of the value of the experience that it affords the connoisseur. For instance, a particular piece of music has artistic value because of the experience it affords you, the listener, as you go through the process of listening to it, appreciating its formal qualities and various layers of meaning in its lyrics, as well as savoring whatever emotions and raw feelings the music brings up in you.
This answer, however, brings up some interesting problems. For instance, if there were something else which can give you the exact same experience as actually listening to this piece of music, would this thing then have the same artistic value as actually listening to the piece of music? For instance, suppose there were a pill that you can take that can evoke in you the exact same experience that you would have if you were actually listening to this piece of music. Suppose this pill contains certain sophisticated hallucinogens which can put you into a state in which you experience exactly the same images and experiences you would experience if you were actually listening to a live performance of the music, down to the last detail, so that your conscious mind is unable to distinguish between this hallucinogen-induced musical experience, and the actual real-world experience of being in a concert hall and listening to the piece of music being performed live. Would you then say that this hallucinogenic musical experience has the exact same artistic value as the real-world musical experience?
If the answer is yes (i.e. the hallucinogenic musical experience has the exact same artistic value as the real-world musical experience), wouldn't this mean that works of art don't even have to be actual or exist in the real world in order for them to have artistic value? All that is needed is for them to be experienced in somebody's consciousness at some point in time or other. And if we take this line of thought a little further, wouldn't this imply that virtual works of art, i.e. works of art that only exist in somebody's mind, have just as much artistic value as works of art that exist in the real world? Interesting, don't you think?
This thought experiment can be applied to yoga, with a few changes. Suppose there were a pill that you can take that can evoke in you the exact same experience that you would have if you were, say, doing full primary... Actually, let's take this a little further. Suppose this pill is so sophisticated that it can induce not just the process of doing yoga, but also the end result: Samadhi. Suppose that, in addition to replicating the sensations of doing the yoga practice, this pill also replicates whatever experiences one would have when one finally experiences Samadhi after so many years of practice. (Note: It is important that the pill replicates not just the experience of Samadhi, but also the experience of the process of practice that is undertaken to get to Samadhi. Otherwise, the experience wouldn't feel authentic.) So suppose this pill puts you into the exact same states that you would experience in the real world if you were to undertake the entire journey of yoga practice and attain Samadhi, down to the last detail, so that your conscious mind is unable to distinguish between this hallucinogen-induced yogic experience, and the actual real-world experience of going through a yoga sadhana and attaining Samadhi. Would this hallucinogenic yogic experience then have the exact same, uh, yogic value as the real-world yogic experience? Would you take this pill?
Hmm... I think this makes for a fun poll question. So I'm going to conduct a poll on this. It's in the upper right-hand corner of this blog, as always. Please take a moment to cast your vote. I think I already know what the response to this poll is going to be like, but I'll try to keep my mind open anyway, and see what comes up. :-)