The Cognitive Game Panel at SLSA 2008, Notes on Consciousness, Cognition, and Neuronarratives

As you may have read on my CV, I am writing my dissertation on the potentially important work being done in science fiction on minds and brains. Specifically, I will read the works of several authors through the lens of cognitive cultural studies with the goal to establish the significance of science fiction to literary studies as well as cognitive science.

I have been long interested in the human mind. I wrote a 20 page paper in my high school psychology class on consciousness after reading Roger Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind. At the University of Liverpool, I took part in a study on human facial aesthetics only after receiving the researcher’s promise that I could have a copy of my MRI dicom data so that I could look at my brain in the comfort of my own home.

Until recently, I had forgotten about a panel that I attended at the 2008 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Charlotte, NC. Titled “The Cognitive Game,” the panelists discussed different aspects of cognition in and through literature. I remembered this panel only after browsing an old notebook about a week ago when I ran across my notes. This bit of happenstance is itself a hallmark of my mind and the way my memory works. So much seems lost to the past, but I can capture glimpses of the past through my notes. However, I honestly have very little memory of the panel even after reading through my notes. In a sense, it seems like I wasn’t really there, but I do know that the notes are mine. You may have noticed that I take copious notes in class or at conferences. Part of this is an attempt to help me remember things in the short term while maintaining my focus on what is being discussed. It is also my effort at recalling things at a later time–if I have a chance to go back and review my notes. Unfortunately, I do not always have the time to really go back through all of my notes–at least not as thoroughly as I would like.

As an exercise to help retrieve weak connections in my mind’s holographic memory, I copy my notes from “The Cognitive Game” panel below.

Notes:

Saturday 10:30 panel

The Cognitive Game

Sarah Birge – “Paper Memories”

narrative identity theory

trauma disrupts narrative

loss of self without normal brain function

“disnarrativia”

Richard Powers and Umberto Eco novels

how to compensate for these disruptions

Andy Clark

self as tool kit — Dennet

The Echo Maker – Powers

Capgras Syndrome

recreation of self and creation of self by others

liminal state of Mark

enforcement of stable sense of self in the face of trauma

issues of dignity and self-determination

this would be good to add to BSG paper [note: this did not happen]

The Mysterious Flame _________ – Eco

persistence of self through time

cultural memory

Yambo’s “paper memory” vs. personal memory

“notebook of his mind”

dispersion of self into cultural memory

self and certainty-> allow space for others’ narratives

—————————————-

Mark Clark – “Post-traumatic Experiential”

Nabokov – it is the re-reading that matters (?)

villanelle vs. narrative sense of self

Dylan Thomas – “Do not go Gently into That Good Night”

final words are a whisper

son is not finished project of the father

consider context of the words – respoken, altered meanings?

changing memory based on trauma

non-activation

therapeutic endeavor

absorption

audience – reader and participant in narrator’s trauma aftermath

—————————————-

Pawel Frelik – “To Think or Not to Think”

begins with the novel that Sarah talked about

Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker

Antonio Damasio

Edelman and Tononi

Thomas Metzinger

D. M. Wagner

SF:

1) performance of subjectivity – PKD, terminal fictions, cyberpunk, surfaces

2) artificial intelligence – Maddox Halo, Galatea 2.2

3) cognitive processes problematized – Egan’s Oceanic, Moon – The Speed of Dark, Matt Ruff

intelligence vs. consciousness

alien narratives is one place this is engaged

morality or transcendence – imply consciousness

1) inescapably coupled – Dix and Williams, Echoes of Earth trilogy

2) possibly conflicting – Peter Watts – Blindsight

Echoes of Earth – ingrams of humanity

E.E. Smith – Lensman series

contrasts with Echoes of Earth

xenomorphism/exoticism

Blindsight – one of the most inventive novels of alien otherness in recent years

construct – “heaven”

third wave to make alien contact

“posthuman sociopaths”

Susan James – “gang of four” – multicore persona/ae

1) blindsight – brain lesions – see things without cognition

2) Chinese room – John Searle – 1980 – thought experiment

3) zombie – blindsighted zombies, consciousness is baggage that they have jettisoned, expand possibilities for the species

what about aesthetics

for humanity consciousness not landing on Earth

cruxifix glitch – vampires

downgrade humanity

reptilian ascendancy – also Power’s language

—————————————-

Q&A

emotion and affect – importance to consciousness

subjectivity and the fragmented self

what about posthumanism and sentience

Earth: backwater, lucky for us, allowed us to survive

disability – ascendency for posthuman specialization

Suzan Jones – savage that we now don’t tolerate multipersonalities – in Blindsight, humanity accepts that – how to manage, utilize

scramblers – respond to stimuli, volition isn’t really addressed

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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Posted in Conference, Personal, Science Fiction
Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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