Notes from 11/07/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

At the November 7, 2011 meeting of the Neurosciences and the Humanities Workgroup at Kent State University, we discussed the following articles:

Pallanti, Stefano. “Unique Contributions of Brain Stimulation to the Study of Consciousness: Where Neuroscience Meets Philosophy.” CNS Spectr 15:3 (March 2010): 154-156.

Lagercrantz, Hugo and  Jean-Pierre Changeux. “Basic Consciousness of the Newborn.” Seminars in Perinatology: 201-206.

Velmans, Max. “How to Separate Conceptual Issues from Empirical Ones in the Study of Consciousness.” Progress in Brain Research. eds. R. Banerjee and B.K. Chakrabarti. 168: 1-9.

issues of definition

will we ever understand consciousness?

if we ever do–what then?

what is the significance of understanding consciousness to us in the humanities?

what can the work in this field do for us in the humanities?

should we seek out a “consensus” of consciousness?

Chalmers and Velmans > taxonomy of consciousness > take consciousness as a given and do not try to reduce it

Semir Zeki – Splendors and Miseries of the Brain

are neuroaesthetics discourses the same as the consciousness debate? no–doesn’t seem to be a link between neuroaesthetics and consciousness–in neuroaesthetics discourse, we can take consciousness as a given

what about beauty and consciousness?

how do you communicate conscious experience to another person?

problems of relevance, historically/culturally

being too vague?

cognitive science/cognitive neuroscience/social neuroscience

work on imitation

literature > mimesis, mirror neurons

intersubjectivity > Marco Iacoboni

mind reading

Brian Boyd > fascination with stories > evolved for social interaction

Metzinger book (from last time) > connection to lit studies

creative act

how would you teach these materials?

neuronovel > undergraduates

theory class > graduate, not integrative

I had students read Oliver Sacks in my writing class before moving to Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances

racial bias – can correct for that if primed in appropriate ways

emotion regulation, affect during reading

In the Woods – Jana French – unreliable narrator

degree to which the sense of self is a story

what is the narrative basis in the neurobiology?

“pre-theoretical assumptions”

“Basic Consciousness of the Newborn” > poorly written> confirms abortion rights [cultural specificity] > newborns are fully human beings > experiments framed because the scientists had a particular idea

assumptions by the neuroscientists might form the basis of their experiments and interpretation of findings

analogical > baby response – adult, baby brain – adult brain > same experiences

argument is as strong or weak as the analogy is

they used Websters for their definition

interesting to read what counts for science

is this article typical of neuroscience articles?

consciousness is something that has been around longer than neuroscience > explains why they cited the Webster’s definition

now, we should be careful when using the word “consciousness”

literature and philosophy have definitions and concepts that are specifically on consciousness

these migrated to the neurosciences

not situated in a discernable discourse

Velmans > 1st person (phenomenology) vs 3rd person (empirical)

what do we gain/how do we benefit from Woolf’s conceptions of consciousness: 1) how the world > social construction of the subject and 2) individual consciousness > individual articulation “the tunnel back to where all consciousnesses meet” (from last time) > conversation about humaness > important issues > can neuroscience help us understand these things better?

habitual states of consciousness

generalizing beyond Woolf’s individual genius (if you choose to use that word) > these things  exist > would not attribute this to her individual genius > would not use the word genius > novel > system > rules and protocols that can be broken > genre advanced, almost exhausted > Woolf arives at a late stage > reflecting on these rules > totally rejects the idea of genius (but she was a very smart woman)

collective activity

haiku, zen practices, consciousness, intepretation, e.g., a flag is waving in the wind, but what is moving? different responses

discussing future readings for the group

rhetoric of science writing > RSQ

science writing vs science teaching

shift to active voice from passive voice

interdisciplinarity > humanities > philosophy, theory of mind > English > psychoanalytic theory, practicing clinicians writing in response to the neurosciences

we arrived at consciousness studies through a discussion of the self

Antonio Damasio’s Decartes’ Error and Ruth Leys’ important book on trauma and affect theory, article on critical inquiry

“discourse processing”

questions being asked in the neurosciences are cultural questions

what have they found that would be useful to us? what can we take from their work?

humanities influence on cognitive science

working definition > acknowledge other definitions

issues of crisis in the humanities > the written word

how do we define the human > biopolitics

why do certain things become important or capture our imaginations or direct discourse at particular times

Aristotle > anger > boiling of the blood around the heart > tool for stirring up the crowd > affects > anger | virtue and danger

you work in the concept in the way that it works in a particular field

one word, many concepts, many questions related to those many concepts

language > concepts > where is the concept?

now, there are some questions that cannot be answered only in the given discipline

the concept of disciplines itself was wrongheaded from the beginning

next time: neurorhetorics

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.