Notes from MLA 2012 Session 15: Useful Fictions? A Cognitive Perspective on the Utility of Emotions, Imagination, and Long Novels

On Thursday, January 5, I suited up and made my way to this session at the annual Modern Languages Association convention in downtown Seattle:

Useful Fictions? A Cognitive Perspective on the Utility of Emotions, Imagination, and Long Novels

Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 606, WSCC

A special session

Presiding: Lisa Zunshine, Univ. of Kentucky

1. “Falling in Love Unnoticed: Emotional Structures and Literary Analysis,” Patrick Colm Hogan, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs

2. “Cognition, Dreaming, and the Literary Imagination,” Alan Richardson, Boston Coll.

3. “Do We Want to Use Cognitive Science to Make a Case for Teaching Literature?,” Lisa Zunshine

I typed up my raw notes from the session’s presentations and q&a session below:


Patrick Colm Hogan’s presentation

Begin with summary of novel, Rabindranath Tagore


Literary work from protostories

Emotion and secure attachment in adult relations

Potential for disruption

“basic explanatory structure”

caregiver and children attachment relations

attachments work both ways—have to exist both ways

two ethical attitudes: 1) attachment sensitivity and 2) attachment openness

ethical dilemma, obligations—emotional obligations

secure attachment

liberate herself from the systems of oppression—suicide is self-liberating?

Marx—internalization of external forces including those of economics

Ingroup/outgroup categorization

Second story—enforce gender role, malevolent teacher > gives student nickname “housewife”

Narratives of understanding

Systematic approach to Tagore’s works

Teaching his fiction could have effects on emotional sensitivity—the “so what”


Alan Richardson’s presentation

Study of imagination in cognitive science, now a hot topic in neuroscience research

Interdisciplinary approach to imagination

Romanticist by training

Interested in cognitive neuroscience

Sleep, meaning, dreams, and literature

Brain’s default mode—includes creativity in dreams

Categorization, meaning making processes

Bottom-up methods (dreams) and top-down methods (literature)

Narrative and emotionality

REM—recruits same areas as ?

When we are not on-task


Stickle (sp?)—dream research

Neuroscience returns to imagination in the same way appreciated by the high romantics

Novel and creative associations—sought out during REM, not as accurate, but creating loose associations

Science of dreaming via Stickle

Imagining the future worlds and scenarios—sounds a lot like science fiction—will need to contact Richardson to find this work

Stickle’s work already considered in the romantic period

Shelley and Keats—two poems

Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Shelley’s ?

Dark-haired girl, think about Philip K. Dick

Personal meaning making

Divergence between literature and neuroscience

What is the dream characterized as?

Shelley—notcurnal dreaming as lucid experience?

Dream is a waking experience

Blurring between supposed divisions between dreaming/waking/daydreaming

Imaginative creation of memory

Private dreaming and public discourse | personal and private

Made out of larger social networks of meaning

Keats actually says “brain” when Madeline enters the church

“the exotic is the erotic” –cultural studies shorthand

Shelley poem ?

Gendered empire

Same circle: What can imaginative research do for literary studies and what can literary research on imagination do for neuroscientific research?

Dreaming and literary production

Historicist turn


Zunshine’s presentation

Cognitive science—case for teaching literature

“What to expect when you pick up a graphic novel” in Substance

Pride and Prejudice

Prove added value for the literature over other media

We cannot continue to argue that fiction makes better people

Suzanne Keen, “Empathetic Hardy,” Poetics Today, Summer 2011

No research demonstrates correlation

Jesse Prinz, “Is empathy necessary for morality?” Empathy, Oxford, forthcoming

Texts that differ between what we teach in college and don’t teach in college

Cognitive psychology—mind reading—TOM

Why we read fiction

Zunshine’s term: sociocognitive complexity—a mind within a mind within a mind

Third level embedment—baseline for fiction

Pride and Prejudice graphic novel by Marvel

Simplification of cognitive reasoning/thinking of the characters

Austen goes into detail about TOM, 4th level embedments in the novel

Graphic novel downgrades the sociocognitive complexity

Third-level mental embedments, different styles

“Style brings in mental states,” Style 2011

Tom Jones, Da Vinci Code, Dostoevsky

What do we/readers add to mental states of a book?

Contexts of discourse

Comic panel (Miss Bingley wants to make Elizabeth feel bad)

Comic panel | writer (2 levels)

Comic panel | writer | theorist (3 levels, make graphic novel subject of research paper)

Northanger Abbey

A reader unfamiar with free direct discourse

Sociocognitive complexity? Sociocognitive literacy?

2 level, not good grade, 3 or 4 levels, better

If our texts do not have higher levels of sociocognitive complexity

Think and write in sociocognitive complex ways

Our (those who read it and teach lit) seek out new TOM challenges for rich stimulation

Lit courses—historical origins of literature teaching artifact of the past

Personal happiness of TOM practitioners perhaps not the best argument employing cog sci to teach literature



Q: Damasio and others talk about the concept of sociocognitive complexity, remembering stories are on the page, not real

Z: We do treat characters as real people. Reminder questioner that she came up with the term sociocognitive complexity (staking her claim, though the concept seems obvious). No matter the context, we add other mental states (e.g., what might Judith Butler say in a given case).

H: Authorial, adaptive, bearing on reality, what we think others might think, simulated processes, TOM and imaginative embedded in fiction is same as our own real life mental states, TOM thinking itself is a fiction


Q: empathy and TOM elaboration

Z: different schools of thought, TOM for Zunshine is used in a very broad sense—empathy is a subset of TOM, TOM makes empathy possible


Q: dreaming and metaphor, can neuroscience study this?

R: Stickle mentions this, but he may be loose about talking about metaphor and dreaming. Not anywhere in his work that addresses this. Freud. Stickle tries to eliminate secondary revision by just waking up people and having them talk, unlike Freud who analyzes later.


Q: embeddedness of dreams, away from clearcut meaning or connection to reality. Is this a level of cognitive complexity?

R: thinking about dreams we all know—nested folly. Shelley, taxonomy of dream types. He talked about representation of dreams today. Not all romantic dreams belong in the same category. Kubla Khan gets us closer to historical idea about what dreaming is.

Z: embedded mental states area not the same thing as embedded narratives. Story world created in each level. Is there a confluence between them? Perhaps.


Q: Pleasure and complexity and simplicity.

H: Recurring structure of pleasure and complexity. E.g., pattern recognition. Most intense pleasure from immediately recognizable patterns.

Z: Not necessarily most complex is most pleasurable. Lists or experimental texts (e.g., 3rd level pattern there).

Kent State University’s Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup Blog Launch

The Kent State University’s Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup Blog is now live here!

Following our last meeting of the semester yesterday, I created the blog and its first entries. Other workgroup members can contribute to the blog’s content, and anyone can contribute in the comments on each post.

If you are an interdisciplinary researcher or teacher, or simply someone interested in the relationship between the brain, brain science, and culture, please take part in the discussion and contribute your thoughts to the conversation on the blog.

The Kent State University Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup is an interdisciplinary gathering that regularly meets to discuss the intersection of brain science with research and teaching in the humanities. The group’s vision and purpose continues to evolve, so if you teach or learn at Kent State, stay tuned to the blog for updates on our first meeting of the spring semester in early 2012.

Notes from 11/28/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

At the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup meeting on November 28, 2011, we discussed:

Casebeer, William D. and Patricia S. Churchland. “The Neural Mechanisms of Moral Cognition: A Multiple-Aspect Approach to Moral Judgment and Decision-Making.” Biology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 169–194.

My sketch of notes prior to the meeting:

neural mechanisms of moral cognition (NMMC)

norms vs facts

virtue theory

theory of mind (TOM) and mirror neurons > Asimov’s robots, imagination and reasoning, he created a theory of mind, potentials, but he did much more in TOM

memory (184) > important

moral state space > c.f., Damien Broderick’s science fiction mega-text and narrative phase space

My notes from the discussion:

both authors in philosophy departments

decision making

non-chauvanistic: moral judgement > debate in meta-ethics, do they constitute a belief and can they be true or false, non-cognitivists vs cognitivists

chauvanistic > ethical judgement > presupposes the cognitive side

most neuroscientific article yet read in the group

mirror neurons > where we can think about empathy, however consider the monkey experiment where theory of mind allows one monkey to steal from another > evolution and survival

what are the evolutionary precursors to moral judgement in humans?

evolutionary ethics

neural correlates in human and monkey brains, each reflecting the same behavior

virtue ethics > best empirical direction for ethics

Kantians > empiricism irrelevant to ethics

(178) Children’s ability to lie > how far along that they had a theory of mind > Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics – youths/feeling > end of ethics is action not knowledge > children > immediate pleasures and pain > develop habit of not stealing > then when they have theory of mind > if not established habit before TOM, they may turn out devious

pointing to the virtue ethics model

shortcomings of brain imaging

Utilitarianism (faculty of calculation) or Kantian (will) > each is one-dimensional

neuroscience > interaction between all parts of the brain > more complex

ethical theories are too flat to account for all of these feedback/empirical reality of brain’s complexity

suspicion of neuroscientific imaging > limitations of what it can “see” and how what it “sees” is interpreted by theory, mathematics, and computer technology

question: what are you guys held up on brain imaging?

people associate brain science with brain imaging

other experiments including lesion studies and brain trauma observation, dissection after the fact, etc.

brain imaging > the real thing > we can see and know the brain (in a sense)

brain imaging is highly theorized

they are not photographing the brain, however

fMRI 101 [on youtube: how MRI works, another explanation, and how fMRI works]

fMRI is a translation, a rhetorical act, a deliberative act

how are these things reified in public discourse and legal discourse

recent discoveries > mirror neurons > discovered by fMRI

discomfort reading this article, also an issue of translation from one discourse to another, one understanding to another

refreshing and illuminating

localizing functions within the brain

V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain

limbic system > interwoven into many other areas of the brain including motor control, facial control

systems > use multiple structures/areas within the brain > common function > defined by function rather than by organ

fMRI confirms that there is no moral center within the brain

dispersal, distribution > gives new meaning to Greg Egan’s SF novel Diaspora > metaphor for our understanding of the functions of the brain

Utilitarian vs virtue ethics debate? first part of 20th century > Kantians vs Utilitarians > small skirmishes > after all of this conceptual work, possible to make progress in conceptual debates through empirical evidence

some philosophers say that science cannot tell us anything about ethics: descriptive/science vs normative/philosophy

Stanley Cavell and Jacques Derrida argument > ethical comportment in people

fact-value distinction > science can tell us facts but nothing else

Aristotle > facts and values are different, but they are interrelated in many ways

metaphysical distinction between facts and values > hold this and science will not help you at all

Aristotle and Newton > Newton was a physicist who creates the calculus (along with Leibnitz) to do his science > Aristotle was a biologist > created philosophy to do his biology > Aristotle never forgot that humans are animals > ethics and political science are influenced by this

Phineas Gage > localized view of the brain originates here

Gabriel Giffords – 20/20 program . shows her progress over time, shows where her brain was damaged and what other effects might have been if the wound was different > plasticity issue > the brain rewiring itself > reprogram in a sense

plasticity > to understand the capacity of the brain to heal itself > where a humanities person might get excited

where does the excitement for the humanities mean the failure of science?

do scientists care about what poetry means? some do.

V.S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain

Seneca > woman not acknowledging her disability > chiding her for her behavior > might have had a stroke or other brain issue

science and the humanities > hypothetical questions for each

childhood studies > developing a physics > not mediated by language

going back to Aristotle > he was a collector of animal specimens > categorize > one of, if not the, first libraries, too

writes on poetics, politics, etc. but he wasn’t a writer on religion or the afterlife, he was interested in this life

“human beings desire to know.”

Aristotle’s categories > his shortest work, all encompassing > his logic was invented so that he could relate things in the way that he needed

this seems like the moment for the turn from language (20th century) to the study of the brain

I talked about technical limitations of current imaging technology, but it is amazing what we can do.

also, I mentioned the work of Roger Penrose in relation to quantum mechanics and other conjectures about how the laws of nature will likely prohibit our real-time investigation of the human brain while it is in a living person. issues of resolution and function and organic matter

Henri Bergson’s “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic” > the mechanical encrusted on the living

The Symposium (in Greek it means a wine party for talking and drinking)

irony in Aristotle and Plato?

situational irony > Plato’s Gorgias

rhetorical irony > controlling all questions himself > cannot step outside of himself

We will plan our next meeting at the beginning of spring semester 2012.

Notes from 11/22/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

At the November 22, 2011 meeting of the Kent State University Neurosciences and the Humanities Workgroup, we discussed:

Jack, Jordynn. “What are Neurorhetorics?” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40.5: 411-437.

Jack, Jordynn and L. Gregory Appelbaum. “‘This is Your Brain on Rhetoric’: Research Directions for Neurorhetorics.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 40.5: 411-437.

Neurorhetorics yields two perspectives > rhetorics of neuroscience and the neuroscience of rhetoric

brain imaging books > popularlizations by non-specialists in conjunction with specialists > Picturing Personhood

imaging > representations > metaphors

Kelly Joyce – book on brain imaging

science and technology studies

go in with cultural critique

contested methodologies, unacknowledged cultural assumptions filtering into the scientific domain

this is what we are trained to do

Isaac Asimov’s son David, “man of leisure,” but could he have a mental disability? Asperger’s Syndrome?

rhetoric > not just analyzing it retrospectively > develop a pedagogy > teach why and how to do things critically

captivation in general of the brain

visual rhetoric – style, repetition, etc.

humanities > what we do matters, change people, now we can go beyond anecdotes and subjective experiences

ways of thinking, metacognition

John Medina – Brain Rules

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow > economist > decision making > “Why Hawks Always Win” > cognitive studies vs. brain studies > decision making stuff is hot now

I talked about my Studying the Brain, Writing the Mind writing class at Kent State

music and cognition > relationship to language > music experience influences our use/formation of language > surgeons and scientists > more likely than other professions to be musicians

music and connection to emotional systems > is it quicker to the brain? > it seems that with language there are more systems involved > abstraction of language > emotion and music > where does it come from?

musicology and evolution

Denis Dutton – Art Instinct, talks about Schonenberg, wired for art > collaboration > Steven Pinker > Language Instinct, we are wired for language

Dutton discounts all early 20th century art > pleasure for tradition learned or tradition withheld

why would humans make art? sexual reproduction > attraction > instrumental reason: mating > what about today? what about dead artists?

Aristotle > everything is poetry to him > he doesn’t divide art into separate categories that we use today > all mimesis

creativity > interpretive issues > how do we interpret what culture that we encounter?

fuzzy logic > mathematics > engineering > approximations over precision > aperture control in digital cameras use this > discussion about the term “fuzzy”

(423) neural substrate (the set of brain structures that underlies a specific behavior or psychological state, from wikipedia), neural correlates (A neural correlate of a content of experience is any bodily component, such as an electro-neuro-biological state or the state assumed by somebiophysical subsystem of the brain, whose presence necessarily and regularly correlates with such a specific content of experience, from wikipedia).

Godel’s incompleteness theorem and language, open system, language breaks down all the time, expressing the ineffable

meaning in language is always deferred

Cavel > Wittgenstein > his quarrel with Derrida > must we mean what we say > contextual meaning of utterance [Derrida > no original meaning > deconstruction ad infinitum]

definitions are rhetorical constructions > how we deliberate meanings, how we define makes us lock heads

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time > crosses YA, adult “boundaries” > autism > autistic character who cannot see things from other people’s perspectives > his parents also shown to be this way > telling a story, we can come to an insight that we can come to through rhetorical analysis, etc.

the other articles in this special issue of RSQ are not meta-neurorhetoric, they are doing neurorhetoric

for next time: philosophy of mind

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

Notes from 10/24/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

At the meeting on October 24 ,2011 of the Neurosciences and the Humanities Workgroup at Kent State University, we discussed Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (2009). These are my notes from the meeting and the ensuing discussion.

“ego machines” (207) “arose from evolution on this planet” “world simulation built around a center” [this material might be useful for my chapter on Philip K. Dick]

ego machines without self

self as process > self stabilization > Asimov’s robots? [more notes on Asimov chapter]

“selfing organisms”

“dynamical self-organization”

limitation of metaphors > other ways of thinking about self, but cannot ignore the “illusion” that is not an illusion

no one and a self simultaneously

“it is what it is” > is there no way to conceptualize this emergent self-that-is-not-a-self?

“embodied simulation” [connects to the first point above]

this is not strictly a scientific book > ethics and philosophy

argues we should not create an ego machine [this would be useful for my chapter on Richard Powers and Galatea 2.2]

his position is that we should not create suffering. therefore, we should not create an ego machine.


chemical alterations to the brain > effect on society and individual > each consciousness is unique

analytic philosopher, not perspective on neuroscience

Out of body experience, OBE > not much money for research into this, not popular in the sciences as a field of study

humanities to Metzinger serves a middle ground, neutral, not vying for the same funding as other neurosciences

cognitive science > from the molecule on up, think about more fundamental sciences and forces: physics, etc.

is the Ego Tunnel too simple a metaphor for the brain

the brain is a galaxy of machines, more than a single machine [more metaphors]

how does Metzinger account for Freud?

are Metzinger’s models too computer-like or computer metaphor oriented?

does this build on the beginning of the modern era of cognitive science?

a dynamical system does not mean that it is computationalist in origin

are the ways that Metzinger aligns his view with robots and AI?

how does he argue that we should not build AI/ego machines to reduce suffering? Should we not have children any longer? Should we kill everyone to end all suffering?

what about absence of consciousness like going under anesthesia?

David Chalmers > “the hard problem”

the ego is an illusion, not consciousness

the ego is quite an achievement, evolutionarily

separate noise from signal

create unity

evolutionary advantage > if you knew that the ego is an illusion, then it doesn’t work > the advantage is based on sustaining the illusion

implications for education

self in process, absence of the self

Stanley Fish > sacrosanct soul that we dare not mess with

the self as entity does not exist, but as a process it does exist

phenomenon that arises from complex processes

every little thing has/can have effect on the self

constantly changing the self > ethical and practical considerations as educators

NYT’s article this past weekend > Israeli psychologist > difficulty changing people’s minds, opinions, paradigms > create enough experiences to transform a person’s opinion or approach

Stanley Fish’s attack on Professor Bracher > “character transplants” > Bracher teaching empathy through literary studies > taboo in the humanities to change opinions, improve character, etc. > Metzinger’s evidence seems to support Bracher’s position

Ego tunnel > narrowing and dark > superstitions on limitations on the self > sinfulness and darkness > resonate with the simple metaphor

suggestive as a metaphor > not the limitation of what it actually is

Fourier transformations

predictability > patterns and pattern recognition > eyes closed/blinking > blind spot in the center of vision > focus blindspot > compensating for what we do and do not see

prefontal cortex and the visual system > temperature, orientation, etc. > we cannot control our experience of these

computing process model > memory based model, active memory based model, top-down vs. bottom-up

causal reasoning, needed to explain a looped memory that is missing, ego seems to be involved in this

highly skilled readers > do they read words or images/pictures?

cognitive neuroscience, cognitive neuropsychology, etc. > neuroscience

neuroscience and cognitive science are not the same thing, many hard and fast divisions

neuropsychology > broader

cognitive psychology > focused on meaning > is this where the humanities can best engage the neurosciences?

overlap of philosophy and literary modernism

Jonah Lehrer – Proust was a Neuroscientist

consider Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

discovery of a consciousness

self is not a soul, essential component that predates everything

Woolf also uses metaphor of “tunneling,” but in a different way

tunneled through consciousness to where all the other consciousnesses meet up > opposite kind of solipsism

humanities education > how can anyone say what is good and what is not good? how can any of this lead us to a good kind of consciousness to promote?

proposing states of consciousness > read this and think about that

what is it about humanities departments that we debate/think about ethics? musicians don’t debate ethics of what they do–or do they? they do want to get it “right”

humanities > not do we do philosophy or not, but whether we do it good or badly

produce practical results without scattershot method

how do you get in the tunnel and work within it?

Woolf and the neurosciences > what is it that enabled her to come to her insights? she didn’t read “brain books.” system or genre of the novel > Woolf refelecting back the very system of the novel > the novel itself has something to do with this reflection, introspection

do we want out of the tunnel? doesn’t this predispose that the tunnel is a bad thing? is the tunnel sustainable? should we get out of the tunnel?

reasoning with heuristics > bad probabilistic reasoners

David Chalmers > consciousness is irreducible entity, stop reducing it and figure out what we are going to do with it

ego and consciousness

scientists teaching literature > encroaching on other domains or interdisciplinarity?

issues of criticism, bad neuroscience, neuroscience writing, neuroscientific approaches for next time

Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole Episode on Consciousness

I sent this out to the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup earlier today, so I thought that I would share it here, too.

Today, the Science Channel is running a marathon of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole pop science series. There is one episode that I wanted to share with you if you can spare 45 minutes to watch it on Youtube (it is divided into three parts):

The episode, “Is There Life After Death?” could have been alternatively named “What is consciousness, and what happens to it when we die?” There are good (albeit short) interviews with Stuart Hameroff (the anesthesiologist who collaborated with Roger Penrose on a quantum theory of consciousness), Douglas Hofstadter (Godel Escher Bach), and Steve Potter of Georgia Tech (he has built computer chips that interface with rat brain cells that control robots |

The discussions of anesthesia and consciousness might be the most enlightening ones for our recent conversation about consciousness.

Also, it is a good show. Freeman is a long advocate of science and education, and I believe that his series (he is executive producer) now in its second season demonstrates his commitment to these things.

I have written about Freeman’s Through the Wormhole series before here.

Notes from 10/14/2011 Meeting of The Neurosciences and the Humanities Working Group at Kent State

Today, the Kent State University working group on the neurosciences and the humanities held its second meeting of Fall 2011 semester to discuss, among other things, Neil Levy’s “Neuroethics and the Extended Mind” from The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics edited by Judy Illes and Barbara J. Sahakian (Oxford UP, 2011).

These are my stream-of-consciousness notes on the conversation from the meeting:

Empathy and mirror neurons

Marco Iacoboni’s Mirroring People book

Thomas Metzinger

Martha Nussbaum’s article “Not for Profit”, cursory account of empathy, her argument won’t fly in modernist circles, making it fully linguistic–can we do this?

language puts us right in there with these issues

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, neuroscience and reading

Keats talked about seeing a bird pecking the ground–being there, as if experiencing as the bird

(what about Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to be a Bat?”)

Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry,” similar argument to Nussbaum

Me: Evolutionary questions around empathy, altruism and conserving resources–why did we evolve this resource wasting/non-gene passing along adaptation?

Some others: Lots of sentimentalism about what it means to be human, but I don’t think that we are getting to the core of where this came from. Simply saying that we are different from animals (not something that I buy anyways)

Philosophers debate two aspects of empathy: 1) imagining what someone else feels or projected empathy, and 2) motivating someone to do something as a result of emapthy

Hardwired empathy–it would seem so.

Levy article:

narrow view of what the mind does–propositional knowledge

Why is it important that he is only focused on propositional knowledge? Is he favoring language as the medium of thought?

Godel’s theorem = undefinable propositions

Language always leaves something out (Lacan)

How do we think? in language? natural language?

Ganlan–mental activity that language rests on

Gotsky–the dialectical

Indeterminacy, thinking of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle applied to language

Speech act theory, language does something that only language can perform


Machines that count as humans

Selfobject–can be a literal object, a person, an environment or setting, need that relationship to otherness

Damasio–core self consists of feedback loops, don’t really change over the whole life, those core states don’t changes, other things self

Science of consciousness and emotion, tree of emotion, drives > basic emotions > complex emotions

Clumping emotion and feelings together

Does consciousness begin in the body?

Community integrity–deaf persons and their children, for example

Functional intervention–someone needing a drug to enhance mental performance, memory, alertness, etc., then taking that drug away, what then?

Me: not troubled by extended mind, all for a posthuman future and the rapture of the nerds, related my own experience with identity transformation through medical interventions, that is not any different than non-intervention changes, though it is mediated by technology–cyborg? yes! (on the way home, I was thinking that I should have suggested steering the conversation towards haves-and-haves-nots for pharmacological and other technological interventions).

Identity–changeable and transformative over time | interventions in identity, drugs, plugging things into our brains, cyberpunk

Consider adding things to mind, but also the possibility of taking things away from mind

PTSD and Mrs. Dalloway–story of a woman who commits suicide and story of a woman hearing the story of the woman who commits suicide

Neuroscientists > PTSD is for past traumas more than the trauma that triggered PTSD, maybe forgetting the trigger event won’t help, this is why out of a group of people who experience the same trauma only some develop PTSD while others do not

extended mind–countering externalized soul?

Interventions > “you are playing god” > not consistent, hyperreligiosity

Milton > Blake, Milton lives on in him but not in the sense of reincarnation

Damasio–all about the self, the protoself is purely brain, core self built upon the brain

Denett–qualia and mind

Thomas Metzinger–The Ego Tunnel, he argues that there is no self, for next meeting

SFRA 2011 Paper Crystalizes into “A Cognitive Approach to Science Fiction”

My paper for SFRA 2011, which I have retitled “A Cognitive Approach to Science Fiction,” is nearly at a first draft stage. Its argument is central to my dissertation, which I have been working on for a short time now. However, I am finding new ways to craft my argument while cutting down how much I have to say for the purposes of a conference presentation. I believe that this exercise is becoming a useful one for my thinking and sharing my work abroad. I am hopeful that my presentation will generate questions and comments in Poland.