Review of Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, Recommended for Graduate Students, Postdocs, and Junior Faculty

Hall, Donald E. The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2002. Print.

I picked up Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self from the Georgia Tech Library after completing my teaching assignment for Spring 2013–eleven years after the book had been published. Specifically, I was looking for books and articles to help me grapple with the challenges of this stage of my professional life as a postdoctoral fellow: teaching a 3-3 load, performing service duties, researching, writing,  receiving rejections (and the far less often acceptance), and applying for permanent positions. In the following, I summarize Hall’s arguments, provide some commentary, and close with a contextualized recommendation.

Hall states in the introduction that the goal of The Academic Self is, “encourage its readership to engage critically their professional self-identities, processes, values, and definitions of success” (Hall xv). I found this book to be particularly useful for thinking through my professional self-identity. As I was taught by Brian Huot at Kent State University to be a reflective practitioner in my teaching and pedagogy, Hall argues for something akin to this in terms of Anthony Giddens’ “the reflexive construction of self-identity” (qtd. in Hall 3). Hall truncates this to be “self-reflexivity,” or the recognition that who we are is an unfolding and emergent project. I use this blog as part of my processes of self-reflection–thinking through my research and teaching while striving to improve both through conscious planning and effort.

However, unlike the past where the self was static and enforced by external forces, modernity (and postmodernity–a term Hall, like Giddens, disagrees with) has ushered in an era where the self is constructed by the individual reflectively. From his viewpoint, the self is a text that changes and can be changed by the individual with a greater deal of agency than perhaps possible in the past (he acknowledges his privileged position earlier in the book, but it bears repeating that this level of agency certainly is not equally distributed).

In the first chapter, titled “Self,” Hall writes, “Living in the late-modern age, in a social milieu already thoroughly pervaded by forms of self-reflexivity, and trained as critical readers, we academics in particular have the capacity and the professional skills to live with a critical (self-) consciousness, to reflect critically upon self-reflexivity, and to use always our professional talents to integrate our theories and our practices” (Hall 5). If we consider ourselves, the profession, and our institutions as texts to be read, we can apply our training to better understanding these texts and devise ways of making positive change to these texts.

He identifies what he sees as two extremes that “continue to plague academic existence: that of Casaubonic paralysis and Carlylean workaholism” (Hall 8). In the former, academics can be caught in a ignorant paranoia like Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872), or in the latter, academics can follow Thomas Carlyle’s call to work and avoid the “symptom” of “self-contemplation” (qtd. in Hall 6).

In the chapter titled “Profession,” Hall calls for us to apply our training to reflective analysis and problem solving of our professional selves and our relationship to the ever changing state of the profession itself. He questions to what extent the work of professionalism (seminars, workshops, etc.) are descriptive or prescriptive. “The ideal of intellectual work” varies from person to person, but it is an important choice that we each must make in defining who we are within the profession.

He reminds us that, “much of the pleasure of planning, processing, and time management lies not in their end products–publication or project completion–it is derived from the nourishment –intellectual, communal, and professional–provided by the processes themselves” (Hall 46). He builds his approach to process on his personal experiences: “Unlike some, I know well when my work day is over. Part of the textuality of process is its beginning, middle, and most importantly, its end” (Hall 46).

His talking points on process are perhaps the most practical advice that he provides in the book. In planning, he advises:

  1. begin from the unmovable to the tentative in your scheduling, know yourself–plan according to your habits and work on those aspects of your planning that need adjustment, and stick to your well planned schedule to yield the personal time that you might be lacking now without such a plan
  2. break goals and deliverables into their constituent parts [or building blocks (my Lego analogy) or code (my programming analogy)]
  3. monitor your progress and see daily/smaller goals as ends in themselves rather than simply means to a greater end
  4. take ownership of your goals, schedule, and commitments to others [this is something that I carry forward from my Mindspring days: Core Values and Beliefs: Do not drop the ball.]
  5. deal with and learn from setbacks–life, bad reviews, rejections, etc. [this is easier said than done, and the external effects of bad reviews goes beyond its effect on the writer]
  6. let change happen to our goals and research as our workplace, interests, and circumstances change
  7. taking ownership of our work in these ways can help protect us from and strengthen us against burnout

Hall goes on to suggest ten steps for professional invigoration to help folks suffering from a stalled career or burnout. However, these ten pieces of advice are equally applicable to graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty: join your field’s national organization, read widely in your field, set precise goals, maintain a daily writing schedule [my most difficult challenge], present conference papers, write shorter artifacts to support your research [reviews or my case, this blog], know the process and timeline of manuscript publishing, foster relationships with publishers and editors, politely disengage from poor or dysfunctional professional relationship/praise and value positive relationships, and find support in your local networks.

The final chapter, “Collegiality, Community, and Change,” reminds us, “always t put and keep our own house in order” (Hall 70). He suggests strategies counter to what he calls “the destructive ethos of ‘free agency’ that seems to pervade the academy today–the mindset that institutional affiliations are always only temporary and that individuals owe little to their departments or institutions beyond the very short term” (Hall 70). On professional attitudes, he encourages a focus on the local (institution) before national (beyond the institution), the current job as potentially your last job–treat it with that respect, meet institutional expectations, collegial respect of others, and learning the history of our institution/school/department from everyone with whom we work.

Perhaps most notably, he writes, “If we measure our success through the articulation and meeting of our own goals, as I suggest throughout this book, we can achieve them without begrudging others their own successes. However, if we need to succeed primarily in comparison to others, then we are deciding to enter a dynamic of competition that has numerous pernicious consequences, personal and inter-personal” (Hall 74-75). As I have written about on Dynamic Subspace before, it was the overwhelming in-your-faceness of others’ successes on social media like Facebook that distracted me from my own work. Seeing so many diverse projects, publications, and other accomplishments made me question my own works-in-progress before they had time to properly incubate and grow. For all of social media’s useful and positive aspects for maintaining and growing networks of interpersonal relationships, I had the most trouble resisting the self-doubt that the Facebook News Feed generated for me.

Finally, he encourages dynamic and invested change in departments and institutions. However, as junior faculty, it is important to research and weigh the possible repercussions for working to make change. Hall is not arguing against change by those without tenure, but he is warning us to proceed cautiously and knowledgeably due to a number factors: potential sources of resistance, jeopardizing our jobs, etc.

Hall’s “Postscript” reinforces the overarching idea of ownership by calling on the reader to live with “intensity,” an idea that inspired Hall from Walter Pater’s 1868 The Renaissance: “burn always with [a] hard, gem-like flame” (qtd. in Hall 89). Hall’s intensity is one self-motivated, well-planned, dynamically agile, and passionately executed.

Hall’s The Academic Self is a very short read that is well worth the brief time that it will take to read. It offers some solid advice woven with the same theoretically infused self-reflexivity that he encourages. It practices what it preaches. The main thing to remember is that the book is eleven years old. When it was published, the field of English studies was experiencing an employment downturn (albeit one not as pronounced as in recent years). Michael Berube’s “Presidential Address 2013–How We Got Here” (PMLA 128.3 May 2013: 530-541), among many other places–this issue just arrived in the mail today, so I was reading it between chapters of Hall’s book, picks up some of the other challenges that graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty have to contend with in the larger spheres of the profession and society. The other advice that Hall provides on personal ownership and collegiality, I believe, remains useful and inspirational. In addition to reading Hall’s book, you should check out his bibliography for further important reading in this vein.

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

2010-10-05 - IMG_2791
Miao and Jason get things done with computers!

As part of the final Digital Pedagogy seminar of fall 2012, Margaret Konkol, Patrick McHenry, Olga Menagarishvili, and I will lead the discussion on “trends in the digital humanities.” You can find out more about our readings and other DH resources by reading our TECHStyle post here.

As part of my contribution to the seminar, I will give a demo titled, “Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics.” In my presentation, I will show how traditional literary scholars can employ computers, cameras, and software to enhance their research.

To supplement my presentation, I created the following outline with links to useful resources.

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

  1. Text Analysis and Text Mining
    1. My working definition of text mining: “Studying texts with computers and software to uncover new patterns, overlooked connections, and deeper meaning.”
    2. What is Text Analysis: Electronic Texts and Text Analysis by Geoffrey Rockwell and Ian Lancashire
    3. Text mining on Wikipedia
    4. Text Mining as a Research Tool by Ryan Shaw (an excellent resource with a presentation and links to more useful material on and offline)
  2. Advantages to Digital Research Materials
    1. Ask Interesting Questions That Would Otherwise Be Too Difficult or Time Consuming to Ask
    2. Efficiency
    3. Thoroughness
    4. Find New Patterns
    5. Develop Greater Insight
  3. Types of Digital Research Materials
    1. Your Notes
    2. eBooks
    3. eJournals
  4. Digitizing Your Own Research Materials
    1. What to Digitize
      1. Primary Sources
      2. Secondary Sources
    2. How to Digitize
      1. Acquire
        1. Camera > high resolution JPG
        2. Scanner > high resolution TIFF or JPG
      2. Collate as PDF
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro (now XI!)
        2. PDFCreator
        3. Mac OS X Preview
      3. Perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to generate machine readable/searchable plain text
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro
          1. Print PDF to a letter size PDF
          2. Tool > Recognize Text
        2. DevonThink
        3. Use Google
        4. Others?
      4. Save As/Export plain text > .txt files
      5. Engage the “Text” in New Ways
        1. New Ways of Seeing “Texts”
          1. Keyword Search
          2. Line Search
          3. Word Counts
          4. Concordance
          5. Patterns
        2. Tools to Help with Seeing “Texts”
          1. AntConc
          2. BBEdit (“It doesn’t suck” ®)
          3. MacOS X and Linux: cat, find, grep, and print (use “man cat” and “man grep” to learn more from the Terminal. More info herehere, here, here, and here.)
          4. DevonThink
          5. Notepad++
          6. Mac OS X Spotlight/Windows 7 Search
          7. TextEdit
          8. Others?
Miao awaits digitization.

Archive of Neurohumanities Reading Group at Kent State University, Notes from 2011

From National Geographic,

In 2011, I participated in the Kent State University Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup, and I collected my notes (and other relevant posts) here. This used to be a subsection of I am archiving it as this blog post. The original page follows below.

I am collecting my notes from the Kent State University Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup meetings on this page. I will also add other relevant information to this page for those readers interested in the interdisciplinary approaches for research and teaching that derives from the critical engagement of the humanities with neuroscientific topics and critique of the neurosciences from humanistic perspectives.

Continue reading “Archive of Neurohumanities Reading Group at Kent State University, Notes from 2011”

The Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters

Carter Kaplan, who recently joined the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters, circulated the group’s first press release, which you can find here or quoted below. I mentioned these new connections previously on here.

As Carter says on his website, good things should come of the collaboration between the Williamsburg Circle and International Authors. I wholeheartedly agree.


For Immediate Release

February 1, 2012

In January 2012 the WAH Center created a new program called the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters. It is composed of twelve outstanding scholars, publishers, collectors, artists and innovators (see complete member list).

We believe that a strong education in the classical humanities is a fundamental prerequisite for good citizenship in every country in the world today. What is Classical Humanities? It is nothing less than the spiritual, ethical and intellectual foundation for Western culture. Classics is a vibrant, interdisciplinary field that lies at the heart of the liberal arts. It is the lack of a common heritage and common values that gives rise to basic conflicts among peoples. A broad education in the classical humanities can bring about a common understanding and a common set of values.

As many of you know, the WAH Center’s motto is “Peace, Harmony and Unity,” as Yuko Nii, the Founder, has written in the Bridge Concept upon which she founded the institution.

Invitation: We also welcome you to the very first of Our Events on April 14th, 2012 where you can meet our chairman Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser, 19th President of St. Bonaventure University, and learn more about our goals and projects.

If you would like to contribute to our worthy goals, we would very much appreciate your support at our inception. If you are a scholar or artist and contribute $50 yearly as a supporting member, we will list your name with your discipline and contact information (and web-site, if you have one) on a special supporting member page. Click here for benefits.

We would very much like to get your feedback on our project!

Terrance Lindall and Yuko Nii
Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, Brooklyn, New York


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

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