My Poster for SAMLA 2013: The Brittain Fellowship’s DevLab: Space, Resources, Expertise, and Collaboration

My DevLab Poster.
My DevLab Poster.

This year, Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program and its Brittain Fellows had a strong presence at the annual South Atlantic Modern Language Association meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

I presented a poster on the program’s R&D unit, DevLab. To compose the poster, I took a panoramic photo of DevLab’s main space (we also have an external recording booth). My students and fellow Brittain Fellows are pictured doing work and collaborating at various events over the past few months.

Standing next to my poster in the Buckhead Marriott.
Standing next to my poster in the Buckhead Marriott.

We also had posters on the Communication Center, our pedagogical research, and our scholarly research. Here’s a list of all posters from the official program:

10. Georgia Institute of Technology Brittain Fellowship,

Poster Series I

The Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Georgia Institute of Technology

a. Jason Ellis, DevLab: Research and Development Lab Facility

b. CommLab: Tutoring Center for Multimodal Communication

11. Georgia Institute of Technology Brittain Fellowship, Poster Series II

WOVEN: Multimodal Communication in the Classroom

a. Joy Bracewell

b. Jennifer Lux

c. Julia Munro

12. Georgia Institute of Technology Brittain Fellowship, Poster Series III

Intersections between Scholarship and Pedagogy

a. Aaron Kashtan

b. Jennifer Orth-Veillon

c. Aron Pease

13. Georgia Institute of Technology Brittain Fellowship, Poster Series IV

Changing Higher Education

a. Mirja Lobnik, World Englishes Committee

b. Multiple Presenters, Curriculum Innovation Committee

c. Arts Initiatives Committee

Besides participating in the poster session, I also took notes from N. Katherine Hayles’ plenary lecture on Friday afternoon. I will post my notes from that talk here soon.

Next year, I will propose a paper for SAMLA and hopefully present an updated version of the DevLab poster. See you there!

2012 Retrospective: My Big Year in Review

2012 was a big year for me. I earned my PhD and I obtained my first job with that degree. I traveled for my research–first to California, then to Detroit,  and later to Germany. And, my wife, our cat, and I relocated from Ohio to Atlanta for my new job at Georgia Tech and we moved into my old house in Norcross, which had not sold during the past six years of graduate school.

Unlike years past, I thought that it might be appropriate to jot down some of the milestones of 2012. Here are a few of those big things:

  • January 5-8: Yufang and I attended the MLA Convention for the first time and met up with a number of our friends and colleagues.
  • February: I spent two weeks in Riverside, California to read and research in the University of California, Riverside’s Eaton Collection in the Library’s Special Collections and Archives. This was an incredibly useful research trip that gave me the original research materials to complete my dissertation. Prior to leaving for my research trip–funded by the prestigious R. D. Mullen Fellowship–I had completed my dissertation’s theory chapter and compiled outlines for the other chapters.
  • April 2: I interviewed for the Marion L. Brittain Fellowship at my alma mater, Georgia Tech.
  • April 9: I delivered printed copies of my dissertation to my committee members. Since my trip to Riverside, I wrote approximately 68,000 words for a final word count of 81,948. Needless to say, I channeled the spirit of Philip K. Dick during this feverish time of hypergraphia. I could not have written this amount in such a short time had I not already created an efficient organization system for my research and deployed a number of digital humanities tools in my workflow. It was a terribly stressful time, because I drove myself relentlessly to complete it as quickly as possible. However, I would not have had it any other way.
  • April 19: I accepted an offer from Georgia Tech to join the rechristened School of Literature, Media, and Communication as a Brittain Fellow! My term of appointment is for three years.
  • May 15: I successfully defended my dissertation titled, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives.” I came prepared with a suitcase of gear and donned with my only suit. During my opening statement, I showed off the ebook version of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy on a Powerbook 145.
  • June 4-15: I met my parents in Norcross to work on my house. We replaced the main water line, repaired the plumbing, installed a new dishwasher, worked on the house, and cleaned the yard. Prior to this trip, I had maintained a vegetarian lifestyle. During my second day of using a grubbing hoe, I decided that I needed to eat meat again.
  • June 28-July 1: I attended the SFRA Conference in Detroit. This was my second and final meeting as the organization’s vice president. I presented my paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.”
  • July 10: Yufang and I said goodbye to our friends in Kent and drove straight through to our new home in Norcross.
  • August 11: While I was unable to attend the ceremony, I officially graduated from Kent State University with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
  • August 13-17: I attended new hire orientation at Georgia Tech, or as my cohort and I came to know it: Brittain Fellow Boot Camp.
  • August 21: I began teaching at Georgia Tech. I had three sections of ENGL1101. I designed my classes around the theme of becoming better communicators and professionals through neuroscience.
  • September 1: I began building the Lego Death Star set.
  • September 10: My Dad called me early in the morning to tell me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. I wrote about it here.
  • November 15-18: I attended the first international Philip K. Dick conference at UT-Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany. I delivered a heavily revised version of my SFRA 2012 paper, “Philip K. Dick as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution.” The conference was a fantastic experience. I promise to write more about this in a separate post. In the meantime, you can see my pictures from Germany here.
  • November 22: My parents spent the Thanksgiving holiday with us in Norcross.
  • December 16: I filed my students’ grades and completed my first semester teaching at my alma mater. Looking backward, it was a tough semester, but it was extremely rewarding. I will reflect and write about this more soon.
  • December 17: I completed building the Lego Death Star set.
  • December 25: My parents spent Christmas with Yufang and me. They arrived bearing many gifts, and they took us out for more surprises. I believe that we all had a really wonderful time!
  • December 26+: I am preparing my teaching and publication materials. I also have a few job applications to complete. I have been using my chain saw and weed eater with saw blade a lot. When the weather and wind permit, I get to burn a small bit of excessive yard waste that I have to do something with.
  • December 29: Yufang and I met our friend (and fellow Georgia Tech alumna) Smitha for pastries and tea at Sweet Hut. We had a great time catching up.
  • December 30: Now, I am writing this post.

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).