Session Call for Papers, SFRA 2012, “The Neuroscientific Turn in Science Fiction”

As you might already know, the 2012 Science Fiction Research Association conference in Detroit, Michigan [official conference site here] is rapidly approaching!

The deadline for submitting paper abstracts is April 23, but I would like to see if there is any interest in a special session before the final deadline.

Below, you can find my call for papers for a special session titled, “The Neuroscientific Turn in Science Fiction.” Read over it and if you would like to submit an abstract, send it to me by April 6 and I will bundle it with others for the conference organizer Steve Berman. Thanks!

Science Fiction Research Association Conference 2012

Detroit, MI

Session Call for Papers

“The Neuroscientific Turn in Science Fiction”

At SFRA 2011 in Poland, I participated in a well-attended session on brain-related topics in science fiction. I presented my paper on a cognitive approach to science fiction, in which I argue that science fiction arises as an evolutionary byproduct that acclimates us for a rapidly changing present and prepares us for an uncertain future.

This year, I propose another session or sessions for the 2012 SFRA conference in Detroit with an emphasis on brain and mind topics in science fiction with the tentative title, “The Neuroscientific Turn in Science Fiction.”

Topics may include, but are not limited to: brain hardware vs. mind software, narratives that focus on the physicality of the brain, ontological and epistempological problems arising from brain surgery or physical injury, the spectrum of human experience as a result of different brain development and impairment, human brains and experience vs. other brains and experience, hard neuroscience in science fiction, what is the history of brain-related stories in SF?, etc. Papers on any SF medium that address this topic are welcome. I intend to talk about the relationship of Philip K. Dick’s health problems and his development of brain disorders and damage in his fiction.

If other SFRAers are interested in presenting a paper on a brain-related topic, please send me your paper abstract and contact information, and I will forward these to Steve Berman in the session proposal. The deadline for submitting an abstract for this session proposal is April 6. Please send to dynamicsubspace [a] gmail [d] com.

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.