Scholars working within the field of cognitive science have long been working to displace the mind-body dualism implicit in its foundational models of the mind with accounts of mental life that better approximate the way we think and act in the world. Only recently, though, have resulting theories about “embodied,” “embedded,” “extended,” or “enacted” forms of consciousness begun to inform how scholars in the humanities and social sciences do their work. In some instances, no doubt, dialogue with neuroscience and cognitive psychology has confirmed what scholars in these disciplines already thought they knew. But more often, the humanistic and social-scientific engagement with the new sciences of the mind have promised to alter how we think about language, subjectivity, history and culture in fundamental ways.

This seminar explores the ongoing relationship between cognitive science and the humanities and social sciences, with a particular emphasis on how recent work by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and neurobiologists has led to a reconsideration of the ways in which scholars approach the study of human political and cultural life. It is rooted, therefore in recent work in the sciences of the mind, and will pay careful attention to some of the most exciting inquiries ongoing in this constantly evolving scientific field. But the seminar also goes well beyond the sphere of the sciences to ask how the kind of scientific work being done today on questions of selfhood and cognition speaks to scholars in a wide variety of other fields.

The seminar thus examines, for instance, the way that cognitive science, contemporary psychoanalysis and new ideas about the theory of mind can help us reconsider, in the context of literary studies, the way we think about selfhood, subjectivity, and the intricacies of self-expression. It also engages, moreover, work done by scholars at the intersections of cognitive science and religious studies, asking how cognitive science and religious studies might be understood as mutually enlightening fields, especially where the relationship between cognitive science and Buddhism is concerned.

Beyond literature and religion, the seminar interrogates the relationship between the sciences of the mind, the philosophy of mind, music, and politics as well. How can the science of the mind help us to understand more carefully the philosophy of the mind? What has cognitive science confirmed with regards to long-standing accounts of what the mind is? And what ideas has it disturbed? What does neuroscience tell us about the cognitive effects of music? And thus about the roles that music might play in culture? What can cognitive science tell us about why we believe what we believe? And thus about how we make the political decisions that we do?

These inquiries are, of course, only small samples of a vast and still developing body of work. But in their own intricacies and idiosyncrasies, they can help to reveal volumes about how scholars are working between the sciences of the mind and the study of human culture. The goal of the seminar, in the end, is to reflect on the problems and possibilities of this form of academic engagement, and thus on how to orient the most cutting-edge research in the humanities and the social sciences as we move into the future.

Presenters will include Amanda Woodward (Psychology), Lisa Ruddick (English), Dan Arnold (Divinity), David Finkelstein (Philosophy), Larry Zbikowski (Music) and Eric Oliver (Political Science)

Pre-readings

  • John Gunnell, "Are We Losing Our Minds? Cognitive Science and the Study of Politics," Political Theory 35.6 (December 2007): 704-731. [Download]
    • A critical overview of cognitive science as it pertains to the social sciences in general and political science in particular.
  • John McDowell, Mind and World: With a New Introduction (Cambridge: Harvard, 1996), xi-xxiv. [Download]
    • An argument about how re-defining the relation between reason and nature can change the way we think about the mind’s relationship to the world.
  • Mark Rowlands, The New Science of the Mind: From Extended Mind to Embodied Phenomenology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010), 1-23. [Download]
    • A survey of new paradigms for thinking about the nature of mental processes.
  • Mark Turner, “Design for a Theory of Meaning,” The Nature and Ontogenesis of Meaning, eds. Willis F. Overton and David S. Palermo (Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1994), 91–108. [Download]
    • An argument about how cognitivist accounts of meaning undermine many of the traditional oppositions that structure our thinking about human beings.
  • Lisa Zunshine, “Theory of Mind and Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness” Narrative 11.3 (October 2003): 270-291. [Download]
    • An examination of the way theories of mind shed light on how literature works, with a reading of Mrs. Dalloway.
  • Amanda Woodward, "Infant Foundations of Intentional Understanding," (unpublished proof, 2012) [Download]
  • Margaret Wilson, "Six views of embodied cognition," Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9 (4) (2002) 625-636 [Download]
  • Michael P. Lynch, "A Vote for Reason," The New York Times Opinionator Blog [Read]

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