Author Archives: admin


I have spent a little bit of time tidying up some formatting issues in various posts. My suspicion was that, having finished that process, I would decide that the blog was truly finished, and would write a nice grateful farewell saying what an interesting journey it had been. However, a phrase in this post, about an important career highlight, jumped out at me: ‘I gave a paper that would never have happened without this blog’. This, I think, is true, and therefore I don’t feel like declaring ‘What Literature Knows About Your Brain’ closed for ever. It would be great to feel properly back up to date with trends in cognitive sciences, and with Trends in Cognitive Sciences, but I have had too much on, and that might not change for ages. But perhaps it will. I will leave this door ajar. To find your way around all the stuff, you could start with the previous post, entitled ‘Closedown‘ (ha ha), which will send you on the way. This post, entitled ‘Progress’ (ha ha), reflects a nice moment of optimism a few months ago; while the plans described here have suffered an undeserved setback, hope springs eternal.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been helping develop a project on the subjective experience of remembering. I wrote some posts about this theme not very long ago…

‘We Have Laugh’d’ [SER 1]
‘I Might See’ [SER 2]
‘Methought I Was’ [SER 3]

And I may not have mentioned quite enough that this project promises to put literary criticism and experimental cognitive neuroscience into a kind of close conversation that I’ve been seeking all along. I’m hoping we can go even further than I’ve managed before. I wrote a bit about this in some other posts…

Some Things I Learned From My Experiments (1)
Some Things I Learned From My Experiments (2)

Anyway, I am thinking about this today because we’re about to put in an application to build a team and find the time to make this project work. It has blossomed into something very exciting, I think — sharp focus, big implications, a grand squad of people. It would be brilliant if it came together.

Regular, nay, frequent posting will resume one day. I know it will. It won’t resume because of COVID-19: that’s not making me feel very creative. But it will definitely be a small but enjoyable (for me!) aspect of the memory project, as it grows in the future.

Best wishes from me!

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]


The majority of this post is a fairly cheerful farewell to ‘What Literature Knows About Your Brain’, for now at least. If you don’t feel the need to read that, and you want to explore the 226 posts that preceded the end, some of which could still prove interesting, please start with the last proper annual review here. There have been some worthwhile posts since then, especially focusing on the subjective experience of remembering, but the main bulk of the blog precedes that last round-up.


Normally, when I come back from holiday, and have been reading and thinking outside my usual boxes, I have some things I want to blog about. This time should be no exception — I have been reading lots of science fiction, and I am interested in the way that SF affords opportunities to explore aspects of cognition. It’s been an important theme underlying lots of posts on this blog, that the most insightful fictional approaches to crucial questions about our minds are not necessarily the most realistic ones.
      However, at present, I am not feeling animated by the prospect of blogging, and I am also loathe to carry on with the fits and starts, brief posts punctuated by regrets, that have been characteristic of the last year. I think perhaps the heyday of ‘What Literature Knows About Your Brain’ came when I was working on a big and intractable project, and was grateful for the chance to pin something interesting down, briefly, and finish it. Now I feel like I am working on things that aren’t weighing so heavily, so I am in less need of relief. Alternatively, it could be that the big admin job I am doing is sapping my energies. Probably it’s all this and more.
      Anyway, I never wanted this blog to be a burden, so I am going to close it down for now, after nearly six years. I am grateful for everyone who has read a post, and to those who have commented on and off the site. Something like this will probably come back when the time’s right. Until then, bye!

UPDATE November 2019
I am sure I will come back to this blog, but no regrets at present. I have been working on it, though, in a rather gloomy way. After a copyright scare, and realising that I could not prove to myself that all the many images I used as fun section breaks (etc.) were safe to use, I decide to remove pretty much all of them. So, that little bit of visual life I enjoyed putting into so many of these posts… has gone. And some of the formatting too!

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]

Cognitive Classics

I am feeling my way back into blogging by means of these short posts, and here is a quick notice about something I should have mentioned aged ago — the Cognitive Classics website, run by Katharine Earnshaw and Felix Budelmann. It’s good stuff overall, but I would pick out especially the superb bibliography, organised thematically, by Emily Troscianko (her website here). It offers some excellent orientation in the psychological studies and in their application to literature.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]

History of Distributed Cognition

Distributed Cognition in Medieval and Renaissance Culture, ed. Miranda Anderson and Michael Wheeler (Edinburgh University Press, 2019)

I am very pleased to see this book out — the second of four parts of The Edinburgh History of Distributed Cognition. This grew out of some excellent seminars held a few years ago, and the whole thing has been steered superbly by Miranda Anderson and Michael Wheeler, two people from whom I have learned a great deal. Many excellent essays are within, and I am in the book too, writing about how Ben Jonson depicts his characters interacting with a world of goods in the marketplace. It allowed me to write about Bartholomew Fair, which is always a pleasure, and about Elizabethan songs made out of street cries, which I mentioned on the blog back here.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]

Warmth Returning?

T.K. Inagaki and L.J. Human, ‘Physical and Social Warmth: Warmer Daily Body Temperature Is Associated with Greater Feelings of Social Connection’, Emotion (2019), advance online publication,

I have this idea that over the summer I will find more time and energy for this blog, and that’s a nice idea. In the meantime I cannot let this interesting essay pass by without comment. I was alerted to it by the Twitter feed of my colleague Simone Schnall, who is a wise observer of the fortunes of embodied cognition. I said just before Christmas that doubt had been shed on one of the more eye-catching findings in the field. Attempts to replicate experiments showing that bodily warmth led to greater social affection were not going well; you can find my post here.
      Inagaki and Human found that changes in body temperature correlated with feelings of ‘social connection’: warmer, more connected, cooler, less. Of course the classic and possibly fragile ‘holding a warm drink in your hand makes you like people more’ finding by Williams and Bargh is not the only bit of the jigsaw. As I said in my earlier post, I very much relish the way that this idea is both entirely intuitive (yes, warmth, the word bridges these things) and counter-intuitive (can I really be as simple as that?). I’m glad to see it flourishing again.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]