Boundaries in the Mind

Iva K. Brunec, Morris Moscovitch, and Morgan D. Barense, ‘Boundaries Shape Cognitive Representations of Spaces and Events’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22 (2018), 637-50.

For a while here I was thinking ‘I don’t get it! What’s even real and what’s even metaphorical any more?’ and then I thought ‘Hmmmmmm… this might actually be very interesting’. The set-up is that different parts of human cognition seem to rely on ‘boundaries’. Navigation, for example, ‘uses spatial boundaries to segment routes’: splitting things up helps us do them. Memory, also, relies on ‘shifts in spatiotemporal contexts to segment the ongoing stream of experience’ — this goes all the way back to the niches and plinths of memory palaces, an organised form in which we can contain more.
      So, they wonder, could this be a sign of common neural underpinnings, and a clue to the way that cognition tends to work when it faces — perhaps — an even wider variety of challenges? They make a big proposal, that ‘a fundamental event boundary detection mechanism enables navigation in both the spatial and episodic domains’, and this helps our brains create ‘cohesive representations’. They present evidence that this might be the result of ‘interplay between hippocampal and cortical dynamics’.
      This is all at a pretty early stage, but it made me think — you won’t be surprised to hear — about all the ways that literary form can provide us with spatial or quasi-spatial boundaries or quasi-boundaries that manage the unfolding of narrative or description (analogies for navigation and memory, perhaps): stanzas and rhyme-schemes and paragraphs and chapters and speech-prefixes and line-breaks and sentences and so on and so on to a point where it begins to be a bit everything. But the contribution of segmentation to thought, and the contribution of segmentation to literature, could speak to one another, I think.
      The curtailed nature of that last paragraph, and the feeling that things get a bit everything in these posts sometimes, both point towards future developments, which I’ll discuss in my next post, the five-year round-up (!). I just don’t have time at present to offer an example of how, say, different stanza forms create different patterns of metaphorical navigation. I don’t plan to punish myself about that, so I have a cunning plan for the blog.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]

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