DMN Again; Emotional Farewell (Temporary)

A couple of quick notes before the blog takes a two week break.

Note The First
* Philip Gerrans, ‘Pathologies of Hyperfamiliarity in Dreams, Delusions and Deja Vu’, Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (2014), 1-10.

I have just come back from an interesting couple of days in Birmingham at a workshop entitled ‘Dreams and Delusions in Early Modern Literature’. Organised by Ita Mac Carthy, it was the final event in Terence Cave’s Balzan Prize project ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge‘. Philip Gerrans (Professor of Philosophy, University of Adelaide) was there, and he spoke about the Default Mode Network (DMN) in the brain. I’ve mentioned it recently here. It earned its name because activity in these regions continues when the brain is in a resting state, when it is not (for example) actively engaging in perception. You can read more about it in the essay mentioned above, online here. Philip argued that dreams and delusions (like fictions and daydreams and future plans) all involve the narrative-making capacities of the DMN. It constantly forms stories which link us with our experiences, plans, fears, desires, and so on. The difference is made by the extent to which its activity is tied into engagement with context (with dreams, for example, the most disengaged), and the extent to which ‘reality testing’ is applied to its products (dreams again were at the extreme end, where reality testing may be completely absent). There are overlaps, grey areas, subtleties, and understanding the DMN definitely seems like something that ought to offer more to literature (and vice versa I hope).

Note The Second
* Patrick Colm Hogan, What Literature Teaches Us About Emotion (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

After Easter I am joining many other Shakespeareos in Paris for a 450th birthday conference. Ah, the drudgery. I am participating in a seminar about Shakespeare and cognitive science. Patrick Colm Hogan, author of the book above, will be there, and I have been re-reading his work. At the time it came out I thought (wrongly, in retrospect) ‘well I’m not really working on emotion’ and, although I admired it, I didn’t do a lot with it. Possibly its title was with me when I started ‘What Literature Knows About Your Brain’, but I wasn’t conscious of that. This time around, with the priorities of this blog in mind, I am valuing, amongst other things, the way it suggests we can treat literature as ‘data’ for research into emotions as they arise in rich contexts. We could observe individuals reading, which would resemble some types of scientific experiment. Hogan argues that this would be a very narrow sample when we have good reason to believe that thousands and even millions of readers have recognised, or felt, emotions in literary works. He argues that analysis of the texts that produce these well-attested effects is a valid way of exploring romantic love, grief, mirth, guilt, shame, jealousy, attachment, ethics, compassion, pity, and more. Music to my ears.

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