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Fiction and Other Minds

Fiction and Other Minds
Speaker: Giovanna Colombetti (Exeter)
Respondent: Ben Morgan (Oxford)
Chair: Naomi Rokotnitz (Oxford)
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 00:00
Seminar Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building

The “Fiction and Other Minds” seminar series has been running since 2013,hosting  a range of speakers working at the interface between literary studies, cognitive science and phenomenology. The seminar explores the productive field that opens when features investigated by the cognitive sciences are tested and expanded across different cultural contexts.

In particular, we explore the extent to which  literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights, especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition, and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading

This term’s seminar on “Affective Transformations” focused on the work of philosopher Giovanna Colombetti, whose book The Feeling Body (2014) highlighted the potential in “enactive” approaches to cognition for broadening our understanding of our affective systems. Her work resonates with on-going discussions in the cognitive humanities of the role of emotion in cognitive processes. 

'Alluring objects, scaffolded minds: how we use the world to transform our affective life'

According to an increasing number of philosophers and cognitive scientists, the mind is “situated” in the environment. Giovanna Colombetti’s work is largely sympathetic to this view, but she also sees some problems with it. One in particular is that promoters of this view still characterize the mind in “cognitivist” terms, neglecting its affective dimension. The talk explained why this is problematic, and illustrated some of the many ways in which we manipulate and rely on material objects to transform not just our cognitive, but also our affective life. In his response, Ben Morgan focused in particular on the ways in which literary texts can be seen to promote or hinder such affective transformations as she discussed. 

Abstract Drawing of Woman's Head and Cityscape