Conference: IHC, “The Humanities, The Neurosciences, and the Brain”

 

Rene Descartes, illustration of mind/body dualism

UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center continues its year-long focus on the humanities and the brain in a conference entitled “The Humanities, The Neurosciences, and the Brain.”  This conference, held on UCSB’s campus from May 12-13, features Gabrielle Starr as the keynote speaker, and includes presentations by graduate students affiliated with Literature and the Mind.

From the IHC description:  “This interdisciplinary conference will exploring the multiple accords, and discords, that characterize humanistic and neuroscientific approaches to the study of the brain…. Participants will explore creative framings of neuroscientific inquiry through humanistic perspectives, as well as artistic explorations of inner states and mental landscapes.”

The conference is free and open to the public.  You can find more information, including information about registering to attend, here.

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Thursday, May 12, 2016
9:00 AM coffee and pastries

9:15 AM Welcome: Susan Derwin, Director, IHC

9:30 AM Panel 1: Sight and Sound
Katie Adkison, English, UCSB, “Speaking What We Feel: The Sense of Speech in King Lear”
Chip Badley, English, UCSB, “’If not in the Word, in the Sound’: Sound, Affect, Frederick Douglass”
Cole Cohen, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB, “Merleau-Ponty and Me: The Phenomenology of Neurodiversity”

10:30 AM break

10:45 AM Sight and Sound continued
Phillip Grayson, Literature, St. John’s University, “At The Edge of Evening, Often Forever: Extramission, Consciousness, Literature”
Ery Shin, English, Eureka College, “Imaging the Mind in Literary Contexts”

12:00 PM lunch

 12:45 PM Panel 2: Sociality, Intersubjectivity, Empathy
Corinne Bancroft, English, UCSB, “The Face of Friendship in Louise Erdrich’s Fiction”
Ksenia Federova, Cultural Studies, UC Davis, “Identity Transactions and Interpersonal Dynamics in Art and Science”
Cheryl Jaworski, English, UCSB, “The Embodied Mind and ‘the Demon of Domesticity’ in Dickens’s Dombey and Son

2:15 PM break

2:30 PM Panel 3: Theories of Mind, Machines and Mechanical Metaphors
Hannes Bend, Quantum Physics Aleman Lab and Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, “Metaverses/Myndful”
Jennifer Duggan, English, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, “The Victorians and the Mechanical Brain”
Melissa M. Littlefield, English and Kinesiology & Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “Public Displays of Arousal: EEG Wearables and the Fashioning of Instrumental Intimacy”

4:00 PM break

4:15 PM Panel 4: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Historical Influences
Louis Caron, History and Religious Studies, UCSB, “Some Observations on the History of Neuroscience, and on Thomas Willis, the First Neurologist”
Jap-Nanak Makkar, English, University of Virginia, “Libet’s Missing ½ Second, Digital Technology, and Political Critique”
Robert Samuels, Writing Program, UCSB, “Damasio’s Error: The Humanities Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience”

5:45 PM reception

Friday, May 13, 2016
8:30 AM coffee and pastries

8:45 AM Welcome

 9:00 AM Panel 5: Altered States
Elliott D. Ihm, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “Neurocognitive Foundations of Self-Transcendent Experiences:  A Speculative Predictive Coding Account”
Brianna K. Morseth, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “To Forget the Self: Religious, Cultural, and Neuroscientific Dimensions of Ego Death through Contemplative Practice”
D.C. McGuire, Neuroscience Researcher, “Neuroscience Offers Humanity’s Second Chance”

10:30 AM break

10:45 AM Keynote: Gabrielle Starr, English, New York University, author of Feeling Beauty
“Pleasure and Form: Chasing Imagination”

12:15 PM lunch

 1:00 PM Panel 6: Memory and the Creation of Consciousness
Jacob Burg, English, Brandeis University, “Reading Forgetful Minds: The Social Brain in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant
Wallace Chafe, Linguistics, UCSB, “Immediate versus Displaced Thinking”
Rebecca Chenoweth, English, UCSB, “Remembering ‘The Best of England’ from the Periphery of War in The Remains of the Day
Sara Pankenier Weld, Germanic & Slavic Studies, UCSB, “The Birth of Consciousness: Andrei Bely’s Modernist Pseudo-Autobiography”

 3:00 PM Closing remarks

 

Image: Rene Descartes, illustration of mind/body dualism from “Meditations on First Philosophy” (duplicated)

Reading Group Notes: Derrida and Coleman on Improvisation and Play

Ornette Coleman & Jacques Derrida intervenidos x Villavicencio - Descontexto

I didn’t always know where I was, so I went to a library and I checked out all the books possible and imaginable on the human brain, I read them all.  They said that the brain was only a conversation.  They didn’t say what about, but this made me understand that the fact of thinking and knowing doesn’t only depend on the place of origin.  (Ornette Coleman, “The Others’ Language”)

On October 26, George Blake led us in a discussion of an interview between Jacques Derrida and free jazz artist Ornette Coleman, and their joint performance onstage in July 1997.  In “The Others’ Language,” Derrida interviewed Coleman about improvisation (including the place of repetition and groups in improv); and “Play–The First Name” comprises the text of Derrida’s “solo” performance following Coleman’s concert with pianist Joachim Kuhn.  Julie Carlson aptly summarized the dynamic between Derrida and Coleman as one not characterized by confrontation of experts viewing a topic through different lenses, but rather characterized by a “tonal” respect of the other that eschews direct agreement or disagreement; thus, the deflections of questions that some of us noticed were not outright rejections of each other’s ideas and work, but rather indicate an improvisatory mode of conversation that reaches across disciplinary divides.

After working through definitions of bebop, harmolodic music, and free jazz, listening to excerpts of the “free jazz” composed and performed by Coleman, and discussing receptions of Derrida’s speech vs. that of his written work (as the audience jeered his recitation of “Play”), we noted some questions and themes that recurred from our previous explorations of improvisation:

  • The importance of balancing play and the “new” with codes and repetition (particularly germane, in this conversation, to deconstruction and its work with language systems);
  • The difficulty of knowing when you have mastered a framework enough to improvise after it;
  • The idea of “mastery” that is equally prevalent in musical performance and in academia, compared to the immersive, embodied, unconscious relationship we may have with a craft or field after working with it for years;
  • The role that the body, the environment, and objects can play in improvisation (as when the sound of audible breathing in a clarinet links the performer’s body and the instrument);
  • The importance of improvisation in groups for social survival and thriving, and the risks of improvising with others (as when Derrida indicates his shame at invoking the words of Coleman’s mother when he does not know her name);
  • The use, place, and risks of deferment, and (similarly) of absence–if we cannot do everything, how can we stop apologizing for what we don’t do?

 

Article: “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

Artist: Tom Gauld

In The New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey explores the history and practice of bibliotherapy, including her own experience with a program at The New School that used interviews and questionnaires to recommend novels that could prove provocative and therapeutic.  Dovey finds that, in order to be effective, bibliotherapists must keep the reader/patient’s individuality in mind, and refrain from the all-too-common practice of “thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives.”  Read the article in full here.

Image: Tom Gauld, “Lake Monster” (detail)

Article: ” ‘We Sweat, Crave, and Itch All Day’: Why Writing About Bodies Is Vital”

image by Doug McLean

In The Atlantic, essayist Leslie Jamison reflects on the words of Virginia Woolf that shaped her view of bodies in literature.  Jamison recalls struggling to represent the physical aftermath of surgery, fearing that “writing about bodily experience [is] somehow… the ultimate solipsism,” and ultimately finding solace in Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill.”  Jamison connects Woolf’s essay, Elaine Scarry’s theory on pain and speech, and the works of Whitman and Faulkner to memories of her own discomfort in waiting rooms and creative writing classes.  Ultimately, she concludes that “the surface of the body isn’t poverty; it isn’t lack,” and moreover, it can be a site of deep connection between authors and readers.

Read Jamison’s piece in full here.

Learn more about Jamison’s volume of nonfiction essays on bodies and others, The Empathy Exams, here.

Image by Doug McLean for The Atlantic.