IHC Theme Announced: “The Humanities and the Brain”

Roxy Paine, "Neuron" (detail)

UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center has announced its theme for the 2015-2016 academic year: The Humanities and the Brain.  This series of events open to the public “will bring humanists and neuroscientists into dialogue to consider diverse analyses and representations of this most elusive organ.”  Please contact IHC Diretor Susan Derwin and Associate Director Emily Zinn with suggestions for speakers, performances, artist talks, panels, and film screenings on the humanities and the brain, including the following subtopics:

Artificial intelligence
Autism
Brain injury
Consciousness and the unconscious
Criminal justice and brain imaging
Decision-making
Dreaming
Emotional states
Historical understandings of the brain
Life stages and the brain
Literary representations of mental states
Mapping the brain
Memory and forgetting
Mental health and education
Music and the brain
Narrative and the brain
Performance and the brain
Poverty and brain development
Religious experience and the brain
Representations of the brain in popular culture
Visual arts and the brain

Our initiative looks forward to attending and participating in this exciting program.

Image credit: Roxy Paine, “Neuron,” sculpture from Dendroids series (2010)

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)

Undergraduate Course: Memory: A Bridge Between Neuroscience and the Humanities

Salvador Dali, "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory," detail

Instructors: Dominique Julien (French and Comparative Literature) and Kenneth S. Kosik (Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology)

Course: Comp Lit 27, Winter 2015

Few things are more important than memory in shaping and defining human personality. Memory is what makes us humans. Memory and personality are inseparable (conversely, loss of memory, in cases like Alzheimer’s disease, destroys the patient’s personality). In recent decades, memory has emerged as one specific area of investigation common to neuroscience and the humanities where these two radically different methods of understanding reality occasionally converge. We propose to explore some of the key issues raised by memory processes as cases where the gap between the humanities and
neuroscience can be bridged.

Since Antiquity, memory has been a subject of interest to writers and philosophers. In recent years, neuroscientific progress has appeared to lend anatomical and clinical support to the literary descriptions left by Plato or Proust: what science is discovering or verifying today often seems to have been intuited and described in literary form in the past. One example would be the ancient memory techniques based on loci (literally places in the mind; this elaborate memory training system is known to us through rhetorical treatises from Antiquity to the Renaissance), whose patterns appear to converge with recent neuroscientific studies of memorization processes known as localization of function. Another example would be the correlation between memory and the senses, made famous by Proust’s philosophical novel Remembrance of Things Past, which has also developed into a key area of neuroscientific investigation.

Image: Salvador Dali, “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” (detail)

Graduate Course: Affect Theory and Practice

Mamma Andersson, "Cry"

Instructor: Kay Young

Course: English 236, Fall 2014

How does literature feel? What creates its feelings states? What relation is there between literary feeling and human emotion?

Why is emotional understanding important—to our work as scholars, teachers, and humanists?

In this seminar, we’ll explore affect—its nature, meanings, presence, and significance to the study of the verbal arts—through neuroscience, contemporary psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literary theory.

Each seminar member will choose a literary work by any author, from any period, genre, nation about which s/he has strong feelings to read as an affect theory project at the seminar’s close.

We’ll bring selections from the “Affect/ Feeling/Emotion” section of the Literature and Mind Field List, as well as from:
Henry James’ *The Golden Bowl*, Joseph LeDoux’s *The Feeling Brain*, Antonio Damasio’s*The Feeling of What Happens*, Jaak Penksepp’s *Affective Neuroscience*, Alan Schore’s*Affect Regulation*, William James’ *The Principles of Psychology*, Donna Orange’s*Emotional Understanding*, Thomas Dixon’s *From Passion to Emotions*, essays David Miall and Don Kuiken, Martha Nussbaum’s *Love’s Knowledge* and/or *Upheavals of Thought*.

Image: Mamma Andersson, “Cry”