Embodied Cognitive Science and the Study of Literature

By Mancing, Howard | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Embodied Cognitive Science and the Study of Literature


Mancing, Howard, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


Este articulo es una revision de los principales autores y publicaciones del estudio de la ciencia cognitiva corporeizada, desarrollado a traves de la exploracion de los temas y las declaraciones fundamentales del tema.

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COGNITIVE SCIENCE IS THE study of everything that involves thought, including conscious and nonconscious activities of the brain, emotion and sentiment, and all related ideas. It is a great interdisciplinary research effort that came together in the 1950s and 1960s, grew to maturity in the 1970s and 1980s, and now is often considered the most exciting approach to all things human. This brief overview is designed specifically for humanist literary scholars. It is divided into eight sections: I) the origins of cognitive science: cognitivism, the artificial-intelligence approach to cognition; 2) contextualism, the embodied approach to cognition; 3) language; 4) evolution; 5) brain; 6) mind; 7) the literary mind; and 8) contemporary cognitive approaches to the study of literature. (1) To a large extent, it is an argument for a way of understanding all literary activities that is radically different from the ways most literary scholars have been thinking for the last half-century. As for neuroscience and our understanding of the human mind-brain, I think it is fair to say that we have learned more in the last quarter of a century than we did in all of previous history.

Owing to limits of space, the approach here is schematic and allusive. Only occasionally do I cite a work in some detail; mostly I refer the reader to the list, consisting mostly of books rather than articles or essays, of works cited. This list, long as it is, is by no means intend ed to be exhaustive, but merely a starting point for further sustained investigation.

I. COGNITIVISM AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Growing out of the post-World War II cybernetics movement, reacting against the black box and blank slate approach of behaviorism, and inspired by the early promise of the new field of computing and artificial intelligence, much of the early emphasis on cognitive research was on the mind as computer. The stance taken was one of "functionalism": it does not matter what the physical form of something is, the only thing that counts is how it functions. With regard to thought, it makes no difference if the cognizing entity is a carbon-based animal or a silicone-based machine; they both function in the same way. Intelligence could be either natural (biological) or artificial (computational); it made no difference at all.

The syllogism of functionalism goes something like this: I) intelligence is the human ability to think logically; 2) logic consists of decontextualized symbol manipulation; 3) computers manipulate symbols out of context; therefore, 4) computers are intelligent. Cognition was discussed in terms of discrete bits of information, Boolean reasoning, representation, symbol manipulation, coding and decoding, information processing, the standard history of the early days of cognitive science can be found in Howard Gardner's 7be Mind's New Science. Stan Franklin's Artificial Minds is an outstanding history of artificial intelligence; and John Haugeland's collection, Mind Design II, reproduces some classic papers. (2) Although there are still many cognitive scientists who continue to believe in the mind-as-machine metaphor, literary studies has little, if anything, to gain from this orientation. Humanist literary scholars should, I think, work within a very different paradigm: that of embodied cognition.

2. CONTEXTUALISM AND EMBODIED COGNITION

Three things happened that inspired a radically different approach to cognition. First, the shortcomings of the cognitivist approach became increasingly apparent. Second, neuroscience achieved maturity as a field of study, and it soon became clear that the brain did not function at all like a computer. And third, a new concept of evolution and biology came to the fore. …

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