Narrative and Consciousness: Literature, Psychology, and the Brain

Narrative and Consciousness: Literature, Psychology, and the Brain

Narrative and Consciousness: Literature, Psychology, and the Brain

Narrative and Consciousness: Literature, Psychology, and the Brain

Synopsis

The evocation of narrative as a way to understand the content of consciousness, including memory, autobiography, self, and imagination, has sparked truly interdisciplinary work among psychologists, philosophers, and literary critics. Even neuroscientists have taken an interest in the stories people create to understand themselves, their past, and the world around them. The research presented in this volume should appeal to researchers enmeshed in these problems, as well as the general reader with an interest in the philosophical problem of what consciousness is and how it functions in the everyday world.

Excerpt

The daughter of one of the editors, upon entering the fifth grade, was given the assignment of learning about a child in the class whom she did not know well. Specifically, she was instructed to develop an interview that would answer the question “Who are you?” Of course, her collaborator was to do the same. Thus, one evening during the first week of class, in attempting to respond to her classmate she asked, “Dad, where was my favorite vacation?” After his telling her where they went and discussing what they did on her favorite vacation, she then asked, “What is my most frightening memory?” Unable to answer the second question, he came to the awkward realization of how quickly and thoughtlessly he was willing to answer the first. She wanted to provide stories to answer questions about who she is, and initially it seemed perfectly reasonable to both of them that he help construct them. The stories we tell to ourselves and others, for ourselves and others, are a central means by which we come to know ourselves and others, thereby enriching our conscious awareness. Narrative pervades our lives—conscious experience is not merely linked to the number and variety of personal stories we construct with each other within a cultural frame but is also consumed by them.

The claim, however, that narrative constructions are essential to conscious experience is not that informative unless we can also begin to provide a distinct explanation for narrative in relation to consciousness. The method we propose to use in this pursuit, the “natural method” (Flanagan, 1992), examines the relations among the findings, concepts, and methods of phenomenological, psychological, and neurobiological analyses of narrative and consciousness recognizing that each line of analysis has legitimate aims. Such an analysis demands a constant vigilance against privileging or diminishing the value of any . . .

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