"The 'Narrative' of Cognitive Science"

Tony Jackson


The turn to the study of narrative especially since the sixties has been directly related to the implications of the arbitrariness and essential importance of the sign, to the idea that representation or discourse must precede and in an important sense determine the real. In fact I would argue that narrative, especially as understood by Peter Brooks, Hayden White, Fredric Jameson, Roland Barthes and a host of others, is in this sense a poststructuralist concept. For many of us "narrative" now includes such things as the thoroughly paradoxical relations between story and discourse (Culler), a thoroughly unstable temporality (Brooks, Jackson 1994), and the disjunctive relations between imaginary, real, and ideal narrators and audiences (Rabinowitz, Prince). Narrative has also become a central explanatory term in cognitive scientific explanations of how the mind works. However, cognitive scientific appropriations of narrative as a term seldom really consider the wealth of discoveries about narrative that have been made in literary studies over the past decades. But if poststructuralist claims about narrative representation are true, and if cognition and the self are narrative in nature, then the implications for the nature of the self are large and so far unconsidered. My paper will discuss certain well-known cognitive scientific appropriations of "narrative" (Damasio, Dennett, Turner) in relation to these issues. What are the consequences when thinkers in the area of cognitive science incorporate the concept of narrative as an unexamined and yet key term in their explanations?

 Back to Literature, Cognition & the Brain