Cognitive Theory & the Arts


Seminar, Humanities Center

Co-Chairs: Elaine Scarry and Alan Richardson

Poetry, music, and painting are all products of the imagination, and also make visible the way the imagination works. This seminar draws on the verbal, visual, and auditory arts, as well as models and findings from the mind sciences, to deepen our understanding of aesthetic processes and artifacts. We are interested in the ways art, neuroscience, and cognitive theory illuminate one another.


Next meeting:

Thursday, November 9, 2006
Brian Boyd, Department of English, University of Auckland, New Zealand
"On the Origin of Stories: The Evolution of Cooperation in The Odyssey"
8-10 pm, Barker Center 133

Future meetings:

Thursday, December 7, 2006
Jamshed Bharucha, Provost and Senior Vice President, Tufts University
"Cultural Differences in Music Perception: Studies Using fMRI and Neural Net Models"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 211

Thursday, February 8, 2007
Jesse Matz, Department of English, Kenyon College
title t.b.a.
7-9 pm, Barker Center 133

Past meetings:

October 4, 2006
Anne Stiles, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
"Somnambulism and Trance States in the Works of John Polidori and Bram Stoker"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 133


Meetings in 2005-06:

October 5, 2005
Vanessa Ryan, Harvard Society of Fellows
"Blink: Thinking without Thinking in the Victorian Novel"

November 2, 2005
Patrick Cavanagh, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
"The Artist as Neuroscientist"

December 7, 2005
Anna Henchman, Harvard Society of Fellows
"The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century Literature"

February 1, 2006
Vernon Shetley, Dept of English, Wellesley College
"Why We (Humanists) Think Badly: And How Cognitive Science Might Help Us Think Better"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 133

March 1, 2006
Philip Fisher, Dept of English, Harvard University
"Visual Syntax and the Order of Attention in Contemporary Painting"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 133

April 5, 2006
Matthew Belmonte, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge
"Neural and Narrative Connectivity in Autistic Perceptual Experience"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 133


Meetings in 2004-05:

November 2, 2004
Lisa Zunshine, Department of English, University of Kentucky
"Why We Read Fiction"

February 2, 2005
Chanita Goodblatt, Department of Foreign Literatures & Linguistics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
"Conversations with I.A. Richards: Connecting Cognitive Psychology and Literary Studies"

March 2, 2005
Rebecca Saxe, Harvard Society of Fellows
"Other People's Thoughts in Your Brain? The Neuroscience of Thinking about Other Minds"

April 13, 2005
Bevil Conway, Harvard Medical School Department of Neurology and Harvard Society of Fellows
"Vision and Art"

May 5, 2005
Blakey Vermeule, Northwestern University
"Machiavellian Intelligence and Theory of Mind"
7-9 pm, Barker Center 114 (Kresge Room)


Meetings in 2003-04:

October 21, 2003
Steven Pinker, Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University
"The Denial of Human Nature"

November 18, 2003
J. Allan Hobson, Dept. of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
"Dream Theory"

December 16, 2003
Patrick Colm Hogan, Dept. of English, University of Connecticut
"Why Gandhi Fasted: Narrative Universals and the Cognitive Structures of Nationalism"

February 17, 2004
Ellen Winner, Dept. of Psychology, Boston College and Gottfried Schlaug, Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
"Effects of Instrumental Music Training on Children's Brain and Cognitive Development"

April 20, 2004
Helen Vendler, Dept. of English, Harvard University
"Thinking in Images: W. B. Yeats"


Meetings in 2002-03:

November 6, 2002
Mark Turner, Dept. of English, University of Maryland
"Blended Stories"

December 4, 2002
Anne Harrington, Dept. of the History of Science, Harvard University
"Stories under the Skin: Narrative and Experience in the History of Mind-Body Medicine"

February 5, 2003
Barry Mazur, Dept. of Mathematics, Harvard University
"Imagining Numbers (particularly the square root of minus fifteen)"

March 5, 2003
Mahzarin Banaji, Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University
"Ordinary Prejudice"

April 2, 2003
Steven Meyer, Dept. of English, Washington University
"Gertrude Stein Among the Neuroscientists"

May 7, 2003
Nicholas Dames, Dept. of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
"Fiction as Machine: Readerly Cognition and Early Theories of the Novel"


Meetings in 2001-02:

October 3 , 2001, 7 p.m.
Jamshed Bharucha, Dept. of Psychology & Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College
"Music, Cultural Difference, and the Brain"

November 7, 2001, 7 p.m.
Alan Richardson, Dept. of English, Boston College
Presentation of British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind

December 5, 2001, 7 p.m.
Daniel L. Schacter, Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University
Presentation of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

February 6, 2002, 7 p.m.
Ellen Spolsky, Dept. of English, Bar-Ilan University
"Toward a Cognitive Theory of the Grotesque:
Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Rembrandt"

March 6, 2002, 7 p.m.
Alice Flaherty, Dept. of Neurology, Harvard University
"Crazy About Writing:
Hypergraphia, Writer's Block, and the Brain's Drive to Create"


Meetings in 2000-01:

October 4, 2000
Margaret Livingstone, Dept. of Neurobiology, Harvard University Medical School
"Neurobiology and the Visual Arts"

November 1, 2000
Eva Brann, Dept. of Philosophy, St. John's University, Annapolis
"The Being of Fictions"

December 6, 2000
F. Elizabeth Hart, Dept. of English, University of Connecticut
"Gender and Cognitive Literary Theory"

February 6, 2001, 7 p.m.
Stephen Kosslyn, Dept. of Psychology, Harvard University
"Mental Images in the Brain"

March 7, 2001, 7 p.m.
Mary Crane, Dept. of English, Boston College
"Shakespeare's Brain"

April 25, 2001, 7 p.m.
Ellen Esrock, Dept. of Literature, Renssaelar Polytechnic Institute
"Touching Art: Intimacy, Embodiment, and the Somatosensory System"


For information on this seminar and on changes or updates in scheduled meetings, consult the Humanities Center webpage.



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