• I figured that I would start broad for this week’s reflection and narrow it for next week’s, beings as we get two shots at this.

    So, I have spent most of this “vacation” doing class work. It has not all been […]

  • Quite honestly—and I have no idea why this is the case at all– but I was expecting Richard Power’s The Echo Maker to produce a novel very similar to Maud Casey’s The Man that Walked Away. In fact after the […]

    • Ha! This happens to me all the time Angela! Isn’t it funny when you start to notice echos of things that you have read in other things that you are reading? It is almost like you mind is trying to fit one thing into the space created by another, or even Déjà vu! This is a great gift and a great curse at the same time because it allows you to see connections between texts that might not necessarily have been made before (although in Powers and Casey’s novels the connection might seem quite natural), but it also allows your mind to create connections that perhaps have no justification. I am writing a paper for another class using a critical lens to examine a short story. As I was reading the theory I was shocked by how closely so much of the short story correlates, almost as if it were mirroring the critical theory, but I know that many of these connections are only superficial, or perhaps circumstantial at best. So the question is how does one see beyond the immediate responses of echoing connectivity in into the nitty-gritty of actual, useful, insight? I suppose it takes practice, but also the ability to expand AND contract thought. Or maybe the expansion is what we are after in the first place!?

  • Thumbnail (Pg 14, Art Spiegelman’s Maus)
                David B.’s Epileptic contains notes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Gilbert Hernandez’s Julio’s Day, and Siri Hustvedt’s The Shaking Woman all mixed up into one graphic novel. […]

  • Not only does Siri Hustvedt give us a great history lesson in the study of psychology and consciousness, but she also gives us an in depth look at illness in general and its effect on those fields. Her very […]

  • In Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain Antonio Damasio quotes Mark Twain and boldly states that his own approach to writing “upsets traditional human story telling” (31). However, it does not separate him so much that his presentation of the facts upsets all conventions of narrative storytelling. Twain’s claim that “reality could afford to be implausible, but fiction cannot,” underscores the metaphors that Damasio uses through the book. He is forever comparing the body to a machine, to a house, the mind to a computer. He continually takes the science behind the idea and equates it to a lesser object (a dangerous word to use when discussing Damasio and consciousness!). The implausibility of a computer mainframe in your head or any of the two way metaphors of the heart and mind, situates him in a similar narrative tradition as Matteo Farinella and Hana Ros. What they do with pictorial representations, Damasio does with words. Shockingly enough, I actually enjoyed Damasio’s writing because I feel that in the brief course of this class my own ideas about the “rules” of narrative style have opened up enough to allow for his inclusion. However, having said that I feel it necessary to point out that my exposure to Neurocomic predisposed my opinions going into this piece. The explanations in Neurocomic elucidated the biology behind the neuron and its connection to a conscious self, which Damasio uses as a spring board into the more dense and complex inner workings of the conscious mind to answer the question “how does one transfer the brainless, mindless wills of singles cells and their collectives to the self conscious minds that originates in the brain?” (37).

    Were it not for the Scott McCloud-inspired metaphoric jaunt through the nervous system and the history thereof, I would not have understood even half of what I did. In my mind, as Damasio discussed the pathways of a synapse drawing images and mapping, of dopamine, serotonin, etc., I kept imagining the facts presented in a comic form. Those images and the explanation behind each step were definitely made more manageable by the sheer implausibility in which the facts were presented (computer, house, etc.). This microscopic thing, that in order to comprehend I imagined being helped along by the childlike figures of a cartoon, was a character in and of itself.  When I read Consciousness Comes to Mind those images became a metaphor of words instead. In particular Damasio has utilizes the metaphor of the stage through Consciousness Comes to Mind and Chapter 1 of The Feeling of What Happens. After the rudiments of the neuron and the ideas of recall are presented, Damasio discusses the possibility of “simulating a body state without actually producing it” (102), in the Feeling of What Happens he opens the introduction as a curtain rising on a stage. The preformative nature of the subjects which he discusses can find in this another bridging factor between his own unique style and “traditional human storytelling.” Granted the faking of emotions and the “coming into the light” of opening night are two very separate events, but they both work to ensure Damasio has a narrative style and connection to his audience.

    • It was really interesting to me how Damasio told the story of the self, and took the reader through it’s evolutionary development, and I think he was so apt to quote Mark Twain as well as Shakespeare to express a kind of humility about how grand the self and the mind really is and the invisible kind of journey it took to get to where it is today. It was really interesting how Damasio took it to single celled organisms and explaining homeostasis to drive in the message of how ancient and primordial the balancing act of life is, and what we think of as really modern, like civilizations and regulating order, is really something that was around since the dawn of life.
      All these texts also seem to suggest a integration of things. Whether it’s the understanding of consciousness, or the understanding of the brain in Neurocomics, it shows how there were all kinds of figures- scientific and literary- that aided in the development of understanding ourselves. I can’t help but get the feeling of loops, and how the brain resembles the mind, and the processes of the mind resemble the processes of society, and knowledge. There seems to be an indication of a sort of interconnectivity of things.

    • I won’t go so far as to say that I enjoyed Damasio’s writing (I mean, it was pleasant and it certainly could have been impenetrable, which it wasn’t, but it’s definitely not a book that I would have looked at if it hadn’t been assigned), but I like the connection you’ve made here. I almost want to go back and reread the parts that gave me the most trouble and imagine the ideas in comic-form. Neurocomic was definitely a better read, for me. I certainly had an easier time following the stories that Damasio told (like the one about the children born without fully-formed brains) than I did following the rest of the text, because I think I’m hardwired to follow stories better (a point I sort of made on Faye’s post). What I think is really useful about this text, and about the class, is that it’s giving me different and easier ways to consider the mind and the problem of consciousness than those I had at my disposal before. I feel like Helen Reed in that way, finally turning away from stories, at least a little bit.

  • The conversations in Thinks… between Ralph and Helen hinge upon the assumption that consciousness cannot be accurately simulated through fiction, but, rather, has a better shot of being understood through […]

    • For me the whole book was a thought experiment between two things which seem to oppose each art and science and showing that they are actually saying the same thing about consciousness and it is revealed by how they talk about religion. Ralph, the scientist, doesn’t believe there is a god and only believes in science. So he thinks everything can be explained in terms of facts. Helen, the creative writer, is an agnostic who is still searching for the if she believes or not. The problem with these two positions is they don’t take any risk. They can stand back and argue and never take a real position so both of them are skeptics. Agnosticism is a place of uncertainty about god and scientific evidence based on facts doesn’t mean anything because facts can be manipulation. So the thought experiment of the book was that how would both of these people talk and interact with each.
      Another thing that points to this is when Helen was writing her diary entries her would only say things that would make it seem like see wanted her diary to be read by somebody else. So it was almost like she was winking at the read. This is important because if these are her inner most thoughts why is she doing that?

    • The similarity to Jane Austen is amazing, I’m surprised that Lodge’s playing around with these tropes took away the brilliance of the work for you. I don’t know, but I really found the short stories, especially the Salman Rushdie-esque one in the student response to Thomas Nagel’s “What is it Like to be a Bat?” rather profound. The second set of student responses to the Frank Jackson’s Mary experiment added to the eclectic nature of the novel. These stories, and even the concept of having an imaginary professor, assign work to an imaginary classroom, pulled me in into the world of the novel, when the whole thing is really organized by one mind. The uniqueness in Lodge’s style is his ability to synthesize so many conflicting, but also harmonious different perspectives all in one novel.

    • I think it’s true that the novel is an elaborate thought experiment–designed to get at how science and art get at questions about consciousness from different angles.

      The Austen comparison is really interesting. I hadn’t thought of that, but it is a kind of contemporary novel of manners. But Lodge has nothing on Austen in terms of the brilliance of language–especially the way she uses free indirect style to give readers a feeling of characters’ subjectivity.

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