Thursday, 1 May 2014

Cognitive Futures in the Humanities Conference

This conference in Durham was designed to bring together different disciplines across the humanities with specific emphasis on those whose work relates to, informs, or is informed by aspects of the cognitive, brain and behavioural sciences. Cognitive Futures is an international, interdisciplinary research network supported by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), 2012-14.
As well as the main speakers and some general sessions there were five themed sessions:
  • Interdisciplinarity in Theory and Practice
  • The Extended Mind
  • Theatre and Performance
  • Storyworlds and Fictionality
  • Brains, Culture and Mental Pathology

Rachel Gunn
In the themed session on Brains, Culture and Mental Pathology I (Rachel Gunn) gave a talk on delusion highlighting the difficulty that we have in defining delusion and suggesting that the single category delusion may contain more than one kind of thing. Different kinds of delusion may have different characteristics. These characteristics may be measurable and the existence or absence of a characteristic in any particular delusion and the degree to which a given characteristic or combination of characteristics is present may tell us something important about different kinds of delusions. More on this can be found on my previous blog post.
Mark Rowlands
On day two Mark Rowlands (University of Miami) gave a talk on ‘Rilkean memory’ (after Rainer Marie Rilke) showing how some memories are evoked through a kind of felt sense that can occur in certain kinds of familiar environments. The felt sense is an involuntary autobiographical memory and as such has a different form (and different phenomenology) to, say, procedural or episodic memory. We have a warped collage of memories, some of which may or may not be true and perhaps the ownership of these memories gives us our sense of self. The ‘Rilkean memory’ highlights the enactive nature of our existence.
The Imagining Autism Project screened a documentary by Professor Nicki Shaughnessy (University of Kent) on imaginative play/performance as therapy for those with a diagnosis of autism. It was particularly inspiring – showing the impact that this kind of interaction had on children’s verbal communication skills. The results shown in the film were anecdotal but I believe the project expects to publish robust findings on this kind of therapy in due course.
Other speakers included Professor Elena Semino (Lancaster University) who gave a talk on her work with collaborator Dr. Zsofia Demjen (Open University) analysing the linguistic style of the narrative in an autobiography about the experience of schizophrenia. The book (Henry’s Demons) has alternate chapters written by Henry (who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia) and his father about the experience of the onset of the illness. The analysis (as yet unpublished) shows some interesting findings. For example Henry frequently uses the word ‘feel’ (as opposed to ‘hear’) when describing ‘communication’ from inanimate objects. I am particularly interested in the possible use of linguistic analysis in understanding narrative in those who have a psychiatric diagnosis and Elena Semino and I have discussed the possibility of future collaboration in this area. 
I could only mention a few of the talks in this blog and the programme of speakers and titles for the talks at this conference can be found here.

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