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Re: [biopoet] Bérubé review Boyd

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  • Jeff P. Turpin
    I ve finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time. Someone in the lit dar fold
    Message 1 of 12 , Dec 18, 2009
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           I've finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time.  Someone in the lit dar fold needs to pen a succinct and incisive critique (or metacritique, per Bérubé) of criticism and the hierarchization of critical schools.  It seems to me that, in addition to this being a potable review of Boyd's book, it is also a deft positioning and stabilizing of Bérubé's position in the lit crit hierarchy.  He acknowledges the viability of adaptationist approaches, and expresses hope that some aspects of 'evocriticism' will be more broadly accepted but, with his dismissals of sociobiology and Just So stories, and claim that Brian's results don't live up to his claims, keeps several arrows in his quiver in case a larger hole appears in the lit dar case, in which case he can rest solely on the latter position, and agree with lit dar opponents.  Again, this is not to say that the article is simply self-serving, or to target Bérubé specifically.  The article is at points witty and incisive, and in my opinion worth reading.  However . . .
           Bérubé extolls the virtues of deconstruction in both this and another recent article in MLA's periodical, but one of the faults of deconstruction has always been that it cuts with equal effect in either direction.  Among many other things poststructuralism was a Machiavellian move (a successful one) to carve positions in academia for the disenfranchised.  The overall results of this move are moot, with the new more egalitarian state of the discipline being arguably positive, and the perpetuation of the means by which it was enacted being perhaps one of the negatives (we should note that the current anti-health care movement and other conservative initiatives are very successfully employing poststructuralist rhetorical tactics, including the avoidance of empirical testing, to have an outsized impact on public opinion). 
           But metacritique and deconstruction combine to require us to analyze the Machiavellian underpinnings of any critical essay, approach, or school, including literary Darwinism.  How does the criticism affect (or effect) the position of the critic or school in the academic or philosophical hierarchy?  And how, as literary Darwinists, are we serving self, along with a just cause, in our critical efforts? Or is this play within the play best ignored . . . (and if someone has already written the succinct and incisive metacrique, I extend my apologies, plead my ignorance, and humbly request the citation). JT

      Jeff P. Turpin, President
      Turpin and Sons Inc.
      Cultural Resource Management
      2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
      (512) 922-7826
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:06 AM
      Subject: [biopoet] Bérubé review Boyd

       


      Bérubé on Boyd's Origin of Stories

      Michael Bérubé has now reviewed Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories:
      Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. His review is online at American
      Scientist:

      http://www.american scientist. org/bookshelf/ pub/the-plays- the-thing

      Discussions ongoing at:

      http://www.michaelb erube.com/ index.php/ weblog/comments/ while_i_was_ grading_p
      apers/

      and at:

      http://crookedtimbe r.org/2009/ 12/11/mind- games/

      --

      William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
      708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
      Jersey City, NJ 07302
      201 217-1010

      Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit. ca/evcult/
      The Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl. com/ormqg
      Flickr: http://flickr. com/photos/ stc4blues/
      YouTube: http://www.youtube. com/user/ STC4blues

    • William Benzon
      LOL! Remarks below. BB ... To what end? & how would you establish the hierarchization of critical schools? My crude impression ‹ from remarks made at The
      Message 2 of 12 , Dec 18, 2009
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        Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bérubé review Boyd LOL! Remarks below.

        BB


        on 12/18/09 9:47 AM, Jeff P. Turpin at jpturpin@... wrote:

            I've finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time.  Someone in the lit dar fold needs to pen a succinct and incisive critique (or metacritique, per Bérubé) of criticism and the hierarchization of critical schools.  

        To what end? & how would you establish the hierarchization of critical schools? My crude impression — from remarks made at The Valve and elsewhere — is that New Historicism is the current default methodology in lit crit these days. That’s a pretty diffuse school. Bérubé’s own favorite is cultural studies out of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams (& there was a recent web contretemps over his advocacy of that school). I don’t recall that cultural studies gets much, if any, mention in his review, and it’s rather poorly represented on this year’s MLA program.

        It seems to me that, in addition to this being a potable review of Boyd's book, it is also a deft positioning and stabilizing of Bérubé's position in the lit crit hierarchy.  He acknowledges the viability of adaptationist approaches, and expresses hope that some aspects of 'evocriticism' will be more broadly accepted but, with his dismissals of sociobiology and Just So stories, and claim that Brian's results don't live up to his claims, keeps several arrows in his quiver in case a larger hole appears in the lit dar case, in which case he can rest solely on the latter position, and agree with lit dar opponents.  

        So? Do you think he doesn’t actually believe that Boyd’s results “don't live up to his claims,” that he’s just saying that to give himself an out? Bérubé’s not the first one to make that claim about Boyd, nor is this a new claim to be advanced against Darwinian lit crit. Steven “Mr. Evolutionary Psychology” Pinker made the same observation in his review of The Literary Animal, as did Rebecca Goldstein. It’s one thing to read a bunch of psychology and put it together into an interesting and compelling synthesis. Analyzing literary texts is a different kind of intellectual activity.

        Again, this is not to say that the article is simply self-serving, or to target Bérubé specifically.  The article is at points witty and incisive, and in my opinion worth reading.  However . . .

        What’s all this concern about being “self-serving”? Isn’t Bérubé allowed to serve those intellectual interests he believes important? Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?

        [snip]

             But metacritique and deconstruction combine to require us to analyze the Machiavellian underpinnings of any critical essay, approach, or school, including literary Darwinism.  How does the criticism affect (or effect) the position of the critic or school in the academic or philosophical hierarchy?  

        Um, err, this sort of discussion happens all the time in bars. And it was raised to an intellectual art long before deconstruction. In his 1949 Social Theory and Social Structure Robert Merton has a section devoted to Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, which is about how ideas make their way in the world, not on their merits as ideas, but in service of the interests of those who propound them. Come to think of it, Karl Marx (the horror! the horror!) had an account of ideology that addressed this.

        And how, as literary Darwinists, are we serving self, along with a just cause, in our critical efforts? Or is this play within the play best ignored . . . (and if someone has already written the succinct and incisive metacrique, I extend my apologies, plead my ignorance, and humbly request the citation). JT

        Sorry, but that’s how the world works. There’s nothing particularly nefarious or dishonest about Bérubé’s review.

        Jeff P. Turpin, President
        Turpin and Sons Inc.
        Cultural Resource Management
        2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
        (512) 922-7826

        ----- Original Message -----
         
        From:  William  Benzon <mailto:bbenzon@...>  
         
        To: Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com>  ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com>  ; Cog Lit  Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>  ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups.com>  
         
        Cc: Brian Boyd <mailto:b.boyd@...>  ; Joseph Carroll <mailto:jcarroll@...>  ;  Michael B é rub é  <mailto:mfb12@...>
         
        Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:06  AM
         
        Subject: [biopoet] Bérubé review  Boyd
         

           
         
         
         


        Bérubé on Boyd's Origin of Stories

        Michael Bérubé has now  reviewed Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories:
        Evolution, Cognition, and  Fiction. His review is online at American
        Scientist:

        http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-plays-the-thing

        Discussions  ongoing at:

        http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/while_i_was_grading_p
        apers/

        and  at:

        http://crookedtimber.org/2009/12/11/mind-games/

        --  

        William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
        708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
        Jersey  City, NJ 07302
        201 217-1010

        Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
        The  Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
        Flickr:  http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
        YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues

         



        _______________________________________________
        CogLAs mailing list
        CogLAs@...
        https://lists.purdue.edu/mailman/listinfo/coglas

      • b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz
        My claims in On the Origin of Stories that storytelling is an adaptation begin with the benefits to individual minds of the compulsiveness of story, from
        Message 3 of 12 , Dec 18, 2009
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          My claims in On the Origin of Stories that storytelling is an adaptation begin with the benefits to individual minds of the compulsiveness of story, from pretend play to old age, in training in social cognition, in shifting perspective, in extending the capacity of the imagination beyond the here and now.

          I see art in general as cognitive play with pattern, in different key human perceptual and cognitive modes (aural and kinetic, in music and dance; visual in the visual arts; social and event cognition in story), which derives from physical play in other animals.

          I draw on evidence for neural plasticity, and the effects of play on animal minds, and the effects of music (the best-studied of the arts in neurocognitive terms) on human minds. Those with even some early musical training, even if it didn’t “take” nevertheless process musical sound better than those with none (of course, in no normal child do pretend play and story not “take”). Those with extensive musical training can follow conversations better in noisy environments than those without. Those with more inclination to read stories fare better on tests of social cognition, and those tested on Chekhov’s “Lady with the Little Dog” had their minds changed more (their sympathies extended and their perspectives shifted more), than those exposed to an apparently factual report of the same events (in the form of divorce court proceedings) that was independently rated to have the same interest value as the story (Mar, Djikic and Oatley 2008; see in general the work of Keith Oatley and colleagues).

          After discussing the individual cognitive benefits I also note and provide evidence for other benefits of storytelling and other arts in terms of the individual status benefits to artists, the socially cohesive benefits to groups, and the long-term effect of creativity.

          Gordon Burghardt, author of the most complete recent biological study of play, The Genesis of Animal Play, writes in his review of my book in the first issue of The Evolutionary Review:

          Boyd proposes that stories, and all the creative arts, are the result of curiosity and play, with their emphases on novelty, variability, and flexibility in attainment of goals not immediately important for survival. Play can be both a product and cause of evolutionary selection and change. Boyd is very good on play. I know because my own book on play, though not cited by Boyd, reaches many similar conclusions after an understandably more detailed review. Play is widespread among animals but, in more cognitively adept species, and especially people, mental play and rehearsal of alternatives can replace actual behavior. Boyd sees cognitive play reaching an apogee in art, though many, most notably Huizinga (uncited), see play as the origin of many aspects of human civilization, including science. Just as Boyd argues for a bottom up approach to the study of fiction, I have in rather similar fashion argued for a bottom up approach to play. The typical focus on trying to determine the adaptive function of play by extensive study of the most elaborate and unequivocal examples led to play researchers adopting speculative and unsupported, though plausible, claims for play—claims that lacked virtually any supporting data. As Pellis’ recent book documents, we are only now beginning to hone in on the adaptive function of play. That advance has been made possible by illuminating studies into what play actually is, who plays, how it develops, the contexts in which play occurs, the neural bases of play, and the role of surplus resources in facilitating play.

          Focusing prematurely on adaptationism might have set many heading in the wrong direction, missing opportunities for treasures that might actually help attain the Holy Adaptationist Grail. Boyd, like Carroll, takes seriously the ethological view of Tinbergen that to understand any behavioral phenomenon we need to be concerned with its underlying mechanisms, development, evolution, and adaptive function. A fifth aim is necessary, the private experiences or personal response of individual animals, since Tinbergen, a bit cowed by behaviorists, was not at all sympathetic to the mental or subjective in ethology, including the study of play! In this light it is clear that scientists study all kinds of features of organisms even in the absence of the ability to confirm their current or even past function. Critics of Boyd have missed this. The ability to unequivocally show, through modern scientific methods, the specific adaptive function of a trait in terms of reproductive success is actually quite recent for all but the most obvious cases. Tinbergen pioneered this type of study for behavior late in his Nobel Prize winning career. For the study of play, I have outlined six major methods to study adaptive hypotheses; all are applicable to art, but all have problems. Of these, the “design feature” method is often used in humanistic evolutionary studies; important as this may be to the generation of testable hypotheses, it is also important to get beyond the “my design is better than your design” speculation to specific tests. Boyd envisions comparative cross-cultural studies, another one of the six basic methods. . . . Boyd gets so much right!

          Back to me. Bill Benzon asks Jeff Turpin rhetorically: “Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?”

          Might I point out that seeing Theory of Mind as important to explaining storytelling did not start with Lisa Zunshine. I wrote about it in “The Origin of Stories: Horton Hears a Who” in Philosophy and Literature, 2001. I also reviewed Zunshine’s Why Do We Read negatively in the same journal (2006), because she was not up to date with the scientific literature on Theory of Mind, because she used one narrow aspect of it as it if offered  a complete explanation for fiction, and because her analyses of the fiction she chose as examples often misconstrued what was happening in the passages she spotlighted.

          Brian Boyd

           

          On 19/12/2009, at 5:04 AM, William Benzon wrote:

          LOL! Remarks below.

          BB


          on 12/18/09 9:47 AM, Jeff P. Turpin at jpturpin@... wrote:

              I've finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time.  Someone in the lit dar fold needs to pen a succinct and incisive critique (or metacritique, per Bérubé) of criticism and the hierarchization of critical schools.  

          To what end? & how would you establish the hierarchization of critical schools? My crude impression — from remarks made at The Valve and elsewhere — is that New Historicism is the current default methodology in lit crit these days. That’s a pretty diffuse school. Bérubé’s own favorite is cultural studies out of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams (& there was a recent web contretemps over his advocacy of that school). I don’t recall that cultural studies gets much, if any, mention in his review, and it’s rather poorly represented on this year’s MLA program.

          It seems to me that, in addition to this being a potable review of Boyd's book, it is also a deft positioning and stabilizing of Bérubé's position in the lit crit hierarchy.  He acknowledges the viability of adaptationist approaches, and expresses hope that some aspects of 'evocriticism' will be more broadly accepted but, with his dismissals of sociobiology and Just So stories, and claim that Brian's results don't live up to his claims, keeps several arrows in his quiver in case a larger hole appears in the lit dar case, in which case he can rest solely on the latter position, and agree with lit dar opponents.  

          So? Do you think he doesn’t actually believe that Boyd’s results “don't live up to his claims,” that he’s just saying that to give himself an out? Bérubé’s not the first one to make that claim about Boyd, nor is this a new claim to be advanced against Darwinian lit crit. Steven “Mr. Evolutionary Psychology” Pinker made the same observation in his review of The Literary Animal, as did Rebecca Goldstein. It’s one thing to read a bunch of psychology and put it together into an interesting and compelling synthesis. Analyzing literary texts is a different kind of intellectual activity.

          Again, this is not to say that the article is simply self-serving, or to target Bérubé specifically.  The article is at points witty and incisive, and in my opinion worth reading.  However . . .

          What’s all this concern about being “self-serving”? Isn’t Bérubé allowed to serve those intellectual interests he believes important? Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?

          [snip]

               But metacritique and deconstruction combine to require us to analyze the Machiavellian underpinnings of any critical essay, approach, or school, including literary Darwinism.  How does the criticism affect (or effect) the position of the critic or school in the academic or philosophical hierarchy?  

          Um, err, this sort of discussion happens all the time in bars. And it was raised to an intellectual art long before deconstruction. In his 1949 Social Theory and Social Structure Robert Merton has a section devoted to Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, which is about how ideas make their way in the world, not on their merits as ideas, but in service of the interests of those who propound them. Come to think of it, Karl Marx (the horror! the horror!) had an account of ideology that addressed this.

          And how, as literary Darwinists, are we serving self, along with a just cause, in our critical efforts? Or is this play within the play best ignored . . . (and if someone has already written the succinct and incisive metacrique, I extend my apologies, plead my ignorance, and humbly request the citation). JT

          Sorry, but that’s how the world works. There’s nothing particularly nefarious or dishonest about Bérubé’s review.

          Jeff P. Turpin, President
          Turpin and Sons Inc.
          Cultural Resource Management
          2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
          (512) 922-7826

          ----- Original Message -----
           
          From:  William  Benzon <mailto:bbenzon@...>  
           
          To: Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com>  ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com>  ; Cog Lit  Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>  ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups.com>  
           
          Cc: Brian Boyd <mailto:b.boyd@...>  ; Joseph Carroll <mailto:jcarroll@...>  ;  Michael B é rub é  <mailto:mfb12@...>
           
          Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:06  AM
           
          Subject: [biopoet] Bérubé review  Boyd
           

             
           
           
           


          Bérubé on Boyd's Origin of Stories

          Michael Bérubé has now  reviewed Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories:
          Evolution, Cognition, and  Fiction. His review is online at American
          Scientist:

          http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-plays-the-thing

          Discussions  ongoing at:

          http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/while_i_was_grading_p
          apers/

          and  at:

          http://crookedtimber.org/2009/12/11/mind-games/

          --  

          William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
          708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
          Jersey  City, NJ 07302
          201 217-1010

          Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
          The  Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
          Flickr:  http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
          YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues

           



          _______________________________________________
          CogLAs mailing list
          CogLAs@...
          https://lists.purdue.edu/mailman/listinfo/coglas

          _______________________________________________
          CogLAs mailing list
          CogLAs@...
          https://lists.purdue.edu/mailman/listinfo/coglas

        • Carroll, Joseph C.
          For a commentary on the various positions that have been adopted with respect to the adaptive function of the arts, see the attached (forthcoming) article.
          Message 4 of 12 , Dec 18, 2009

          For a commentary on the various positions that have been adopted with respect to the adaptive function of the arts, see the attached (forthcoming) article.  Here are the last two paragraphs:

           

          Consider the reality of our experience. We live in the imagination. For us, humans, no action or event is ever just itself. It is always a component in mental representations of the natural and social order, extending over time. All our actions take place within imaginative structures that include our vision of the world and our place in the world—our internal conflicts and concerns, our relations to other people, our relations to nature, and our relations to whatever spiritual forces we imagine might exist. We live in communities that consist not just of the people with whom we come directly into contact but with memories of the dead, traditions of our ancestors, our sense of connection with generations yet unborn, and with every person, living or dead, who joins with us in imaginative structures—social, ideological, religious, or philosophical—that subordinate our individual selves to some collective body. Our sense of our selves derives from our myths and artistic traditions, from the stories we tell, the songs we sing, and the visual images that surround us.

          We have all had moments in which some song, story, or play, some film, piece of music, or painting, has transfigured our vision of the world, broadened our minds, deepened our emotional understanding, or given us new insight into human experience. Working out from this common observation to a hypothesis about the adaptive function of literature requires no great speculative leap. Literature and the other arts help us live our lives. That is why the arts are human universals. In all known cultures, the arts enter profoundly into normal childhood development, connect individuals to their culture, and help people get oriented to the world, emotionally, morally, and conceptually.

           

          ********** 

           

          I recently wrote an encyclopedia piece on evolutionary studies in the arts.  The entry includes a condensed version of the article (attached here) on the adaptive function of the arts. Here is that condensed version:

           

          The Controversy over the Adaptive Function of Literature and the Other Arts

           

          The most hotly debated issue in evolutionary literary study concerns the adaptive functions of literature and other arts—whether there are any adaptive functions, and if so, what they might be. Steven Pinker (1997) suggests that aesthetic responsiveness is merely a side effect of cognitive powers that evolved to fulfill more practical functions, but Pinker also suggests that narratives can provide information for adaptively relevant problems. Geoffrey Miller (2000) argues that artistic productions serve as forms of sexual display. Brian Boyd (2009) argues that the arts are forms of cognitive “play” that enhance pattern recognition. Boyd and Ellen Dissanayake (2000) also argue that the arts provide means of creating shared social identity. Dissanayake, Joseph Carroll (2008), and Denis Dutton (2009) all argue that the arts help organize the human mind; the arts give emotionally and aesthetically modulated form to the relations among the elements of human experience. The idea that the arts function as means of psychological organization subsumes the ideas that the arts provide adaptively relevant information, enable us to consider alternative behavioral scenarios, enhance pattern recognition, and serve as means for creating shared social identity. And of course, the arts can be used for sexual display. In that respect, the arts are like most other human products—clothing, jewelry, shelter, means of transportation, etc. The hypothesis that the arts help organize the mind is not incompatible with the hypothesis of sexual display, but it subordinates sexual display to a more primary adaptive function.

          According to the hypothesis that the arts function as media for psychological organization, the uniquely human need for art derives from the unique human powers of cognition. To all animals except humans, the world presents itself as a series of rigidly defined stimuli releasing a narrow repertory of stereotyped behaviors. For human minds, the word presents itself as a vast and potentially perplexing array of percepts, inferences, causal relations, contingent possibilities, analogies, contrasts, and hierarchical conceptual structures. High intelligence enables humans to generate plans based on mental representations of complex relationships, engage in collective enterprises requiring shared mental representations, and thus produce novel solutions to adaptive problems. Humans do not operate automatically, but neither do they operate on the basis of purely rational deliberations about means and ends. Art, like religion and ideology, is charged with emotion, and indeed, religion and ideology typically make use of the arts to convey their messages in emotionally persuasive ways. In all known societies, humans regulate their behavior in accordance with beliefs and values that are made vividly present to them in the depictions of art, including fictional narratives.

          Ways of exploring and evaluating hypotheses about the adaptive function of the arts include paleoanthropological research into the evolutionary emergence of symbolic culture, cross-cultural ethological research into artistic practices among hunter-gatherers and tribal peoples, neuroscientific research into the way the brain processes artistic information, psychological research into the way art and language enter into childhood development, and social science research into the systemic social effects produced by shared participation in imaginative experience.

           

          ******** 

           

          Joe Carroll

           

           

           

           

           


          From: b.boyd@... [mailto:b.boyd@...]
          Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 6:11 PM
          To: William Benzon
          Cc: Jeff P. Turpin; Biopoetics; EvPsych; Cog Lit Assn; CogLit; Michael Bérubé; Carroll, Joseph C.
          Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

           

          My claims in On the Origin of Stories that storytelling is an adaptation begin with the benefits to individual minds of the compulsiveness of story, from pretend play to old age, in training in social cognition, in shifting perspective, in extending the capacity of the imagination beyond the here and now.

          I see art in general as cognitive play with pattern, in different key human perceptual and cognitive modes (aural and kinetic, in music and dance; visual in the visual arts; social and event cognition in story), which derives from physical play in other animals.

          I draw on evidence for neural plasticity, and the effects of play on animal minds, and the effects of music (the best-studied of the arts in neurocognitive terms) on human minds. Those with even some early musical training, even if it didn’t “take” nevertheless process musical sound better than those with none (of course, in no normal child do pretend play and story not “take”). Those with extensive musical training can follow conversations better in noisy environments than those without. Those with more inclination to read stories fare better on tests of social cognition, and those tested on Chekhov’s “Lady with the Little Dog” had their minds changed more (their sympathies extended and their perspectives shifted more), than those exposed to an apparently factual report of the same events (in the form of divorce court proceedings) that was independently rated to have the same interest value as the story (Mar, Djikic and Oatley 2008; see in general the work of Keith Oatley and colleagues).

          After discussing the individual cognitive benefits I also note and provide evidence for other benefits of storytelling and other arts in terms of the individual status benefits to artists, the socially cohesive benefits to groups, and the long-term effect of creativity.

          Gordon Burghardt, author of the most complete recent biological study of play, The Genesis of Animal Play, writes in his review of my book in the first issue of The Evolutionary Review:

          Boyd proposes that stories, and all the creative arts, are the result of curiosity and play, with their emphases on novelty, variability, and flexibility in attainment of goals not immediately important for survival. Play can be both a product and cause of evolutionary selection and change. Boyd is very good on play. I know because my own book on play, though not cited by Boyd, reaches many similar conclusions after an understandably more detailed review. Play is widespread among animals but, in more cognitively adept species, and especially people, mental play and rehearsal of alternatives can replace actual behavior. Boyd sees cognitive play reaching an apogee in art, though many, most notably Huizinga (uncited), see play as the origin of many aspects of human civilization, including science. Just as Boyd argues for a bottom up approach to the study of fiction, I have in rather similar fashion argued for a bottom up approach to play. The typical focus on trying to determine the adaptive function of play by extensive study of the most elaborate and unequivocal examples led to play researchers adopting speculative and unsupported, though plausible, claims for play—claims that lacked virtually any supporting data. As Pellis’ recent book documents, we are only now beginning to hone in on the adaptive function of play. That advance has been made possible by illuminating studies into what play actually is, who plays, how it develops, the contexts in which play occurs, the neural bases of play, and the role of surplus resources in facilitating play.

          Focusing prematurely on adaptationism might have set many heading in the wrong direction, missing opportunities for treasures that might actually help attain the Holy Adaptationist Grail. Boyd, like Carroll, takes seriously the ethological view of Tinbergen that to understand any behavioral phenomenon we need to be concerned with its underlying mechanisms, development, evolution, and adaptive function. A fifth aim is necessary, the private experiences or personal response of individual animals, since Tinbergen, a bit cowed by behaviorists, was not at all sympathetic to the mental or subjective in ethology, including the study of play! In this light it is clear that scientists study all kinds of features of organisms even in the absence of the ability to confirm their current or even past function. Critics of Boyd have missed this. The ability to unequivocally show, through modern scientific methods, the specific adaptive function of a trait in terms of reproductive success is actually quite recent for all but the most obvious cases. Tinbergen pioneered this type of study for behavior late in his Nobel Prize winning career. For the study of play, I have outlined six major methods to study adaptive hypotheses; all are applicable to art, but all have problems. Of these, the “design feature” method is often used in humanistic evolutionary studies; important as this may be to the generation of testable hypotheses, it is also important to get beyond the “my design is better than your design” speculation to specific tests. Boyd envisions comparative cross-cultural studies, another one of the six basic methods. . . . Boyd gets so much right!

          Back to me. Bill Benzon asks Jeff Turpin rhetorically: “Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?”

          Might I point out that seeing Theory of Mind as important to explaining storytelling did not start with Lisa Zunshine. I wrote about it in “The Origin of Stories: Horton Hears a Who” in Philosophy and Literature, 2001. I also reviewed Zunshine’s Why Do We Read negatively in the same journal (2006), because she was not up to date with the scientific literature on Theory of Mind, because she used one narrow aspect of it as it if offered  a complete explanation for fiction, and because her analyses of the fiction she chose as examples often misconstrued what was happening in the passages she spotlighted.

          Brian Boyd

           

          On 19/12/2009, at 5:04 AM, William Benzon wrote:



          LOL! Remarks below.

          BB


          on 12/18/09 9:47 AM, Jeff P. Turpin at jpturpin@... wrote:


              I've finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time.  Someone in the lit dar fold needs to pen a succinct and incisive critique (or metacritique, per Bérubé) of criticism and the hierarchization of critical schools.  

          To what end? & how would you establish the hierarchization of critical schools? My crude impression — from remarks made at The Valve and elsewhere — is that New Historicism is the current default methodology in lit crit these days. That’s a pretty diffuse school. Bérubé’s own favorite is cultural studies out of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams (& there was a recent web contretemps over his advocacy of that school). I don’t recall that cultural studies gets much, if any, mention in his review, and it’s rather poorly represented on this year’s MLA program.


          It seems to me that, in addition to this being a potable review of Boyd's book, it is also a deft positioning and stabilizing of Bérubé's position in the lit crit hierarchy.  He acknowledges the viability of adaptationist approaches, and expresses hope that some aspects of 'evocriticism' will be more broadly accepted but, with his dismissals of sociobiology and Just So stories, and claim that Brian's results don't live up to his claims, keeps several arrows in his quiver in case a larger hole appears in the lit dar case, in which case he can rest solely on the latter position, and agree with lit dar opponents.  

          So? Do you think he doesn’t actually believe that Boyd’s results “don't live up to his claims,” that he’s just saying that to give himself an out? Bérubé’s not the first one to make that claim about Boyd, nor is this a new claim to be advanced against Darwinian lit crit. Steven “Mr. Evolutionary Psychology” Pinker made the same observation in his review of The Literary Animal, as did Rebecca Goldstein. It’s one thing to read a bunch of psychology and put it together into an interesting and compelling synthesis. Analyzing literary texts is a different kind of intellectual activity.


          Again, this is not to say that the article is simply self-serving, or to target Bérubé specifically.  The article is at points witty and incisive, and in my opinion worth reading.  However . . .

          What’s all this concern about being “self-serving”? Isn’t Bérubé allowed to serve those intellectual interests he believes important? Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?


          [snip]

               But metacritique and deconstruction combine to require us to analyze the Machiavellian underpinnings of any critical essay, approach, or school, including literary Darwinism.  How does the criticism affect (or effect) the position of the critic or school in the academic or philosophical hierarchy?  

          Um, err, this sort of discussion happens all the time in bars. And it was raised to an intellectual art long before deconstruction. In his 1949 Social Theory and Social Structure Robert Merton has a section devoted to Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, which is about how ideas make their way in the world, not on their merits as ideas, but in service of the interests of those who propound them. Come to think of it, Karl Marx (the horror! the horror!) had an account of ideology that addressed this.


          And how, as literary Darwinists, are we serving self, along with a just cause, in our critical efforts? Or is this play within the play best ignored . . . (and if someone has already written the succinct and incisive metacrique, I extend my apologies, plead my ignorance, and humbly request the citation). JT

          Sorry, but that’s how the world works. There’s nothing particularly nefarious or dishonest about Bérubé’s review.


          Jeff P. Turpin, President
          Turpin and Sons Inc.
          Cultural Resource Management
          2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake , TX 78133
          (512) 922-7826


          ----- Original Message -----
           
          From:  William  Benzon <mailto:bbenzon@...>  
           
          To: Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com>  ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com>  ; Cog Lit  Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>  ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups.com>  
           
          Cc: Brian Boyd <mailto:b.boyd@...>  ; Joseph Carroll <mailto:jcarroll@...>  ;  Michael B é rub é  <mailto:mfb12@...>
           
          Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:06  AM
           
          Subject: [biopoet] Bérubé review  Boyd
           

             
           
           
           


          Bérubé on Boyd's Origin of Stories

          Michael Bérubé has now  reviewed Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories:
          Evolution, Cognition, and  Fiction. His review is online at American
          Scientist:

          http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-plays-the-thing

          Discussions  ongoing at:

          http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/while_i_was_grading_p
          apers/

          and  at:

          http://crookedtimber.org/2009/12/11/mind-games/

          --  

          William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
          708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
          Jersey  City , NJ 07302
          201 217-1010

          Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
          The  Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
          Flickr:  http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
          YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues

           

           


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        • Jeff P. Turpin
          Bèrubè on Boyd— I feel like a howler monkey at the border. Various responses: To Norman Holland: I haven’t read your book yet (busy busy), but I thought
          Message 5 of 12 , Dec 20, 2009
          • 0 Attachment
            

            Bèrubè on Boyd—

             

                        I feel like a howler monkey at the border.

                        Various responses:

             

                        To Norman Holland: I haven’t read your book yet (busy busy), but I thought the verdict was in on adaptive functions of writing with Pennebaker and Seagal’s 1999 “Health Narratives” and subsequent corroborations  Some adaptive functions of story-telling and circulation are found in Bender and Winer’s (2001) Contested Landscapes (see esp. Basu).  Adaptive functions of reading texts are so ubiquitous that I’m not sure where to start, unless your question is very much more specific, ie: functions exclusive to reading stories, functions that alter brain structure or chemistry, stories that directly affect reproductive success or status, social vs. personal functions, etc.  And of course B. Boyd and J. Carroll have responded effectively to this same query.  I’ll try to read your text and narrow down the field of possible responses.

             

             To William Benzon: I can’t remember if Zunshine or Baron-Cohen said anything about malfunctioning or over-active TOM , but it looks like you (along with Dr. Fradenburg) have inferred some things that weren’t in my post, and occluded some things that were in it.  I actually said some nice things about the review, and agree with much of it . . . but that was not my point.  I was trying to talk about status hierarchies in critical schools and academe (Amanda Anderson’s comments on charismatic arguments, which follow Bèrubè’s on student professionalism in 2009 Profession, are relevant).  You know that evolutionary and other psychologies analyze the functions (rather than expressed intentions or goals) of personal behaviors and cultural phenomena, and that these functions are frequently invisible to those performing the behaviors.  My comments were about one posited adaptive function of Bèrubè’s review (which was executed competently), and about how Darwinists and other critics should be conscious of the status-related functions of our own documents and critiques.  

            Your reminder that earlier critics have called for meta-critique of the social implications of schools of thought is presented as if it refutes my call, rather than supporting it as it does. Many of us in academia have become so used to self-serving critical ideologies and untested or untestable assertions that we no longer address the ethics or social meta-functions of our own stories, much less condemn self-serving behavior.  This is one reason for the disciplinary malaise, and the call for new methods.  Self-serving behavior is instinctive, but that doesn't mean that it is right.  Hoary as it may sound, the goal is supposed to be truth (even if that is just an unreachable ideal we aim towards) rather than guarding our intellectual turf and advancing our own causes.  In aesthetic judgments and scientific results self-profit indicates bias, and bias perverts results.  Yes, I know, Utopian ideals . . . but what else should we aspire to?

             

                        P.S.  I love conversations in bars (particularly when someone else is buying ;-).

             

                        To Aranye Fradenburg: I’ll assume this means my application for your 2010 post-doc fellowship has moved from your desktop into your waste bin . . . ;-).

            Yes, of course, the original sense of Machiavellianism is pejorative, but I think the modern sense is more value-neutral, in the same way that the term “reciprocal altruism” somewhat coyly acknowledges selfish motives behind putatively selfless acts.  Let’s keep in mind Bèrubè’s quip about Dawkins calling his book The Cooperative Gene instead of The Selfish Gene with equal theoretical justification.  I think the problem here is that you are attributing moral judgment or condemnation exclusively to my post, where I am describing a possible function, a deft adaptive move, by Bèrubè. 

            It is a common-place in psychology that human beings are incredibly competent at missing or hiding evident truths.  Hence the call for empirical testing, and rigorous methodology, especially in critical opinions.  Again, one problem with deconstruction is that it is always already applicable to every text, so that if we rely on it exclusively we end up with an endlessly regressing critique ala The Purloined Poe.  Your recent post on Derrida, where he at least concedes the external facts of various ecologies, shows that he recognized this problem, and had to concede something (ecology) outside the text to offset it.  Anyone can read between the lines.  As the various commentaries on my post indicate, it takes discipline (method) to read and analyze the lines themselves (facts), and even when the route is circuitous and/or tedious, using rigorous method and empirical facts usually (at least in the sciences) brings the various discussants to an agreement that is verified in the outside world and verifiable by other analyses.  No endlessly regressing, equally unverifiable critiques.  The adherence to empirical testing tethers the discussion to verifiable conclusions.  My coupling of rudimentary deconstruction with modern theory on Machiavellian intelligence was simple meta-critique, asking us all to look at the social functions (not expressed motives, intentions, desires, but actual functions) of our stories and, again, was more than anything a call to attention for new critical schools to attend to their/our own Machiavellian tendencies. 

                        As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the jury is still out on this topic.  The discipline is young, and is still trying to fight free of the gravity (and criticism) of its predecessors.  I won’t stoop to plugging my own pubs here, but there are very productive new critiques out there for the interested reader, and I am confident that the new methodologies will bear more palatable fruit.

             

                        To Joe Carroll: Yes, the excerpts you sent are in the same vein as my attempted discussion of critical (and academic) hierarchies, if more specific about attributing value.  But I was actually thinking in a more abstract sense.  We know that much human behavior is about managing status, and that status is important from an adaptive standpoint for various reasons.  We also know that human status systems are very complex.  Without attributing negative or positive valance to any given entity in the system, we can study actions and note when an entity is trying to move up or maintain position in a given hierarchy, or when it is in danger of dropping in position—when it is performing adaptive behaviors.  This is applicable at the corner bar, at the UN, or at MLA. In my read Bèrubè’s review was, to paraphrase Paul Ohler, “the perfectly modulated performance of encoded competitiveness in the arena of [lit crit].”  The same phrase, sans “perfectly modulated,” could be used to describe some of the responses to my post.  This is simply how humans behave in status hierarchies, particularly when there is a potential threat (like lit Darwinism) at the territorial border.  This aspect of Bèrubè's review, or of my post, or of the various replies, would be obvious in the social sciences. This behavior is ubiqitous, is frequently adaptive, is self-serving, and is a part of our evolutionary heritage (along with being very howler-monkey).  And sometimes it is maladaptive.  My point was to foreground the self-serving aspects of any and all critical essays and schools, in the hope that the various proponents would recognize their own Machiavellian behaviors, and try to rein them in when they were maladaptive.  But this point is certainly applicable to all social groups, all bureaucracies, etc.

             

                        Thanks for the feedback, and happy holidays (even for those of you attending that cold but adaptively necessary status-shuffle in Philadelphia .  Try Monk’s Café in Center City to get warm and happy . . . ).  JT


            Jeff P. Turpin, President
            Turpin and Sons Inc.
            Cultural Resource Management
            2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
            (512) 922-7826
            ----- Original Message -----
            Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 7:08 PM
            Subject: RE: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

            For a commentary on the various positions that have been adopted with respect to the adaptive function of the arts, see the attached (forthcoming) article.  Here are the last two paragraphs:

             

            Consider the reality of our experience. We live in the imagination. For us, humans, no action or event is ever just itself. It is always a component in mental representations of the natural and social order, extending over time. All our actions take place within imaginative structures that include our vision of the world and our place in the world—our internal conflicts and concerns, our relations to other people, our relations to nature, and our relations to whatever spiritual forces we imagine might exist. We live in communities that consist not just of the people with whom we come directly into contact but with memories of the dead, traditions of our ancestors, our sense of connection with generations yet unborn, and with every person, living or dead, who joins with us in imaginative structures—social, ideological, religious, or philosophical—that subordinate our individual selves to some collective body. Our sense of our selves derives from our myths and artistic traditions, from the stories we tell, the songs we sing, and the visual images that surround us.

            We have all had moments in which some song, story, or play, some film, piece of music, or painting, has transfigured our vision of the world, broadened our minds, deepened our emotional understanding, or given us new insight into human experience. Working out from this common observation to a hypothesis about the adaptive function of literature requires no great speculative leap. Literature and the other arts help us live our lives. That is why the arts are human universals. In all known cultures, the arts enter profoundly into normal childhood development, connect individuals to their culture, and help people get oriented to the world, emotionally, morally, and conceptually.

             

            ********** 

             

            I recently wrote an encyclopedia piece on evolutionary studies in the arts.  The entry includes a condensed version of the article (attached here) on the adaptive function of the arts. Here is that condensed version:

             

            The Controversy over the Adaptive Function of Literature and the Other Arts

             

            The most hotly debated issue in evolutionary literary study concerns the adaptive functions of literature and other arts—whether there are any adaptive functions, and if so, what they might be. Steven Pinker (1997) suggests that aesthetic responsiveness is merely a side effect of cognitive powers that evolved to fulfill more practical functions, but Pinker also suggests that narratives can provide information for adaptively relevant problems. Geoffrey Miller (2000) argues that artistic productions serve as forms of sexual display. Brian Boyd (2009) argues that the arts are forms of cognitive “play” that enhance pattern recognition. Boyd and Ellen Dissanayake (2000) also argue that the arts provide means of creating shared social identity. Dissanayake, Joseph Carroll (2008), and Denis Dutton (2009) all argue that the arts help organize the human mind; the arts give emotionally and aesthetically modulated form to the relations among the elements of human experience. The idea that the arts function as means of psychological organization subsumes the ideas that the arts provide adaptively relevant information, enable us to consider alternative behavioral scenarios, enhance pattern recognition, and serve as means for creating shared social identity. And of course, the arts can be used for sexual display. In that respect, the arts are like most other human products—clothing, jewelry, shelter, means of transportation, etc. The hypothesis that the arts help organize the mind is not incompatible with the hypothesis of sexual display, but it subordinates sexual display to a more primary adaptive function.

            According to the hypothesis that the arts function as media for psychological organization, the uniquely human need for art derives from the unique human powers of cognition. To all animals except humans, the world presents itself as a series of rigidly defined stimuli releasing a narrow repertory of stereotyped behaviors. For human minds, the word presents itself as a vast and potentially perplexing array of percepts, inferences, causal relations, contingent possibilities, analogies, contrasts, and hierarchical conceptual structures. High intelligence enables humans to generate plans based on mental representations of complex relationships, engage in collective enterprises requiring shared mental representations, and thus produce novel solutions to adaptive problems. Humans do not operate automatically, but neither do they operate on the basis of purely rational deliberations about means and ends. Art, like religion and ideology, is charged with emotion, and indeed, religion and ideology typically make use of the arts to convey their messages in emotionally persuasive ways. In all known societies, humans regulate their behavior in accordance with beliefs and values that are made vividly present to them in the depictions of art, including fictional narratives.

            Ways of exploring and evaluating hypotheses about the adaptive function of the arts include paleoanthropological research into the evolutionary emergence of symbolic culture, cross-cultural ethological research into artistic practices among hunter-gatherers and tribal peoples, neuroscientific research into the way the brain processes artistic information, psychological research into the way art and language enter into childhood development, and social science research into the systemic social effects produced by shared participation in imaginative experience.

             

            ******** 

             

            Joe Carroll

             

             

             

             

             


            From: b.boyd@... [mailto:b.boyd@...]
            Sent: Friday, December 18, 2009 6:11 PM
            To: William Benzon
            Cc: Jeff P. Turpin; Biopoetics; EvPsych; Cog Lit Assn; CogLit; Michael Bérubé; Carroll, Joseph C.
            Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

             

            My claims in On the Origin of Stories that storytelling is an adaptation begin with the benefits to individual minds of the compulsiveness of story, from pretend play to old age, in training in social cognition, in shifting perspective, in extending the capacity of the imagination beyond the here and now.

            I see art in general as cognitive play with pattern, in different key human perceptual and cognitive modes (aural and kinetic, in music and dance; visual in the visual arts; social and event cognition in story), which derives from physical play in other animals.

            I draw on evidence for neural plasticity, and the effects of play on animal minds, and the effects of music (the best-studied of the arts in neurocognitive terms) on human minds. Those with even some early musical training, even if it didn’t “take” nevertheless process musical sound better than those with none (of course, in no normal child do pretend play and story not “take”). Those with extensive musical training can follow conversations better in noisy environments than those without. Those with more inclination to read stories fare better on tests of social cognition, and those tested on Chekhov’s “Lady with the Little Dog” had their minds changed more (their sympathies extended and their perspectives shifted more), than those exposed to an apparently factual report of the same events (in the form of divorce court proceedings) that was independently rated to have the same interest value as the story (Mar, Djikic and Oatley 2008; see in general the work of Keith Oatley and colleagues).

            After discussing the individual cognitive benefits I also note and provide evidence for other benefits of storytelling and other arts in terms of the individual status benefits to artists, the socially cohesive benefits to groups, and the long-term effect of creativity.

            Gordon Burghardt, author of the most complete recent biological study of play, The Genesis of Animal Play, writes in his review of my book in the first issue of The Evolutionary Review:

            Boyd proposes that stories, and all the creative arts, are the result of curiosity and play, with their emphases on novelty, variability, and flexibility in attainment of goals not immediately important for survival. Play can be both a product and cause of evolutionary selection and change. Boyd is very good on play. I know because my own book on play, though not cited by Boyd, reaches many similar conclusions after an understandably more detailed review. Play is widespread among animals but, in more cognitively adept species, and especially people, mental play and rehearsal of alternatives can replace actual behavior. Boyd sees cognitive play reaching an apogee in art, though many, most notably Huizinga (uncited), see play as the origin of many aspects of human civilization, including science. Just as Boyd argues for a bottom up approach to the study of fiction, I have in rather similar fashion argued for a bottom up approach to play. The typical focus on trying to determine the adaptive function of play by extensive study of the most elaborate and unequivocal examples led to play researchers adopting speculative and unsupported, though plausible, claims for play—claims that lacked virtually any supporting data. As Pellis’ recent book documents, we are only now beginning to hone in on the adaptive function of play. That advance has been made possible by illuminating studies into what play actually is, who plays, how it develops, the contexts in which play occurs, the neural bases of play, and the role of surplus resources in facilitating play.

            Focusing prematurely on adaptationism might have set many heading in the wrong direction, missing opportunities for treasures that might actually help attain the Holy Adaptationist Grail. Boyd, like Carroll, takes seriously the ethological view of Tinbergen that to understand any behavioral phenomenon we need to be concerned with its underlying mechanisms, development, evolution, and adaptive function. A fifth aim is necessary, the private experiences or personal response of individual animals, since Tinbergen, a bit cowed by behaviorists, was not at all sympathetic to the mental or subjective in ethology, including the study of play! In this light it is clear that scientists study all kinds of features of organisms even in the absence of the ability to confirm their current or even past function. Critics of Boyd have missed this. The ability to unequivocally show, through modern scientific methods, the specific adaptive function of a trait in terms of reproductive success is actually quite recent for all but the most obvious cases. Tinbergen pioneered this type of study for behavior late in his Nobel Prize winning career. For the study of play, I have outlined six major methods to study adaptive hypotheses; all are applicable to art, but all have problems. Of these, the “design feature” method is often used in humanistic evolutionary studies; important as this may be to the generation of testable hypotheses, it is also important to get beyond the “my design is better than your design” speculation to specific tests. Boyd envisions comparative cross-cultural studies, another one of the six basic methods. . . . Boyd gets so much right!

            Back to me. Bill Benzon asks Jeff Turpin rhetorically: “Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?”

            Might I point out that seeing Theory of Mind as important to explaining storytelling did not start with Lisa Zunshine. I wrote about it in “The Origin of Stories: Horton Hears a Who” in Philosophy and Literature, 2001. I also reviewed Zunshine’s Why Do We Read negatively in the same journal (2006), because she was not up to date with the scientific literature on Theory of Mind, because she used one narrow aspect of it as it if offered  a complete explanation for fiction, and because her analyses of the fiction she chose as examples often misconstrued what was happening in the passages she spotlighted.

            Brian Boyd

             

            On 19/12/2009, at 5:04 AM, William Benzon wrote:



            LOL! Remarks below.

            BB


            on 12/18/09 9:47 AM, Jeff P. Turpin at jpturpin@... wrote:


                I've finally gotten time to review the Bérubé post and attachment, and it reminds me of a plaint I have harbored for some time.  Someone in the lit dar fold needs to pen a succinct and incisive critique (or metacritique, per Bérubé) of criticism and the hierarchization of critical schools.  

            To what end? & how would you establish the hierarchization of critical schools? My crude impression — from remarks made at The Valve and elsewhere — is that New Historicism is the current default methodology in lit crit these days. That’s a pretty diffuse school. Bérubé’s own favorite is cultural studies out of Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams (& there was a recent web contretemps over his advocacy of that school). I don’t recall that cultural studies gets much, if any, mention in his review, and it’s rather poorly represented on this year’s MLA program.


            It seems to me that, in addition to this being a potable review of Boyd's book, it is also a deft positioning and stabilizing of Bérubé's position in the lit crit hierarchy.  He acknowledges the viability of adaptationist approaches, and expresses hope that some aspects of 'evocriticism' will be more broadly accepted but, with his dismissals of sociobiology and Just So stories, and claim that Brian's results don't live up to his claims, keeps several arrows in his quiver in case a larger hole appears in the lit dar case, in which case he can rest solely on the latter position, and agree with lit dar opponents.  

            So? Do you think he doesn’t actually believe that Boyd’s results “don't live up to his claims,” that he’s just saying that to give himself an out? Bérubé’s not the first one to make that claim about Boyd, nor is this a new claim to be advanced against Darwinian lit crit. Steven “Mr. Evolutionary Psychology” Pinker made the same observation in his review of The Literary Animal, as did Rebecca Goldstein. It’s one thing to read a bunch of psychology and put it together into an interesting and compelling synthesis. Analyzing literary texts is a different kind of intellectual activity.


            Again, this is not to say that the article is simply self-serving, or to target Bérubé specifically.  The article is at points witty and incisive, and in my opinion worth reading.  However . . .

            What’s all this concern about being “self-serving”? Isn’t Bérubé allowed to serve those intellectual interests he believes important? Do you think Brian Boyd was doing anything but supporting ideas he favors in writing his book? Do you think, for example, that Boyd actually believes that Theory of Mind is nonsense, but he made favorable use of it in his book because he wanted to toss some points to Lisa Zunshine?


            [snip]

                 But metacritique and deconstruction combine to require us to analyze the Machiavellian underpinnings of any critical essay, approach, or school, including literary Darwinism.  How does the criticism affect (or effect) the position of the critic or school in the academic or philosophical hierarchy?  

            Um, err, this sort of discussion happens all the time in bars. And it was raised to an intellectual art long before deconstruction. In his 1949 Social Theory and Social Structure Robert Merton has a section devoted to Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, which is about how ideas make their way in the world, not on their merits as ideas, but in service of the interests of those who propound them. Come to think of it, Karl Marx (the horror! the horror!) had an account of ideology that addressed this.


            And how, as literary Darwinists, are we serving self, along with a just cause, in our critical efforts? Or is this play within the play best ignored . . . (and if someone has already written the succinct and incisive metacrique, I extend my apologies, plead my ignorance, and humbly request the citation). JT

            Sorry, but that’s how the world works. There’s nothing particularly nefarious or dishonest about Bérubé’s review.


            Jeff P. Turpin, President
            Turpin and Sons Inc.
            Cultural Resource Management
            2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake , TX 78133
            (512) 922-7826


            ----- Original Message -----
             
            From:  William  Benzon <mailto:bbenzon@...>  
             
            To: Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com>  ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com>  ; Cog Lit  Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>  ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups.com>  
             
            Cc: Brian Boyd <mailto:b.boyd@...>  ; Joseph Carroll <mailto:jcarroll@...>  ;  Michael B é rub é  <mailto:mfb12@...>
             
            Sent: Saturday, December 12, 2009 7:06  AM
             
            Subject: [biopoet] Bérubé review  Boyd
             

               
             
             
             


            Bérubé on Boyd's Origin of Stories

            Michael Bérubé has now  reviewed Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories:
            Evolution, Cognition, and  Fiction. His review is online at American
            Scientist:

            http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-plays-the-thing

            Discussions  ongoing at:

            http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/while_i_was_grading_p
            apers/

            and  at:

            http://crookedtimber.org/2009/12/11/mind-games/

            --  

            William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
            708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
            Jersey  City , NJ 07302
            201 217-1010

            Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
            The  Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
            Flickr:  http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
            YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues

             

             


            _______________________________________________
            CogLAs mailing list
            CogLAs@...
            https://lists.purdue.edu/mailman/listinfo/coglas

             

            _______________________________________________
            CogLAs mailing list
            CogLAs@...
            https://lists.purdue.edu/mailman/listinfo/coglas

             

          • Thomas Dolack
            As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the jury is still out on this topic. The discipline is young, and is still trying to fight free
            Message 6 of 12 , Dec 21, 2009
            • 0 Attachment
              "As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the
              jury is still out on this topic. The discipline is young, and is
              still trying to fight free of the gravity (and criticism) of its
              predecessors. I won’t stoop to plugging my own pubs here, but there
              are very productive new critiques out there for the interested reader,
              and I am confident that the new methodologies will bear more palatable
              fruit."


              Hi Jeff,

              I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please
              feel free to plug your own stuff.

              I must say, on the whole I agree with the tepidness of the results,
              with certain caveats. My general impression of both cognitive and
              Darwinian readings of literature is that the readings (and I mean
              specifically the readings here, and not the theory, some of which I
              think is outstanding) fall into a few categories:

              1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in
              scientific language.

              2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of
              the text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a
              psychological point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit
              point of view.

              3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly
              old-fashioned close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary
              foundation-the theory mentioned above (although they don't always
              acknowledge this).

              I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really
              haven't seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't
              understand why cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate)
              that demonstrates what I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading
              of a text *per se*. This gets quickly into what I think an important
              issue: what is the proper sphere of application for the field? Some of
              the contretemps in the field (or coming from outside it) stem from
              this issue (as far as I can tell). One of these days I'll get around
              to writing something up formally, but in the meantime I'm happy to
              read things that change my mind.

              Tom
            • Jeff P. Turpin
              Tom--Thanks for the post and query. Frankly, I have also been a bit disappointed with the results of lit dar inquiries to date--but I am hardly as well read
              Message 7 of 12 , Dec 21, 2009
              • 0 Attachment
                Tom--Thanks for the post and query. Frankly, I have also been a bit
                disappointed with the results of lit dar inquiries to date--but I am hardly
                as well read in the genre as I should be, with two jobs, a just completed
                dissertation, and a two-year-old, so I don't want to claim authority. I do
                think the new discipline is busy establishing method and foundation, and
                guarding its backside against the incredible level of hostility that seems
                to dog evolutionary theory wherever it goes. We have to remember that ours
                is the first critical school in a long time to demand empirical testing and
                verification like a science, rather than bursting untested but inflammatory
                rhetorical Eureka!s out into the world. Rigor and disciplined method
                require solid foundations and careful extensions. And patience. But I
                thought Gottschall's piece on fairy tales and Salmon's piece on pornography
                were productive examples of the application of scientific methods to
                existing critiques, and still think Scalise-Sugiyama's work on Oedipus and
                Hamlet is important. Off the top of my head I can't remember the name of
                the scholar from RMMRA who put me on to you and Joe Carroll, but his
                adaptive analysis of Chaucer's WoBT was productive, and I hope to combine
                that approach with a look at Chaucer's ClT soon, hopefully to good affect.
                Also, I thought John Niles's new look at Beowulf in the recent Donaldson
                edition was incredibly good, but when I wrote Niles to congratulate him he
                was not particularly enthusiastic about my assertion that his essay was a
                stout Darwinian read of the poem ;-).
                I can hardly call people out on a listserve for plugging their own books
                and writings and then proselytize on my own behalf, but I have an article on
                Wharton and Steinbeck purportedly coming out in 2010, a similar piece in a
                published collection on Steinbeck (Rodopi), and a rather truncated essay in
                a recent book on Latino culture, that try to put more meat on the bone, so
                to speak. I also have a dissertation section on L. M. Silko's novel
                Ceremony that I will present to a cynical audience this winter. All of
                these should also come out in the next year or two in "my book," if and when
                a publisher accepts the proposal. These fall mostly into your categories 1
                or 3 (is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? ;-). I will copy the
                shortest of these to you by individual email, and you can pass your own
                judgment. In some of these cases I think I am saying something new about
                the text, in others I am simply pointing out why the text is as powerful as
                it is--what instincts or universals it taps into, and what adaptive
                functions it fulfills. I hope they are worthy contributions.
                I should also say that I agree with you about the unnecessary division
                between cog psych and lit dar. In the Silko piece I combine the two for
                what I hope is a productive read. But I think Joe Carroll effectively
                describes the potential win/win combining of the two disciplines in his
                essay in Style, and I am strongly committed to combining the two in adaptive
                analyses (I think the split is more about the competitive nature of the
                academic/critical hierarchy that I wrote about in my original post. But
                let's not get into that again--enuf nasty language in my inbox already).
                Attachments to follow. I am open to all criticism, negative, positive,
                as long as it is progressive. Thanks again. JT


                Jeff P. Turpin, President
                Turpin and Sons Inc.
                Cultural Resource Management
                2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
                (512) 922-7826
                ----- Original Message -----
                From: "Thomas Dolack" <dolack_thomas@...>
                To: "Cog Lit Assn" <CogLAs@...>; <biopoet@yahoogroups.com>;
                "Jeff P. Turpin" <jpturpin@...>
                Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 9:24 AM
                Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd


                > "As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the jury is
                > still out on this topic. The discipline is young, and is still trying to
                > fight free of the gravity (and criticism) of its predecessors. I won’t
                > stoop to plugging my own pubs here, but there are very productive new
                > critiques out there for the interested reader, and I am confident that the
                > new methodologies will bear more palatable fruit."
                >
                >
                > Hi Jeff,
                >
                > I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please feel
                > free to plug your own stuff.
                >
                > I must say, on the whole I agree with the tepidness of the results, with
                > certain caveats. My general impression of both cognitive and Darwinian
                > readings of literature is that the readings (and I mean specifically the
                > readings here, and not the theory, some of which I think is outstanding)
                > fall into a few categories:
                >
                > 1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in scientific
                > language.
                >
                > 2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of the
                > text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a psychological
                > point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit point of view.
                >
                > 3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly old-fashioned
                > close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary foundation-the
                > theory mentioned above (although they don't always acknowledge this).
                >
                > I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really haven't
                > seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't understand why
                > cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate) that demonstrates what
                > I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading of a text *per se*. This
                > gets quickly into what I think an important issue: what is the proper
                > sphere of application for the field? Some of the contretemps in the field
                > (or coming from outside it) stem from this issue (as far as I can tell).
                > One of these days I'll get around to writing something up formally, but in
                > the meantime I'm happy to read things that change my mind.
                >
                > Tom
              • Carroll, Joseph C.
                I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please feel free to plug your own stuff. Funny you should ask. Here is an anthology coming out in
                Message 8 of 12 , Dec 21, 2009

                I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please feel free to plug your own stuff.

                 

                Funny you should ask.

                 

                            Here is an anthology coming out in May—sort of “greatest hits of evolutionary literary studies”: 

                 

                http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15018-7/evolution-literature-and-film

                 

                http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0231150180/ref=nosim/prokorg-20

                 

                            I’ll attach a table of contents.

                 

                ********

                 

                            Also, coming out in a couple of weeks, the first annual volume of The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture

                 

                http://www.evolutionaryreview.com/

                 

                            I’ll attach a table of contents for that, too.

                 

                *******

                 

                            Most of my own interpretive essays are available on my website:

                 

                http://www.umsl.edu/~carrolljc/

                 

                ********

                 

                            I’ll copy below an excerpt on some of the better pieces done so far in evolutionary literary studies.  Try reading Gottschall’s Rape of Troy, Saunders on Wharton, or my essay on Wuthering Heights.  See if you still draw the same conclusions about the interpretive work done in the field.

                 

                For instance, in his critique of The Iliad and The Odyssey Jonathan Gottschall analyzes the interplay between socio-economic organization and reproductive psychology. In his commentary on the plays of Shakespeare, Marcus Nordlund correlates Elizabethan conceptions of love, both filial and romantic, with findings from evolutionary psychology. Judith Saunders examines mating strategies and family problems in the novels of Edith Wharton. In company with two psychologists (John Johnson and Daniel Kruger), Gottschall and I examine the interplay between dominance, cooperation, and gender in dozens of Victorian novels.[i]

                Several evolutionary studies have situated literary works in specific ecological and cultural environments. Harold Fromm, Glen Love , Nancy Easterlin, and I have all integrated evolutionary and ecological approaches to literature.[ii] Gottschall’s critique of Homer’s epics delves deep into anthropological and archeological research on the Homeric period. I examine the confluence of medieval Christian sentiment and Paterian aestheticism in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In her critique of Edith Wharton’s novel The Children, Judith Saunders analyzes the disruption of normal childhood development in the milieu of Jazz Age hedonism. Brett Cooke situates Zamyatin’s dystopian novel We both in utopian and dystopian literary traditions and in the socio-political conditions of Soviet Russia. To illustrate his “biocultural” approach to literature, Brian Boyd gives close attention to specific cultural beliefs and practices in Homeric Greece and also focuses minutely on the political context—Japan shortly after the Second World War—to which Dr. Seuss responds in Horton Hears a Who.[iii] Most of the essays in the collection by Hoeg and Larsen focus on issues specific to Hispanic cultural contexts.[iv]

                Moving beyond the analysis of represented subject matter, several scholars have used evolutionary psychology to examine the interplay of perspectives among readers, authors, and characters. In our empirical study of Victorian novels, Johnson, Gottschall, Kruger, and I correlate the emotional responses of readers with motives and personalities in individual characters.[v] In commentaries on The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights , and Hamlet, I give close attention to the history of reader responses and make inferences on authorial perspective.[vi] Robert Storey and Michelle Scalise Sugiyama have also considered reader response from an evolutionary perspective.[vii] Lisa Zunshine uses “Theory of Mind” to examine point of view. Using game theory and the theory of “costly display,” William Flesch identifies depictions of altruistic punishment as a chief means through which authors engage readers emotionally. Michael Austin delves into manipulative deceit and self-delusion in point of view.[viii] The study of point of view shades over into the study of tone. I combine basic motives with “basic emotions” in a framework for analyzing genres.[ix] In a critique of Hamlet, I elaborate ideas of tragedy by incorporating recent research on the neurobiology of depression, consider the kinds of emotional responses Hamlet has elicited in readers, and compare reader responses to Hamlet in various literary periods.[x]





                [i] Jonathan  Gottschall, The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Marcus Nordlund , Shakespeare and the Nature of Love: Literature, Culture, Evolution (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007); Judith P. Saunders, Reading Edith Wharton through a Darwinian Lens: Evolutionary Biological Issues in Her Fiction (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009); John A. Johnson , Joseph Carroll, Jonathan Gottschall, and Daniel J. Kruger, “Hierarchy in the Library: Egalitarian Dynamics in Victorian Novels,” Evolutionary Psychology 6 (2008): 715-38; Joseph Carroll, Jonathan Gottschall, John A. Johnson , and Daniel J. Kruger, “Human Nature in Nineteenth-Century British novels: Doing the Math,” Philosophy and Literature 33 (2009): 50-72.

                [ii] Joseph Carroll, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature ( New York : Routledge, 2004), 16-22, 85-100, 147-85; Harold Fromm, From Ecology to Consciousness; Nancy Easterlin, “’Loving Ourselves Best of All’: Ecocriticism and the Adapted Mind,” Mosaic 37 (2004): 1-18; Glen Love , Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the Environment ( Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press , 2003).

                [iii] Gottschall, The Rape of Troy; Joseph Carroll, “Aestheticism, Homoeroticism, and Christian Guilt in The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Darwinian Critique,” Philosophy and Literature 29 (2005): 286-304; Saunders, Reading Edith Wharton; Brett Cooke , Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin’s “We” (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002);  Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 209-79.

                [iv] Hoeg and Larsen, Interdisciplinary Essays.

                [v] Carroll, Gottschall, Johnson, and Kruger, “Human Nature”; Johnson, Carroll, Gottschall, and Kruger, “Hierarchy.”

                [vi] Carroll, “Aestheticism”; Carroll, “The Cuckoo’s History”; Joseph Carroll, “Intentional Meaning in Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective,” Style (forthcoming).

                [vii] Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, “On the Origins of Narrative: Storyteller Bias as a Fitness-Enhancing Strategy,” Human Nature 7 (1996): 403-425; Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, “Cultural Relativism in the Bush: Toward a Theory of Narrative Universals,” Human Nature 14 (2003): 383-396; Robert Storey , Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Basis of Literary Representation ( Evanston , IL : Northwestern University Press, 2006).

                [viii] Lisa Zunshine, Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel ( Columbus : Ohio State University Press, 2006); William Flesch, Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction ( Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 2008); Michael Austin , Useful Fictions: Evolution, Anxiety, and the Origins of Literature ( Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press , forthcoming);

                [ix] Carroll, “The Cuckoo’s History.”

                [x] Carroll, “Intentional Meaning.”

              • William Benzon
                I¹ve been working with the newer psychologies off and on for over three decades and have a handful of practical criticism. I¹ve attached a PDF that lists
                Message 9 of 12 , Dec 21, 2009
                • 0 Attachment
                  Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd I’ve been working with the newer psychologies off and on for over three decades and have a handful of practical criticism. I’ve attached a PDF that lists some of those essays along with abstracts. Whatever there merits, at least some of them don’t fall into any of Tom’s three classes. You can download some of them here:

                  http://ssrn.com/author=604819

                  on 12/21/09 10:24 AM, Thomas Dolack at dolack_thomas@... wrote:

                  [snip]

                  1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in
                  scientific language.

                  2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of
                  the text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a
                  psychological point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit
                  point of view.

                  3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly
                  old-fashioned close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary
                  foundation-the theory mentioned above (although they don't always
                  acknowledge this).

                  I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really
                  haven't seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't
                  understand why cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate)

                  They start from different bodies of psychology, for one thing. & a good many cognitivists are reluctant to get with the adaptationist program.

                  For what it’s worth, I’ve become convinced that the study of literary form may be the most important general topic facing us and the a robust practical criticism should take some formal issue or issues as its starting point. Without a focus on form the nature of the psychology you employ is almost irrelevant. You’ll just keep pouring old humanist wine into new psychology bottles.

                  Best,

                  Bill B
                  --

                  William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
                  708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
                  Jersey City, NJ 07302
                  201 217-1010

                  Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
                  The Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
                  Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
                  YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues





                  that demonstrates what I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading
                  of a text *per se*. This gets quickly into what I think an important
                  issue: what is the proper sphere of application for the field? Some of
                  the contretemps in the field (or coming from outside it) stem from
                  this issue (as far as I can tell). One of these days I'll get around
                  to writing something up formally, but in the meantime I'm happy to
                  read things that change my mind.

                  Tom
                   
                     



                • William Benzon
                  Whoops! Forgot the attachment first time. Sorry about that. I¹ve been working with the newer psychologies off and on for over three decades and have a handful
                  Message 10 of 12 , Dec 21, 2009
                  Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd Whoops! Forgot the attachment first time. Sorry about that.

                  I’ve been working with the newer psychologies off and on for over three decades and have a handful of practical criticism. I’ve attached a PDF that lists some of those essays along with abstracts. Whatever there merits, at least some of them don’t fall into any of Tom’s three classes. You can download some of them here:

                  http://ssrn.com/author=604819

                  on 12/21/09 10:24 AM, Thomas Dolack at dolack_thomas@... wrote:

                  [snip]

                  1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in
                  scientific language.

                  2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of
                  the text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a
                  psychological point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit
                  point of view.

                  3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly
                  old-fashioned close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary
                  foundation-the theory mentioned above (although they don't always
                  acknowledge this).

                  I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really
                  haven't seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't
                  understand why cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate)

                  They start from different bodies of psychology, for one thing. & a good many cognitivists are reluctant to get with the adaptationist program.

                  For what it’s worth, I’ve become convinced that the study of literary form may be the most important general topic facing us and the a robust practical criticism should take some formal issue or issues as its starting point. Without a focus on form the nature of the psychology you employ is almost irrelevant. You’ll just keep pouring old humanist wine into new psychology bottles.

                  Best,

                  Bill B
                  --

                  William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
                  708 Jersey Avenue, Apt. 2A
                  Jersey City, NJ 07302
                  201 217-1010

                  Mind-Culture Coevolution: http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/
                  The Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl.com/ormqg
                  Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/stc4blues/
                  YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/STC4blues





                  that demonstrates what I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading
                  of a text *per se*. This gets quickly into what I think an important
                  issue: what is the proper sphere of application for the field? Some of
                  the contretemps in the field (or coming from outside it) stem from
                  this issue (as far as I can tell). One of these days I'll get around
                  to writing something up formally, but in the meantime I'm happy to
                  read things that change my mind.

                  Tom
                   
                     



                • b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz
                  Tom Dolack suggest three categories of readings from the cognitive and evolutionary critics: 1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in
                  Message 11 of 12 , Dec 23, 2009
                  • 0 Attachment

                    Tom Dolack suggest three categories of readings from the cognitive and evolutionary critics:

                    1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in

                    scientific language.

                    2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of

                    the text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a

                    psychological point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit

                    point of view.

                    3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly

                    old-fashioned close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary

                    foundation-the theory mentioned above (although they don't always

                    acknowledge this).


                    Tom, you seem to approve at least to some degree of 3), but not of the fact that they “are mostly old-fashioned close reading.” 

                    Since you are talking of readings of literary texts, what else would you want? Distant readings according to some cognitivist or evolutionary formula or template? Doesn’t the fact that the readings are close, i.e. sensitive to the particulars of the text, count in their favor? Doesn’t the fact that they respond to what is in the text, even if seen through an evolutionary or cognitive lens, count in their favor? Doesn’t the fact that they come from research traditions where negative or counter-evidence is appreciated as crucial count in their favor? (If they fail to consider counter-evidence, they are damned by their own standards.)

                    On the other hand Derridean equivocation, Foucauldian suspicion and proclamations of new epistemes, New Historicist assertions of thoughts unthinkable within a given era, and Freudian or Lacanian retranslation seem distortive and blurry lenses, and unrelated to an active, critical research tradition with a sophisticated methodology. (This does not mean that every proposal advanced within cognitive and evolutionary traditions is valid—there is no method for arriving at only true conclusions, or we’d all use it; only that invalid results are likely to be sifted out as invalid much faster than without good methodology.)

                    All the traditions above, from Derrida to Lacan, AND old-fashioned close reading, rely on positive evidence, on evidence FOR a claim. Cognitive and evolutionary approaches on the other hand accept (or should accept, if they are to be worthy of the name) the need to take into consideration, above all, possible counter-evidence. This should immediately rule out a host of untenable claims about any literary work you like to consider.

                    Cognitive and evolutionary approaches also allow us to understand more—and more that has been well tested—about human minds and natures. That does not mean that “To be or not to be” will now be read as “To computate or not to computate” or “To copulate or not to copulate,” but depending on what questions you are interested in about a literary work, cognitive or evolutionary approaches may be able to supply richer answers.

                    And cognitive and evolutionary considerations can also provide new models of literary production and reception, incorporating, for instance, explicit recognition of costs and benefits for both artists and audiences, of both writing and readings as problem-solving, and as involving problems slightly differently formulated than in conventional criticism, and involving commonalities and differences at multiple levels. This will not make writing and reading look entirely different—if it did, that would count against new approaches rather than for them—but it can finesse critical theory and critical practice. And it certainly does not eliminate the need for close reading, especially by expert readers, although it should also take into account the costs and benefits for non-expert readers.

                    More of this in my next book.

                    Brian Boyd

                    On 22/12/2009, at 5:20 AM, Jeff P. Turpin wrote:

                    Tom--Thanks for the post and query.  Frankly, I have also been a bit
                    disappointed with the results of lit dar inquiries to date--but I am hardly
                    as well read in the genre as I should be, with two jobs, a just completed
                    dissertation, and a two-year-old, so I don't want to claim authority.  I do
                    think the new discipline is busy establishing method and foundation, and
                    guarding its backside against the incredible level of hostility that seems
                    to dog evolutionary theory wherever it goes.  We have to remember that ours
                    is the first critical school in a long time to demand empirical testing and
                    verification like a science, rather than bursting untested but inflammatory
                    rhetorical Eureka!s out into the world.  Rigor and disciplined method
                    require solid foundations and careful extensions.  And patience.  But I
                    thought Gottschall's piece on fairy tales and Salmon's piece on pornography
                    were productive examples of the application of scientific methods to
                    existing critiques, and still think Scalise-Sugiyama's work on Oedipus and
                    Hamlet is important.  Off the top of my head I can't remember the name of
                    the scholar from RMMRA who put me on to you and Joe Carroll, but his
                    adaptive analysis of Chaucer's WoBT was productive, and I hope to combine
                    that approach with a look at Chaucer's ClT soon, hopefully to good affect.
                    Also, I thought John Niles's new look at Beowulf in the recent Donaldson
                    edition was incredibly good, but when I wrote Niles to congratulate him he
                    was not particularly enthusiastic about my assertion that his essay was a
                    stout Darwinian read of the poem ;-).
                       I can hardly call people out on a listserve for plugging their own books
                    and writings and then proselytize on my own behalf, but I have an article on
                    Wharton and Steinbeck purportedly coming out in 2010, a similar piece in a
                    published collection on Steinbeck (Rodopi), and a rather truncated essay in
                    a recent book on Latino culture, that try to put more meat on the bone, so
                    to speak.  I also have a dissertation section on L. M. Silko's novel
                    Ceremony that I will present to a cynical audience this winter.  All of
                    these should also come out in the next year or two in "my book," if and when
                    a publisher accepts the proposal.  These fall mostly into your categories 1
                    or 3 (is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? ;-).  I will copy the
                    shortest of these to you by individual email, and you can pass your own
                    judgment.  In some of these cases I think I am saying something new about
                    the text, in others I am simply pointing out why the text is as powerful as
                    it is--what instincts or universals it taps into, and what adaptive
                    functions it fulfills.  I hope they are worthy contributions.
                       I should also say that I agree with you about the unnecessary division
                    between cog psych and lit dar.  In the Silko piece I combine the two for
                    what I hope is a productive read.  But I think Joe Carroll effectively
                    describes the potential win/win combining of the two disciplines in his
                    essay in Style, and I am strongly committed to combining the two in adaptive
                    analyses (I think the split is more about the competitive nature of the
                    academic/critical hierarchy that I wrote about in my original post.  But
                    let's not get into that again--enuf nasty language in my inbox already).
                       Attachments to follow.  I am open to all criticism, negative, positive,
                    as long as it is progressive.  Thanks again. JT


                    Jeff P. Turpin, President
                    Turpin and Sons Inc.
                    Cultural Resource Management
                    2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
                    (512) 922-7826
                    ----- Original Message -----
                    From: "Thomas Dolack" <dolack_thomas@...>
                    To: "Cog Lit Assn" <CogLAs@...>; <biopoet@yahoogroups.com>;
                    "Jeff P. Turpin" <jpturpin@...>
                    Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 9:24 AM
                    Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd


                    "As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the jury is
                    still out on this topic.  The discipline is young, and is still trying to
                    fight free of the gravity (and criticism) of its predecessors.  I won’t
                    stoop to plugging my own pubs here, but there are very productive new
                    critiques out there for the interested reader, and I am confident that the
                    new methodologies will bear more palatable fruit."


                    Hi Jeff,

                    I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please feel
                    free to plug your own stuff.

                    I must say, on the whole I agree with the tepidness of the results, with
                    certain caveats. My general impression of both cognitive and Darwinian
                    readings of literature is that the readings (and I mean specifically the
                    readings here, and not the theory, some of which I think is outstanding)
                    fall into a few categories:

                    1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in scientific
                    language.

                    2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of the
                    text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a psychological
                    point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit point of view.

                    3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly old-fashioned
                    close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary foundation-the
                    theory mentioned above (although they don't always acknowledge this).

                    I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really haven't
                    seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't understand why
                    cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate) that demonstrates what
                    I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading of a text *per se*. This
                    gets quickly into what I think an important issue: what is the proper
                    sphere of application for the field? Some of the contretemps in the field
                    (or coming from outside it) stem from this issue (as far as I can tell).
                    One of these days I'll get around to writing something up formally, but in
                    the meantime I'm happy to read things that change my mind.

                    Tom

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