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  • Jeff P. Turpin
    Joe-- My own published or soon-to-be-published lit Dar essays are listed here, but the published ones are less rigorous than what should come out next year,
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 24, 2009
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      Joe-- My own published or soon-to-be-published lit Dar essays are listed here, but the published ones are less rigorous than what should come out next year, simply because I've been learning on the job, so to speak (most are excerpts of early dissertation drafts).  If the Oxford handbook piece comes out in 2010 it should be up to snuff, and if UT or another press picks up the book, it should also be fairly thorough and rigorous.  Thanks for asking. JT

      Survival Stories: Some Adaptive Functions of Literature, and their Implications for

                  Literary Criticism.  Austin, UT Press, 2010 (Invited book proposal).


      “American Naturalism and Modern Literary Darwinism.”  Oxford Handbook on Literary

       Naturalism.  Ed. Keith Newlin, UNC Wilmington.  Oxford, Oxford UP, 2010. (in



      “Making and Breaking Golden Rules: Adaptationist Analysis of  John Steinbeck’s The

      Grapes of Wrath.”  Rodopi Commentaries: The 75th Anniversary of John

      Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  Netherlands: Rodopi Press, 2009.


      “Adaptive Functions of Origin Tales: Chicana/o Culture and the Aztlán Myth.”  Darwin

      and Darwinism in the Hispanic World.  Mellen Press: New York, 2009.


      “Some Implications of Cognitive Psychology for Chicana/o Literature.”  Ometeca v. XII,

      2008.    St. Petersburg, FL: The Ometeca Institute, 2008. 67-84.


      Jeff P. Turpin, President
      Turpin and Sons Inc.
      Cultural Resource Management
      2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
      (512) 922-7826
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 3:38 PM
      Subject: RE: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd



      It would be helpful to me and no doubt to others if you would take the time to give us a brief bibliography- -of your own essays using the cognitve sceintists you mention and perhaps also of those of their works (with concise, telegraphic annotation) that you have found most useful for the purposes you mention.



      You make several good points which, along with the questions by Holland and Benzon, inspire further thoughts. This is the sort of consilience I was referring to earlier, between cog psych and lit dar. In a sense cog psych is demonstrating today what lit dar is hypothesizing about across time. In recent essays I have tied modern work from Bluck, Habermas, Schank and Abelson, Bruner, Damasio, Wilson, and sundry others to ethnographies and story-telling traditions from Australian Aborigines, Ju/Wasi Bushmen, and Native Americans, in order to analyze and generate hypotheses about adaptive elements in current fiction. With my other hat on I do a lot of work on prehistoric rock art in Texas and Mexico, on pictographs which were almost certainly the illustrations and signs for ritual story-telling. These aren't formally "language," but the fact that they are written/drawn/ painted, and (according to ethnographies and cross-cultural studies) were used to accompany stories that are fundamental to the identities and life-ways of their respective cultures, almost makes them more exciting than a discovery of prehistoric writing might be, since they may actually be a "missing link" between verbal stories and written ones.

      Pinker-esque critics of lit dar tend to isolate pieces of these necessarily broad, cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural, cross-medium comparative assemblages to critique them in isolation, as in the claim that there is no evidence of adaptive functions of reading stories, or the demand to identify the adaptive function of literature. This ignores the connection between spoken or enacted stories, stories imagined in the mind alone, stories fashioned from random events, written stories, formal dramas, film, video games, etc., which have important differences, but have in common most of the elements lit dar theorists define as potentially adaptive. Reading is unique, in what I think are very important, potentially adaptive ways, but it is only a relatively modern aspect of what appears to be a long prehistoric tendency in humans.

      The species has probably not been formally literate long enough to experience wide-spread co-evolution with written language. But the universal cultural trait of story-telling (and listening) apparently has been around long enough (the level of sophistication of all languages indicates deep-time origins; rock paintings are as much as 40K YBP; and the species, with its structural and neural adaptations to speech and memory, is at least 100K old), and this is reflected in the work of the above-mentioned cog psychologists, measuring what our brains do with stories in the here and now, along with a core group of anthropologists who study the universal functions of stories for various human groups. If our brains are well adapted to consumption and production of verbal or mental stories now (and several of the researchers mentioned above claim that this is one of the brain's predominant functions), and if all of the cultures ever studied use stories in similar fashion, for similar survival-related functions, these common affinities can only have been produced by evolution or God, and since the latter hypothesis is by definition untestable and irrefutable . . . JT

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

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Carroll, Joseph C. <mailto:jcarroll@umsl. edu>
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups .com> ; Norman Holland <mailto:normholland@ gmail.com>
      Cc: biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups .com>
      Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 5:55 PM
      Subject: RE: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

      Thanks, Jeff, good response. Dickens constructed an interesting "thought experiment" in Hard Times, something like the one you suggest re the Spandrel Worshippers. In his case, it was the utilitarian ideologue Gradgrind, who systematically deprived his children of all imaginative experience. They didn't turn out well, but then, that was just a novel, and Dickens didn't even tell us what their ultimate reproductive success looked like.

      Arguments for the adaptive function of various aspects of anatomy, physiology, and behavior typically don't, in humans, involve multi-generational populations with control groups. (Flies, guppies, and mice are more amenable to that model.) Instead, they involve plausible measures of general health and reasonable inferences about survival, social success, and reproductive success in ancestral populations. Theories about adaptations for male and female mating strategies, for instance, haven't yet included assessing the reproductive success of humans adopting various strategies over several generations. They have instead involved cross-cultural studies, paper-and-pencil tests of sexual preferences, hormonal studies, locating this data in theoretical models (from Trivers) for differential parental investment, comparing the results with results for other species, and building models of human evolution that integrate these results with information about human life history--about nutrition, sexual dimorphism, the sexual division of labor, and nutrition and provisioning.

      Yes, but where's the "proof"? As you say, that's a bit like the infinite regress in the question, "Where's the missing link?"

      For the question of the adaptive function of literature or its oral antecedents, we don't have the comparative data that we have for other species, since only the human species has a brain capable of producing symbolic figurations of its own experience. We do, however, as you suggest, have access to neurological data on the effects stories have on the brain. That's a good place to start for linking empirical information about the effects of reading with everything else we now know about specifically human forms of cognitive evolution.

      Empirical evolutionary studies of literature are only in their infancy, but Salmon and Symons have done solid work on pornography and romance; Gottschall et al. have done multiple cross-cultural studies on characters in folk and fairy tales; and Gottschall, Johnson, Kruger, and I have done a large empirical study of "agonistic structure" in Victorian fiction. We make careful arguments about the way our results correlate with basic patterns of evolved social dynamics in hunter-gatherer populations. We argue that this one formal structure in this one genre in this one period fulfills a psychological and social function correspondent with the functions of face-to-face social interactions in hunter-gatherers. This is not final and definitive proof that literature generally has an adaptive function, but it is strong evidence that some literature has at least one adaptive function. For a question this large, "final and definitive proof" will probably consist in the multiplication of quite specific proofs for special cases until, as you say, the burden of proof is entirely on the other side.

      Appeals for hard evidence are always to the point, but they are not always proferred in good faith. Many are just lazy forms of nay-saying, not earnest demands for more rigorous development of ideas but rather inexpensive substitutes for the formulation of hypotheses, tacit ways of affirming that questions are too complex ever to be answered. Every specific bit of evidence offered in response to questions posed in this spirt can have no persuasive effect on those posing the questions. Like Pontius Pilot, they ask the question but do not stay for the answer.

      Unless I missed something, Pinker never wrote a review of Boyd's book. He wrote a review of the Gottschall/Wilson volume The Literary Animal. And of course in that review he re-played his standard argument about side effects. That argument has been thoroughly and effectively answered. Just vaguely pointing to it doesn't count as an argument; taht stragegy is both empty of conceptual content and too far behind the curve to invite serious attention or respect.

      Joe Carroll

      ____________ _________ _________ __

      From: biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet% 40yahoogroups. com> on behalf of Jeff P. Turpin
      Sent: Tue 12/22/2009 8:47 AM
      To: Norman Holland
      Cc: biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet% 40yahoogroups. com>
      Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

      Norm--On the one hand a necessary question, but on the other hand it sometimes reminds me of the old "where's the missing link?" argument against evolutionary theory itself. The amount of empricial and anecdotal information suggesting that reading stories is adaptive is huge; rigorous experimental data from cognitive studies shows that listening to, constructing, and circulating stories is integral to mental health and social function; and I am not aware of any experiments showing that reading is maladaptive across populations, (although Carroll's post on Stoneking might prove informative) . Sometimes science doesn't "prove" a hypothesis by first proving it, but by failing to disprove it over time, until only one hypothesis is left standing. In either case a concrete standard of proof and methodological control are necessary to definitively answer the question to the satisfaction of all.
      Again, the question tends to focus on "reading stories" rather than listening to them or watching them (which, according to ToM theory and mirror neuron experiments, could provide some of the same benefits), and the sorts of experiments necessary to "prove" the point are difficult to construct, probably illegal, and certainly unethical. One can imagine a hypothetical group of spandrel-worshipper s depriving their children of books for a few generations, but how would they keep them from listening to or watching stories, or writing their own stories in their heads, or deriving them from casual events, as a large and growing group of psychological experiments show we all do instinctively? At which point detractors then tend to single out reading per se, to assert that we only need to sense information or order it in some manner, and that reading a book or creating a story isn't the "only" way, thus reading exclusively is not adaptive. This strikes me as sort of a desperate argument, and one which focusses on media more than on storie manipulation.
      People like Keith Oatley and Philip Davis are trying to map formal brain changes that result from reading "good" books, but even these would only satisfy cynics if they could be proven to increase survivability, or be inheritable, etc. This is the familiar and long-lived "play" argument, and an attractive warm fuzzy response (I think it is the right argument), but not yet rigorously proven, so . . .
      And of course we get a lot of important information from reading, either fiction or non-fiction, and to argue that the data received there was not potentially adaptive would be irrational. But until we can deprive an experimental group of reading, listening to, watching, or creating stories, and then track their adaptive success over a few generations, the burden of proof will probably fall on neuro-science.
      Gotta go . . . baby wants me to read him a story . . . ;-).jt

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

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Norman Holland <mailto:normholland@ gmail.com <mailto:normholland %40gmail. com> >
      To: Jeff P. Turpin <mailto:jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> >
      Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 3:15 PM
      Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

      To Jeff Turnpin:

      I know the claims and arguments for an adaptive function for stories and other literature are many and widespread. But where is the evidence? Sure, people claim that stories let us try out solutions, create bonds in groups, or enhance theory of mind and empathy--but where is the experimental or other evidence that this is so? I think Pinker's review of B. Boyd's book are quite apropos here.

      --With warm regards,

      Norm Holland

      On Sun, Dec 20, 2009 at 1:22 PM, Jeff P. Turpin <jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> <mailto:jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> > > wrote:

      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 -----
      From: Carroll, Joseph C. <mailto:jcarroll@umsl. edu <mailto:jcarroll% 40umsl.edu> >
      To: b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> <mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> > ; William Benzon <mailto:bbenzon@mindspring. com <mailto:bbenzon% 40mindspring. com> >
      Cc: Jeff P. Turpin <mailto:jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> > ; Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet% 40yahoogroups. com> > ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary- psychology@ yahoogroups. com <mailto:evolutionar y-psychology% 40yahoogroups. com> > ; Cog Lit Assn <mailto:CogLAs@lists. purdue.edu <mailto:CogLAs% 40lists.purdue. edu> > ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups. com <mailto:coglit% 40yahoogroups. com> > ; Michael Bérubé <mailto:mfb12@... <mailto:mfb12% 40psu.edu> >
      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 paleoanthropologica l 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@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> <mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> > [mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> <mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> > ]
      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.


      on 12/18/09 9:47 AM, Jeff P. Turpin at jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> <mailto:jpturpin@gvtc. com <mailto:jpturpin% 40gvtc.com> > 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?


      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@mindspring. com <mailto:bbenzon% 40mindspring. com> > <mailto:bbenzon@mindspring. com <mailto:bbenzon% 40mindspring. com> >

      To: Biopoetics <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet% 40yahoogroups. com> > <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups .com <mailto:biopoet% 40yahoogroups. com> > ; EvPsych <mailto:evolutionary- psychology@ yahoogroups. com <mailto:evolutionar y-psychology% 40yahoogroups. com> > <mailto:evolutionary- psychology@ yahoogroups. com <mailto:evolutionar y-psychology% 40yahoogroups. com> > ; Cog Lit Assn <mailto:CogLAs@lists. purdue.edu <mailto:CogLAs% 40lists.purdue. edu> > <mailto:CogLAs@lists. purdue.edu <mailto:CogLAs% 40lists.purdue. edu> > ; CogLit <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups. com <mailto:coglit% 40yahoogroups. com> > <mailto:coglit@yahoogroups. com <mailto:coglit% 40yahoogroups. com> >

      Cc: Brian Boyd <mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> > <mailto:b.boyd@auckland. ac.nz <mailto:b.boyd% 40auckland. ac.nz> > ; Joseph Carroll <mailto:jcarroll@umsl. edu <mailto:jcarroll% 40umsl.edu> > <mailto:jcarroll@umsl. edu <mailto:jcarroll% 40umsl.edu> > ; Michael B é rub é <mailto:mfb12@... <mailto:mfb12% 40psu.edu> > <mailto:mfb12@... <mailto:mfb12% 40psu.edu> >

      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

      http://www.american scientist. org/bookshelf/ pub/the-plays- the-thing <http://www.american scientist. org/bookshelf/ pub/the-plays- the-thing> <http://www.american scientist. org/bookshelf/ pub/the-plays- the-thing <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 <http://www.michaelb erube.com/ index.php/ weblog/comments/ while_i_was_ grading_p> <http://www.michaelb erube.com/ index.php/ weblog/comments/ while_i_was_ grading_p <http://www.michaelb erube.com/ index.php/ weblog/comments/ while_i_was_ grading_p> >

      and at:

      http://crookedtimbe r.org/2009/ 12/11/mind- games/ <http://crookedtimbe r.org/2009/ 12/11/mind- games/> <http://crookedtimbe r.org/2009/ 12/11/mind- games/ <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/ <http://asweknowit. ca/evcult/> <http://asweknowit. ca/evcult/ <http://asweknowit. ca/evcult/> >
      The Valve (cultural blog): http://tinyurl. com/ormqg <http://tinyurl. com/ormqg> <http://tinyurl. com/ormqg <http://tinyurl. com/ormqg> >
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      YouTube: http://www.youtube. com/user/ STC4blues <http://www.youtube. com/user/ STC4blues> <http://www.youtube. com/user/ STC4blues <http://www.youtube. com/user/ STC4blues> >

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    • Carroll, Joseph C.
      Here (attached) is a diagram of all the kinds of relationships a biocultural critique needs to take into account. Many of these categories are common parts of
      Message 2 of 5 , Dec 24, 2009
      Here (attached) is a diagram of all the kinds of relationships a biocultural critique needs to take into account. Many of these categories are common parts of common-language criticism, and indeed even the most concerted efforts to eliminate authors and intentional meanings slip them in surreptitiously in the back door.

      Steve Berer says that Darwinist criticism "does NOT speak to the author's issues and intentions. That's fine, but it doesn't give any new insights about the text, per se. Rather, it uses the text as data to promote a particular theory." The Darwinists I know do in fact speak to the author's issues and intentions. They don't of course assume that the author is himself or herself a Darwinist; they just assume that the author is in possession of an evolved and adapted mind and is speaking to other people who have such minds.

      The Darwinists unabashedly promote their theory because they think it is a true and comprehensive theory, encompassing all of human life. Perhaps Steve thinks otherwise. Some people do.

      Joe Carroll


      From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Jeff P. Turpin
      Sent: Thu 12/24/2009 11:10 AM
      To: ellen.spolsky@...; b.boyd@...
      Cc: biopoet@yahoogroups.com; Cog Lit Assn
      Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

      I'm ambivalent about this for a few reasons, but in support of Ellen's claims, there are critical reads and general purpose essays out there that target exactly the "understanding" of texts (I mentioned John Niles's recent critique of Beowulf as one, and a recent Rita Felski essay beats a deep ditch around the empirical bush while not overtly validating empiricism) with out being explicitly Darwinian, or even scientific. These may be the most satisfying reads of all, since they reify "common sense," while fulfilling the rigor of lit dar and other scientific approaches. However, I also have a critique of Edith Wharton's work that is strongly justified by the text and the science, but which goes against traditional interpretations of her work. I argue that it is an accurate reading because it is so heavily verified by the text and ev psych studies, but others argue that it can't be right, because it goes against critical tradition, or the author's biography, etc. So I'm tempted to say new readings can be produced . . . but proof is in the pudding, time will tell, etc. JT

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

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Ellen Spolsky <mailto:ellen.spolsky@...>
      To: b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...>
      Cc: Jeff P. Turpin <mailto:jpturpin@...> ; biopoet@yahoogroups.com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com> ; Cog Lit Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>
      Sent: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 5:03 PM
      Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

      I have to support Brian on this point. Just imagine what an odd situation it would be if a new theoretical approach produced a reading of an important (classic, beloved, supply your own adjective here) that was really entirely new, that no one had ever thought of before and then claimed that the approach itself had "proved" that this reading was - what? "a right reading of the author's intention?" the only "correct" way to read the text? Of course that would be entirely unconvincing. Remember that when some American deconstructionist criticism produced some new and very odd readings of familiar texts, there were many objections. Literary theories (as opposed to literary approaches to texts) don't provide readings - they may explain how readers (experienced or un) arrive at understanding, but they don't produce understandings that couldn't be arrived at on the basis of reading alone by experienced readers. As Jonathan Culler once pointed out ("Beyond Criticism" might have been the name of his article it was in Comparative Literature), we don't need more readings of great texts. We have plenty already. Evolutionary theory has added some quite interesting questions and some hypotheses to our the theoretical discussion of what fictions of various kinds do in the world. It isn't supposed to produce readings. es

      On Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 11:38 PM, b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...> <b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...> > wrote:

      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@... <mailto:dolack_thomas@...> >
      To: "Cog Lit Assn" <CogLAs@... <mailto:CogLAs@...> >; <biopoet@yahoogroups.com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com> >;
      "Jeff P. Turpin" <jpturpin@... <mailto: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


      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.


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      Ellen Spolsky
      Professor of English
      Bar-Ilan University
      52 900 Ramat-Gan
      Tel: 03 531-8273

      Home: 32 Habad Street
      97 500 Jerusalem
      Tel: 02 6282044 FAX: 02 628 5472
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