Mind Reading: Media and the Brain

How do we come to know one another? How do we know what someone else is thinking or feeling? How do we conceptualize how our own minds operate? We will survey some of the most famous (and infamous) philosophical, scientific, literary, and artistic responses to these questions over the centuries as we study how the mind and brain have been understood and written. From Lavater, whose physiognomic essays conceived of the personality and character as “readable” from the shape of the face and best viewed in the form of the silhouette, to Freud, who conceptualized memory as a kind of writing surface, countless thinkers have linked mind and anatomy to media. This emphasis reverberated in literary works, which sometimes transmitted scientific viewpoints – whether directly or in the guise of metaphor – and sometimes contained reflections on new, fictional media that reflected changing notions of the self. We will look at representations of the mind and brain in a range of media, studying texts that deal thematically with physiognomic or psychoanalytic thought; innovations in narrative form that allowed for more direct (or differently mediated) access to the psyche; visual artistic representations of the mind and brain; and recent empirical studies of literature, i.e. so-called neuropoetics. Readings and discussions will be in English, and there will be an extra discussion section for those who wish to read and discuss selected materials in German.