A Collection of Writing on Consciousness, the Brain, and Literature

Welcome to Neurologues!

Neurologue n(y)u̇-ˌrō,lôg / n. – a narrative, book, or illustrated work that documents a neurological experience or condition.

This is a compilation of essays on relationships between literature, neuroscience, & cognitive science. The writers of these essays are students in a senior seminar entitled “Brain Narratives,” at Queens College in Flushing, New York.

The focus of Neurologues is the the portrayal of the human brain—“three pounds of flesh” (in the words of neurologist Antonio Damasio)—in literary works. The brain is a central character in the history of literature. As knowledge about the brain has exploded in the past two decades, writers have been responding with new narratives that explore how those three pounds of flesh shape human experience. In addition, brain science is beginning to understand that “story as mental activity is essential to human thought” (in the words of literary critic and cognitive scientist Mark Turner).

With the guidance of Professor Jason Tougaw, we have read works of literature, cognitive science, neurobiology, philosophy of mind, and literary criticism about the relationships between our bodies, brains, minds, selves, and consciousness. In response, we have made our own contributions to interdisciplinary debates in the emerging field of cognitive cultural studies–with the hope of emphasizing literature’s distinctive contributions to cultural conversations about the relationship between physiology and self.

Begin to explore by getting to know our main categories:

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  • Brain, Self, & Environment

    To be, or not to be? – is not the question in this case. In literary texts, we observe and absorb the characters within: who they are, what they do, the conversations they have, and what they feel. The characters in Henry James’ short story “The Friends of the Friends,” T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and other texts are presented as who they are already; the question is ultimately: why are they the way they are? This query leads to focusing on their thought processes, or also known as accessing a character’s consciousness.
  • Neurodiversity

    Neurodiversity fosters recognition of the differences in human behavior as a natural diversification rather than a disease. Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease are illnesses that severely disrupt lives. Neurodiversity conveys with it a sense of hope that all individuals, apart from how they read, think, feel, socialize, or attend, will be accepted for their gifts, and accorded the same rights and privileges as any other human being. These illnesses present a challenge to every relationship of those afflicted.
  • The Senses

    Sensation is the first gateway through which our brains experience the world. It is a phenomenon that results when our bodies come into contact with and are stimulated by the environment. An electrochemical wave beginning at a sensory site relays a message along neuronal pathways to the brain. Through our senses we may experience qualia, which are fundamental experiences that give rise to subjectivity. Vision, for example, is one of the most important senses, and–in those with sight–is instrumental in the process by which we produce mental maps of the environment. Sometimes, as in cases of synesthesia, a person may experience qualia normally perceived through one sense through a whole other sensory modality.
  • Theories of Mind

    Theory of Mind (ToM) can be defined as a way to understand the knowledge, feelings, and desires of an individual. This ability, to ‘assess’ the mind of another, comes through understanding one’s own mind. If you walk into a room and someone has a frown with their arms crossed, our minds conclude that this person is upset. What happens if your mind cannot do all this? Neurological disorders hinder the theory of mind process and creates disorientation for an individual.

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