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Literature as a Cognitive Object; Cognitive infrastructure and human cultural transmission

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CogLit (Literature as a Cognitive Object; Cognitive infrastructure and human cultural transmission)

Reporting period: 2018-10-18 to 2020-10-17

Literature/ art is not a set of objects out there in the world; it is a unique and distinct human action, a distinct output of human cognition.

The ‘CogLit’ project, drew on Relevance Theory (RT) to further develop the argument that literature has distinct cognitive rather than linguistic properties. It employed an innovative two-way interdisciplinary methodology building on previous research in which a psychologically realistic account of the notion of literariness is developed. The fellowship, among other things, resulted in a monograph (title ‘Literature and art as Cognitive Objects: From a Poetics of Language to a Poetics of Action’), accepted by CUP. The monograph has very wide interdisciplinary impact and makes one of the first systematic and empirically testable proposals in the 21st century on the essence of literature and art. It also provides a concrete example of how genuine interdisciplinary practices in the Arts and Humanities can directly influence theory formation in scientific and quasi-scientific domains.
The project achieved the following objectives:

-It drew on current empirical work (e.g. in neuro-cognitive domains and creativity-related research) to develop an empirically tractable discussion of the range of sub-abilities that enable artistic thought states, thereby functioning as their cognitive and neurological infrastructure and show that the components of artistic thought states have psychological reality and empirical testability.

-It developed a discussion of artistic thought states as relevance-yielding occurrences, raising constructive questions about whether the type of relevance achieved by phenomena such as artistic thought states and stimuli such as literature and art falls entirely under Relevance Theory’s cognitive account of worthwhile effects.

-It developed an empirically testable discussion of the wide implications of artistic thought states for 25 years of research in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity. It thereby exceeded initial expectations and state of the art in Year 1, by delivering one ‘extra’ monograph chapter, which yields extensive backward effects on existing research in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity and materializes the bi-directional epistemological framework and interdisciplinary scope of CogLit in an optimal way; also, by means of the ER’s first plenary talk, invited as keynote speaker in the 2020 CogHumanities Conference.

-It determined a further possible type of worthwhile effects (positive perceptual effects) that makes artistic thought states and their outputs (artworks/ literary texts) relevant to the individual organism and drew on neuroscientific findings from visual perception, kinaesthetic perception and music performance to provide tentative evidence that these effects are neurologically real and empirically testable.

-It generated impactful dissemination and wider public engagement deliverables.

-It argued in favour of curricular transformation in HE contexts that will lay the ground for nurturing a new generation of Arts and Humanities graduates able to affect scientific enquiry.

-the tentative evidence and exploitable results on perceptual effects will form the basis of further cutting-edge research on art, attention, agency and the selective directedness of our mental lives.
Literary theory and philosophy of art have tended to focus on the internal formal or structural properties of artworks (e.g. alleged linguistic deviations in literary texts) as the key to their distinctive nature. The failure of attempts to show that artworks are formally or structurally distinguishable from other objects has been taken as evidence that any such distinction must be largely sociological. The ‘CogLit’ project takes a fresh approach to this long-standing matter: it argues against the binary oppositions of artefact-oriented and receiver-oriented approaches to literature and art and points in the direction of a new internalist or psychologistic account that puts the artist/producer at the centre of attention. Modifying an innovative contribution on the essence of literature/art by the philosopher of mind Jerry Fodor (1993), it suggests that what distinguishes works of literature and art from other objects is not their internal formal or structural properties but their cognitive aetiology: artworks and literary texts are causally related to an art-specific type of relevance-yielding creative mental state involved in their creation, termed an artistic thought state.
Artistic thought states are psychologically real entities and can be characterized as spontaneously caused complex mental states in which an agent who is intuitively aware of the non-trivial nature of some of her creative representations (aspectual representations) derives relevance from focusing on these representations as aesthetic objects. The idea that artworks are causally linked to such mental states helps clarify pervasive taxonomic confusions in philosophical aesthetics and suggests a solution to at least some instances of the problem of indiscernible objects/twin events. Artworks and their ‘twins’ (e.g. ordinary and literary language, a genuine artwork and a forgery) differ in their psycho-cognitive histories: one is causally related to artistic thought states; the other is not. This line of investigation shifts attention away from the artefactual properties of the literary text and its linguistic make-up and towards literature as a case of human agency: the essential distinctness of literature and art can be fully defended and is of a cognitive rather than a linguistic nature.
Individual Fellow Patricia Kolaiti and the 'twin event puzzle' (photo by Artsophy))