Fiction and Other Minds: Cognitive Scaffolding and Literary Reading

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar welcomed Prof Joel Kruger and Prof Ben Morgan, who presented on the topic of Cognitive Scaffolding and Literary Reading.

‘Material Culture, Cognitive Scaffolding, and the Problem of Other Minds’
Prof Joel Krueger, University of Exeter

The Problem of Other Minds in philosophy and cognitive science presupposes that minds are hidden inside heads, inaccessible to anyone but their owner. This is an internalist way of thinking about minds. Recently, however, various quarters in philosophy have challenged this internalist assumption by offering various externalist alternatives: views that conceive of minds as partially realised by things and processes beyond the head, including the body and objects and institutions that are part of our shared world. In this talk, Krueger considered some of these externalist alternatives to the Problem of Other Minds. Krueger focused especially on the role that material culture—including aesthetic artefacts like music and literature—plays in motivating these externalist alternatives.

‘Embodied Cognition and the Project of the Bildungsroman’
Prof Ben Morgan, University of Oxford

The paper used the example of the European Bildungsroman as represented paradigmatically in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795/96) to investigate the cognitive and emotional effects of reading. Goethe’s text is sensitive to the embodied encounters that shape how we relate to the experience of reading, showing the forms of sensuous interaction that scaffold and enable literary responses. The model of reading presented in Goethe’s text was contextualized with reference to debates about fiction circa 1800, but also to research in developmental psychology into the emotional preconditions of an engagement with narrative, and to recent discussions of the so-called paradox of fiction. Goethe’s novel appeals to the bodies of its characters and its readers. The paper investigated the behavioural scaffolding that needs to be in place for reader’s to respond to visceral potential of the literary encounter.

The seminar was convened by Dr Naomi Rokotnitz (

As always, the talk was followed by drinks for all attendees.

About the Seminar: The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series, convened by Ben Morgan and Naomi Rokotnitz, has been running since 2013, hosting a range of speakers working at the interface between literary studies, cognitive science and phenomenology. The seminar explores the field that opens when features investigated by the cognitive sciences are tested and expanded across different cultural contexts. In particular, we are interested in the ways by which literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition, and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading.