Fiction and Other Minds: George Eliot’s ‘The Lifted Veil’

The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series studies the very varied way that fiction from different traditions analyses the visceral levels of human interaction. We also investigate whether the practice of reading or watching different forms of fictions contributes to our social know-how. These questions have been the focus of much debate in recent cognitive literary studies, but we do not confine ourselves to cognitive methods. The comparative angle helps us think hard about the cultural preconditions of mindreading in different social settings in addition to what cognitive and phenomenological tools can teach us about the neural substrates of empathy and emotional attunement and their mobilisation by literary texts.

Papers in each session focused on one work. This term’s text was George Eliot’s short narrative ‘The Lifted Veil’ (1859), which presents a character for whom the thoughts of others obtrude on his own: a character who knows too much. The two speakers were Prof Peter Garrat, one of the founders of the ‘Cognitive Futures in the Humanities’ network, who spoke on ‘Mind Bloat and The Lifted Veil’; and Prof Helen Small, editor of the Oxford World Classics edition of Eliot’s text, who spoke on ‘On the Verification of Mental Experience’ .

The seminar was convened by Professor Ben Morgan (

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.