Fiction and Other Minds: Towards a Co-Modelling of Cognition

‘Towards a Co-Modelling of Cognition: Beckett, Introspection by Simulation, and the Predictive Self’

Contemporary scientific debate about the self can be qualified as an arena opened by a Cartesian orphanage. For long, as Gallagher and Spear note, Descartes’ “thesis that self is a single, simple, continuing, and unproblematically accessible mental substance resonated with common sense, and quickly came to dominate European thought”. The growing number of books by foremost philosophers of mind and neuroscientists on the “illusion of self” is the most tangible sign of how the current dominating theory is rather that we are not who we feel or think we are. The new debate on the self has led to a vital a variety of competing or complementing explanatory models attempting to account for what is illusory about the self, for what is not, and for how this illusion is generated. These models were progressively reviewed throughout this talk, as the theoretical ground against which to understand and analyze Beckett’s own variety of modeling solutions in exploring what he also called, in a letter to George Duthuit, “the illusion of the human and the fully realised”. This talk was based on the first chapter of Bernini's monograph Beckett and the Cognitive Method, which sets forth a theoretical argument for Beckett’s relevance to the scientific study of the mind. It presented an exemplification of a practice Bernini describes throughout the book as ‘introspection by simulation’ (ie, introspection scaffolded by extended creative practice in different media). It began by introducing the kind of triangulation between narrative theory, cognitive sciences, and narrative works that Bernini envisages as necessary to what he terms a ‘co-modelling’ of cognition.

Marco Bernini is Associate Professor in Cognitive Literary Studies at Durham University. His research focuses on narrative theory, modernist fiction and cognitive science. He works on the relationship between mind and narrative, and chiefly on how literary narratives explore and model cognitive processes. He has also worked on the extended mind theory and authorial agency, on empirical studies on readers, and on narrative and cognitive theories of complexity and emergence. He has recently led an interdisciplinary project on dreaming and narrative ( and published the monograph Beckett and the Cognitive Method: Mind, Models, and Exploratory Narratives (OUP, 2021).


The seminar is convened by Professor Ben Morgan ( Dr Naomi Rokotnitz (
As always, the talk will be 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.