Monday, May 9, 2011

Empathy and Literature

Literature creates empathy in the reader, according to a University of Buffalo study. They argue that

reading satisfies a deeply felt need for human connection because we not only feel like the characters we read about but, psychologically speaking, become part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the experience.

They have developed what they call The Narrative Collective Assimilation Hypothesis, which states that,

by absorbing narratives, we can psychologically become a member of the group of characters described therein, a process that makes us feel connected to those characters and their social world.

"Social connection is a strong, human need," Gabriel says, "and anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general, and feel good about our lives. Our study results demonstrate that the assimilation of a narrative allows us to feel close to others in the comfort of our own space and at our own convenience.

"In our subjects, this led to a reported increase in life satisfaction and positive mood, which are two primary outcomes of belonging," she says.

This no doubt have important ramifications for understanding why we should be reading literature, something I have developed on my blog, Interdisciplinary World, in a posting titled Why Should Science and Technology Majors Study Literature. However, they point out that the empathy becomes so strong that

Their subjects not only connected with the characters or groups they read about, however. They adopted the behaviors, attitudes and traits that they could realistically approximate

This is a strong sense of identification. What else is able to create this level of identification?

Biomathematics and Literature

There is an article by Ian Stewart in The New Statesman on biomathematics, in which Stewart discusses how biological patterns that cannot be directly coded for by the DNA nevertheless emerge in biological organisms. Such patterns can range from spots and stripes to the layout of neurons -- and thus (in the latter case), are of vital importance to understanding the biological basis of literary production. With such investigations, chaos theory, fractal patterns, and (though not mentioned in the article) self-organization become increasingly important to understanding biology and evolution. As these things become more integrated into biology, literary Darwinism may end up taking a more Frederick Turner-esque turn.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

James Scott

Too bad we can't all attend this year's Tanner Lectures, given by James Scott. The four great domestications as a paper topic? Or, perhaps, even a book?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reacting to Injustice

The sense of justice has been traced to the amygdala. "The study is based on the universal human behaviour to react with instant aggression when another person behaves unfairly and in a manner that is not in the best interest of the group." They observe too that people will often punish others even at a cost to themselves -- a result well known and well established by game theory. This sense of justice, and universal reaction should of course be found throughout literature. But note that the refusal to accept an unfair deal is what is traced to the amygdala. And that there are gender differences. Thus, one should expect to see men reacting more violently to unfair situations, and women accepting unfair situations, even while complaining about it as much as men do -- in life as in literature. Consider Achilles' reaction to having his prize taken from him, resulting in the action of The Iliad.