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Governing through the Brain

Neuropolitics, Neuroscience and Subjectivity

Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached

This article considers how the brain has become an object and target for governing human beings. How, and to what extent, has governing the conduct of human beings come to require, presuppose and utilize a knowledge of the human brain? How, and with what consequences, are so many aspects of human existence coming to be problematized in terms of the brain? And what role are these new 'cerebral knowledges' and technologies coming to play in our contemporary forms of subjectification, and our ways of governing ourselves? After a brief historical excursus, we delineate four pathways through which neuroscience has left the lab and became entangled with the government of the living: psychopharmacology, brain imaging, neuroplasticity and genomics. We conclude by asking whether the 'psychological complex' of the twentieth century is giving way to a 'neurobiological complex' in the twenty-first, and, if so, how the social and human sciences should respond.

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Kay Young

Review of Norman Holland, LITERATURE AND THE BRAIN

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What is interpretation?

A cultural neurohermeneutic account

Steve Reyna

This essay answers the question: what is interpretation? It does so by proposing that interpretation involves certain brain operations. These utilize perceptual and procedural culture stored in neural networks. The parts of the brain performing interpretation are said to constitute a cultural neurohermenetic system, hypothesized to function according to an interpretive hierarchy. It is argued that such an approach has two benefits. The first of these is to provide a non-sociobiological, non-reductionist way of analyzing interactions between culture and biology. The second benefit is to provide conceptual tools for explaining how the micro-realm within individuals (I-space) makes connections in the macro-realm (E-space) of events in social forms. Conceptualization of such connections forms a basis for a variety of social analysis termed complex string being theory.

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Jeffrey M. Zacks

This article is a précis of the book Flicker: Your Brain on Movies (Zacks 2014). Flicker aims to introduce a broad readership to the psychology and neuroscience that underlies their experience in the movie theater. The book covers a range of topics, including emotional experience, adaptation from texts to films, memory and propaganda, movie violence, film editing, and brain stimulation. Cutting across the specific topics are a few broad themes: the evolution of the brain and mind, the role of automatically evoked responses in film viewing, and the role of behavioral and neural plasticity in everyday experience.

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Norman N. Holland

Metafictions tell stories in which the physical medium of the story becomes part of the story as, classically, in Tristram Shandy or Don Quixote. In our times, both metafiction and metafilm have proliferated. Examples of metafilm include Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, Alejandro Amenábar's Abre los Ojos, Ingmar Bergman's Persona, the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers and, in particular, Spike Jonze's Adaptation. In my experience and that of others, metafilmic movies have a peculiarly disconcerting effect, sometimes arousing fear, sometimes seeming comic. Why? Metafilms play tricks on the levels and kinds of our belief (or our suspension of disbelief). To explain the effect, we need to understand how our brains are functioning when we are, as we say, "absorbed" in a film. The answer lies in the fact that reality testing depends on activity in the motor regions of the frontal cortex. But in experiencing the arts, we are not moving or even planning to move. As a result, as Richard Gerrig's experiments show, we momentarily believe (or suspend disbelief in) the film we are perceiving. Metafilm, however, introduces another, more real reality, the physical medium of the film. Metafilm thus sends conflicting messages to the brain about moving. The result is what Freud called "a signal of anxiety." If the metafilmic effect is brief, we laugh. If it persists over time, it can arouse anxiety.

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Ira Konigsberg

Film theory has been much involved with psychology, especially with the viewer's perceptual and emotional response to the images on the screen. Psychoanalytic and cognitive film theories, though not exactly kindred spirits, have so far dominated psychological film studies. At the present time, technology offers neuroscience methods to explore the brain that open up the discourse on the mind. This article explains ways in which neuroscience, and its study of the brain, can extend our understanding and theory of film by exploring three areas of our response to cinema. Although the perception of motion is a complicated business, the phenomenon of implied motion suggests the brain's readiness to find movement even when there is none and links together many of the same perceptual mechanisms we use when viewing film and also the world outside the theater. Attention, focus, and binding are essential for us to make sense of the vast amount of stimuli that bombard our eyes. They explain what we see and do not see when viewing film and also the way film technique controls our understanding of the action on the screen. Finally, the argument about what we feel and do not feel when watching the characters on the screen may receive some clarification by neuroscience's investigation of "mirror neurons" in our brain.

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Yadin Dudai

This article proposes that a major drive in the fast evolution of cinema is that film uniquely fits, exploits and expands the potential of a specialized cognitive machinery in the human brain. This is working memory (WM), a limited capacity processing system that temporarily holds and processes on-line and off-line information under attentional control during the planning and execution of a task. A dominant model of WM depicts multiple components, including a central executive, subordinate workspaces for spatio-visual information and for sound and language, and an episodic buffer that binds episodes on the go and is capable of sorting them into long-term memory. The distinct generic attributes of film and their relevance to the subcomponents and operation of WM in the spectator are described. It is proposed that in watching a movie, WM operates in a special mode, dubbed the representation-of-representation (ROR) mode, in which normal motor response to reality is suppressed. It is further proposed that under proper contextual settings and mind set, the central executive of the spectator relinquishes control to the film information, culminating in a transient rewarding dissociative state. The usefulness of the model is discussed in the framework of the newly emerging discipline of neurocinematics. In evolutionary context, the interaction of film and brain is bidirectional. Film in its broadest sense is an extra-corporeal audiovisual space that allows the human brain to perform detailed past and future mental time travel which, unlike WM and human memory in general, has unlimited capacity, variability and endurance. This augments the original phylogenetic advantage that had probably led to the emergence of episodic memory in the first place.

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Maria Poulaki

The connection between film elements and brain responses has been suggested by a number of neurocognitive studies. The studies of event segmentation, in particular, support that film editing conditions cognitive responses. After discussing the findings of these studies, this article draws on Münsterberg and Arnheim's classical cognitive approaches to film as well as on poststructuralist film theory to argue that the event segmentation approach still falls short of accounting for the impact of noncontinuous film stimuli on the brain's event segmentation, while it shares with other neurocognitive film research the tendency to naturalize narrative and continuity editing. Finally, the article points out that by approaching the findings of event segmentation studies from the perspective of complex systems neuroscience, new hypotheses can be drawn on how noncontinuous and complex film stimuli condition our brains by mediating (enabling or disrupting) event segmentation and cognitive patterning.

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Naturalizing Aesthetic Experience

The Role of (Liberated) Embodied Simulation

Vittorio Gallese

the aesthetic experience of art and film? At a time when brain imaging is pervasively used to study the human brain, it makes little sense to look for a one-to-one mapping between the concepts employed to describe cognition and their supposed locations

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The Eisenstein-Vygotsky-Luria Collaboration

Triangulation and Third Culture Debates

Julia Vassilieva

In his recent agenda-setting monograph, Film, Art, and the Third Culture: A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film, Murray Smith (2017) foregrounds the currency of “third culture” as a key concept for contemporary debates on cinema and the brain