Description and syllabus
An introduction to the study of mind and media.
Students will attend all class meetings, make in-class presentations, and submit a final paper.
Final paper: 2500 words. Due date to be determined
For the final paper, the student will select a particular cognitive process from the list below, specify it more sharply, and explore its use in a range of media examples.
Class discussion will guide students in crafting these papers.
Readings, to be completed before the beginning of class
- The sections on classic and blended joint attention in Thomas_Turner_ClassicAndBlendedJointAttention.pdf. Read pages 189-193, 213-4 ("Blended Scenes"), 226-227 ("Tethered Excursions"). Lightly skim the rest.
- Sweetser, Eve. Introduction: Viewpoint and perspective in language and gesture, from the Ground down.
- Movie Editing and Viewpoint Shifts: https://b23.tv/av31275519. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abCnSy_xiRM. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJcQgQHR78Q&t=257s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex4XGiyJugY.
- Turner, chapters 1-5 of The Literary Mind.
- Turner, "Double Scope Stories"
- Hedblom on Image Schemas. Hedblom_ThesisReduced.pdf. Browse pages 43-80.
- Turner, "Frame Blending".
- Turner, Mark. 2006. "Compression and Representation". Language and Literature. 15:1, 17-27.
List of Cognitive Operations
We will approach media through the study of cognitive operations and conditions:
- Embodiment. Cognition occurs in a body and is evolved to understand the operations of the body. The human body is the fundamental media platform.
- Image Schemas: skeletal concepts based in recurrent sensory and motor experience, such as container, link, balance, source-path-goal, verticality. These concepts are used widely in cognition across many domains, such as marriage, often conceived as a joining that produces a link or bond.
- Force Dynamics: skeletal experiential concepts of interactions involving force, often with an agonist, antagonist, and relative measures of strength. These concepts are used widely in cognition across many domains, such as social relationship: “My parents would not let me go to the party.”
- Attention. This is a scarce human mental resource, and a powerful influence on conception.
- Viewpoint. One of the things we know from embodied experience is that we have a viewpoint, and that we can change it. We have at any moment a perceptual viewpoint, but also, potentially, an intellectual, religious, or aesthetic viewpoint. Viewpoint arises inevitably from embodiment: participants in any scene of communicative joint attention are embodied.
- Small Spatial Stories. Interacting objects conform to force-dynamics (“The water carried the leaf under the bridge”) and have intentions and goals (“The waiter carried coffee through the dining room to my table”).
- Mental frame, or just “frame”: We have a mental bundle for grave-digging, a mental bundle for marriage, and so on. The word “sexton” is a prompt for calling up the frame for grave-digging, and additional frames for Christian churches, and bell-ringing; nearly none of what that frame contains needs to be mentioned in an actual expression. We have a mental frame for buying and selling, and a more limited mental package for the special case of buying and selling securities, particularly stocks and bonds. In that mental package, that little frame for buying and selling securities, there are roles for the buyer, the seller, what is sold, and the broker who arranges the transaction. When someone says, “I have to call my stockbroker,” everyone can activate the appropriate package, the appropriate bundle of related elements. When someone says that sentence, we imagine, unless we are told or have reason to believe otherwise, that the telephone call is about buying and selling securities. Nobody needs to explain that the call is about buying and selling, because the word “stockbroker” calls up that little mental package. To understand “I have to call my stockbroker,” we activate information from that frame to build a small mental array containing the speaker, the phone call, and the broker.
- Reframing. The mental act of switching to a different frame for construing. For example, we are prompted to reframe when someone says, without correcting the facts, “He’s not stingy; he’s thrifty.”
- Blending. A blend is a mental space. It results from the mental act of blending other mental spaces in a mental web. The blend is not an abstraction, or an analogy, or anything else already named and recognized in common sense. A blend is a new mental space that contains some elements from different mental spaces in a mental web but that develops new meaning of its own that is not drawn from those spaces. This new meaning emerges in the blend. For example, suppose I say, “My brother-in-law, the stockbroker, lives in San Francisco. The stock market opens on the East Coast at 9:30 a.m., when it is only 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast. So my brother-in-law must awaken every weekday at about 5 in the morning if he is going to be sufficiently alert to start serious and risky work at 6:30 a.m. If I were my brother-in-law, I would be miserable.” That last sentence asks us to blend me and my brother-in-law. To understand the passage, we need a mental space that has me and a mental space that has my brother-in-law, and we need to blend those spaces. The result, in the blend, is a man imbued with some of what we think about me and some of what we think about my brother-in-law, but only some in each case. In the blend, I am my brother-in-law, in a way: There is an element in the blend that has my personal identity, but no longer my job. It has my emotions, but my brother-in-law’s competence and business activity. This new idea of the blended man is not available from any other space in the mental web. It is unique to the blend. There is a new idea here, one that emerges only in the blend. I-am-my-brother-in-law is a new idea, and a very complicated one.
- Compression. Blending typically produces compression, especially over causation, agency, time, and space (CATS)
- The Idea of Another Mind and Another Personal Identity. To conceive of another mind, we blend some of what we construe of the appearance of another entity and some of what we know about only ourselves. For example, we believe that we have thoughts, a viewpoint, a conception of force-dynamics, experience of pain, and so on. We have no direct access to other minds, but we imbue other entities with rich minds by blending, and develop emergent structure for those minds.
- Frame Blending. For example, the frame of kinship and the frame of cosmic force can be blended to create theogonies.
- The Idea of Self and Personal Identity. Much of our own conception of a stable identity comes from blending into our self-conception from entities that are not our self. We create selves under influence from characters in stories, scripture, films, and from other people we have encountered. “Impersonation” is too strong a word for the intentional modeling of our actions on patterns we have learned from others, but such blends are part of our conception of our own lives and identity.
- Empathy, identifying, blending of selves. The mental blending of self and other is at the root of empathy and similar other-regarding human impulses.
- Viewpoint Blending. We can blend our viewpoint and our conception of the viewpoint of someone else. “I will come to your party” asks us to construct such a blend: the normal verb for ego’s movement to some place is go, not come. Come is the normal verb for someone else’s movement to ego’s location. “I” is from the speaker’s viewpoint, but “come” is from the hearer’s viewpoint; this blend acknowledges that the active center of the party belongs to the hearer, not the speaker. In this case, blending projects selectively from viewpoint in the input mental spaces to the blend (Sweetser 2012). Recanati (1995) analyzes the way in which what he calls "the epistolary present" expresses a blended temporal viewpoint belonging to the blended joint attention that arises for personal correspondence. In the blend, writer and reader are present in the moment and jointly attending, although they know that outside the blend in the mental web organized by the blend they are in different times and conditions. Turner (1996) analyzes other temporal viewpoint blends, as when the wife, headed to the shower, says to her husband (who has asked how a certain task will be accomplished), "My husband took care of that while I was in the shower." Nikiforidou (2010 & 2012) analyzes the role of blending in a construction she calls “Past tense + proximal deictic,” with emphasis on the cases where the proximal deictic is “now.” The preferred patterns are “was/were + now,” as in “It was now possible . . .” and, for a non-copula verb, “now + past tense,” as in “He now saw that . . .” Nikiforidou provides “a detailed blueprint of the blending mappings cued by the [past + proximal deictic] pattern” (2012).
- The Ground. The ground is a general conceptual frame for organizing specific communicative situations. It includes "the speech event, its setting, and its participants" (Langacker 1985:113). Roles in this frame—such as the time of the communicative event and the location or site of the speech event—take on values in specific communicative situations. Traditions of rhetoric, philology, semiotics, linguistics, and information theory have in one way or another considered the idea of the ground, and it has been treated by a range of cognitive linguists (Fillmore 1971, Rubba 1996, Talmy 1986).
- Blended Classic Joint Attention
- Joint Attention. Once we have the concept of another mind, which has attention and a viewpoint, we can construct the concept that two minds are attending to the same thing. Joint attention is a human-scale scene in which some people are attending to something and know they are all attending to something and know also that they are engaged with each other in attending to it (Tomasello et al. 1995, Tobin 2008). In a scene of joint attention, there are some people who know that they are jointly attending to something and that they are engaging with each other by jointly attending to it, even if they are not communicating about it, and they know, too, that they all know all of this, recursively, including that she knows that I know that she knows that I know ... . Very many scholars over millennia have contributed to the analysis of this important human situation, e. g., very recently, Tomasello (1999), Clark (1996), Clark and Henetz (2014). What the participants in a scene of joint attention know is highly culture- and sub-culture and micro-culture dependent and requires constant and impressive cognitive work to construct, and is fallible, which is one of the reasons that communication comes with so many procedures for repair, negotiation, and accommodation.
- Classic Joint Attention. In “communicative joint attention,” these people are not only jointly attending but also communicating with each other about the focus of their attention, even if the communication is very sparse, consisting perhaps of only pointing. In classic joint attention (Thomas and Turner (2011)), two (or a few) people together are jointly attending to something they can perceive in the same human environment, and they are communicating about it. They know that they are attending to it, know that they are engaging with each other by attending to it, and know that they all know all of this, recursively. In classic joint attention, people seek to gain each other’s attention in order to direct it to objects or events, and they communicate, even if minimally, about the focus of their joint attention. Human beings are superbly equipped for classic joint attention. Classic joint attention is widely recognized as a foundation of our ability to teach, learn, and cooperate. Human communicative abilities, including language and gesture, are largely dedicated to this basic scene of classic joint attention, and substantial grammatical resources are dedicated to managing it: think of one person saying to another, “I can help you with that now by looking here.” As stand-alone text, the meaning to be constructed in response to such an utterance is profoundly under-determined, but in a scene of classic joint attention, it is likely to be crystal-clear to the participants: they know how deictics are used to prompt for the construction of meaning in a scene of classic joint attention.
- Blended Classic Joint Attention. But classic joint attention is by no means the limit of our world: human thought is remarkable for its ability to stretch across much more than these basic scenes. The sweep of human thought is vast, extending over time, space, causation, and agency, creating mental ideas that go far beyond our local experience. A basic technique for constructing meaning across an extended mental network is to use as an input to that network some very compressed, congenial concept in order to provide familiar, compressed structure to the blend. The range of principles, operations, and constraints on constructing a compressed blend is studied in Turner (1996, 2001), Fauconnier and Turner (2002), Turner (2014). In brief: we construct mappings across different mental spaces, and project from them selectively to create a blend from these inputs that has additional, emergent structure not contained in any of them. The successful blend serves as a conceptually manageable tool for dealing mentally with the otherwise unwieldy mental network, which consists of all the mental spaces in the conceptual array that the blend grounds. The compact blend constructed in such a network provides an anchor, a platform, a window for mental achievement that would otherwise be possible. It is often the case that a full and difficult mental network does not involve one of our familiar, experiential ideas, but we can blend that network with one of those familiar ideas, to make a bigger network and a useful blend. We can, via this process of blending, make a compact mental blend for the network that is based in manageable ideas. For example, in the history of ideas, we often say that one scientist or writer or thinker or philosopher is “trying to answer” some previous thinker, or that the later thinker is “disputing” with the previous thinker, or that an earlier thinker “already answered” the later thinker’s question. We talk about the “debate” between Lamarck and Darwin, or Plato and Aristotle. But of course, these thinkers were not actually in a scene of classic joint attention where they were actually asking and answering, disputing, and debating. Our understanding of the vast network of agents and actions stretching over time and space and causation and agency is not actually a scene of classic joint attention of conversation between two people, but we can blend this vast network with that familiar, experiential scene of classic joint attention, and so, via the blend, manage and understand it. In the blend, there is a debate between the two thinkers, who may not have even been alive at the same time. We are not fooled, but the blend is a very useful conceptual tool. It gives us a way to grasp the entire network of ideas. Such a blend is intelligible, even though it connects to conceptual elements in a network stretching over time, space, causation, and agency, because it has some familiar, human-scale structure. In the case of the debate between thinkers in the history of ideas, the blend is partially structured by the frame of classic joint attention, that is, conversation focusing on some object perceptually available to both of the people in the immediate perceptual environment, even though, outside the blend – that is, in the mental network of all the inputs – , we know it is not really a conversation: the earlier thinker, for example, cannot really reply to the questions posed by the later thinker. But we can take something the earlier thinker wrote and say, in the blend, that it “answers” the later thinker. In the blend, the participants are not actually focused on something perceptually available to them both in the same immediate environment. Because of the familiar structure of such a blend, we can get a handle on the entire mental network. We know how to work from the meaning constructed for the blend to correlated meaning that is to be constructed for the mental network. Mental networks grounded in compact blends often stretch far beyond what we would otherwise be able to conceive. There is an enormous, indefinitely extensible, central category of blending networks that can be characterized as depending upon having classic joint attention as a major input to the blend. The existence of this open category is no surprise, given the importance and congeniality of our concept of classic joint attention. I call them blended classic joint attention networks (BCJA networks). As an example of a BCJA network, consider the role of the TV news anchor. Watching a news anchor on the TV is definitely not a scene of classic joint attention. But it can feel that way to us, because we blend the vast mental network of what is going on with the frame of classic joint attention to make a compressed blend of blended classic joint attention. The news anchor is not actually in a scene of classic joint attention with the viewer; terrorism is not a local object or event in a local scene that we can perceive directly; here for the participants in the news interaction is not actually a single shared space (“It’s good to have you here,” says the news anchor, but where is “here”?); now for the participants in the news interaction need not be a particular moment (“Now we have a special announcement coming up for you here,” says the news announcer, but perhaps it was recorded, perhaps it is meant to be viewed at many different times, perhaps the announcer did not even know what the special announcement would be; in addition, who is “we,” and again, where is “here”?). But we can blend all these elements into a scene of blended classic joint attention, which is tractable and familiar because it draws on our understanding of classic joint attention. Most of the language that is available for running a scene of classic joint attention can be projected, adapted, and used for BCJA. BCJA is a generic integration template – that is, a well-known general pattern of blending that can guide the mental construction of indefinitely many specific networks. Blended classic joint attention (or rather, the generic integration template for constructing a BCJA mental network) is a major cognitive resource, ostensibly available to only cognitively modern human beings, which we might guess to be roughly all human beings during the last 50,000 years, or perhaps significantly more, depending on how one interprets the archeological record or how the archeological record is improved in the future. Blended classic joint attention is a scene we understand by blending the scene of classic joint attention with other things that do not in fact fit that scene, in order to make them fit that scene in the blend. Personal letters, telephone calls, walkie-talkie discourse, writing, and many other scenes of technological communication have led to common cultural scenes of blended classic joint attention. In these scenes, it is not necessarily the case that those who are jointly attending are together in the same spatial or temporal environment, or even that they know of each other’s existence. One can keep a secret diary that one never means to show to anyone else, and yet, the concept of what we are doing in keeping that diary can be formed partly by thinking of classic joint attention – even if the other intelligence paying attention in the blend is only imaginary, or is one of our future selves, or is a disembodied non-human intelligence. A letter we write can begin, “To Whom It May Concern.”
- Multimodality (soundtracks, color spectrum shift, . . . ). Human face-to-face communication has always taken place across multiple modalities: through gesture, facial expression, posture, tone of voice, pacing, gaze direction, touch, and words. Elaborate multimodal communication is a central and constantly active part of human cognition, in science, technology, engineer- ing, mathematics, art, religion, crafts, social interaction, learning, innovation, memory, attention, travel, and all other activities, whether goal-based or not. Cultures invest heavily to support this aspect of human life: classical cultures emphasized the importance of rhetorical training, and today’s world is crowded with novel technologies of multimodal communication, from television to social media, creating an unprecedented trove of digital records. Communication skills involve higher-order cognition, precisely timed movements, delicately modulated sounds, conceiving of the mental states of others from moment to moment, dynamically coordinating with other agents, and a high level of contextual awareness (Duranti and Goodwin 1992; Clark 1996).
- Inhabiting a role (which everyone does, variably, all the time; consider also acting).
- Story as a mental operation. See The Literary Mind.
- Mental spaces. A mental space is a small bundle of conceptual structure assembled for the purpose of the construction of meaning. Mental spaces are sewn together in what we might think of as a mental web. A mental web has mental spaces and connections between them, and we build more mental spaces and more connections as we think about something. For example, “My brother-in-law, the stockbroker, and his family will be traveling from San Francisco to Cleveland for Thanksgiving for a massive family reunion, and we need to learn the time of their arrival so that we can drive down to pick them up” will prompt for many mental spaces. There might be one mental space in which I drive my car through complicated holiday traffic, another in which I stop at the appropriate gate at the arrival deck of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and so on. Typically, we cannot hold all these spaces equally active simultaneously in mind. As we think, we focus on one or another mental space in the mental web at a time. The mental spaces that we have activated recently will remain latent, which is to say, easier to activate.
Our readings will emphasize basic mental operations that operate throughout all media. We will look at patterns of human cognition that are ancient to human beings and upon which media have converged for powerful, immersive effect. Background: Modern human beings today live and thrive surrounded by media, despite the fact that archeological evidence for robust mediation seems to be relatively recent, reaching back to only 50,000 or perhaps 100,000 years ago (although there are sporadic and largely uninterpretable archeological examples of human-made markings considerably before that time, as at Blombos Cave and at Bilzingsleben). How does the mind work to invent and understand media even though mediation is—unlike vision, hearing, motion, force, and so on—not a robust part of human operation before the Upper Paleolithic Age?
In this class, we will adopt at all moments the cognitive research viewpoint. It is the sole viewpoint in this class: we are never interested primarily in a particular piece of data—a painting, film, poem, TV broadcast, cartoon. Human beings are naturally pulled into individual artifacts—this sculpture, that photograph, that advertisement, that video game. But our focus in this class is always something about the human mind and how it works; we want evidence, but never any particular evidence. Always ask yourself as you are making a point in the class, "If all the data I am looking at suddenly disappeared, or never existed, would it make any difference to what I am saying?" If it does, you are on the wrong track. If you are ever talking just about this or that piece of media, you are on the wrong track (for this class). For human mental operations, there is always a great deal of data, a great deal of evidence, a great many artifacts, and, given limitations of time, you will always be looking at only the smallest fraction of it. If anything you are saying depends on that fraction, re-think your focus. The media themselves are the data for what we are exploring. We are not interested in them per se. Be especially wary of deciding to present some piece of media you just love; in such a condition, it is very difficult to keep focus where it belongs—on the mind, not on the media. So, for your first presentation, make sure you are discussing a question about higher-order human cognition for which there is No Robust Animal Model. The piece of media you present is not the object of study; it is only something that helps you see the general question and possible answers. What is that question?