Art, Fiction, and Aesthetics

For information about our 1999 conference, see below

Imagination and the Adapted Mind: The prehistory and future of poetry, fiction and related arts

Conference theme: A signal feature of all human societies is that people spend a great deal of time telling stories or thinking about imaginary worlds and fictional characters. Indeed, pretend play is now recognized as so central a feature of human cognition that its absence in a toddler is seen as diagnostic of a neurological impairment (autism). Yet almost all systematic research concerning human cognition has so far focused on processes designed to make inferences about the perceived world and to choose between alternative courses of action in it. From a functional, utilitarian, or evolutionary point of view, it is not clear why humans should care to create or contemplate make-believe worlds at all, let alone have the emotive hunger to do so and the economic willingness to support the vast current market for fiction (whether written, performed on the stage, projected to the movie screen, or televised). By exploring the nature and functions of the imagination, we hope to shed new light on the cognitive architecture necessary to "decouple" sets of mental representations from concurrent concern with their truth-value, to model elaborate counter-factual states of affairs, and to entertain cognitive and emotive reactions to imagined worlds without confusing their denizens and landscapes with those of the world known through memory and perception.

Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (2001). Does beauty build adapted minds? Toward an evolutionary theory of aesthetics, fiction and the arts. SubStance, Issue 94/95, 30(1), 6-27. PDF

Francis Steen, an alumnus of the CEP who is currently on the UCLA communications faculty, specializes in understanding entertainment from an evolutionary psychological perspective.

Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, an affiliate of the CEP, works on story-telling from an evolutionary psychological perspective email

Paul Hernadi, UCSB Dept of English, and co-organizer of the Imagination and the Adapted Mind conference Why is literature?

Porter Abbott, UCSB Dept. of English, evolution and narrative

Joseph Carroll, Dept. of English, University of Missouri, St. Louis on evolution and literary theory

Ellen Dissanayake on ritual and the arts

Frederick Turner, University of Texas, Dallas, on poetry

Mark Turner, Dept of Cognitive Sciences, Case Western Reserve, on conceptual blending, metaphor, literature etc.

Brian Boyd, University of Auckland, on evolution and the humanities

John Constable, Cambridge University, on evolution, meter, and verse

Robert Storey, on mimesis and the human animal

Lisa Zunshine, Dept. of English, University of Kentucky. Theory of mind and fiction.