Conference: Cognitive Futures in the Humanities

4-6 April 2013, Bangor University (

Rationale and Context

This first major conference provides a forum in order to bring together researchers from different humanities disciplines, whose work relates to, informs, or is informed by aspects of the cognitive, brain and behavioural sciences. It aims to address, in various ways, the following questions: what is the ‘cognitive humanities’? In what ways is knowledge from the cognitive sciences changing approaches to language, literature, aesthetics, historiography and creative culture? How have practices in the arts and humanities influenced the cognitive sciences, and how might they do so in the future? This conference will facilitate the exchange of new, innovative research at the intersection of established disciplines, such as philosophy, linguistics, literary studies, art history and cultural studies.

The ‘cognitive revolution’ has begun to make an impact on how humanists think about language, identity, embodiment and culture, in fields such as cognitive poetics, narratology, phenomenology and literary theory. This conference will assess the state of the field now and ask what new directions lie open for cognitive humanities research. If the cognitive sciences ask fundamental questions about the very nature of the ‘human’ that underpins the humanities, what new forms of knowledge and research practice might be produced in an emerging area called the ‘cognitive humanities’? How can the field be mapped? What methodological opportunities exist, and what value do cognitive paradigms add to traditional modes of inquiry? How may interests particular to the humanities, such as fiction and the imagination, influence the development of research in the cognitive sciences? In addressing these questions, the conference will generate exciting new communication across disciplines and help define an emerging international research community.

Special themed session: Cognitive Approaches to Art, Visual Culture and Performance.

A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Art

Dr Susan Ryland


This paper discusses the benefits and problems experienced in applying cognitive linguistic theory – in particular Conceptual/Cognitive Metaphor Theory – to contemporary art practice and analysis.  It considers how cognitive linguistic terms, definitions and models of thought need to be reviewed and adjusted to make them accessible, and useful to other areas of the humanities. It highlights the need for mono and multimodal examples of figurative thought to be drawn from across the humanities.  Referencing the artwork of British contemporary artist Cornelia Parker this paper demonstrates that the cognitive perspective enriches interpretations of artworks and our understanding of the relations between perceived and conceived things. It offers a new approach to art practice illustrated by the ongoing collaborative art-music project Soundings: thought over time.

Much can be learnt from a cognitive approach to the way artists (in the widest sense of the term) develop and communicate ideas. Cognitive analysis of art (which has parallels with discourse analysis) reveals underlying structures that provide insights into the mechanisms we use to think, problem-solve and communicate. Art exploits ambiguity and allows movement back and forth between cognitive mechanisms such as metaphor, metonymy and literality. It is through close analysis of the dynamic, embodied, context- and culturally-specific nature of thought that will help inform and strengthen cognitive linguistic theories and, in turn, assist in the  design and interpretation of studies into creativity in areas such as neuropsychology. Finally, this paper proposes some actions that may help open up cognitive studies to the wider humanities community.


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