Cognitive Cluster

The advent of neuroscience and artificial intelligence is reshaping our world today, creating a dramatic shift in how we think about what it means to be human. From regarding an individual as defined by their thoughts and feelings, modern emphasis is falling increasingly on neurobiological algorithms and big data sets. The very meaning of the mind, free will and human values are undergoing deep alteration. At this critical juncture, it is vital that humanists participate in the development of a shared intellectual enterprise to ensure that scientific developments take place in the context of human values --- but much of the ‘cognitive revolution’ still has to make its full impact on the typical student. 

UC Santa Barbara's Cognitive Cluster is a collection of courses that seek to provide an account of modern neuroscience and its implication for the humanist with little or no knowledge of the topic, emphasizing literature as that which engages most sharply with the model of the mind emerging from accelerating technological and scientific advances. The courses will focus on literature, and the significant contribution it can make to the neurobiological and computer sciences on the most subtle aspects of social perception, memory, emotion and cognition. Students from all majors are invited to enroll in the three courses offered in Summer 2021, though upper-division standing or Writing 2 are prerequisites. 

ENGL 170SB: Story and the Brain

This interdisciplinary course about the power of storytelling aims to provide students with an understanding of how storytelling shapes our minds, and how our minds shape the stories that we tell. We will explore topics such as empathy, emotion, mind-reading, memory, and imagination, and how they relate to narrative by reading foundational works from the cognitive sciences alongside novels, graphic narratives, TV shows, and poetry from the 20th and 21st centuries. This 4-unit course counts toward the Literature and Mind Specialization. Click here to visit the course website. 

ENGL 171LE: Literature and Emotion

What are emotions? This course provides students with an opportunity to engage in detailed interdisciplinary study of significant developments in the history of "emotion." Examining literary texts from the early modern period up to the twenty-first century, we will be addressing the concept of emotion as presented in a variety of forms and genres, alongside key findings in cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Together, these materials refute the traditional opposition between emotion and rationality and reveal the extent to which emotion is an inextricable part of everyday cognition. Assignments for this course are designed to increase interdisciplinary literacy and develop skills of practical criticism. This 4-unit course counts toward the Literature and Mind SpecializationClick here to visit the course website.

ENGL 190CA: Cognitive Approaches to World Literature

Your brain hasn't changed for 50,000 years. Writing has only existed for 5,000 years. What are we to make of that massive gap? In this class students research world literature to understand our species' cognitive design. Studying literature from across the globe together with cognitive neuroscience will explain how universal cognitive capacities actually support local environmental variations in language, script and genre. Students taking this course will be exposed to cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and gain foundational skills that can help with the study of literature and emotion (ENGL 171LE), and storytelling and the brain (ENGL 170SB). This 4-unit course counts toward the Literature and Mind Specialization. Click here to visit the course website.