A little background on yours truly: I am a thirty-something humanities doctoral student, living in the Pacific Northwest, although I am originally from the Upper Midwest. I moved here for graduate school about six years ago; after receiving an M.A. in English Literature, I decided to press on and pursue a Ph.D., where my focus is on early modern English stage drama, with a nice side of contemporary cognitive science tossed in for good measure. I am recently engaged to the most fantastic woman I know, an accomplished violinist and violist as well as a brilliant scholar of early twentieth-century orchestral music.
I’ve named this blog “The Cognitive Turn” because this is exactly the direction that my work and interests have taken — a turn towards questions driven by, aimed at, and interested in understanding the way our cognitive faculties work and shape the world around us. The world we know is, after all, a creation of the mind. My goal is to better understand how the human mind works, how it processes a never-ending stream of sense-data and turns it into a narrative in which we, as individuals, engage and interact with one another. It may seem at first glance as if this interest is decidedly at odds with a professional focus on literature from the early modern period (for those outside the field, I’ll just offer a rough definition of this particular era as covering the years 1500 – 1660, or the dawn of the sixteenth-century through the Restoration period). However, I find the combination of these two interests to be endlessly fascinating and endlessly productive. This is the era, after all, of the great essayist, philosopher, and all-around man of letters, Michel de Montaigne, who famously took as his motto the question “Que Scay Jay,” or “What do I know.” I appreciate the way this phrase encapsulates Montaigne’s thirst for knowledge, his eagerness to explore new horizons (even from the safety of his favorite chair), and his insistence on the idea that the true life of the mind lies in asking questions — in never being satisfied that a single answer can or will suffice, in never believing that a “narrow focus” is a positive thing, and in always testing the limits of his own abilities. Most of all, I appreciate the way this question implores us to never stop asking questions about ourselves — who and what we are, what we know, where we’ve been, and where we want to go.
Like Montaigne, I love the “big questions,” the questions that seek to challenge our broadest assumptions about how ourselves, the world, and our place in it are connected. Thus, I use cognitive science to continually challenge what I know about myself, my interactions with others, and the world I live in.
But of course, my interests consist of more than just hours spent in libraries scanning through volumes of literary criticism and neurological papers, or seated at the computer attempting to distill data into a meaningful, articulate, scholarly narrative. I love the outdoors (one of the many reasons that I chose the Pacific Northwest), good food, good drinks, and good friends — all of which, I am happy to note, I enjoy in abundance! And of course, I am also prone to turning my gaze towards various facets of pop culture — music, film, television, and so on. The “cognitive turn,” after all, takes as given the idea that the narrative we experience as our lives, constructed by an embodied, conscious mind, is shaped by all elements of its environment. Shakespeare has contributed much to what I know and who I am — but so has the Lord of the Rings trilogy, grunge music, John Coltrane, Edward Hopper, Caravaggio, and more than a few comic books and graphic novels, and these elements, too will make their appearances here in due time, I’m sure.
So thanks again for stopping by, and I hope to see you back here again soon!