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Stories and the Brain

The Neuroscience of Narrative

Paul B. Armstrong

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This book explains how the brain interacts with the social world—and why stories matter.

How do our brains enable us to tell and follow stories? And how do stories affect our minds? In Stories and the Brain, Paul B. Armstrong analyzes the cognitive processes involved in constructing and exchanging stories, exploring their role in the neurobiology of mental functioning.

Armstrong argues that the ways in which stories order events in time, imitate actions, and relate our experiences to others' lives are correlated to cortical processes of temporal binding, the circuit between action and…

This book explains how the brain interacts with the social world—and why stories matter.

How do our brains enable us to tell and follow stories? And how do stories affect our minds? In Stories and the Brain, Paul B. Armstrong analyzes the cognitive processes involved in constructing and exchanging stories, exploring their role in the neurobiology of mental functioning.

Armstrong argues that the ways in which stories order events in time, imitate actions, and relate our experiences to others' lives are correlated to cortical processes of temporal binding, the circuit between action and perception, and the mirroring operations underlying embodied intersubjectivity. He reveals how recent neuroscientific findings about how the brain works—how it assembles neuronal syntheses without a central controller—illuminate cognitive processes involving time, action, and self-other relations that are central to narrative.

An extension of his previous book, How Literature Plays with the Brain, this new study applies Armstrong's analysis of the cognitive value of aesthetic harmony and dissonance to narrative. Armstrong explains how narratives help the brain negotiate the neverending conflict between its need for pattern, synthesis, and constancy and its need for flexibility, adaptability, and openness to change. The neuroscience of these interactions is part of the reason stories give shape to our lives even as our lives give rise to stories.

Taking up the age-old question of what our ability to tell stories reveals about language and the mind, this truly interdisciplinary project should be of interest to humanists and cognitive scientists alike.

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Stories and the Brain

Paul B. Armstrong

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Reviews

Reviews

Stories and the Brain is a well-researched, engaging discussion on what narrative theory and neuroscience stand to gain from continued collaboration.

A very valuable addition to the field. In this remarkably well-researched and theoretically sophisticated book, Armstrong discusses central issues and concerns in cognitive literary criticism. Positioning himself forcefully and convincingly, he challenges prior literary theorists, debunking fashionable yet unevidenced claims. It takes a project such as Armstrong's to explain why perspectives that instrumentalize and thereby trivialize literature must be put into question.

Offering an excellent discussion about narrative in the context of embodied neuroscience, Stories and the Brain demonstrates a nuanced understanding of an extensive range of experimental science. An impressive book.

In Stories and the Brain, Paul Armstrong persuasively and astutely demonstrates that the goals of theories of neuroscience and narrative will only be met through mutual engagement by scholars in the two domains. This book offers provocative challenges to prevailing dogma and advances innovative claims to displace it.

In this deeply learned and unfailingly thoughtful contribution to narrative studies, Paul Armstrong explores what neuroscience, narratology, and narrative can do for each other. In so doing, he develops a distinctive and powerful neurophenomenological model of narrative that deserves the attention of the international community of narratologists.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue
Chapter 1. Neuroscience and Narrative Theory
Chapter 2. The Temporality of Narrative and the Decentered Brain
Chapter 3. Action, Embodied Cognition, and the As-If of Narrative

Acknowledgments
Prologue
Chapter 1. Neuroscience and Narrative Theory
Chapter 2. The Temporality of Narrative and the Decentered Brain
Chapter 3. Action, Embodied Cognition, and the As-If of Narrative Figuration
Chapter 4. Neuroscience and the Social Powers of Narrative
Epilogue
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
Paul B. Armstrong
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Paul B. Armstrong

Paul B. Armstrong is a professor of English at Brown University. He is the author of several books, including Conflicting Readings: Variety and Validity in Interpretation and Play and the Politics of Reading: The Social Uses of Modernist Form.