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Introduction

How do we read and model fictional minds? Introducing cognitive poetics: the application of cognitive science to literary reading.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsWelcome to the University of Nottingham. I'm Peter Stockwell, Professor of Literary Linguistics in the School of English. In everyday life, sadly, we don't have telepathy. We don't have a voice in our heads telling us what other people think and feel and see. In literary fiction, though, sometimes it is as if we have this ability. We know what fictional characters think and feel and believe. Sometimes this relationship gets so rich that it's almost real. We get upset with people, we dislike them, they make us cry, they make us laugh. Sometimes the loss of them makes us grieve. It's as if they take on a life of their own. It's almost as if they're as real as real people.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 secondsHow can this be? Fictional minds and real minds and your mind are not so different. We deal with all people in more or less the same way, and that includes ourselves, and it includes fictional minds, and it even includes animal minds and the way we deal with inanimate objects. Do you talk to your cat or your dog? Have you ever shouted at your car or your computer? Do you talk to yourself? We're going to discover how all this works. We'll use our current best knowledge of language and mind to explain how we make characters real and how we are immersed, absorbed into literary worlds.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds We'll discover that a little knowledge about cognition and about linguistics can take us a long way, and we'll understand a little more fully how to read fiction, how to read people, including ourselves, and, really, how to read a mind.

About the course

This course offers an introduction to what has come to be known as cognitive poetics. Taking our best current knowledge of how our minds and language work, this course takes you through key questions of literature and reading: why do we feel anything for fictional characters? Why do we get angry, moved, irritated, annoyed or sentimental about imaginary people in imagined worlds? Why do the lives of imaginary minds living in fictional bodies seem to matter so much to readers? The answers to these questions are surprising and empowering.

How to Read a Mind is part of a series of ‘how to read’ courses which are being presented by applied linguists, discourse analysts and literary critics at The University of Nottingham. We recently ran How to Read Your Boss, and there will be more in future.

In advance of the course starting you can join the conversation using #FLread or contact @PeterJStockwell on Twitter.

Requirements

There are no previous requirements needed to take part in this course.

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You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats — to show that you’ve taken part.