- Interdisciplinary Adventures in Consciousness Studies
Interdisciplinarity has long been a buzzword among scholars and university administrators eager to forge synergistic ties across academic disciplines. Although scholars in the humanities have drawn from other disciplines to cultivate and refine their methodologies for decades, recent years have seen an increased desire to use advances in the sciences and social sciences to aid humanistic enquiry, as well as a corollary, though markedly less fervent, desire among scientists and social scientists to apply humanistic methods to the study of non-humanistic academic discourses. The three texts reviewed in this article each participate in these endeavours in order to explore various aspects of consciousness and subjectivity. [End Page 503]
The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives is a collection of nineteen essays on memory written by practitioners of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, literary studies, musicology, and art history. Its origin was the Interdisciplinary Memory Symposium in Neuroscience and the Humanities held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2007, which was organized by Suzanne Nalbantian. The essays in the volume, written by scientists, do substantially less to engage humanistic topics or methods than those composed by humanists do to engage the science of memory, which is probably a result of the long tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and the equally long tradition of scientific disciplines defining themselves by their characteristic though ever-changing methodologies. Nevertheless, some of the volume's scientific contributions comment insightfully about various works of art, literature, and music, and about the process of artistic creation in general. Moreover, the volume itself, and especially its introduction, will no doubt catalyze future interdisciplinary enquiry by focusing on the mutually beneficiary nature of conversations between humanists and scientists on memory. Like The Memory Process, Narrated Communities, Narrated Realities: Narration as Cognitive Processing and Cultural Practice is a collection of essays emerging from a conference. Its twelve essays focus on the role of narration in various discursive communities including academic disciplines such as particle physics, philosophy, and psychotherapy, as well as literary texts and works of visual and musical art. Unlike The Memory Process, Narrated Communities is united by a common methodological approach, cultural studies, through which its contributors "try to encompass the various scientific and scholarly fields in which concepts of narration are at stake" (7). In so doing, they explore "how narratives-communicated either orally or by means of other media-affect social practices" in and outside of academia (7). Finally, Drivetime: Literary Excursions in Automotive Consciousness is a single-author study on automotive consciousness, especially as reflected in a wide variety of twentieth-century literary texts. Lynne Pearce develops a unique methodology that mixes a cultural studies approach with insights from phenomenology to explore the many ways in which driving both spurs on and symbolizes cognition. Taken together, these three books reveal the many ways that interdisciplinarity can enhance our understanding of various facets and capabilities of consciousness including memory, narration, and mobility.
I. Sciences, Art, and Memory Studies
Recent decades have seen huge advances in the scientific study of memory, which have taught us much about the molecular, synaptic, and genetic processes through which memories are formed, modified, and lost. The first section of The Memory Process, "Scientific Foundations," details the recent history of these developments and the current areas of enquiry in which scientists struggle. In the first chapter, [End Page 504] Yadin Dudai discusses the long search for the engram, a term originally coined by Richard Semon to describe the enduring physical changes in the organism effected by the recording of a...