Jane Austen Weekly: The Brain and Mind | Literary Imagination | Scoop.it

❁ “Among her countless accomplishments, Austen is making news in the field of neuroscience. The Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging (CNi) has been tracking the blood flow patterns in the brains of Austen readers. How? By having literature graduate students read the second chapter of Mansfield Park while getting brain images using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The subjects were asked to alternate styles, reading some passages for pleasure and others with the kind of close critical attention required in literature courses like my own. The preliminary results surprised the researchers. Not only does close reading create a distinctly different blood flow pattern in the brain, but it also activates diverse regions that stretch far beyond those associated with attention, in one example, even reaching into areas generally dedicated to physical activity. You may think you are sitting still with a book. Your brain does not.”

❁ “As it happens, Austen has a particularly effective technique for representing a character's consciousness (or for creating the fiction that such a thing exists). Known as free indirect discourse, or FID, the technique allows the narrator to enter a character's mind and adopt the language of her thoughts while retaining the objectivity of a third-person point of view. It is like a special lens that can simultaneously zoom inside consciousness and zoom out and see it from a distance. An MRI machine records activation in parts of the brain the subject isn't even aware of. FID represents aspects of a character's thoughts that the character herself does not know.”

❁ “FID passages also offer students extraordinary opportunities for close reading. Just imagine what it would look like if our analysis of Elinor's thoughts [in Sense and Sensibility] took place in an MRI scanner. See the diverse patterns in blood flow for the student's brain as she maps Elinor's flow from anger to sympathy to superiority to self-deception. And critics talk about the death of the humanities! The wasteful expense on "products" like English majors! If the Stanford study is right, close reading is literally fuel for thought, a crucial mechanism of neurological development and expansion.”

Earlier report on the MRI research on reading Austen: http://tinyurl.com/NarrativeAustenMRI1