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Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
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The Neurology of Narrative

Kay Young, PhD
Department of English, UC Santa Barbara

Jeffrey Saver, MD
Department of Neurology, UC Los Angeles

Narrative is the inescapable frame of human experience.  While we can be trained to think in geometrical shapes, patterns of sounds, poetry, movement, syllogisms, what predominates or fundamentally constitutes our consciousness is the understanding of self and world in story.  Not only our texts, but also our lives, gain meaning only through narrative-motivated words, words that acts as a story with a coherent sense of wholeness bound to a beginning, middle and end, as a series of events situated diachronically and with referential specificity, wrapped together by a governing sense of consequence or logic, enacted by agents, and structured by a discourse that defines a point of view. But while thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Barthes, and Bruner have all recognized the centrality of narrative in human cognition, all have scanted its neurobiologic underpinning.  Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience suggest that the creation of narrative in the human central nervous system is mediated by a regionally distributed neural network. Fundamental components of this network include 1) the amygdalo-hippocampal system, responsible for initial encoding of episodic and autobiographic memories, 2) the left peri-Sylvian region where language is formulate, and 3) the frontal cortices and their subcortical connections, where individuals and entities are organized into real and fictional temporal narrative frames. To illustrate this emerging schema of how the brain narratively organizes experience, we describe four types of dysnarrativia, states of narrative impairment experienced by individuals with discrete focal damage in different regions of the neural network subserving human self-narrative. Patients with these syndromes illustrate the inseparable connection between narrativity and personhood.  Brain injured individuals may lose their linguistic or visuospatial competencies and still be recognizably the same persons.  Individuals who have lost the ability to construct narrative, however, have lost their selves.
 
 

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Friday Program
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
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