Lecture – Karin Kukkonen (Oslo): Probability Designs

SMART Cognitive Science Lecture

Karin Kukkonen (University of Oslo):

Probability Designs: Literature and Predictive Processing

Place & time
June 3rd, 16h00-17h30
Oudemanhuispoort, room F0.01, Amsterdam

How predictable are narratives? If we consider the situation at the beginning of the fairy tale, it seems rather unlikely that Cinderella will marry the prince. Only once the narrative has run its course, after a number of rather unexpected events (such as the intervention of a fairy godmother), does the outcome of the tale become actually probable. At the same time, however, the generic predictions of the fairy tale would lead readers to expect – as a matter of course — that the heroine will marry her prince.

These issues of predictability and probability tie in with the cognitive approach of so-called “predictive processing”. Predictive processing suggests that the human mind works through predictive, probabilistic models of the world which are constantly revised in light of new observations in a process called “Bayesian inference”. The approach has taken a hold in neuroscience (in the work of Karl Friston and Chris Frith), in developmental psychology (in the work of Alison Gopnik) and in philosophy of mind (in the work of Jakob Hohwy and Andy Clark). Suppose that also literature has something to do with Bayesian inferences? What would be the basic features of its designs on the probabilistic thinking of readers? And how can we distinguish between a sound guess of what is likely to happen next in a tale and the predictions that arise from generic expectations? In this talk, I shall outline how a probabilistic approach to cognition can shed light on these complex constellations of prediction and probability involved in literary narrative.

Karin Kukkonen is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo and Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Research Fellow. She has published on cognitive approaches to comics and graphic novels (Contemporary Comics Storytelling, 2013), embodied and probabilistic cognitive approaches to literary narrative, as well as on the eighteenth-century novel. Her forthcoming monograph A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics: Neoclassicism and the Novel brings the neoclassical criticism of the seventeenth and eighteenth century (that was informed by the “new science” of the time) into conversation with today’s cognitive approaches to literature.