Thursday, December 06, 2007

Shakespeare meets Neuroscience

I took this hypothesis—about grammatical or linear shapes and their mapping onto shapes inside the brain—to a scientist, Professor Neil Roberts who heads MARIARC (the Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre) at the University of Liverpool. In particular I mentioned to him the linguistic phenomenon in Shakespeare which is known as "functional shift" or "word class conversion". It refers to the way that Shakespeare will often use one part of speech—a noun or an adjective, say—to serve as another, often a verb, shifting its grammatical nature with minimal alteration to its shape. Thus in "Lear" for example, Edgar comparing himself to the king: "He childed as I fathered" (nouns shifted to verbs); in "Troilus and Cressida", "Kingdomed Achilles in commotion rages" (noun converted to adjective); "Othello", "To lip a wanton in a secure couch/And to suppose her chaste!"' (noun "lip" to verb; adjective "wanton" to noun).

From The Shakespeared Brain, an exploration of the neurological effects of the Bard's functional shifting.

The author, English professor Philip Davis, wanders into speculative territory:
"When the brain is asked to work at more complex meanings, the localization gives way to the movement between the two static locations.

Then the brain is working at a higher level of evolution, at an emergent consciousness paradoxically undetermined by the structures it still works from."

The scientific rigor of this statement is doubtful. It will certainly annoy anti-dualists. However, if his speculation proves reasonable, it will locate meaning in the relation of things. The relational interplay of areas of the brain prefigures the relational interplay of persons. This suggests The nuptial meaning of the mind.

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