Research Proposal

 

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I intend to construct my research paper on the platform of the American television series, Limitless (2015), and the British drama series, Sherlock (2016), as primary sources. Although both texts are prominent in different genres and for different cultures, they both depict interesting representations of consciousness and the intelligence. Limitless is a television adaptation of the Neil Burger film with the same title. The story follows Bryan Finch, who is a normal member of society, until he takes a neuro-enhancing drug called NZT and begins working with the FBI to solve cases. The BBC series, Sherlock is a contemporary adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. The show follows the self-proclaimed, “high functioning sociopath”, Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr. John Watson, as they solve mysterious crimes using the art of deduction. I would like to explore selected episodes of Limitless and the way that it portrays the projections of the main character’s consciousness as a physical manifestation, while on the neuro-drug NZT. Similarly, episode of season 3 has a strong theme of drug usage by the main character, accompanied by physical manifestations of his consciousness in order to solve a crime. I am especially interested in the connection between both main character’s usage of drugs and how that functions as an enabler in the enhancement of their consciousness. Do these shows assume that there is a tangible significance to drug usage and our perception of consciousness? Is there a significance (outside of sheer entertainment) to representing thought as physical? How does this relate to the mind (intangible) vs brain (tangible) argument? What can be learnt about how our consciousness is influenced by others, through the way that the shows portray the physical manifestations, as not only the main character, but other characters as well?

One source that I intend to use to further my research is Stanislas Dehaene’s, Consciousness and the Brain (2010). This source will help me to begin answering the question of external influence on the consciousness as well as understanding the simulation of consciousness separate from the brain. Another source that I am interested using is the journal article “Physical Consciousness Outside the Brain: Parasite Fermion Model for Substance of Consciousness”, by Takashi Taneichi. This source may be helpful in exploring the significance of portraying consciousness as a physical manifestation through its attempt to clarify the origin of conciseness being outside the brain using something called the parasite fermion model. Other sources that I hope to find would be journal articles on existing neuro-enhancers and their current or possible effects on the mind and physical brain. I would also like to find more information about other television programs and films that also follow this model of portraying consciousness.

I have attempted to search for existing scholarly works that discuss my primary sources on the subject of consciousness, however, I was unable to find any. Thus, I may be the first. My motive for writing on this particular subject is in part because I find the idea of physically representing consciousness to be interesting. I am also motivated to find out more on the subject of how we are able to shape and reshape our identity through our impressions of others and the way each show represents this by the main character’s impression of other characters as physical manifestations. We have been in the age of film and television for a while now, and I think that the we (often subconsciously) learn more about ourselves and the state of society through these mediums. I hope to contribute a new perspective to the argument about the separation of consciousness from the body by exploring the very literal way that my primary sources depict this idea.

Sir Gawain in the closet of Knights?

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When I first read the kiss scenes between Bertilak it was quite shocking. I did not expect any kind of homoerotic imagery such as provided by the kiss scenes, from a text that was written around the 14th century. Therefore, I appreciated Carolyn Dinshaw’s interpretation in the journal article, “A Kiss Is Just a Kiss: Heterosexuality and Its Consolations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, which gave me the opportunity to think more deeply on the subject.  Dinshaw argues that the inclusion of the kiss scene between the two men was a way of reinforcing heteronormativity. The article helped me to understand how important sexuality is for identity during that period. Dinshaw asserts that, “there is good  late medieval evidence that sexual acts were fundamental to an individual subject’s sense of self and location in larger cultural structures (207). Thus, sexual acts helped one to create their identity. Does this then mean that one is without an identity of they do not engage in any sexual activities? I think that it would be more appropriate to consider this “sense of self” to be a sense of the sexual and desiring self. This seems to be about sexual identity.

With the background knowledge that heteronormativity and performance of gender roles were important to the maintenance of the social structures in the medieval era, I found that I do not quite agree with Dinshaw. I think that the text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, uses the kiss scenes to subtly resist heteronormativity. The encounter between Gawain and the lady seemed to be a Biblical allusion to Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  In both stories, there is a reversal in the stereotypical gender roles where the lady is doing the chasing and the man is being chased. The story from the Bible results in Joseph fully resisting the seduction of his master’s wife and being thrown into jail. However, in Sir Gawain, the lady who is also married to Bertilak, the “master” of the castle at which Gawain was staying, successfully steals a kiss from him. I think that this parallel is important in the discussion of sexual normativity because it breaks the conventions of a typical lady, who should allow herself to be the damsel that is pursued by the knight.

Another way in which the text may be showing a resistance rather than reinforcement of heteronormativity is through the fact the kisses are passed on more than once. It can be argued that Gawain wanted to restore his masculinity by allowing the lady to attempt to seduce him again. However, given that he is aware that he must give whatever he receives to a man, yet does not refuse the kiss of the lady, indicates that he was not repulsed by the kiss with Bertilak. In fact, Gawain could have found an excuse to not kiss the lady a second or third time, he could have also found a way to receive something else to give to Bertilak, but he did not. There is significance in the repetition of the action as well as the increase in the amount of times the actions is repeated. This also relates to sexual identity because Gawain is resistant of the lady yet willing toward the man, which may indicate that he is discovering his own preferences. This can be read as Gawain’s resistance of the norm.

 

Read My Mind: Actually Don’t

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Savarese and Zunshine argue that theory of mind or mindreading is the involved cognitive adaptation that prompts us to explain observable behavior as caused by unobservable mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, and intentions (21). Savarese and Zunshine make a valid argument that mindreading “limits our perception”, however, it can also allow one to attempt to understand the other. I think that mindreading should be viewed as a way of empathizing and resonating with each other rather than as something that is used to essentialize the other. This is quite evident in Alberto Rios’ short story “The Back of My Own Head in a Crowd”. The main protagonist misses her husband who has somehow disappeared and finds him in the memories they shared. The story is complicated with the multiplicity of the self, which is found in others, including inanimate objects. This deeply represents the ways in which we interact with the world by forming connections between ourselves and the people or things around us. This connects to Theory of mind because in a way, this mental assessing of the other can be viewed as searching for ourselves or our own mentality in them.

It we inspect the way that we assess literature and the relationship of readers to characters and reading the mind of those characters or even the authors themselves, we can gain insight about a text, certain period, or people in doing this. In the case of someone who has a disability within the autism spectrum or otherwise, those who are unable to share their experiences may only be able to understand such people through theory of mind. There is the “dark side” to mindreading but there is also a side that allows us to coexist; it helps us to relate to the other. ‘

That being said, I really am torn because I also agree with the serious danger of essentializing that presents itself as “mindblindness”. This is actually evident in the aftermath of the recent election. Trump is now the president of America and he has put himself in a position to represent many of the things wrong with the world i.e. racism, prejudice, misogyny, bigotry, etc. While these traits may be desirable to many (of course…), the more rational population will likely assume that anyone who supports Trump, possesses or supports at the very least, such qualities as his. This is where tension arises between trying to understand for the sake of the other or for the sake of creating labels. For instance, in “Bartleby”, the Lawyer is very observant of the character, Bartleby, and even praises himself for being so good to someone who is so different. He labels Bartleby by saying, “I think he’s a little deranged” (237). This is a great example of how theory of mind can be misused. The lawyer is not trying to understand Bartleby, but diagnose his difference.

However, it is possible that the dangers of theory of mind or more specifically “mindblindness” can be pacifies by the good it can do in understanding each other.

The Curious Meeting of Three Strangers at a Bus Stop

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Michiko Kakutani: (Walks up to a bus stop holding the book Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon.)
Greg Olear: Excuse me, have you read that book.
Michiko: Why yes I have. I recommend that you read it too.
Greg: Ha! Unfortunately, I have. That book is utter trash!
Michiko: I beg your pardon? I happen to think that Mark Haddon does a great job in his portrayal of the main protagonist and constructs a plot that we can all learn from.
Greg: You’re clearly delusional lady! My kid has Asperger’s and this book is about the worst thing that can happen for his future. It perpetuates so many negative stereotypes about kids like him. I’ve done my research on this guy and he ain’t no expert. He even says so himself in a blog I read. None of the “aspie” critics think it’s accurate either!
William Schofield: Somebody needs a chill pill. Says under breath.
Greg: Excuse me?! You got something to say pal?
William: Well…um…actually I-I’ve actually read that book as well. And to-uh agree with the lady here, I thought it was pretty interesting.
Greg: Who asked you anyway.
William: Actually, you just did sir.
Greg: Listen, you don’t know what it’s like to be a father who has to not only worry about your kid who has a disorder but also the way people are gonna treat him because of this book.
William: You’re right. I don’t. But I do have Asperger’s syndrome and I think that Haddon’ s portrayals are pretty accurate. Although Haddon only ever mentions Christopher as having “some disability”, I can resonate with the character.
Michiko: I agree with you kid. I don’t think Haddon is claiming to be an expert here, but he’s showing that he sympathizes with the character and this novel may be an attempt to understand the disorder a little better.
William: Exactly.
Greg: Forget you both! No one cares what you two think anyway! My son now has to live with the damage done by Haddon’s book and that’s that. Walks to other side of bus stop.
William: Poor guy. He must be taking the news of his son having Asperger’s pretty badly.
Michiko: Yeah

I especially wanted to write about Greg Olear and William Schofield because they contrasted so well. Olear’s tone made it seem like he was yelling through his entire review and it was clear that he only began to really care about Haddon’s novel after the diagnosis of his son with Asperger’s. Schofield was the perfect contender because he has Asperger’s just like Olear’s son. This contrast really made me think about Murray and how he argues that all autistic people are individuals and therefore experience the disorder differently. While many of the critics that Olear mentions do not think Haddon gives an accurate portrayal of people with Asperger’s, Schofield does. He also does so in a somewhat objective way, by making a comparison specifically about having “some kind” of disability. This shows that Haddon’s novel is subjective and may resonate with some while rebounding off others.