Theory of Mind and Literature
Abstract from Howard Mancing's presentation
at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
September 5, 2000

"Theory of Mind" (ToM) is one of the most important concepts to emerge from the study
of cognitive, developmental, and comparative psychology in recent years.  A theory of mind
is the ability to understand that other people also have mental states such as thoughts, desires
and beliefs about the world.  We can infer—from gestures, expressions, intonation, and what
people say (or do not say)—what others are thinking.  Such inference is essential to the conduct
everyday life in all human social contexts.  In this presentation Professor Mancing will summarize
some of the most important trends in the study of theory of mind and will explore some implications
for literary theory.  Specifically, he will address the following questions:

o  What is the role of ToM in human evolution?
o  How and when does a ToM develop in children?
o  What would it be like not to have a ToM?
o  Do animals, especially primates, have a ToM?
o  What is the relationship between ToM and sympathy and empathy?
o  What is the relationship between ToM and the imagination?
o  What are the implications of ToM for understanding language?
o  How does ToM relate to semiotics, pragmatics, poststructuralism?
o  What are the implications of ToM for reading literary texts?
o  What does ToM have to do with the way we understand literary characters, narrators, and authors?

Howard Mancing is a well-known Cervantes scholar who in recent years has become interested in
the relationships between the study of literature and some of the latest advances in biology and
cognitive science.  He is currently at work on a book on the subject.

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