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date: 05 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The claims that literary critics and theorists make about language, reading, emotions, and the social powers of literature are based on assumptions about cognition that can and should be tested against the relevant science. The findings of contemporary neuroscience will not settle all disputes about such matters, but the acceptance of some empirically tested postulates about the workings of the brain may at least rule some mistaken views out of bounds. The current scientific consensus is that language is a “bio-cultural hybrid” that develops through the interaction of inherited functions and anatomical structures in the brain with culturally variable experiences of communication and education. Any claims for cognitive or linguistic universality need to square with our bio-cultural hybridity. Brain-based, embodied cognitive processes constrain our experiences with literature, but they do not completely prescribe our responses or predetermine the effects of reading on our lives.

Keywords: neurobiology, embodied cognition, language, reading, emotions, plasticity, universals, phenomenology, intersubjectivity, empathy

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