Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative

December 15, 2020
Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative

How do our brains enable us to tell and follow stories? And howdo stories affect our minds? In Stories and the Brain,Paul Armstrong analyzes the cognitive processes involved inconstructing and exchanging stories, exploring their role in theneurobiology of mental functioning.Armstrong argues that the ways in which stories order events intime, imitate actions, and relate our experiences to others' livesare correlated to cortical processes of temporal binding, thecircuit between action and perception, and the mirroring operationsunderlying embodied intersubjectivity. He reveals how recentneuroscientific findings about how the brain works—how it assemblesneuronal syntheses without a central controller—illuminatecognitive processes involving time, action, and self-otherrelations that are central to narrative.An extension of his previous book, How Literature Plays withthe Brain, this new study applies Armstrong's analysis of thecognitive value of aesthetic harmony and dissonance to narrative.Armstrong explains how narratives help the brain negotiate theneverending conflict between its need for pattern, synthesis, andconstancy and its need for flexibility, adaptability, and opennessto change. The neuroscience of these interactions is part of thereason stories give shape to our lives even as our lives give riseto stories.Taking up the age-old question of what our ability to tellstories reveals about language and the mind, this trulyinterdisciplinary project should be of interest to humanists andcognitive scientists alike.