World Report

Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts

By Margaret Freeman

Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts (MICA) was founded as a nonprofit organization in 2008 by Mark Turner and Donald and Margaret Freeman to support and promote research in the interrelation of the cognitive sciences and the arts. The institute offers a venue for small gatherings outside the context of formal programming for informal discussions that enable closer connections among scholars engaged in similar research and provide opportunities for exploring further collaborations.

The Institute’s first symposium on Literary Reading and Emotion was held on July 13-14, 2008. Hosted by Don and Margaret Freeman, it was attended by Jan Auracher (Munich), Sally Banes (Seattle and Philadelphia), Nöel Carroll (New York and Philadelphia), Ellen Dissanayake (Seattle), David S. Miall (Edmonton), Keith Oatley (Toronto), Reuven Tsur (Tel Aviv) and Willie van Peer (Munich). Papers reflecting work in progress had been circulated beforehand so that participants could orient themselves to each other’s work. Along with the description and possible issues for discussion that David Miall had prepared, these papers served as a basis for ensuing conversations among the group.

Ideas were shared in general sessions, over meals, and among individuals as participants walked the grounds, relaxed outdoors in the wonderful weather we had during the symposium, or spent time in the reading room. Each participant brought somewhat different skills to the table: neurobiology with Jan, dance and theater with Sally, philosophy with Nöel, evolutionary psychology and the arts with Ellen, empirical research in literary reading and emotion with David, human development and applied psychology with Keith, cognitive poetics with Reuven, intercultural hermeneutics with Willie. Focusing on the question of what it means to experience literature rather than interpret it, discussions ranged over the role of feeling and the question of empathy in responding to literary texts, and ways in which prosodic elements contribute to the forms of emotion in poetry.

In his blog on July 16, 2008, Keith Oatley wrote describing the symposium: “In poetry and some prose works, metrical and phonetic properties of a text enable foregrounding, and can also themselves have emotional effects. One formulation we reached was that literariness involves not only a recognition of something special by means of the language of a literary text, but that metrical and phonetic attributes are able to set up a frame that can act in counterpoint to the semantics of what is read. This kind of counterpoint can contribute to the destabilization of habitual expectations followed by a reformulation—a sequence that has the form of an emotion—which thus can add to the freshness and emotional qualities of what is read.”

At the end of the two-day event, participants worked on a “Manifesto” that expresses dissatisfaction with predominant pedagogical approaches to the arts and calls for an interdisciplinary approach that would integrate scientific and humanistic enquiries into a new orientation focusing on experiential and emotional aspects of the arts. It proposes to reopen and reexamine theories of the fundamental nature of the various arts. To this end, the group invites proposals for conferences, workshops, and panels, and further exploratory symposia that could be held at Myrifield. The text of the Manifesto and further information may be found at the Institute's website and blog.

Looking forward, MICA hopes to capitalize on its location and to expand the range, scope, and significance of its multidisciplinary activities. The institute will always focus on the synthesis of the arts with the findings of contemporary aesthetic theory and scientific knowledge broadly construed. As the interests and work of participants develop, MICA will publish multidisciplinary papers under its own imprint, and it will seek to make aspects of its programs available to the community.

Under consideration for next summer is a focus on iconicity in the arts, in conjunction with the Seventh International Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature 9-14 June 2009 in Toronto ( Groups interested in organizing a meeting at MICA should contact Margaret Freeman at