How to read a mind

12 Mar 2014 16:55:45.807

PA 68/14

Have you ever wanted to know why you can become so attached to literary characters? A brand new free online course from The University of Nottingham could reveal the answers.

The University is part of FutureLearn — an online platform offering free course content from the UK’s top universities, which had its official launch last year.

This latest offering from the University looks at how we read and model fictional minds, and is being led by the School of English.

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The course offers an introduction to what is known as cognitive poetics. Taking our best current knowledge of how our minds and language work, this course takes you through key questions of literature and reading.

‘How to read… a mind’ is the first in a series of ‘how to read…’ courses which will be presented by applied linguists, discourse analysts and literary critics at the University.

Professor Peter Stockwell, from the School of English, is leading the course. He says: “In everyday life we don’t have telepathy, we don’t have a voice in our heads telling us what other people think and feel and see. In literary fiction though, it is as though we have this ability, we know what literary characters think and feel and believe, and sometimes this relationship becomes so rich, that it’s almost real.”

“We get upset with people, we dislike them, they make us cry and they make us laugh. Sometimes the loss of them makes us grieve. It’s as if they take on a life of their own. It’s as if they are as real as real people. How can this be?

“Fictional minds, real minds and your mind are not so different and we deal with all people in more or less the same way. That includes ourselves and fictional minds and it also includes animal minds and the way we deal with inanimate objects. Through this course, we are going to discover how all this works. We’ll use our current best knowledge of language and mind to explain how we make characters real, and how we are immersed and absorbed in to literary worlds.

“We’ll discover that a little knowledge about cognition and linguistics can take us a long way, and we’ll understand a little more fully, how to read fiction, how to read people (including ourselves) and really, how to read a mind.”

This course is free to undertake and starts on 17 March for a duration of two weeks and will require three hours of participation a week. Registration is now open.

In advance of the course starting you can join the conversation using #FLread or contact @PeterJStockwell on Twitter.

FutureLearn, the first UK-led provider of massive open online courses (MOOCS), offers learners around the world access to free, high-quality courses from its internationally renowned university partners. This is the second course to be offered by The University of Nottingham — the first, ‘Sustainability, Society  and You’ — was launched in January this year.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university among graduate employers, the world’s greenest university, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the World's Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits


Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

Email:  Phone:+44 (0)115 74 84 417 Location: University Park

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