Upcoming convocations: Jane Austen and sustainability

“Jane Austen knows we know Emma misunderstands Mr. Elton’s intentions towards Harriet.”

Did you follow that? How? Why? Those are questions scholars in both science and literature are contemplating.

Professor Lisa Zunshine of the University of Kentucky speculates that Jane Austen and other literary giants experimented with escalating levels of “deep intersubjectivity,” possibly even using the device to experiment with “our mind-reading capacities.”

Deep intersubjectivity is the process that occurs when people perceive not only each others’ consciousness, but also each others’ possible reactions to each others’ consciousness, from information in gestures, facial expressions, and the like.

The ability to understand these complicated triangulations of human experience is both an evolutionary adaption and something we, as humans, find “particularly satisfying,” says Zunshine.

In fact, this human process may “make literature as we know it possible,” she says. “The very process of making sense of what we read appears to be grounded in our ability to invest the flimsy verbal constructions that we generously call ‘characters’ with a potential for a variety of thoughts, feelings and desires and then to look for the ‘cues’ that would allow us to guess at their feelings and thus predict their actions.”

Interestingly, Jane Austen was a pioneer in the use of “deep intersubjectivity,” taking it to a deeper level than her predecessors. How and why are some of the questions Zunshine and others in the field called cognitive approaches to literature are working to answer. Zunshine is the author of several influential books within this field, including Why We Read Fiction (2006),Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible (2008), and a forthcoming volume,Getting Inside Your Head: Culture and the Theory of Mind.

While at Centre to deliver a lecture, Zunshine will meet students in psychology and philosophy as well as literature. This interdisciplinary event is the brainchild of the Mellon Working Group on Linguistics, which is sponsoring the event. “Our goal is to develop a new linguistics minor at the college,” says Mark Rasmussen, professor of English and chair of the Division of the Humanities. “As we worked together on this project, we became aware of the influential work of Professor Zunshine, which makes connections between cognitive psychology and literature, just as the science of linguistics connects cognition and language.”

Says Rasmussen, “It’s a pleasure for Centre to welcome Professor Zunshine to give a talk that can only be described as profoundly interdisciplinary. Often we think of the sciences and the humanities as being at odds with one another, but today much of the best work in the humanities draws on advances in the sciences. Professor Zunshine’s lecture, which will apply the insights of evolutionary psychology to the novels of Jane Austen, is an example of cutting-edge work that challenges the boundaries of both fields. I hope that many members of the Centre College and local communities, whether Austen fans or science buffs or both, will join us for this event.”

The lecture took place in Vahlkamp Theater, Monday, Oct. 25, at 7:00 p.m. This event was free and open to the public.

Speaker to discuss Sustainable Forests, Economic Growth and Energy

Perry County, Kentucky, will soon be the site of a new power plant—a wood-burning power plant.

Grant Curry, Fuel Procurement manager for ecoPower, will speak about the plant, which he hopes will begin to produce power in 2013. The wood-burning plant will produce enough electricity to supply 30,000 homes and is the first of its kind in the state.

Bioenergy, or fuel from biological sources, currently supplies about two percent of the nation’s power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, the agency estimates that by 2020, as much as 15 percent of the nations energy needs could be produced from bioenergy. Kentucky, one of the most heavily forested states in the nation, could play an important role.

This plant, however, was born primarily from a need to find a market for low quality, fire-damaged timber that currently covers much of Eastern Kentucky. Without a market for the low quality timber, high quality hardwoods can’t grow back, and the forestry business in the region is at a stalemate.

The plant will also provide a market for sawmill waste products. The hope is that by purchasing thousands of tons of sawmill waste each year, ecoPower will boost the areas logging, timber and transportation industries.

The burning of wood and re-growing of forests to replace them is considered a carbon-neutral process, an environmental goal that most power plants can only dream of. The careful sustainable management of the forests will mean the re-growth of healthier trees, the removal of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the long-term viability of the fuel supply.

“We’ve accomplished a great deal thus far, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done to bring the ecoPower project to fruition,” says Curry.

Grant Curry will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 in the Vahlkamp Theatre at Centre College. The program, sponsored by the student group ECCO (Environmentally Conscious Centre Organization) is free and open to the public.

By |2010-10-21T16:07:01-04:00October 21st, 2010|News Archive|