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In our poetic minds: integrative cognition, imagination, and creativity

When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes.

T. S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets”, Times Literary Supplement, 20 October 1921

Blending and Conceptual Integration

we argue that conceptual blending underlies and makes possible all these diverse human accomplishments, that it is responsible for the origins of language, art, religion, science, and other singular human feats, and that it is as indispensable for basic everyday thought as it is for artistic and scientific abilities.

G. Fauconnier and M. Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. 2002. New York. Basic Books. 

POEMIND carries out a comparison of multiple phenomena of creativity and imagination across literary and ordinary discourse, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The overarching goal is to improve our understanding of how the unrivalled human capacity for integrative cognition, that is, for integrating disparate experiences and knowledge structures into novel conceptual wholes, shapes creativity and imagination, especially in language. How do we go from disperse feathers to Daedalus’ wings? Is this creative process always poetic in some sense, or can we clearly distinguish between “the poet and the ordinary man”?

The outstanding human capacity for integrative cognition has received many names, such as bisociation (Koestler), cognitive fluidity (Mithen), or combinational creativity (Boden), but it is Fauconnier and Turner’s blending theory that has provided a systematic theoretical framework for beginning the exploration of its principles and patterns. POEMIND investigates both these patterns and principles and how they are used for poetic purposes, often by taking them to their limits.

POEMIND addresses the gradient ranging from poetic to non-aesthetic linguistic usages as well as the contrast with non-verbal forms of expression, asking two main questions:

  • How do the principles of integrative cognition give rise to dynamic patterns within rich contexts and oriented towards specific goals?
  • How are those patterns and principles exploited for the purposes of what gets called poetic discourse? 
Daedalus and Icarus, antique bas-relief; in the Villa Albani, Rome. Image: Alinari/Art Resource, New York

Therefore, we are asking no less than what makes human beings creative and imaginative. But we are also asking how these integrative capacities are taken to their limits to produce the aesthetic and affective effects of verbal art, as opposed to everyday communication. So what makes humans human and what makes the poetic poetic. Not the easiest inquiry.

To address such challenging questions, POEMIND takes advantage of years of research from members of Daedalus and collaborators, to study various aspects of poetic and everyday expression: the representation of interactions, the use of spatial cognition for conceptualization, the construction of complex concepts such as time or emotions, the paterning of figurative language and thought, or the structuring of narratives, themes, and motifs, among other phenomena. Can we come up with an empirically-grounded theory that explains not just general principles and cross-cultural patterns, but also the intricate variability of creative practices across the board?


Selected publications

Pagán Cánovas, C. Forthcoming. Authors: Cognitive patterns and individual creativity. In P. C. Hogan, L. P. Hogan & B. Irish (eds.) Routledge Companion to Literature and Emotion.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2019. More haste less speed: Cognition, creativity, and culture in temporal paradox. Time and Society 28(4): 1695–1715.

Pagán Cánovas, C. & Piata, A. 2018. The way time goes by: Conceptual integration and the poetics of time. In S. Csábi (ed.) Expressive Minds and Artistic Creations: Studies in Cognitive Poetics. New York: Oxford University Press. 57-78.

Pagán Cánovas, C. & Valverde Sánchez, M. 2017. Interactions with the beloved in Greek literature: Conceptual blending and levels of representation. Trends in Classics 9(1): 85–112.

Piata, A. & Pagán Cánovas, C. 2017. Powerful rhyme and sluttish time: A cross-linguistic study of time personification in poetic discourse. Language and Literature 26(1): 18-33.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2016. Rethinking image schemas: Containment and emotion in Greek poetry. Journal of Literary Semantics 45(2): 117–139.

Pagán Cánovas, C. & Turner, M. 2016. Generic integration templates for fictive communication. In E. Pascual & S. Sandler (eds.) The Conversation Frame: Forms and Functions of Fictive Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 45-62.

Pagán Cánovas, C., Valenzuela, J. & Santiago, J. 2015. Like the machete the snake: Integration of topic and vehicle in poetry comprehension reveals meaning construction processes. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 9(4): 385-393.

Mandler, J. & Pagán Cánovas, C. 2014. On defining image schemas. Language and Cognition 6:4. 510-532.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2014. Cognitive patterns in Greek poetic metaphors of emotion: A diachronic approach. In J. E. Díaz Vera (ed.) Metaphor and Metonymy through Time and Cultures. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 295-318.

Pagán Cánovas, C. & Jensen, M. 2013. Anchoring time-space mappings and their emotions: The timeline blend in poetic metaphors. Language and Literature 22:1, 45-59.

Pagán Cánovas, C. & Teuscher, U. 2012. Much more than money: Conceptual integration and the materialization of time in Michael Ende’s Momo and the social sciences. Pragmatics and Cognition 20:3. 546-569.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2012. ENSAYA’10 Prize for scientific & humanistic journalism. De bebés a poetas: integración conceptual, cognición espacial y la poesía de las emociones. [From babies to poets: Conceptual integration, spatial cognition, and the poetry of emotions]. In D. Sampedro Ruiz (ed), Un breve viaje por la ciencia: Ensaya 2010, V Certamen Teresa Pinillos de Ensayos de Divulgación Científica y Humanística. Logroño: La Rioja University Press.

Pagán Cánovas, C., Coulson, S. & Jensen, M. 2011. Timelines: Conceptual integration, emotion, and poetic effects. In J. Hois et al. (eds) Proceedings of CoSLI-2, the 2nd Workshop on Computational Models of Spatial Language. Dublin Institute of Technology. 62-63.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2011. The genesis of the arrows of love: Diachronic conceptual integration in Greek mythology. American Journal of Philology 132:4. 553-579.

Pagán Cánovas, C., Coulson, S. & Jensen, M. 2011. Timelines: Conceptual integration, emotion, and poetic effects. In J. Hois et al. (eds) Proceedings of CoSLI-2, the 2nd Workshop on Computational Models of Spatial Language. Dublin Institute of Technology. 62-63.

Pagán Cánovas, C. 2010. Erotic emissions in Greek poetry: A generic integration network. Cognitive Semiotics 6. 7-32.