FFC 100.26: Neuroscience and Literature:  A Cognitive Approach to Reading Fiction

Professor Richard Ruppel, Fall 2018

Meetings:  Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-3:45pm – Argyros Forum 206 C
Office:  428 N. Glassell, 101 
Office Hours:  Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday 11-12pm, & by appointment

Phone: (714) 997-6754 (office)
Updated December 5, 2018 

Weekly Syllabus
Useful Links

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·         Hunger Banquet, September 27, in All Faiths Chapel

·         Dr. Lisa Wade, "American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 7:30pm - 9:30pm.  In Sandhu Conference Rm D.

·         The Butterfly Effect: Jessica Lynn's Transgender Journey,” AF 209 ABC Wednesday, October 17, 2018 4:00pm - 6:00pm.

·         Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The Musco Center.  Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 7:30pm ($10 for students)

·         Documenting Hate in Charlottesville and Orange County.” Monday, October 29, 2018 7:00pm - 9:00pm.  Memorial Hall. 

Course Description & Objectives:  Literature has always been centrally concerned with character—Odysseus: clever, loyal, very stubborn; Don Quixote: chivalrous, honorable, slightly crazy; Hamlet: noble, bitter, deeply conflicted; Satan: proud, rebellious, grandly wicked; Elizabeth Bennet: bright, witty, affectionate; Mrs. Dalloway: so changeable, so psychologically rich, she can barely be contained within the novel.  As readers, we know the characters in stories and novels better than we know our friends and family, better, sometimes, than we know ourselves.  A cognitive approach to literature attempts to account for this and other miracles of reading. This semester, we’ll look at short stories from a cognitive perspective, informed by our readings in Oliver Sacks’s case studies and in articles concerned with neuroscience and literature, to explore discoveries in neuroscience that shed light on how writers write and readers read.

This course involves significant reading and writing, both informal (on our discussion board) and more formal (reflection essays).  It will be important for you to stay on top of the course assignments. 

Course Learning Outcomes: 

·         We will explore and begin to understand identity, narrative, memory, and other concepts from both a literary and a neuroscientific perspective.

·         We will hone our ability to think, read, and write critically about literature. 

FFC Program Learning Outcome: The student critically analyzes and communicates complex issues and ideas.


Oliver Sacks. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.
All other readings will be online and in the “Contents” section of our Blackboard pages. 

Course Requirements: 

Attendance:  Please make every effort to attend class.  Missing more than four sessions will adversely affect your grade, and students who miss six or more classes will fail the course.

Communication:  Whether online or in class, please be courteous and constructive.  I receive a large number of emails, so when emailing, please identify the course (FFC), your last name, and the subject in the subject line.  I will respond promptly to your emails; please respond promptly to mine. 

Reflective Essays:  We will discuss criteria for the reflective essays well before they are due. (There is a description of how to write a reflection and a sample reflection, on memory, in our Blackboard “Contents” section. Click here for another detailed definition of a reflective essay, with advice about how to approach it.) Generally, you will be asked to reflect on the ways clinical, neurological studies inform our understanding of literature. These essays should be submitted in hard copy and electronically, sent directly to my email address: ruppel@chapman.edu.    (Please don't use the Blackboard Drop-Box.) 

Late reflections will receive reduced grades, and I will not accept papers submitted more than a week late unless you provide a convincing explanation.  To pass this course, you must complete all four reflections.  If you are having difficulty completing a paper or a Blackboard post, let me know. 

I will accept a revision of one of your reflections, but you must schedule a conference with me to discuss that revision before you submit it.  I will average the grade of the original paper and the revision. 

Presentations:  Each of you will make two presentations with two or three partners. For the first, you will find one short story, case study, or critical essay for us to read beforehand and then lead a discussion of that work.  For the second, you will select a short story for us to read and then lead a discussion. 

Blackboard Discussion Board Posts:  I will assign Blackboard Discussion responses for many of the assigned readings. These responses will be due before we discuss the readings in class. 

Minutes:  Each of you will take minutes for two sessions, with a partner.  These will be due Monday of the following week, and I will then post them in Blackboard. 


              3 Reflections:  45% total - 15% or 22.5% each [the third reflection is optional]
              2 Presentations:  10% each
              Minutes:  10%
*: 10%
              Final:  15%

*This is primarily your grade on the Blackboard Discussion Board posts.  Here are my criteria for evaluating your posts:

1. The posting should respond as specifically as possible to the prompt (or you should indicate why you’re modifying the prompt).

2. The posting should reveal close engagement with the work under discussion.

3. The posting should contribute to the discussion, so later postings should not simply repeat earlier postings, and they should reflect some engagement with earlier postings. 

4. Postings should be brief but substantive. 

Computers, tablets, and phones in class:  You may use a computer or tablet to take class notes.  Otherwise, please do not use them in class.  And please keep your phone silenced and put away during class.     

Chapman University Academic Integrity Policy

Chapman University is a community of scholars that emphasizes the mutual responsibility of all members to seek knowledge honestly and in good faith.  Students are responsible for doing their own work, and academic dishonesty of any kind will be subject to sanction by the instructor and referral to the university's Academic Integrity Committee, which may impose additional sanctions up to and including dismissal.  (See the "Undergraduate Catalog" for the full policy.) 

Chapman's Students with Disabilities Policy:

In compliance with ADA guidelines, students who have any condition, either permanent or temporary, that might affect their ability to perform in this class are encouraged to inform the instructor at the beginning of the term. The University, through the Disability Services Office, will work with the appropriate faculty member who is asked to provide the accommodations for a student in determining what accommodations are suitable based on the documentation and the individual student needs. The granting of any accommodation will not be retroactive and cannot jeopardize the academic standards or integrity of the course.

Please see me if you have ANY concerns about completing any of the requirements of this course

Chapman Equity and Diversity Policy:

Chapman University is committed to ensuring equality and valuing diversity.  Students and professors are reminded to show respect at all times as outlined in Chapman’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy.  Any violations of this policy should be discussed with the professor, the Dean of Students and/or otherwise reported in accordance with this policy. 

Weekly Syllabus*

Week 1 – August 28-30: Introductions, Illness, & Identity
Week 2 – September 4-6: Illness & Identity

Week 3 – September 11-13: Illness & Identity.
Week 4 – September 18-20: Illness & Identity.  First student presentation Sept. 20.
Week 5 – September 25- 27:  Illness & Identity; second student presentation September 27. [3-5 page reflection on “Illness” and/or “Identity” due Sept. 27 or Oct. 2]
Week 6 – October 2-4: Illness & Identity; third student presentation Oct 4.

Week 7 – October 9-11: Memory; fourth student presentation Oct 11. [Library presentation October 9.] 
Week 8 – October 16-18: Memory; fifth student presentation Oct 18.
Week 9 – October 23-25:  Memory; sixth student presentation Oct 25.
Week 10 – October 30-November 1: Perceptions; seventh student presentation Nov. 1.

Week 11 – November 6-8: Perceptions; eighth student presentation Nov. 8.
Week 12 – November 13-15: Perceptions. [3-5 page reflection on “Memory” due Nov 13] Ninth student presentation Nov. 27. 


Week 13 – November 27-29: Groups 1-3 present their short stories Thursday, Nov.29.

Week 14 – December 4-6: Groups 4-6 present their stories Tuesday, December 4. Groups 7-9 present on their stories Thursday, December 6. [optional 3-5 page reflection on “Perceptions” due December 6]

Week 15 – Thursday, December 13:  Final—1:30-4pm.

*This syllabus may change, but I'll give you plenty of notice, and I'll keep the syllabus updated on the Web. 


For Thursday, August 30: Read Oliver Sacks, “The Disembodied Lady” (43-54).

For Tuesday, September 4:  Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.  Respond to the Blackboard question on the Discussion Board.  (If you’re not in Blackboard yet, send me your response via email – ruppel@chapman.edu.)  For a brief discussion of the story from a medical point of view, see Literature & the History of Neuroscience,” Mary Harrington. 

For Thursday, September 6:  Read “Witty Ticcy Ray” (The hyperlink takes you to the original version in The London Review of Books.  It’s on 92-101 of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.). 

For Tuesday, September 11:  Read “The Lost Mariner” (23-42) and “A Matter of Identity” (108-15).  

For Thursday, September 13:  Read Vladimir Nabokov’s “Symbols and Signs.”  By 9 am Thursday, respond to the Blackboard Discussion Board prompt, where I ask you to comment on the way the son’s mental illness is represented and treated in the story. 

For Tuesday, September 18:  Read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hydefor Thursday, September 20th.  (Group 1 will present Thursday.) 

For Thursday, September 20:  Read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.”

For Tuesday, September 25:  Read “The Possessed” (120-25 in Sacks). Remember that the first Reflection is due September 27. 

For Thursday, September 27:  Bring a hard copy of your reflection to class.  For advice about writing reflections, review the description and sample in Blackboard, in the Contents section, and you might also read this extended description of how to think about writing a reflection from the University of New South Wales in Australia.  Group 2 will present on Thursday. 

For Tuesday, October 2:  Read “Murder” (pp. 161-165 in The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), and Sacks’sThe Abyss: Music and Amnesia” (in The New Yorker, September 24, 2007).  If you decided to revise your first reflection, bring a final copy to class. 

For Thursday, October 4:  Read Vladimir Nabokov’s “First Love.”

For Tuesday, October 9:  No new reading.  Meet in Room 305 in Leatherby Library.

For Thursday, October 11:  Read “Funes the Memorious,” by Jorge Luis Borges.  You can find it both here and in the Contents section of Blackboard.   

For Tuesday, October 16:  No new readings.  We’ll finish discussing “First Love” and discuss “Funes the Memoriousin light of what we learned from Memory Hackers. 

For Thursday, October 18:  Read “The Door in the Wall,” by H. G. Wells.  Answer the question in Blackboard by 9am Thursday. 

For Tuesday, October 23:  No class meeting. 

For Thursday, October 25:  Read “A Passage to India” in Sacks (153-55). 

For Tuesday, October 30:  Read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” (8-22) & the first four chapters of “The Turn of the Screw,” a ghost story by Henry James. 

For Thursday, November 1:  Read “Hands” (59-65) and chapters 5-10 of “The Turn of the Screw.”

For Tuesday, November 6:  Finish “The Turn of the Screw.”  

For Thursday, November 8:  Respond to the question about “The Turn of the Screw” on the Discussion board by 9am. 

For Tuesday, November 13:  Bring a hard copy of your second reflection, and be sure to email a copy to me as well. 

For Thursday, November 15: No new reading. 

For Tuesday, November 27:  Read Rudyard Kipling, “The Finest Story in the World.”  Our last story before the presentations beginning November 29. 

For Thursday, November 29:  Review the stories for groups 1-3: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Door in the Wall,” and “Symbols and Signs.”  

For Tuesday, December 4: Review the stories for groups 4-6, “Jekyll & Hyde” and, once again, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

For Thursday, December 6:  Read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for Group 7, and review “Symbols and Signs” and “First Love” for Groups 8 & 9. 


Oliver Sacks

Illness & Identity: “The Disembodied Lady,” “The Man who Fell out of Bed,” “Witty Ticcy Ray,” “Cupid’s Disease,” “A Matter of Identity,” “Yes, Father-Sister,” “The Possessed,” “Murder,” “The Visions of Hildegard,” “Rebecca,” “A Walking Grove,” “The Twins,” “The Autist Artist,” “A Bolt from the Blue” (in The New Yorker, July 23, 2007). A near-death experience leads a physician to an obsession with music and a new life. Discussion of schizophrenia, beginning with his brother Michael. 

Memory:  “The Lost Mariner,” “Reminiscence,” “A Passage to India,” “The Abyss: Music and Amnesia” (in The New Yorker, September 24, 2007)

Perceptions: “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat,” “Hands,” “On the Level,” “Eyes Right!” “The President’s Speech,” “The Dog Beneath the Skin.” “Altered States: Self-Experiments in Chemistry” (Sacks’s experiences with mind-altering drugs, in The New Yorker, August 27, 2012). “Face Blind: Why are some of us terrible at recognizing faces?”  Another piece by Sacks in The New Yorker about his own experience with prosopagnosia. 

Short Stories:

Illness: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”; Nabokov, “Symbols and Signs.” 

Identity: Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” 

Memory: Rudyard Kipling, “The Finest Story in the World”;  Vladimir Nabokov, “First Love,” (Still Life with gilt Beer Tankard, Willem Claesz 1634 Borges); Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes.” [Content]; H.G. Wells, “The Door in the Wall” [audio recording]; Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle

Perceptions: Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw.”  [Scene from the 1999 BBC television adaptation, with Colin Firth and Jodhi May. The Innocents, the entire 1961 adaptation of the story with Deborah Kerr as the governess – a much-admired film.] Conrad Aiken, “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” 


Illness:  Literature & the History of Neuroscience,” Mary Harrington (On “The Yellow Wallpaper.”)  "Sacred Dangers: Nabokov's Distorted Reflection in "Signs and Symbols," by David Field, from Studies in Short Fiction (June, 1988): 285-293.  In Blackboard, “Contents.”  Anne Stiles on “The Rest Cure: 1873-1925.”  From the NY Times, October 15, 2015.  The Chains of Mental Illness in West Africa.”  A description of the treatment of mental illness in parts of Africa. NPR article concerned with the city of Geel, in Belgium, where people with schizophrenia are taken in by the town’s residents.   

Identity:  The Neuroscience of Immortality: Mileposts on a Long, Uncharted Road.”  Amy Harmon.  New York Times, 9/12/2015. “Will You Ever be able to Upload your Brain?” Kenneth Miller.  New York Times, 10/10/2015. 

Memory: “Borges & Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain,” Rodrigo Quian Quiroga. “Brains are different in people with highly superior autobiographical memory,” Science Daily, July 30, 2012. James McGaugh, interviewed on 60 Minutes.  How the Brain Works: the Brain’s Memory,” by Jonathon Leonard.  Your Brain and You: Learning and Memory.”  Janet Malcolm, “Six Glimpses of the Past: On Photography & Memory.”  In The New Yorker.   


Useful Links

·         Frank Bruni’s column on how to succeed in college.  (Hint:  my office hours are posted at the top of this page.)

·         Anil Seth, “How Does Your Brain Construct Your Conscious Reality?” (17 minute TED). 

·         Pilobolus Dance Company video.  Just for fun. 

·         Tourette Syndrome:  Described by young people.  From ‘Imi, a video about a young man with Tourette Syndrome who sings on The Voice. 

·         The limbic system via the Khan Academy. (Including a mnemonic involving a hippopotamus). 

·         A YouTube video describing neuroanatomy (12 minutes) by “Anatomy Zone.” Part 2 (8½ minutes).  Another YouTube from MIT showing the parts of an actual brain. 

·         The parietal and occipital lobes.  In “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” Dr. P’s strange agnosia (inability to interpret and process sensations) was caused by progressive damage to his occipital lobe.

·         Interviews with people suffering from schizophrenia.  Reducing the stigma of schizophrenia. 

·         On writing a reflection paper. 

·         Alva Noë, “How Art Reveals the Limits of Neuroscience.” Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 8, 2015.

·         Feats of memory:  Jake.  Deficits of memory: Video of a man (and his family) suffering from retrograde amnesia. Brief lecture on H. M., the most famous example of a man suffering from the condition. Brief description of the career of Brenda Milner, the person most responsible for creating the field of neuropsychology and an expert on memory.  Alan Alda’s story about EP, another famous person suffering from retrograde amnesia. Clive Wearing. More on Clive Wearing. 

·         A useful video on memory, focusing on the famous patient, HM. 

·         Categories of memory. 

·         Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly collection.

·         How the Brain Works.”   

·         The Beach family, on an invisible disability. 

Oliver Sacks

·         Ted Talk on hallucinations – a nice introduction to Oliver Sacks. 

·         PBS Newshour 1989 profile of Oliver Sacks.

·         Eulogies for Oliver Sacks: July 9, 1933-August 30, 2015:  Washington Post; New York Times; The Guardian; The Los Angeles Times

·         Peter Brook, The Man Who.  A play based on The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. Performed by Duke University students. 

·         Vincent Canby theatre review of The Man Who.  March 15, 1995, New York Times. 

Neuroanatomy and neurotransmitters

·         Cross-section of the brain showing the basal ganglia, thalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. 

·         Midbrain.

·         Neurotransmitters: Dopamine. 

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

·         Film of “The Yellow Wallpaper” via IMBd.  Approximately 20 minutes. 

·         How Doth the Little Busy Bee,” by Isaac Watts.  A poem alluded to in the story. 

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