FFC 100.20: Neuroscience and Literature:  A Cognitive Approach to Reading Fiction
Professor Richard Ruppel, Fall 2016
Meetings:  Tuesday/Thursday 11:30-12:45pm – Argyros Forum 206 A
Office:  428 N. Glassell, 101 
Office Hours:  Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday 10:30-11:30am, & by appointment

Phone:  (714) 997-6754 (office)
Updated April 28, 2017

Weekly Syllabus
Useful Links

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. (Click here for a detailed definition of a reflective essay, with advice about how to approach it. There is a sample reflection, on memory, in our Blackboard “Contents” section.) 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 essays 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 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:  15% each (the third 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 in class:  If you use a computer to take class notes, you may use a computer in class. Computers may only be used for class purposes. Otherwise, they should stay closed. 

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 30-September 1: Introduction, Illness, & Identity
Week 2 – September 6-8: Illness & Identity

Week 3 – September 13-15: Illness & Identity.
Week 4 – September 20-22: Tuesday, meet in Leatherby Library, 305.  First student presentation Sept. 22.
Week 5 – September 27- 29:  Illness & Identity; second student presentation September 29. [3-5 page reflection on “Illness” and/or “Identity” due Sept. 27]
Week 6 – October 4-6: Illness & Identity; third student presentation Oct 6.

Week 7 – October 11-13: Memory (We’ll watch Nova’s “Memory Hackers” on Tuesday and discuss the episode with Professor Bill Wright Thursday); fourth student presentation Oct 13.
Week 8 – October 18-20: Memory; fifth student presentation Oct 20.
Week 9 – October 25-27: Dr. James McGaugh visit. Memory; sixth student presentation Oct 27.
Week 10 – November 1-3: Perceptions; seventh student presentation Nov. 3.

Week 11 – November 8-10: [3-5 page reflection on “Memory” due Nov 10] Perceptions; eighth student presentation Nov. 10.
Week 12 – November 15-17: Perceptions.


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

Week 14 – December 6-8: Groups 4-6 present their stories Tuesday, December 6. Groups 7-8 present on their stories Thursday, December 8. [3-5 page optional reflection on “Perceptions” due December 6]

Week 15 – Monday, December 12:  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, September 1: Read Sacks, “The Disembodied Lady” (43-54).

For Tuesday, September 6:  Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” & “Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know,” (Patricia Cohen, New York Times). Respond to the question in Blackboard:  By 9am Tuesday, September 6, formulate one question about "The Yellow Wallpaper.” (If you haven’t been added to Blackboard yet, send your response to me and I’ll post it for you.)

For Thursday, September 8: Read “
Literature & the History of Neuroscience,” Mary Harrington, a brief explanation of how students can use literature – in this case, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” to understand the history of neuroscience. And read Sacks’s “Witty Ticcy Ray” (92-101). 

For Tuesday, September 13:  Read Vladimir Nabokov’s “Symbols and Signs.” Respond to the discussion question on Blackboard – which asks you to comment on the connection between illness and identity in the story – by Tuesday, 10am. You might start reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” which we’ll begin discussing Thursday, September 15. 

For Thursday, September 15:  Read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” 

For Tuesday, September 20: No new readings. MEET IN THE LIBRARY, room 305, on the third floor (behind the main elevator). Be sure to clear your reflection topic with me either verbally or via email.  The reflections papers are due Tuesday, September 27. 

For Thursday, September 22:  For the presentation Thursday, read “One Head, Two Brains,” by Emily Smith in The Atlantic Magazine.  And watch “You Are Two” on You Tube.  We’ll also continue discussing “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” 

For Tuesday, September 27:  Read Sacks, “The Lost Mariner,” 23-42, and “A Matter of Identity,” 108-115. Don’t forget to bring a hard copy of your first reflection to class. 

For Thursday, September 29:  Read Sacks, “The Possessed,” 120-125, and read “The Relationship between Creativity and Mental Illness,” Maria Popova, for Group 2’s presentation. Bring a hard copy of your first reflection (unless you’ve turned one in already).

For Tuesday, October 4:  Read Sacks, “Murder,” 161-65 and “The Abyss: Music and Amnesia” (in The New Yorker, September 24, 2007).

For Thursday, October 6:  Read Vladimir Nabokov’s “First Love.”  And for the group presentation on attention span, click here. 

For Tuesday, October 11:  No new assignment.  We’ll watch a Nova on memory. 

For Thursday, October 13:  For the fourth group presentation, read this Psychology Today article, and take the ten minute online test here. And read Sacks, “A Passage to India” 153-55. 

For Tuesday, October 18:  Read Rudyard Kipling, “The Finest Story in the World.”

For Thursday, October 20:  For the presentation by Group 5, read “Desert Places,” by Robert Frost.  (Here’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” for comparison.)  And read “Funes the Memorious,” by Jorge Luis Borges, which is in the Contents section of Blackboard, but also here.

For Tuesday, October 25:  No new reading.  Formulate one question for Professor McGaugh in Blackboard. 

For Thursday, October 27:  For Group 6’s presentation, read “Here’s What a Psychopath’s Brain Looks Like,” and watch “How to spot a psychopath.” And read Borges & Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain,” Rodrigo Quian Quiroga.

For Tuesday, November 1:  Read “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat,” Oliver Sacks, 8-22.  Formulate a thesis for your next reflection, now due November 8. 

For Thursday, November 3:  Read the first four chapters of Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw,” a long short story we’ll begin discussing Thursday. For Group 7’s presentation on synesthesia, watch these two videos: “What Color is Tuesday?” and “Hearing Colors, Seeing Sounds.” And read “Synesthetes: People of the Future.”

For Tuesday, November 8:  No class. VOTE!!!!

For Thursday, November 10:  Finish “The Turn of the Screw.”  Bring hard copies of your second reflection.  For Group 8’s presentation on emotional intelligence, watch this short video, and take this 5-10 minute quiz. 

For Tuesday, November 15:  Respond to the question about “The Turn of the Screw” on the Discussion page in Blackboard by 9am Tuesday.  

For Thursday, November 17:  Prepare to meet with members of your presentation group to discuss the final presentation you’ll make.  Your presentation will present one short story (preferably one of those we read this semester but not necessarily) from a neuroscientific perspective.  (Look at the Syllabus above to see when your group will present.)

For Tuesday, November 29:  Read and watch the following:  "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 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.  How the Brain Works: the Brain’s Memory,” by Jonathon Leonard.  Your Brain and You: Learning and Memory.”   

For Thursday, December 1:  Re-read the stories chosen by groups 1, 2, and 3: “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (the first 6 pages of Jekyll’s description of his case at the end of the story); “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and “Signs and Symbols.”  Develop an idea for your third reflection so you can clear it with me in class Thursday or via email.  (These are due December 6, but they are optional.) 

For Tuesday, December 6:  Reread “The Turn of the Screw,” and read “Harvey’s Dream,” by Stephen King. 

For Thursday, December 8:  Review “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Sacks’s case study, “The Disembodied Lady.”  (Our final will be Monday, December 12, 1:30-4pm.)



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”

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.  "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.”   


Useful Links

·         Tourette Syndrome:  Described by young people. 

·         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. 

·         Categories of memory. 

·         Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly collection.

·         How the Brain Works.”   

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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