Actual Minds, Possible Worlds / Edition 1

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Overview

In this characteristically graceful and provocative book, Jerome Bruner, one of the principal architects of the cognitive revolution, sets forth nothing less than a new agenda for the study of mind. According to Professor Bruner, cognitive science has set its sights too narrowly on the logical, systematic aspects of mental life--those thought processes we use to solve puzzles, test hypotheses, and advance explanations. There is obviously another side to the mind--a side devoted to the irrepressibly human acts of imagination that allow us to make experience meaningful. This is the side of the mind that leads to good stories, gripping drama, primitive myths and rituals, and plausible historical accounts. Bruner calls it the "narrative mode," and his book makes important advances in the effort to unravel its nature.

Drawing on recent work in literary theory, linguistics, and symbolic anthropology, as well as cognitive and developmental psychology Professor Bruner examines the mental acts that enter into the imaginative creation of possible worlds, and he shows how the activity of imaginary world making undergirds human science, literature, and philosophy, as well as everyday thinking, and even our sense of self.

Over twenty years ago, Jerome Bruner first sketched his ideas about the mind's other side in his justly admired book On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds can be read as a sequel to this earlier work, but it is a sequel that goes well beyond its predecessor by providing rich examples of just how the mind's narrative mode can be successfully studied. The collective force of these examples points the way toward a more humane and subtle approach to the investigation of how the mind works.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

A brilliant synthesis of contemporary anthropology, sociology, literary theory, and philosophy as well as psychology.
— Michael Stern

Choice

This delightful volume invites the reader into dialogue with one of the most imaginative, articulate, and broadly sophisticated scholars of the present era. Bruner...draws on his wealth of knowledge in psychology, linguistics, literary theory, and other domains to weave a rich tapestry of interrelated themes. The essays treat such topics as narrative thought, transactional theory of child development, constructivism, education, and literary criticism. What will surely be the most controversial proposal of the volume is that the human mind is equipped with two modes of cognitive processing, the one paradigmatic (designed to develop propositions subject to empirical test) and the other narrative (designed to comprehend and develop stories). The essays themselves are finely honed narratives, engaging and personal.
— K. J. Gergen

British Journal of Psychology

It is perhaps possible to describe Bruner as being an intellectual by inclination, a cognitive psychologist eminent in his trade and an ardent academic who has spent his life questing for problems to solve and questions to pose. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds reflects all these interests and approaches as he debates how we create reality, possible worlds from actual minds. It is a book that raises many important problems and pertinent questions...[and] these essays will provide the reader with a stimulating journey...Bruner, as well as being an eclectic intellectual, is an indefatigable psychologist with many facets to his lifetime involvement in exploring the mind...[He] has a prose style that is elegant, professional and delightful...For those interested in liberal approaches to the development of mind and the mind's creative capacity for constructing imaginative acts it provides a provocative and stimulating discussion.
— Margaret Martlew

Modern Language Notes

Remarkably ambitious...[Bruner] necessarily takes cognitive psychology into the realms of philosophy, narrative, and literary theory, and to the largest questions about knowledge and mind...Admirable and moving.
— Nancy Mergler and Ronald Schleifer,

Times Literary Supplement

The human mind is everywhere at work, in daily life, in myth, in art, in science, in politics, showing a diversity and depth that cannot be reproduced in laboratory experiments. In order to get a comprehensive picture, the rigorous but narrow experimental approach must be supplemented by the breadth of the humanistic disciplines. This is what Bruner argues and what he exemplifies in Actual Minds, Possible Worlds.
— Dan Sperber

Boston Globe

Bruner has combined his own academic gregariousness with a drive to fit his work into the canon of current Western thought... The mysteries of structuralism, deconstruction and pragmatism are unraveled here in the light of Bruner's lifelong efforts to make sense of the way we make sense of things...He makes culture here like a master.
— Christina Robb

San Francisco Chronicle - Michael Stern
A brilliant synthesis of contemporary anthropology, sociology, literary theory, and philosophy as well as psychology.
Choice - K. J. Gergen
This delightful volume invites the reader into dialogue with one of the most imaginative, articulate, and broadly sophisticated scholars of the present era. Bruner...draws on his wealth of knowledge in psychology, linguistics, literary theory, and other domains to weave a rich tapestry of interrelated themes. The essays treat such topics as narrative thought, transactional theory of child development, constructivism, education, and literary criticism. What will surely be the most controversial proposal of the volume is that the human mind is equipped with two modes of cognitive processing, the one paradigmatic (designed to develop propositions subject to empirical test) and the other narrative (designed to comprehend and develop stories). The essays themselves are finely honed narratives, engaging and personal.
British Journal of Psychology - Margaret Martlew
It is perhaps possible to describe Bruner as being an intellectual by inclination, a cognitive psychologist eminent in his trade and an ardent academic who has spent his life questing for problems to solve and questions to pose. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds reflects all these interests and approaches as he debates how we create reality, possible worlds from actual minds. It is a book that raises many important problems and pertinent questions...[and] these essays will provide the reader with a stimulating journey...Bruner, as well as being an eclectic intellectual, is an indefatigable psychologist with many facets to his lifetime involvement in exploring the mind...[He] has a prose style that is elegant, professional and delightful...For those interested in liberal approaches to the development of mind and the mind's creative capacity for constructing imaginative acts it provides a provocative and stimulating discussion.
Modern Language Notes - Nancy Mergler And Ronald Schleifer
Remarkably ambitious...[Bruner] necessarily takes cognitive psychology into the realms of philosophy, narrative, and literary theory, and to the largest questions about knowledge and mind...Admirable and moving.
Times Literary Supplement - Dan Sperber
The human mind is everywhere at work, in daily life, in myth, in art, in science, in politics, showing a diversity and depth that cannot be reproduced in laboratory experiments. In order to get a comprehensive picture, the rigorous but narrow experimental approach must be supplemented by the breadth of the humanistic disciplines. This is what Bruner argues and what he exemplifies in Actual Minds, Possible Worlds.
Boston Globe - Christina Robb
Bruner has combined his own academic gregariousness with a drive to fit his work into the canon of current Western thought... The mysteries of structuralism, deconstruction and pragmatism are unraveled here in the light of Bruner's lifelong efforts to make sense of the way we make sense of things...He makes culture here like a master.
Howard Gardner
A splendid book, one which should contribute to the important reorientation that is taking place between psychology and the literary arts.
Frank Kermode
Bruner is not only a psychologist of high distinction, but a destroyer of disciplinary fences; his philosophical inquiries are as persuasive as they are humane, arid he carries his great learning with a charming lack of pretentiousness.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If gaining maturity means being adept at seeing the same set of events from multiple perspectives and contemplating alternative futures, then this concept of adulthood says something about the way our minds work. Bruner's ``constructivist'' approach holds that we create our own realities through our interaction with our social world and with symbols. This collection of challenging, often difficult essays takes us beyond his popular On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand, as he explores controversies in the theory of literature, linguistics, cognitive psychology and education. His argument that characters, setting and action are inseparable elements in fiction helps explain why great novels have emotional power. Literature is seen as a vehicle that opens us to dilemmas. Bruner's outlook illuminates sundry topics, from the way a teacher's stance toward the curriculum affects the learning process to the idea of culture as ``semiconnected knowledge of the world'' that enables people to arrive at acceptable ways of acting. (March)
Library Journal
Known for his work at Harvard on cognition, language, and education, psychologist Bruner draws on occasional essays written between 1980 and 1984 to offer a concise, erudite commentary on human development, science, and culture. His philosophical stance is constructivism (thought produces reality), which he traces from Kant to Nelson Goodman. He cites Aristotle, Shakespeare, Joyce, Barthes, Freud, Piaget, Vygotsky, and much contemporary research. The reader encounters such concepts as deictic shift, stance marking, and illocutionary force; but, while difficult at times, the book is never stuffy, and will challenge and help teachers, scientists, artists, writers, and many more who relish an exemplary Socratic text. E. James Lieberman, Psychiatry Dept., George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674003668
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1987
  • Series: Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 222
  • Sales rank: 1,390,696
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerome Bruner is University Professor at New York University and the author of many books, including Acts of Meaning; On Knowing; The Process of Education; and Toward a Theory of Instruction (all published by Harvard).
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Table of Contents

Preface

PART 1: TWO NATURAL KINDS

1. Approaching the Literary

2. Two Modes of Thought

3. Possible Castles

PART 2: LANGUAGE AND REALITY

4. The Transactional Self

5. The Inspiration of Vygotsky

6. Psychological Reality

7. Nelson Goodman's Worlds

8. Thought and Emotion

PART 3: ACTING IN CONSTRUCTED WORLDS

9. The Language of Education

10. Developmental Theory as Culture

Afterword

Appendix: A Reader's Retelling of "Clay" by James Joyce

Notes

Credits

Index

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