Shakespeare and the mind

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What is the mind? Often nowadays the mind and the brain are presented as identical. Distributed cognition is one term for the idea that cognition is not merely brain-based, but instead is distributed across brain, body and world. Over the last 3 decades cognitive scientific and philosophical research has emerged, with overlapping and sometimes competing theories emphasising different aspects of the ways in which cognitive processes can be distributed. However, the notion that cognition is distributed is not new. Distributed cognition was the most prevalent way of thinking about the mind in the Renaissance, though expression of the paradigm is historically situated and culturally inflected. This essay outlines current notions of distributed cognition, the expression of these ideas in the Renaissance, and the exploration of them in Shakespeare’s works. Furthermore, it considers a few of the ways in which insights into the distributed nature of cognition offer a new way of understanding what is happening when we read a book or see a play performed. Literature is the most wonderful of human cognitive resources, a mind tool, and though as with any tool its ends may not always be virtuous, the very means by which it operates, such as widening one’s conceptual range and enabling more vivid insights into other minds, necessarily tend to the improvement of the partaker.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy
EditorsCraig Bourne, Emily Caddick Bourne
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315677019
ISBN (Print)9781138936126
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2018
EventShakespeare: The Philosopher - University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Sep 201413 Feb 2015

Publication series

NameRoutledge Philosophy Companions


ConferenceShakespeare: The Philosopher
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Shakespeare
  • distributed cognition
  • predictive processing
  • mind
  • Renaissance
  • bistable figures
  • literature


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