The Embodied Imagination: British Romantic Cognitive Science

  • Author / Creator
    Robertson, Lisa Ann
  • This dissertation examines the intersection of British Romantic literary and scientific cognitive theory from 1749 to 1818. Asserting that William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge participated in cognitive science debates initiated by Joseph Priestley’s popularization of David Hartley’s physiological theory of sentience, it argues that the dual lenses of British empiricism and twenty-first-century cognitive science best explicate the poets’ theories of imagination. The poets’ philosophical positions are often understood as a progression from youthful fascination with empiricism to mature transcendentalism. Examining their work in relationship to the cognitive hypotheses of contemporary scientists—Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy, and Tom Wedgwood—this study demonstrates that their theories reconcile materialist and transcendentalist epistemologies. I use a cognitive historicist methodology to examine categories of experience that New Historicist critics have considered in terms of transcendentalism. I argue that both poets and scientists saw transcendental experiences, such as encounters with the sublime, in terms of embodied emotion. Enaction, a twenty-first century cognitive theory, exhibits similar fundamental premises as Romantic hypotheses about the relationship between mind, matter, human beings, and the natural world and the importance of emotion in cognition. This thesis examines parallels between contemporary and Romantic-era cognitive science discourse, helps resolve certain longstanding cruxes in the scholarship on Wordsworth and Coleridge, and brings to light overlooked scientific figures in Romantic culture whose intellectual contributions are important to Romantic literary theory.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Miall, David (English and Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Ruecker, Stan (Humanities Computing)
    • Mulvihill, James (English and Film Studies)
    • Richardson, Alan (Boston College)
    • Reimer, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
    • Smith, Robert (History and Classics)