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Coleridge and the Scientific Enquiry into Dreams and Visions

Although the word “neuroscience” is a quite recent and modern term, the study of the brain has been the focus of interest of science throughout the ages. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Great Britain could be regarded as a crucial period for the numerous discoveries concerning the brain and nervous system. The understanding of the brain‟s functioning requires proficiency and knowledge of various subjects. As a matter of fact, historically, the scientists involved in the understanding of the brain came from different scientific fields such as medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics and psychology. The majority of studies and discoveries on the brain drew not only the attention of scientists but also of philosophers and literary men. It was a period in which many poets, particularly Samuel Taylor Coleridge, consorted with laboratory scientists and in the meantime philosophical doctors like Erasmus Darwin gave life to their scientific theories. A variety of topics, readings, theories and key words associated with Romanticism reveal unusual connections between literary artists and brain scientists. The brain started to be properly conceived as the organ of thought, achieving a fundamental place in the history of the Romantic mind. Most of the Romantic scientists like Darwin, Gall, Bell and Cabanis localized the mind in the brain. They considered the mind as an active processor rather than a passive register of experiences. They believed in the constant activity of the brain even during sleep, dreams and visions. Starting from an active and creative conception of the mind, dreaming could thereby be defined as the images and thoughts that are experienced during sleep. Moreover, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a revival of interest in dreams and dreaming processes emerged, as is demonstrated by the numbers of medical treatise as well as by the numbers of poems and other literary works. Many poets, prominent scientists and philosophers attempted to understand whether or not dreams, visions and nightmares were creations of their own mind, the creation of supernatural, external spirits or perhaps revelations of deeply complex physiological processes. Leaving to psychoanalysis the pleasure to interpret the meaning of dreams, connecting them to the affective life of the dreamer, the main aim of this thesis is to show the scientific contribution on the analysis of the relation between mind and brain in dreaming processes. First, it will focus on the physical and medical nature of the dreaming state, with regard to the presence of cognitive activity in the absence of conscious volition. Secondly, it will shift the attention to opium dreaming, explaining how opium acts on the will and its capacity to suspend, counteract and even to destroy it. Finally, it will analyse two of Coleridge‟s major poems “Kubla Khan” and “The Pains of Sleep”. The first one is an unconscious work written under the effect of opium, whereas the second one is a conscious work risen from opium addiction. Both symbolize the perfect embodiment of the creativity of mind in a combination of dream and vision.

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1 Introduction lthough the word “neuroscience” is a quite recent and modern term, the study of the brain has been the focus of interest of science throughout the ages. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Great Britain could be regarded as a crucial period for the numerous discoveries concerning the brain and nervous system. The understanding of the brain‟s functioning requires proficiency and knowledge of various subjects. As a matter of fact, historically, the scientists involved in the understanding of the brain came from different scientific fields such as medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics and psychology. The majority of studies and discoveries on the brain drew not only the attention of scientists but also of philosophers and literary men. It was a period in which many poets, particularly Samuel Taylor Coleridge, consorted with laboratory scientists and in the meantime philosophical doctors like Erasmus Darwin gave life to their scientific theories. A variety of topics, readings, theories and key words associated with Romanticism reveal unusual connections between literary artists and brain scientists. The brain started to be properly conceived as the organ of thought, achieving a fundamental place in the history of the Romantic mind. Most of the Romantic scientists like Darwin, Gall, Bell and Cabanis localized the mind in the brain. They considered the mind as an active processor rather than a passive register of experiences. They believed in the constant activity of the brain even during sleep, dreams and visions. Starting from an active and creative conception of the mind, dreaming could thereby be defined as the images and thoughts that are experienced during sleep. Moreover, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a revival of interest in dreams and dreaming processes emerged, as is A

Laurea liv.I

Facoltà: Lingue e Letterature Straniere

Autore: Giorgia Fioravanti Contatta »

Composta da 39 pagine.

 

Questa tesi ha raggiunto 59 click dal 10/04/2012.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.