Keynote Speakers

Our conference aims to explore personifying dynamics and experiences through a variety of disciplines, methods and perspectives. To that end, we are delighted to introduce the following keynote speakers:

H. Porter Abbott

University of California, Santa Barbara

abbottbwPorter Abbott is Research Professor Emeritus in English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His publications include two books on Samuel Beckett, The Fiction of Samuel Beckett (1973) and Beckett Writing Beckett (1996); Diary Fiction: Writing as Action (1984); The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (2002, 2008); and Real Mysteries: Narrative and the Unknowable (2013). He has also edited On the Origin of Fictions: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2001). His on-going research includes the representation of madness, authorial intention, emplotment, fictionality, the unnarratable, reading narrative gaps, and the evolutionary emergence of narrative.

Title: Characters are/are not Persons & some consequences of this non/distinction

Abstract: It is a truth almost universally acknowledged among narratologists that characters are “ontologically incomplete” (e.g., Dolezel 1998, Margolin 2005, Eder et al 2010, Recher 2010). And, certainly, as presumptive persons, they are incomplete. But as characters, they have a completeness that is beyond the reach of persons. Characters are artifacts in a made world (as we were once supposed to be), limited to the finished, published, narrative containers from which we decode them. Their completeness is a condition that comes with their fictionality, a quality that persons also do not have. In addition, it is their status as characters that can, at times, make them complete as types (Mrs. Havisham, Becky Sharp, Pamela).

From this perspective, it is persons who are ontologically incomplete insofar as they are emergent ingredients of an emergent world that is itself incomplete. This world is a sphere of unlimited complexity and unlimited possibilities of change. In this actual world, persons are at any moment infinitely researchable and therefore complete knowledge of them is infinitely deferred. Moreover, their complexity of being is subject to unpredictable change. By contrast, any unpredictability of characters works only once, in a first reading or viewing, each surprising turn recursively incorporated into the final completeness of their ontology as characters. In these terms, both the literary trope and the natural practice of personification are almost always a rendering as character rather than as a more ontologically incomplete person. In this presentation, I will pursue the implications of this distinction between characters and persons insofar as it is useful in understanding both the design and impact of fictional narratives.


Guillaume Dumas

Institut Pasteur

dumasbwGuillaume Dumas is a research fellow of the Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions Laboratory in the Institut Pasteur, and an affiliate member of the Human Brain and Behavior Laboratory, in the Center for Complex Systems and Brains Sciences of Florida Atlantic University. In parallel, he participates in various projects melting Design and Art. I also do scientific journalism for radio and public journals. Guillaume is the co-founder of the HackYourPhD community, which advocates the use of openness in Science and Knowledge as a common good in Society. Finally, he is the co-founder and president of ARTEMOC, the French Association of Transdisciplinary Research on Altered States of Cognition.

Title: Building ladders across the scales of personification: from brains in social interaction to genes in human evolution

Abstract: The interdisciplinary endeavour of cognitive science has been encompassing the study of many scales in both space, time, and fields. This talk will illustrate how building “ladders” between scales provides alternatives heuristics to understand how we come up to understand others. We will start by the interactive turn taken recently by social neuroscience, discussing how the study of human-human and human-machine interaction demonstrate how low-level sensorimotor coordination with others not only shapes our individual mind but also how we infer high-level intentions to them. We will finish with recent analyses of the phylogeny of the primate nervous system, including archaic hominids such as Neanderthal and Denisovan, and discuss how genetics at evolutionary time scale questions the singularity of the human brain and the emergence of social skills like language.


Nev Jones

University of Florida

jonesbwNev Jones is an assistant professor of mental health law and policy at the University of South Florida, affiliate faculty of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute and (affiliate) clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.  A community psychologist by training, her work has spanned critical perspectives on the sociopolitics of psychiatric discourse, the phenomenology of psychosis, and the social and cultural determinants of mental health, disability and healing.  Prior to moving into psychology, she studied continental philosophy for 8 years, including a stine as a Japanese Ministry of Science and Education postgraduate fellow in philosophy at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya.

Title: Powers and Seductions of Personification:  Voices and Altered Perception Across the Psy Disciplines and Medical Humanities

Abstract: Over the past twenty years, both psychiatry and the medical humanities have arguably pivoted from a core framing of psychotic phenomena as ‘ununderstandable’ to understandable, a shift at least in part tied to the ‘normalization’ of such experiences qua personified (and personifiable) voices, entitative or characterological manifestations of extreme states, and inimicably ‘human’ continuua errors of thinking and feeling.  This talk will begin with an exploration of the ways in which these normalized forms have been conceptualized and enacted through new wave clinical interventions, including virtual reality and other forms of simulation, moving on to consider the fraught psychopolitics at play, as well as casualties, occlusions and unintended consequences.


Ann Taves

University of California, Santa Barbara

tavesbw.pngAnn Taves is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a former President of the American Academy of Religion (2010). She holds the chair of Catholic Studies at UCSB. Ann is especially known for her work Religious Experience Reconsidered, stressing the importance of the findings and theoretical foundations of cognitive science for modern religionists.

Title: Guiding Presences and the Emergence of New Revelation

Abstract: In the context of pretend play, inner-voice dialogues, fiction, drama, and online games, the presence of imagined others is often explicitly cultivated, forthrightly enacted, and skillfully managed. In relation to these activities, people provide accounts of presences that seem very real to them. In Euro-American contexts, people may find the seeming reality of such presences startling, but neither they nor others typically find them problematic.  They “know” that they created, enacted, or otherwise brought them to life and thus that they are not “real.” In some cases, however, people not only conclude that the presences are real but that they are being guided by them to bring forth new revelation. This talk will consider three such figures – Joseph Smith, Carl Jung, and Helen Schucman – each of whom received what they viewed as new revelation from an ostensible other – the Lord, the Spirit of the Age, and the Voice of God’s Son — who guided the emergence of new psycho-spiritual paths (Mormonism, Analytic Psychology, and A Course in Miracles).  Viewing the process of emergence from both insider and outsider points of view, we will consider how they and others came to view these presences as active guides and how we might interpret these presences from a naturalistic point of view.