Peter Pan and the Brain: Perspectives from Neuropsychology and the History of Medicine
What does Peter Pan have to do with cognitive psychology? Can Victorian theories of the brain tell us about Captain Hook? These questions will be explored by Dr Ros Ridley and Fitz's Admissions and Outreach Coordinator Dr Sarah Green at Fitzwilliam College on 10 March, as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.
Sarah and Ros first encountered one another when the latter published her first book of literary criticism, Peter Pan and the Mind of J.M. Barrie: An Exploration of Cognition and Consciousness (2016). Ros is a neuroscientist by training, and spent many years working for the Medical Research Council in London and Cambridge. As a scientist she took a particular interest in the brain mechanisms involved in memory and perception, and when she retired she developed an interest in Darwinian thinking about cultural evolution. She soon realised that these were important themes in J.M. Barrie’s stories about Peter Pan, and her book examined Barrie’s remarkable insights into child psychology.
The profound similarities between Barrie’s stories and modern cognitive neuropsychology are, however, no coincidence. As Peter Pan and the Mind of J.M. Barrie acknowledges, they are both the product of a post-Darwinian perspective. When Sarah read Ros’s book, this close similarity got her thinking. At the time she was a postdoctoral researcher on an ERC-funded medical humanities project at the University of Oxford called ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’. Her work had often involved looking closely at J.M. Barrie’s writing, as well as at Victorian theories of evolutionary psychology. But until now she hadn’t seen the considerable influence of the latter upon the former.
This evening discussion will bring together the perspectives of neuropsychology and the history of medicine to shine a new light on the Peter Pan stories. The audience will hear about the fascinating way in which Barrie’s writing anticipates many of the recent turns taken by cognitive psychology, especially in terms of memory and childhood development. They will also hear about how some of the quirkier theories of Victorian evolutionary psychology, particularly concerning the dubious status of the artist’s own psychology, shaped Barrie’s most famous creation. In the process, they will be invited to consider how science and history can produce different knowledge about the same subject, and how they can work together to inspire new curiosities and questions.
This event is sponsored by ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives’ and the J.M. Barrie Literary Society.
6pm, 10 March 2020
Reddaway Room, Fitzwilliam College
Cambridge Science Festival