Consciousness happens between the panels

A letter in today’s New Scientist noted that artist Scott McCloud’s comments on how we infer the narrative from comic strips might also explain how consciousness works.

It reminded me of this panel from McCloud’s book Understanding Comics.

Understanding Comics is about the visual language of comic books and is written as a comic. It’s fantastically put together but is also fascinating if you’re interested in psychology because it largely discusses how we construct rich and complex meanings from very basic visual input.

One of the crucial points is that the comic itself is not the story, our mind builds it as we go and fills in the gaps with perception, cultural associations and our experience of how the world works.

The New Scientist letter reads:

David Bainbridge’s description of consciousness (26 January, p 40), including, for example, the fact that we do not know where in the brain consciousness happens, was evocative. Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics, describes a comic’s story as whatever is happening in the blank spaces between the panels.

What if our minds function like a comic: they snap pictures, and our consciousness is simply the story the mind constructs around those pictures? – Saskia Latendresse, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

This is a lovely analogy and captures a well-argued approach in cognitive science that suggests that consciousness functions as a ‘narrative maker’ to make sense of the output from the disparate functions of the brain into a coherent sense of self.

Link to previous post on narrative and consciousness.
Link to NewSci letter.
Link to info on Understanding Comics.

3 thoughts on “Consciousness happens between the panels”

  1. Very cool stuff. By some weird serendipity, I read Understanding Comics at the same time I was reading On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. I was so impressed by how well McCloud’s book illustrated things like visual clues, prediction, interpolation, and concept formation that I sent an email to Jeff Hawkins suggesting he read McCloud’s book and vice versa.
    I think Understanding Comics should be on the reading list of any cognitive scientist or AI researcher (and anyone else for that matter, it is an excellent book).

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