Sixth Annual Spring Creativity Conference June 24, 2024

Sixth Annual Spring Creativity Conference: “Language, Mind, and Life: Working with the Thought of Susanne Langer”

The Schedule

The FPC and its Central Division Society for the Philosophy of Creativity are pleased to announce the sixth Spring Creativity Conference. This year the conference is held in conjunction with the Second International Conference on the Thought of Susanne Langer: Langer, Creativity, and American Thought. The conference will be on Monday afternoon, June 24, beginning at 2 PM. The schedule, abstracts of the lectures, and speaker profiles are below. The lectures are free and open to the public and one may attend on-line by requestiong a zoom link at this address:

Monday, June 24

Noon-2:00 pre-conference gathering (lite refreshments available)

Creativity Conference (2:00-6:30) Sponsored by the Foundation for the Philosophy of Creativity

Welcome: Joddy Murray, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Southern Illinois University Carbondale


Born Into Feeling: The Development of Subjectivity 

Margaret M. Browning, Independent Scholar


Mimetic Embodiment and Gesture:  Unpacking Representational Semblance with Susan Langer

Matthew Ingram, Dakota State University

Creativity Keynote (4:00-5:30)


Susanne Langer’s Act Concept and Systems Biology: An Essay in the Philosophy of Science

Donald Dryden, Duke University

Reception 5:30-6:30

The Lectures

Born into Feeling: The Development of Subjectivity

Margaret M. Browning, Independent Scholar

This paper argues that combining the thinking of philosopher Susanne Langer and neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp promotes an understanding of the development of subjectivity as the evolution of a life of feeling. Langer’s philosophy of animalian mind posits consciousness as the capacity to feel, and Panksepp’s neuroscientific model of what he refers to as the mammalian BrainMind with its primary emotional organization includes an ongoing concomitant affectivity, i.e., consciousness or feeling. Describing at some length Panksepp’s model of BrainMind development from the innate primary organization of emotional systems through secondary emotional learning and on to tertiary cognitive functioning, the paper traces the development of the child’s life of feeling. The early consciousness of the human child is non-reflective and difficult for us to understand as symbolically-reflective conscious agents, but it is nevertheless critical in mediating her early emotional learning (secondary functioning in Panksepp’s model). With the advent of tertiary brain development and the acquisition of symbolic functioning, non-reflective consciousness becomes increasingly reflective. Langer understands this symbolic capacity, unique to the human species, as the capacity to project our animalian feeling into social forms, e.g., human language. This is the basis of the cultural society human children are born into with their capacity to feel, a profoundly intersubjective social environment that children become participating members of with the maturation of their symbolic, cognitive functioning. This membership enables a wide-open expansion of their subjectivity and the opportunity to begin to shape their own lives of feeling.

Mimetic Embodiment and Gesture:  Unpacking Representational Semblance with Susanne Langer

Matthew Ingram, Dakota State University

In the field of gesture studies, there are three prevalent approaches to studying mimesis and the depictive practices and aspects of gesture: depicting by gesture (Streeck, 2009), techniques of depiction (Müller, 2014), and depiction as communication (Clark, 2016). Each of these, in their own way, draws off Peircean notions of semiosis (icon, index, and symbol), bolstered by art philosophies, psychologies, and sociologists of scholars like Nelson Goodman, Ernst Gombrich, Rudolf Arnheim, and Erving Goffman to tease out meanings of and richness in gestural artistic-like practices in everyday social interaction. What each of these studies illustrates is a need for a broader aesthetic theory and take on gestural meaning that forefronts artistic symbolism as its base approach. I argue, in this article, that Langer’s notion of “semblance” (and her broader philosophies, especially her notion of “abstraction”) can be appropriately fitted to sharpen what we mean by mimetic performance in gestural studies. Its application can be seen in an interactional exploration of episodes from the highly popular live improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway? Specifically, I focus on a favored skit, “Let’s Make a Date,” where the improvisational actors are given unique and quirky characteristics, actions, and scenes to act out as if they were on a dating show. Langer’s (1953) notion of semblance and interlocking concepts (image, illusion, virtuality, and abstraction) help us make sense of embodied meanings that are forged through improvisational activities, as the improvisational crew pretends to be a gladiator shooting an arrow through the audience as the audience voluntarily falls in their seats playing a role or an actor pretends to fight against the pull of gravity of a black hole. Keeping with the microanalytic or interactional linguistic approach to studying gestures, I explore transcribed interactional snippets that illustrate the productivity and potentiality of a Langarian approach to gesture and collaborative semblance-making practices involved in artistic gesturality. Langer’s work has transformational potential to provide a semiotic theory of gesture where artistic idea creation is forefront and center from the very start of thinking about gestural mimesis.

Susanne Langer’s Act Concept and Contemporary Systems Biology: An Essay in the Philosophy of Science

Donald Dryden, Duke University

In 2027, only three years from now, those of us who know of the work’s existence and who admire its achievement will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, which marked the unveiling of the first three parts of the project that would eventually occupy the second half of Susanne Langer’s career as a professional philosopher, and would still remain unfinished at the time of her death in 1985. From the witness of her own testimony following the appearance of the first volume of Mind in 1967, we can say with certainty that Langer’s ambition was to construct “a conceptual framework for the empirical study of mind”—one that would “break through” the limitations of “current forms of thought” in psychology and the biological sciences by providing basic concepts to connect a number of relevant disciplines, “from biochemistry to neuropsychology, in one scientific system,” which would “naturally result in a theory of the human mind.” With the hindsight of nearly six decades since its first appearance in printed form, what can we say today about the fate of Susanne Langer’s vision for the biological sciences? What we cannot say, sadly, is that her writings have had any direct influence on the course of their development. As I hope to show, however, exciting things have been happening in some areas of the biological sciences since the turn of the 21st century—especially in what has become known as systems biology, where there has been a widespread recognition of the power of computational modeling to represent and explore the behavior of complex networks at the cellular and subcellular level—as well as in the philosophy of science which, when taken together, hold the promise of incorporating into the fabric of biological theory some of the defining characteristics of life and mind that Langer came to know in considerable detail through her long study of the arts and in turn sought to bring into the foreground of scientific understanding with her introduction of the act-conceptual framework.

The Speakers

Donald Dryden is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Philosophy at Duke University. His research focuses on the history and philosophy of psychology and the biological sciences, as well as on the life and work of Susanne Langer, whose work he first encountered in 1965, when a professor in one of his German courses told his students that, if he could choose only one book to take with him to a desert island, it would be Philosophy in a New Key. After reading all of Langer’s published works, he eagerly awaited the publication of her magnum opus on the evolution of the human mind that she had promised in Philosophical Sketches in 1962. The first volume of Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, appeared in 1967; and Donald reports that he has “carried a torch for Susanne Langer ever since.” Donald met Langer in the summer of 1976, when she extended her hospitality to him for an afternoon at her home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, that included lunch and a shared canoe ride on one of Langer’s favorite nearby lakes. When Donald began a doctoral program in philosophy at Duke University in 1994, he established a relationship with Langer’s son Leonard, who supported his work in inventorying the papers she had left to the Houghton Library at Harvard University after her death in 1985, and connected Donald with a number of people who had known his mother, which enabled Donald to carry out extensive biographical research. He has since published a number of articles on Langer’s work. Since earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from Duke in 2006, with a dissertation on “the new mechanism” in the philosophy of science, Donald has continued his research on Langer’s work, most recently concentrating on interpreting the project of Mind from the perspective of the new mechanism in the philosophy of science and the organicist tradition in the biological sciences. And the torch continues to burn brightly.


Margaret M. Browning After receiving her PhD in Psychology later in life from The University of Chicago She continued her developmental research on prematurely-born infants and published two articles with her psychology and pediatric colleagues.  After several years of adjunct teaching and no fulltime hire, she took a job as a health services researcher at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital where she was one of several authors on numerous articles. In her retirement she is focusing on her own area of interest in neuropsychoanalytic, developmental, philosophical psychology and has authored singly five articles crossing these domains.  Her last article was published in 2019 in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly (“Our Symbolic Minds:  What are they Really?”).


Matthew Ingram is Assistant Professor of Communication at Dakota State University. Our ability to animate and reanimate stories and characters, whether real or imagined, is a fundamental part of human sociality. This interactional practice, which I explore in my research, has implications for various fields that explore embodiment, including gesture studies, interactional linguistics, and rhetorical studies, to name a few. How do we use our bodily imagination to externalize subjective ideas and bring them into the public sphere of social interaction? How do we work with the creative products of imaginative mental images made visible and audible through gestures and talk? What can different contexts, where innovative ideas are manifested and shared, reveal about transforming our perception of the world? As an Assistant Professor of Communication, I explore these questions of mimesis along diverse and interdisciplinary lines. My research spans social contexts such as conflict mediation, political rallies, and dance rehearsals. I aim to understand the social mechanisms behind mimetic acts to better comprehend human thinking and the rhetorical impact of these mimetic ideas on audiences. My current focus is on mimetic artistry, particularly how bodily performances in dance rehearsals and improvisation reveal how interdependent our actions are on those of others in the co-creation and maintenance of meaning.

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