The Human Mind Project Interviews: Robin Dunbar

400px-Robin_Dunbar_(6293027302)The Human Mind Project launches on 12 December 2013 with a FREE public evening panel session held at Senate House, London. The project seeks to co-ordinate an international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind. Central to its success is collaboration across conventional disciplinary boundaries.

In the lead up to the launch event the School of Advanced Study have conducted a series of short interviews with the initial project team to learn more about what they hope to achieve.  We begin with Professor Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, based at the University of Oxford.

 

First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research?

I work on social evolution in primates and humans, and one of the key areas of interest for us is the role of storytelling and literature (and hence, more generally, art)  in the context of social bonding in large communities.  We are exploring the role of shared worldviews and shared knowledge in the context of social cohesion. The role of cognition, and especially social cognition, is central to this.  I also collaborate with historians on Viking Age Iceland where we use the sagas as sources of information on behaviour, as well as with literature folk on experimental studies of onstage drama and the psychological mechanisms that underlie the appreciation of storytelling.

 

The Human Mind Project is a collaborative venture between the humanities and the sciences.  What do you think are the particular opportunities and challenges for this type of collaboration?

The sciences provide the humanities with a rigorous hypothesis-testing methodology that facilities more robust insights into phenomena, in addition to a theoretical framework that allows more explicit hypothesis-testing. The humanities provide science with a very rich source of ‘ethnographic’ knowledge that is essential for good hypothesis-testing, as well as, in some cases, some useful hypotheses to put to rigorous test.

 

What do you hope the Human Mind Project will achieve?

My hope is that the Human Mind Project will provide a new fillip for the humanities by introducing novel theoretical dimensions, especially in terms of psychology (literary studies have largely used rather outdated psychoanalytic theory in the past). In return, the sciences will gain novel pastures in which to explore completely new kinds of phenomena.

 

The Human Mind Project is an international collaboration including the Institute of Philosophy (SAS). For full details check the Human Mind Project website. To book and find out more about the ‘What’s so special about the human mind?’ panel session taking place on Thursday 12 December 2013 check our previous blog post Project Launch – What’s so special about the Human Mind?

The panel session will take place in the Beveridge Hall, Senate House, University of London on Thursday 12 December 2013, 5pm-8pm, followed by a reception in the Macmillan Hall.

The event is FREE to all but please reserve your seat on our booking page to avoid disappointment.

SAS hosts more than 1,800 events each year – the majority of which are free and open to all. Search our events calendar or sign up to our mailing list for the latest information.

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