annette-karmiloff-smithThe 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.  Our next interview is with Annette Karmiloff Smith, a professional research fellow at the Developmental Neurocognition Lab at Birkbeck, University of London.


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

I am a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, particularly interested in tracing higher-level cognitive deficits in genetic disorders back to their more basic-level origins in infancy. Currently I am running a project on using Down syndrome as a model for Alzheimer’s Disease and attempting to identify risk and protective factors at the cognitive and neural levels as well as with collaborators at the genetic and cellular levels.  This is because critical AD genes are located on chromosome 21 and thus overexpressed from very early in life.  I am also particularly interested in the Nature/Nurture debate and in what is special about human cognition. I developed the Representational Redescription Hypothesis to address this question.

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?

Dialogue across disciplinary boundaries is always tricky because the same terms are used in very different ways. But I also hate it when neuroscientists dismiss philosophical reasoning as irrelevant. An image of the brain is no better than a pencil unless the study is hypothesis driven. So, in my view, as the disciplinary boundaries increasingly blur, the Human Mind Project endeavour is critical.

What do you hope the Human Mind Project will achieve?

Get different disciplines REALLY talking to each other and putting in joint grants which strengthen one another in both directions.

Is there anything else you would to share?
I hope the wine will be good at the reception ;-)


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.