The Human Mind Project

The Human Mind is an ambitious international and multidisciplinary project representing a coordinated effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind. Central to the project is the importance of collaboration across conventional disciplinary boundaries. It will highlight the contribution of the arts and humanities to the study of human nature, and the importance of a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind, integrating science and the humanities. Led by the Institute of Philosophy’s Professor Colin Blakemore, the project is guided by a steering group of leading figures in various disciplines across the world. Check here for a list of resources related to this interdisciplinary project.   Interviews                                                    Videos Vittorio Gallese (physiology)                          What’s so special about the Human Mind? Annette Karmiloff Smith (Neuroscientist) Ziauddin Sardar (Muslim thought) Paul Fletcher (psychiatrist) Dominic Johnson (biology/political science)   Links Human Mind Project website  ...

Colin Blakemore investigates the nature of visual perception in BAFTA-nominated film

Professor Colin Blakemore’s work branches out into a plethora of disciplines delving into the mechanisms of the brain, thought and perception, in his role as Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study. As a renowned neuroscientist with a particular interest in visual perception, he was delighted recently to contribute to the BAFTA-nominated documentary Tim’s Vermeer. Professor Blakemore was part of the team responsible for this documentary, which explores the symbiotic relationship between art and science. This multi-disciplinary approach is a theme with which Professor Blakemore is familiar, having fused science and the humanities in his role as director of the Institute of Philosophy’s Centre for the Study of the Senses. He is Principal Investigator for a large grant, Rethinking the Senses, under the Science in Culture Theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which involves not only collaboration between philosophers and scientists, but also work with artists, designers, galleries, and chefs – including Heston Blumenthal. This latest cinematic endeavour was conceived by Penn Jillette, half of the American Illusionist duo, Penn & Teller, and it was directed by Penn & Teller, and Farley Ziegler. The film follows Tim Jenison, an inquisitive inventor and software specialist who was a pioneer in desktop video techniques. In the film Jenison dreams of painting like 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. However, he has never studied painting. With this novice skill set as a starting point, Tim embarks on his mission to copy the magic of Vermeer’s masterpiece, The Music Lesson. Through the exploration of lighting, lenses and mirrors, the team explore the radical notion that the special...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Dominic Johnson

The Human Mind Project launched on 12 December 2013 with a well-attended 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. All of these interviews can be found in the Human Mind Project category. This next interview is with Dominic Johnson from the University of Oxford.       Hello Dominic, first, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I am the Alistair Buchan Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of St. Antony’s College. I did a DPhil in biology at Oxford, and a PhD in political science at Geneva University. Drawing on both disciplines, I am interested in how new research on biology, evolution, and human nature is challenging our understanding of human conflict and cooperation, not least in international relations. My two books have focused on the role of the human mind in shaping international events. Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions (Harvard University Press, 2004) argues that common psychological biases to maintain overly positive images of our capabilities, our control over events, and the future, play a key role in the causes of war. Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (Harvard University Press, 2006), written with political scientist Dominic Tierney, examines how and why popular misperceptions can go...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Paul Fletcher

The Human Mind Project launched on 12 December 2013 with a 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.  This interview is with Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist from the University of Cambridge.   First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I am a psychiatrist. I try to understand and help people who suffer from psychotic illness. Psychosis refers to a loss of touch with reality. People with psychosis hold and defend strange and often frightening beliefs (referred to as delusions) and they perceive things (perhaps visions or voices – often referred to as hallucinations) that cannot be accounted for objectively. My research is based on two core beliefs: a.            It is mistaken to consider the symptoms of psychotic illness in isolation. We should acknowledge that perception and belief are not separate – every perceptual experience is an act of belief and is heavily based on what one already knows. This has long been known in physiology but seems often to be missing in psychological models of delusions and hallucinations. b.            Perception/belief in the healthy state almost always diverges from objective reality. The brain is a very deceitful organ, doing much of its...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Ziauddin Sardar

The Human Mind Project launches today ( 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.  This interview is with Professor Ziauddin Sardar, a London-based scholar specialising in Muslim thought.    First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I am a public intellectual with wide ranging interests from futures of human cultures, Islamic reform, human rights, to issues of ethics in science and technology. Currently, I am Professor of Law and Society and Chair of the Muslim Institute, a learned organisation, in London.   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? I am not a great believer in disciplinary boundaries; and I think humanities are as important as science for viable futures of humanity. Given that every scientific advance raises a host of ethical, moral, philosophical and social issues, it is important that humanities and sciences collaborate and work together to illuminate a pluralistic and socially just path towards the future.   What do you hope the Human Mind Project will achieve? A better...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Annette Karmiloff Smith

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.  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...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Vittorio Gallese

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.  Our third interview is with Vittorio Gallese, professor of human physiology at the University of Parma, Italy.    First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I am a cognitive neuroscientist. The main topic of my empirical and theoretical research during the last twenty years has dealt with the cognitive role of the sensorimotor system. I am exploring how the brain-body system creates and expresses meaning, and it is able to communicate it to others. In particular, I am trying to deconstruct with the tools of cognitive neuroscience some of the ‘words’ we normally employ to describe how we relate to the world and experience it. These words include action, goal, intention, empathy, self, emotion, intersubjectivity, aesthetic experience, etc.   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? Great opportunities indeed. The second half of the 20th century witnessed the enormous progress of cognitive neuroscience, also fostered by the development of new...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Nicola Clayton

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 the School of Advanced Study have conducted a series of short interviews with the initial project team.  Our second interview is with Professor Nicola Clayton from the University of Cambridge. Clayton is a professor of Comparative Cognition and the scientist in residence at Rambert Dance Company.   First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research? I’m Professor of Comparative Cognition in the Department of Psychology at Cambridge University, and a Fellow of Clare College. I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2010. My expertise as a scientist lies in the contemporary study of how animals and children think. This work has led to a re-evaluation of the cognitive capacities of animals, particularly birds, and resulted in a theory that intelligence evolved independently in at least two distantly related groups, the apes and the crows. I have also pioneered new procedures for the experimental study of memory and imagination in animals, investigating its relationship to human memory and consciousness, and how and when these abilities develop in young children. In addition I am also a dancer, specializing in Argentine tango and salsa. I am also Scientist in Residence at the Rambert Dance Company, collaborating with Mark Baldwin,...

The Human Mind Project Interviews: Robin Dunbar

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...

Project Launch – What’s so special about the Human Mind?

The Human Mind Project will launch on 12 December 2013 with a FREE public panel session entitled ‘What’s so special about the Human Mind?’.  At the School of Advanced Study we are delighted that this important, international, and interdisciplinary project will be launched right here at Senate House by our Institute of Philosophy.    How does the human mind work?  If we mean by this more than its basic functions, then we are looking not only at the sciences to find our answers but to a truly interdisciplinary collaboration including science, humanities, and the arts. The Human Mind Project will do just this.  Launched by the Institute of Philosophy, a member institute of the School of Advanced Study, this ambitious project represents a coordinated, international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind, and thus the nature of how we think, feel, communicate and interact. Scientists are making extraordinary progress in unravelling the structure and basic functions of the brain.  But if the ultimate objective is to understand how human beings think, feel, communicate and interact, it is essential that knowledge from the humanities should inform science and vice versa – Colin Blakemore The project launches on 12 December 2013 with a FREE public panel session chaired by the institutes Professor Colin Blakemore, director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes) on the subject ‘What’s so special about the human mind?’ This is a unique one-off opportunity to meet and hear from the experts and to witness how collaborative research can broaden our understanding of how we think about ourselves. The...