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My early work at the Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge


Richard Gregory Scientist
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I find memory completely mysterious. I mean I know, of course, regions of the brain where memories are stored but the amazing thing is that we don’t actually know the physical changes in the brain that store memory. On the other hand, of course, we have a lot of analogies from computer memory. I mean we know that modification of a physical system can store information as, indeed, when you write on a page with ink, I mean one is producing a physical change which represents abstract ideas, represents the past, anticipates the future, gives you an idea, right or wrong, completely separate from the paper and the ink or the electronics in the computer, takes on a life of its own, software, if you like. And I think this is one of the wonderful things that technology is helping us to understand the brain through analogies actually and I think the hardware, software distinction, you’ve got the physical system, which can represent by rules, by encapsulating and calling up knowledge symbolically, is the key, how the brain works, memory and so on, also, of course, for computers. There’s a big analogy there, I think, actually, but the trouble is we don’t really know exactly what the hardware of memory is. It’s amazing. I mean it’s almost certainly that you get immediate memories lasting for a few seconds which are dynamic oscillatory circuits and then that’s laid down as changes which are probably connections, synaptic connections between nerve cells which form more or less permanent groups of cells which fire, you know, but the details of that are simply not known, which is extraordinary. There must be half a dozen Nobel Prizes sitting there to be won.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008