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Early memories and my father


Why I tell jokes
Richard Gregory Scientist
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Well, my father, you see, as you know he was an astronomer and he was also a sort of philosopher in a way. He had a rather occult view of the world but he had the strong ideas that he wanted to live with dominating his life and then he wanted to persuade everybody around him that he was Plato and Aristotle bound up in one, you see, with the ultimate truth in his head and he couldn’t stop talking about the ideas that were in his mind. That was fine except he just couldn’t stop, he couldn’t be questioned, and if you did sort of try to get him to rephrase it or question it or modify it, he’d get really quite annoyed. He just had to have all this pouring out all the time and he used to bore the pants off people and I decided I just wouldn’t do that because I tend to get dominated by ideas as well, like you do, like any intelligent person does so I interspersed the great philosophical musings that were going on in my mind with jokes, you see, to leaven them, to break the thing up a bit. It had two results of this. One was that I thought I wasn’t going to bore people, which of course is completely fallacious because it spoilt the flow of the discussion and ruined it and secondly I felt that it broke up one’s brain circuit so instead of going around in circles, or repeating what one has said for years and years, it forced one to sort of think again, to change one’s mind. And also, the third thing, I suppose, is it brought the other people into the act and even if they didn’t know about inductive reasoning or the nature of gravity or some such thing, they could at least share a joke so it was a social impact but largely I think a whole load of jokes are detrimental actually.

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: Adam Hart-Davis Sally Duensing

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.

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.

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008