a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


My book Eye and Brain


The philosophy behind The Exploratory
Richard Gregory Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments
I got personally the idea that hands-on was important from studying Sidney Bradford, the blind man, because we had found that by actually handling things, literally with his fingers, that that information from touching objects was absolutely vital for seeing and when you come to think of it, it’s logically necessary. I mean you see things as hard, for example, or hot, or cold, like an ice cream, but, of course, the image in the eye is not hard or hot or cold, of course it isn’t. So you’ve got to learn to associate the purely optical information in the eye with non-optical characteristics of objects like a knife is sharp, for example, and can jolly well cut you. That you discover by experiment, often a hurtful one. I mean kids hurt themselves, you know, because objects are dangerous as well as useful whereas the image in the eye is nothing. It’s just a shadow basically so you’ve got to sort of enrich the shadows in the eye by knowledge of the properties of objects in order to see that objects can be used, can be threatening, can be rewarding, from images, this is the point and of course artists cash in on this with pictures. Interesting, we could perhaps talk about that in a minute. Well, anyway, what I wanted to do in the Science Centre was to extend the experience of SB, the blind man, to normal children and through adult life that you learn to see and understand and seeing and understanding are completely linked by active exploration, doing things. That was the philosophy behind it. And how did that relate to Bacon? Well, Bacon, I don’t think had all that really. I mean in his island, his concern and I’m sure you know more about this than I do, I think that he was concerned to show the public the potentialities of what we now call science and technology. I don’t think either word was available at that time actually but what we now call science and technology, and then he had what he called his lamp, so the thinkers. He had about ten lamps with brilliant ideas and then he had lesser luminaries actually trying out experiments and he said that anybody could be useful in what he called, what we later called science for gaining knowledge and relating it and so on, that could be done by ordinary mortals with a few really brilliant lamps and so on. So he really invented the research laboratory and also invented exploratory because the idea was the public would be involved and I think Bacon’s dream is absolutely wonderful, absolutely wonderful, and it’s just sad that it didn’t get carried out 300 years earlier, you know, than it did. Why won’t pushing buttons do? No, I don’t think pushing buttons do at all, I really don’t, and I don’t think video does. I mean video is fine or pushing buttons when you know what it’s all about but the stages of gaining information to perceive visually or by hearing through exploring actual world of objects and their properties is, to me, the crucial point and I think of the child really as a sort of a scientist who bumbles about, does all sorts of things rather randomly, notes connections between things and above all notes connections between the physical properties of things and the patterns of shadows, if you like, inside their eyes. The shadows become real to the brain through knowledge with objects which is obtained by active discovery through touch.

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: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008