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The hearing aid (Part 1)


Other publications: The Intelligent Eye and Mind in Science
Richard Gregory Scientist
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I did "The Intelligent Eye", which was based on my Royal Institution Christmas lectures. These are lectures that go back to Faraday every year in the Royal Institution and in the last few years they’ve been on television, six of them. I think it’s fewer now but it was six when I did it and George Porter was the director at the Royal Institute at that time, whom I liked enormously. I had great fun doing all that and the lectures were called "The Intelligent Eye". I had lots of experiments but the problem was that I was planning these lectures, a lot of work doing these lectures actually, just when I had moved to Edinburgh from Bristol so I didn’t have a laboratory because we didn’t have our laboratory in Edinburgh because it was supposed to be this church which was taken away from us before the last moment, if you see what I mean, and being sort of 400 miles away from where one’s supposed to be was very bad actually for getting going in Edinburgh in a new department. At any rate, we did, in the end, do it and I think the lectures worked, I thought, rather well and it resulted in the book "The Intelligent Eye", which I’ve always rather liked. It emphasised the importance of rules in the perception and again I had a whole load of illusions when the rules were not appropriate although the physiology is working all right, it’s misdirected, and then you generate systematic illusions. Then by looking at the illusions and measuring them you can deduce what the brain was trying to do, in other words you can work backwards and discover its strategies from the errors, you see, by the mismatch between what it’s doing from past experience to the present situation. You can infer the cognition or the rules or the strategy or the assumptions that the brain is working from. I rather like that, so that illusions become key phenomena for investigating mind and brain. Errors are very, very crucial so there are practical interests like in flying or driving really matters, you see the thing right or reasonably right, you know, but when you get a systematic error it’s immediately evident but what’s going on in there although the physiology is working perfectly okay. I’ve always found that an extremely exciting idea and it’s really the central idea, I think, in both those two books, "The Intelligent Eye" and "Eye and Brain" really. I still believe in that. And since then you’ve done loads more books. Yeah. Partly successful. I did "Mind in Science" which, in a way, I think inspired Brian not nearly as good as, Bertrand Russell’s book, "Human Knowledge: it's Scope and Limits". It’s an ambitious book in that it’s got the philosophy of knowledge gaining, epistemology, it’s got the history of psychology back to the Greeks with quite a bit of physiology, so it’s really a sort of history book back to the Greeks plus a sort of philosophy book about what’s really going on in physiology and psychology so it’s got an overview with a historical basis. I enjoyed writing it but it’s never really taken off. It’s only been printed once, not in print now. I can’t honestly write it up as one of my successes. It wasn’t a total success but I learned a lot writing it.

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: 3 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008