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Work on visual phenomena


How I run my lab and Susan Blackmore
Richard Gregory Scientist
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It’s run very informally. I don’t like administration much. I don’t like being pushed around so if anybody is stupid enough to put me in charge of anything I only run it in a sort of rather casual way, as casual as possible, because I believe in people having their own freedom, their own ideas, and I also think that people have fallow patches and every now and again do something silly, and I don’t think they should be automatically judged negatively, you know, in that sort of way. So you’ve got to allow a bit of time for people, so one of the fun things as far as I’m concerned is picking people with potentiality who then turn out to be good. This happens about one times out of ten, I turn out to be right, you know. An example which did turn out to be very nice was Sue Blackmore who’s a very charming lady whom I know you know, and she was a bit zany, wanted to do paranormal stuff and years ago I decided, from my father really, thinking about his work but there wasn’t much in it, well, I thought nothing in it actually. I didn’t really believe in telepathy or any of those things, but here was a young lady with lots of go about her, and she might prove me wrong so I thought that will be absolutely great, you see. So I took her on and gave her a space and so on and she’s made a tremendous success of her career, initially exploring the possibilities and looking at what work was being done, analysing it, then becoming more and more critical, in the end deciding that there’s absolutely nothing it in whatsoever in ten years. So she’s made two career successes, one showing that it was worth doing academically and, two, showing there’s nothing in it at the end of the day. But that was not a waste of time. She played that game well. Her personality sort of shone out and everybody appreciated that and it made people think ultimately as to how the brain works, what is consciousness and all the rest of it. The interesting thing here, I mean there are deep, mysterious questions such that although you say that ESP and all the paranormal stuff is nothing, it remains true that undoubtedly in the brain are weird things going on, particularly the fact that when I look at a red shirt, I see red; if somebody stands on my toe, it feels pain; if somebody scratches me, I feel a tickle, and it’s totally mysterious, in my opinion, at the moment, how that happens so if you say there’s no paranormal, in a way this is the very edge or beyond the edge of the understanding of the normal phenomena that we experience every single day of our lives all the time. And I think there’s a lesson there. It’s all very well to look at phenomena and cast them adrift because they are so weird but, in fact, our day to day experience is weird and I think incapable of understanding, and why I liked Sue is that she actually looked at the phenomena, then came to the conclusion that there’s nothing in those at all but then went on to look at consciousness which we all have and now puzzles and writes very nice books on what that final mystery is. Now, I regard that as a success and I’m incredibly pleased that I supported her in the early days when she was just a pretty nice girl, you know. That occasionally happened but basically I don’t like administration. I get bored by it. Occasionally, when you make a decision to take somebody on and so on, it works and you feel pleased but generally the minutiae, you know, of decision making and one person wanting a bigger room and somebody else wanting something else, and having to think about all that, I really very much dislike.

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, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008