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Science, perception and William Ockham


Communication and books
Richard Gregory Scientist
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Well, I think communicating is tricky because you’ve got to latch onto what people are already interested in. It’s extremely difficult to initiate an interest from scratch, first of all, but if you talk about or in any way exhibit what they’re already interested in, why don’t you bore them because they’ve already done it? There’s a fine line here. There’s a fine line between what people already know and what you can tell them. I think that a book can only give a small change in a knowledge base of the person. I don’t think you can go from nought to infinity. I don’t think you can go from nought to a reasonable understanding and that’s why, I think, in one’s life, one wants to read a lot of books on the same subject written by different authors, different points of view, some quite light hearted, every now and again a really deep book which goes into the thing in absolute detail. But if you only look at the detailed book, it’s just too much for the ordinary human being, too much of an effort and not rewarding enough. You need your imagination stirred and switched on and developed, which often happens by a light hearted book so I think that books should be accessible, have nice pictures in them, American textbooks are very good, and why not, you know, use colour, use jokes, use a lot and then you lead the reader into the difficult bit where they really have to focus, get their brain working and follow through the argument for themselves. It’s even true with this mirror reversal thing, you actually have to sit down and think about it, play with mirrors, try it out, and if you then go on to a really difficult question, why the brain has consciousness, well, if that mirror problem is difficult, how come that we’re likely to solve the problem of consciousness and can’t we learn a bit about the difficulties, the hazards, of thinking about this extremely difficult problem by analysing our difficulties with the allegedly simple problem? It seems to me we should calibrate ourselves and teach ourselves what we’re good at, where we trip up, the sort of mistakes we make, in order to hone our intellects, our understanding, our enthusiasm, to the hard problem? So I believe in a variety of trivial, fun books with loads of jokes to really deep philosophy, like Wittgenstein, for example. I think you want the range.

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: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008