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Sir Frederick Bartlett, memory and perception


Why science is important
Richard Gregory Scientist
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It’s a really interesting question, isn’t it? Why science is important. I think science is incredibly important not only for survival, to have efficient technology to be able to fly aeroplanes around the place, to solve problems like global warming and so on, but also culturally because I think if one’s mind can encompass questions of science one is encompassing questions that in a way have fascinated humanity presumably from long, long before history, like what is the origin of the universe, where do we come from, and so on, but we can now actually look at them more or less objectively. We can make explicit the hypothesis, the possibilities, assess the weight of evidence and use one’s cortex, one’s thinking brain, to tackle problems that always appeal to us emotionally and I think this juxtaposition of intellect and emotion you get in science, I think to think of science as cold is ridiculous, it’s not. It’s sort of incredible passions such that the scientist will spend 10, 20 years with half an idea trying to make a whole idea, live with this possibility of some amazing insight which he hasn’t quite got but thinks it might be there and he may never get it. Now, this evokes absolute passion and, of course, passion that disputes between alternative views between scientists so it’s a kind of intellectual battleground but it’s, I think, a subject, you know, a way of thinking, which covers everything. It’s got human discussion, human agreements and disagreements which are really dramatic. I mean just as much as anything in Shakespeare, these disagreements, then it illuminates what we see because in order to see anything, you’ve got to have some sort of understanding. The understanding gives us seeing and the seeing gives you understanding. Again, the Bayesian probabilities, it plays about between the two, and science makes all this explicit and much more powerful. It harnesses resources of technology so it can actually solve problems that you can only visualise as possible before you’ve got the technology to actually do it so that technology born from science actually pushes back the frontiers of metaphysics. What was metaphysical guesswork becomes hypothesis you can test because your technology provides the evidence to change those probabilities. It provides the priors for changing the, sorry, provides the apriorise for changing the probabilities of the priors in Bayesian terms so if you ask do our bodies come as dust from the stars, is it the higher elements in a periodic table that synthesise from supernovae only, instead of being a silly old guess, it may or may not be true, you can actually pretty well answer the questions like that, where do we come from? And I think this is emotionally wonderful as well as intellectually wonderful and that’s why I think we should have science centres which really don’t funk the issue but give difficult ideas, make them as understandable as possible and allow people to play with them, enter into this arena, at any level they like. They can just play with it for fun, like looking at an illusion is fun, or they can sit down and think what on earth does this really mean and have guidance and help in that journey and I think schools are fine for what they do but we want science centres interactive that people can play around for the rest of their lives so that you can go on into this journey which I think actually links art and science but science is crucial in my opinion.

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, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008