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Ernst Gombrich


Sir Frederick Bartlett, memory and perception
Richard Gregory Scientist
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Sir Frederick Bartlett, who was the head of our Department of Psychology in Cambridge, and he was really a great man, fantastic man. He had a wonderful Oxfordshire brogue, he was brought up in a village in the Cotswolds near Oxford, and he was just an avuncular, lovely man, you know, I was fond of him, and he wrote a wonderful book called "Remembering" in 1932, which is still read today, and he’s a great authority really on rather informal kinds of experiments where he got, for example, people to read a story or listen to a story and then they’d try to remember it a week later and then a week later after that, see how good they were at remembering it, and then he’d study how the memories changed in time, and he found that they moved towards the normal situation in that society. He was also interested in anthropology and belief systems in different cultures and the idea is that memories sort of really get edited and distorted and changed and he thought of memory as the creative reconstruction of the past from only fragmentary bits and pieces actually stored in the brain, and there were sort of laws by which memories changed through time roughly so that they matched your previous conceptions of the world and the society that you were in. So he saw memory as pretty unreliable really but obeying laws of error and I think that had a big affect on me because I then thought of perception as dynamic constructing so it was really a sort of Bartlettian idea but put into perception. And did that, do you see links between memory and perception then? I think there’s a big connection. Actually, it’s a silly thing this in psychology that memory and perception are absolutely linked. I mean when you’re looking at something, you’re using distant and immediate memories, topping up what you’ve just been seeing, for example, and, of course, you use knowledge right from childhood or even inherited in order to see, and yet memory and perception are studied completely differently. They’re normally in different laboratories, completely different people, when you have an examination of the student and entirely different pieces of paper that you have to write the answers on, and yet they’re completely linked and I think there should be much more work relating memory to perception in experimental psychology.

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: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008