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George Porter


John Zachary Young
Richard Gregory Scientist
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John Young, always called J.Z., and he was an absolutely wonderful man. He was professor of anatomy in University College in London and he was the only professor of anatomy who wasn’t actually a doctor. He wasn’t medically qualified. In a way this was an advantage, I think, because he ran his department in an extraordinary way. He got interested in cybernetics, the idea of, well the beginnings really of artificial intelligence. These were machines that could control themselves with feedback, very much inspired by the war, actually, war gadgets and devices, and then he realised that organisms have feedback control and groups of organisms also had feedback and control and sort of dynamic system. He also saw it as in a way mechanistic and he worked on nerve impulses, particularly in the squid. He worked on the octopus brain, he was a world authority on the octopus brain and he worked in Naples for many, many years every summer, and he was an absolutely inspiring character. I mean in the evenings he would drink gallons of beer with the boys sort of thing, but everybody respected him so that the discipline in his group was absolute and completely informal through respect for him as a leader. It was really a lovely thing. I had two summers working with him in Naples, not actually on octopuses, I never work on octopus, but on a unique eye in nature, I think, and it’s called capelia, Copilia quadrata, and it’s little teeny weenie creature called a cotapod which has an extraordinary eye which has big, well, two eyes, it has big lenses like headlamps in front of it and behind that there’s a little teeny weenie lens and one optic nerve into its brain in the middle. Now, the lenses inside the body of the animal is completely transparent, wiggle in and out scanning the image from the front lens so it works like a mechanical television set so instead of in the case of the human eye a million fibres from the eye into the brain, this only has one. It works by scanning, entirely different principle and he got quite excited by this, arranged that I could go there, a long time ago, and I spent the summer working on this eye and he’s that sort of chap. He’d get excited by something, support a younger person, help them to do it, and it all happened and it all worked out, and he’s a person I respect enormously, really do. And I think this is one of the things about science, I mean there’s a lot of warmth in it, there’s a tremendous amount of friendship in it but also always a rivalry, you know, and it’s a funny thing, a lot of people don’t understand but it’s the rivalry and therefore the standards that were set up by always a possibility of criticism that keeps a thing sharp but it’s also warm because when somebody does do something exciting, then people will follow that person, they become a sort of leader in a smaller or bigger way, and J.Z. Young was a fantastic leader in that regard. He was always having ideas, help other people have ideas and extremely high standard and he was just, I think, somebody to emulate where possible, you know. I can’t think of anybody else quite like J.Z. Young.

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, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008