Oral history of British science

Humphrey, Nicholas (7 of 13).  An Oral History of British Science

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  • Subjects

    Science and Religion

  • Recording date

    2016-05-24, 2016-05-31, 2016-06-02, 2016-07-05

  • Recording locations

    The British Library and interviewees' home, Cambridge

  • Interviewees

    Humphrey, Nicholas, 1943- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: [Session three: 2nd June 2016] Story of libel case against 'The Guardian' newspaper with respect to own article reporting comments made about Russian dissident journalist Vladimir Bukovsky [VB] during own visit to Russia. [4:37] Story of being threatened with libel action by Uri Geller in response to reference to him as "convicted conman" in review article in 'London Review of Books'; own role in rejecting application of VB to King's College, UOC. [8:56] Comments on view of happiness of own childhood; Thomas Metzinger's [TM] response to own lecture on "the glories of consciousness" (on proposed function of consciousness to promote human engagement in life). Discussion of relations between engagement with material world and different possible responses of delight, alienation, depression; interest in/work on evolutionary psychology of suicide; anxieties about death and immortality as feature of human consciousness. Mentions conference in 2017 on 'death awareness and human evolution'; 'terror management theory'. Comments on effect of longevity of members of own family on lack of experience of death of close family member until that of brother in 2000. Discussion of own view of beauty/pleasure in life. Detailed comments on own concept of the 'soul niche'; experience of pain; experience of sensations as seeming to last longer than their actual duration ('thick moment of consciousness'); arguments made in book 'Soul Dust' about effects of sleeping/waking on expectations of immortality. [30:12] Comments on emotional consequences of view of consciousness as a 'magic show' (mentions Paul Bloom's contribution to book 'What is your dangerous idea?'), including belief that universal recognition of the non-existence of souls is unlikely. [33:03] Comments on JG; small proportion of female research students in SDAB including their tendency to be American (mention RH's wife); games played with colleagues, including charades; presence in SDAB of Priscilla Barrett, now a wildlife artist; "childlike" atmosphere of SDAB; political engagement of colleagues here. [39:39] Comments on tendency for others (including authors of book 'Machiavellian Intelligence') to assume that own academic career had ended in the early 1980s with work on 'The Inner Eye' programmes. Mentions paper by Alison Jolly. Comments on shift in own work "in last twenty years" to work not just on evolutionary function but also the phenomenal nature/feeling of consciousness, in part inspired by Stuart Sutherland's review of own book 'Consciousness Regained' [1983]. Brief story of recent 'philosophy salon' at 'HowTheLightGetsIn' festival, Hay on Wye, illustrating different meanings of 'consciousness'; reaction of John Humphrys to own arguments about the feeling of consciousness on an episode of the 'Today' radio programme. Comments on/discussion of extent to which consciousness is reflected upon, including tendency for children to ask the 'inverted spectrum' question, with related story of daughter's reference to discussion with school friends. [51:09] Further comments on making of 'The Inner Eye' including relations with directors, stories of filming, content of episodes. Mentions own paper 'Dreams as play'. Comments on role of fiction in development of understanding of others. [1:07:14] Further comments on relationship with SY, including her contribution to 'Consciousness Regained' [1983], end to this relationship and subsequent relations with SY. Story of SY's illness, death. [Comments on tendency not to talk about past relationships with wife Ayla.] [1:17:57] Comments on work of Robert Lifton [RL]. Story of meeting RL; encouragement of/help in writing SY's public talks against nuclear weapons (mentions similar work with Julie Christie); influence of RL's work on writing of own Bronowski Memorial Lecture. [recording stops abruptly].

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Psychology Dr Nicholas Humphrey

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