Oral history of British science

Humphrey, Nicholas (9 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 9: Continues story of research on MPD; paper written on this research for 'New York Review of Books' rejected dramatically by editor and so published elsewhere ['Raritan' 1989]. [7:26] Comments on return to UK, 1991. Story of invitation to apply, successfully, for post as Senior Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, funded under the Perrott-Warrick bequest for research in parapsychology, beginning 1992; negative response of psychical research community (including The Society for Psychical Research) to own appointment including strong opposition of Brian Josephson [BJ]; writing of 'Leaps of Faith' [1996]; joint application with RS for new Koestler Professorship of Parapsychology, University of Edinburgh. Mentions television programme 'Is There Anybody There?' [Channel 4, 1987] [17:35] Story of appointment as Professor of Psychology, New School for Social Research [NSSR], New York [1995-2005]. Comments on experience of this post; home in Bedford Village [BV]; birth of children; lack of companionship with colleagues and other residents of BV, with related story of speaking to neighbours; decision to move back to UK. [23:46] Story of successful application for post as Senior Research Fellow in Evolutionary Psychopathology in the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science [CPNSS], Department of Philosophy, London School of Economics [LSE], brought to attention in email from Helena Cronin [HC]. Mentions AK's work as a clinical psychologist. Comments on continuation of post, now part-time, at NSSR. Comments on funding of post at LSE by businessman Derek Goldsmith [DG]; reasons for DG's interest in evolution of schizophrenia, including his theoretical 'hydraulic model'. [27:29] Story of DG's arrest/trail for murdering wife; DG's acquittal; DG's involvement in research project following his acquittal; own research on the placebo effect against DG' expectation that the holder of own post would research DG's hydraulic theory of schizophrenia, leading to withdrawal of funding. [33:40] Story of Anthony Giddens [AG], then Director of LSE, appointing self as 'School Professor' [in 2001]. Comments on appreciation of freedom, in this post, from expectations of HC and Nancy Cartwright [NC] concerning generation of funding; move from LSE's Department of Philosophy to its Department of Sociology. Comments on relations with Nikolas Rose here; move to Department of Anthropology; continuation of work here on the placebo effect. [36:46] Story of role of Max Steuer of CPNSS in preventing DG's legal action against LSE by arranging special publication of DG's hydraulic theory of schizophrenia. [39:24] Detailed comments on own evolutionary/biological arguments concerning operation of the placebo effect involving immunological significance of feelings of safety. Story of discussing this with RD in recorded interview. Comments on theory of 'placebos at large'. Story of mathematical modelling, by others, of own placebo theory, reported in newspapers and 'New Scientist' without reference to self. [51:51] Comments on retirement from LSE, at then statutory age of 65; work since retirement in developing ideas, giving talks, writing books including 'Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness' [2011]. Mentions award of Mind and Brain Prize [of Centre for Cognitive Science of the University and Polytechnic of Turin] in 2015; frequent correspondence with DD. Comments on establishment of New College of the Humanities [NCH], London by Anthony Grayling; own appointment as professor here; NCH conference on work of self and DD; possibility of writing further book on consciousness. [56:38] Story of 2014 conference on ship sailing round Greenland ['The problems of consciousness and free will'] organised by founder (Dmitry Volkov) of the Moscow Centre for Consciousness Studies, Moscow State University. [1:00:30] Comments on recent conference on CH Waddington in Florence, including presence of PB, Steven Rose, including own talk on CH Waddington, including his panpsychism, own restatement of ideas on consciousness from 'illusion' to 'art' (invented but existing: "the [mathematical] structures we generate in our brain [...] are the real thing", involving "attractor states, reverberating circuits"). [1:08:04] Discussion of view of religion in relation to experiences of religious practice in the US and more generally in relation to own arguments concerning role of spirituality (with religion as "parasitic" on spirituality) as part of consciousness. Mentions discussion of religion with DD. [1:15:08] Detailed comments on development of thinking about consciousness from period of working with DD at TU onwards, especially focus on the role of conscious sensations/ consciousness of sensations, including influence of previous work on blind sight (raising question of apparent superfluous or at least just additive role of consciousness of sight), LW's recent work with human patient with completely damaged VC, extent to which own and DD's ideas have developed together. [1:23:24] Comments on role of own sensory experience in development of arguments in 'Soul Dust' [2011]. Brief discussion of 'instrumentalism' in DD's view of consciousness and extent to which own ideas may be difficult to test. [1:28:02] Story of work in early 1970s with human patient who - in their early 20s - previously blind, had cataracts (caused by childhood Small Pox) removed. [Section closed from 1:30:00 to 1:30:30] Comments on book 'Colour for Philosophers'. Detailed comments on personal motivations for working on consciousness. [1:39:55] Detailed comments on reasons for not wanting to remain/live permanently in US. [1:45:20] Detailed comments on/stories of being a father of two children. Story of conversation with Colin Blakemore concerning his own and others' experience of relationship difficulties. [1:53:02] Story of emotional anticipation of (in part through dreaming), and actual experience of, father's death. Detailed comments on recent work/reading on suicide for forthcoming conference. [2:00:16] Comments on sharing of parenting with wife; relations between parenting and academic work for self and wife. [2:02:38] Comments on relations with own children as 'teenagers'. [2:04:15] Comments on relations with literary agent John Brockman [JB], including view of the "internet salon" 'Edge', JB's relations with RS (and Larry Dossey), meeting of JB with DD, own role in introducing JB to RD and Martin Rees, JB's later exclusion of RS from his projects including 'Edge', books edited by JB featuring chapters by self 'Curious Minds' [2004] and 'The Third Culture' [1995], JB's annual question to 'Edge' community including that suggested by self: "what do you believe even if you can't prove it?", friendly relations with JB and his family, possible sources of JB's interest in science, JB's interest in and role in creating/sustaining "glamorous" and "starry" possibilities for scientists. Mentions first book with JB as agent: 'History of the Mind' [1992]. Story of telephone conversation with JB concerning substantial advance for this book. Comments on tendency for advances/earnings from books to have peaked at this time; possible reasons for timing of this peak, including "Hawking effect" (promise suggested by sales of Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' in 1988). Mentions significance of RD's 'The Selfish Gene' [1976]; quality of writing in books written by scientists encouraged by JB; tendency for writing of popular books by scientists to have become less surprising. [2:21:43] Comments on relations with HC and NC at LSE, including HC's success in hosting the 'Darwin seminars'; difficulties in fundraising for envisaged 'Darwin Centre; relations with HC; HC's unconventional academic career; view of luck/decision making in own career. [2:32:54] Comments on RS as example of someone who's career path may not have modern equivalent; own positive view of RS's current research. [2:33:39] Comments on view of limited relations between 'Darwin seminars' at LSE and agendas in neoliberal economics; work of Geoffrey Miller in behavioural economics. Story at own conferences organised at LSE 'The Place of Value in a World of Facts' [2003], with related comments on details of conferences organised by HC. [2:39:09] Further comments on relations with Nikolas Rose during short period working in LSE's Department of Sociology. Story of reception for launch of book edited by Steven Rose [SR] and Hilary Rose 'Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology' [2000]. Comments on relations with SR, including story of encouraging Stephen Hawking to decline Israeli scientific prize; experience (with PB, Colin Blakemore and others) of hate mail following from anti-Israeli campaigning. [2:49:47] Comments on own view of 'Alas Poor Darwin'; SR's opposition to genetic determinism.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Psychology Dr Nicholas Humphrey

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