Oral history of British science

Humphrey, Nicholas (12 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 12: [Session four: 5th July 2016] Further brief comments on treatment of Hill family, following MH's suicide, by psychoanalyst Marie Singer. Comments on own experience of psychoanalysis in the 1970s, with story; willingness to talk to own mother about personal/emotional aspects of life. [4:24] Further comments on importance of particularities of work with monkey Helen on timing of development of work on 'blindsight'. [10:20] Detailed comments on negative effects on science of recent tendency for public interest and media attention to be valued (mentions own essay 'Sub-Prime Science' for the website edge.org). Comments on extent to which - early in own career - own work was celebrated/valued by others without any efforts on own part to popularise it, or to manage own reputation. Stories of ways in which own ideas have been renamed and used by others, with no reference to own work. [20:26] Comments on recent interest in making own work available online. Story of letter to/published in 'New Scientist' pointing out tendency for Robin Dunbar to be credited with the origins of the "social intelligence hypothesis". [22:37] Comments on own construction and maintenance of website 'humphrey.org.uk'; tendency to read comments on own books on 'amazon.com', and to ask for ad hominem and unfounded comments to be removed. [28:36] Discussion of/comments on view that monkey Helen's gender was significant in own working relationship with her. [30:00] Comments on differences between own and LW's relations with same monkeys; own influence on Helen's abilities/experimental results. [35:22] Discussion of potential concern about the completeness or otherwise of Helen's VC lesion. Comments on interest of others in Helen as example of importance of case studies in psychology; potential significance of single cases in psychical research. Story of grandfather's AV Hill's uncovering of fraud in claims for 'thoughtography'. Comments on LW's book 'Consciousness Lost and Found' [1997] including significance of own valuing of distinction between sensation and perception in the use of visual information (after Thomas Reid); tendency for consciousness studies to set aside the 'hard problem'; extent to which own approach to consciousness (involving representational ability of brains) avoids dualism involved in claiming that are another dimensions of matter than brains tune into (mentions David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, Galen Strawson). [52:30] Comments on recent preference for understanding of consciousness as 'art' or 'magic' rather than 'illusion' in respect of the extent that it has been selected for (mentions Mary Midgley's [MM] 'Are You an Illusion?' [2014]); tendency for MM's reviews of own books to include quotes taken out of context. [58:20] Comments on extent to which own note-taking on animal behaviour while at SDAB was not guided by standard ways of recording in ethology, such as the ethogram. Story of use of own field notes - unacknowledged - by DF in her book 'Gorillas in the Mist' [1983]; of RH's correction of use of word 'sheepish' in DF field notes. [1:02:39] Comments on relations with Desmond Morris; view of his book 'The Naked Ape' [1967] and subsequent books; possible reasons for decline in quality of books written by former scientists who are now science writers. [1:05:00] Brief further comments on character of JG. Further comments on effect on own work of experience of Africa, with related comments on general preferences for certain landscapes; extent to which ethologists in SDAB were attracted to work in Africa. [1:11:12] Further comments on relations with Steven Rose [SR]; difference between own and SR's view of role of evolutionary biology in understanding human nature and potential; close working relations of Steven and Hilary Rose; view of weakness of book 'Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology' [2000]. Mentions SR's brother, Nikolas Rose; recent conference on CH Waddington; tendency to have been involved in public disagreement with Hilary Rose. Comments on agreement between self and SR on extent to which human experience is material, involving nothing extra to the potential of brains; view of SR's use of word 'consciousness' in a metaphorical way (mentions 'class consciousness'). [1:18:09] Discussion of difference between own and SR's scientific work in explaining different outlooks on questions of the role of evolutionary biology in human/social questions. [1:21:27] Further comments on discussion with Norman Mailer at one of RL's 'Wellfleet seminars'. [1:24:44] Further comments on HC, including her work on sexual differences. [1:28:16] Comments on relations with Anthony Giddens before his role in own appointment as 'School Professor' at LSE [in 2001]; experience of postmodernist critiques of science, with related story of recent talk about consciousness to Buddhist monks.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Psychology Dr Nicholas Humphrey

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