The University’s dedication to interdisciplinary study was reflected by last Friday’s workshop entitled (Your) Brain on Culture, which examined the interplay of neuroscience and the humanities. The event, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, took place at Russell House and was attended by students and professors representing a variety of academic fields.
The workshop highlighted the potential for using neuro-cognitive approaches to improve inquiry in the social sciences and humanities. Speakers addressed the unique perspectives that could arise from collaboration between the humanities and neuroscience, including explanations of what forms personhood and the “self.”
“The presentations raised a lot of good questions,” said Visiting Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Dan Leisawitz. “I definitely gained an understanding of how new a field neuroscience is and how, like all emerging fields, it has many complexities and flaws. Integrating neuroscience with outside endeavors such as politics has pitfalls but also many advantages.”
The event began with Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Behavior Matthew Kurtz. His presentation was entitled “Neuroscience: First Principles and Mechanisms of Interaction with Culture.”
“Professor Kurtz gave a general history and background of neuroscience,” said College of Social Studies major Kaya Lee ’13. “He introduced the concept of ‘brain function,’ and discussed the evolution of scientists’ understanding of it.”
Next to speak was Jan Slaby, a visiting professor from Free University in Berlin. Slaby’s presentation was entitled “Proposal for a Critical Neuroscience.”
“Professor Slaby spoke about the creation of a dialogue between neuroscience and critical theory, and understanding the effects of neuroscience outside of the scientific field,” said neuroscience major Jed Rendleman ’12.
According to Lee, Slaby also discussed the implications of the latest findings of neurological studies on political theory and social phenomenon.
Jonathan Kramnick, professor of English at Rutgers University, gave the final presentation, entitled “Against Literary Darwinism.”
“As an English and neuroscience major it was very interesting to learn how intertwined studies of the humanities and neuroscience are,” said Christopher Liong ’12. “There are large benefits to the interactions of the two fields.”
A panel featuring all of the lecturers, a tea break, and an ending reception broke up the lectures.
“I was not expecting to see such a diverse group of students and teachers [at the workshop],” said Melanie Brady ’12. “It was great to see people from all branches of the humanities and science departments who are interested and appreciative of the relationship between the two subjects.”