Other related projects

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Dear All,

At the workshop ‘Cultivating Common Ground’ the break-away group on critical theory (close textual analysis) led by Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein discussed how a grounding paper for the study of ‘mirror neurons’ in neuroscience could be critiqued through both scientific approaches but also through textual analysis of underpinning assumptions in the language of the theories and experiments. Interestingly, the group found, there turned out to be overlap between the science and the textual analyses in both what they critiqued in the paper and how.

Karin has continued to write critiques of neuroscience based on this close textual analysis (several are awaiting publication) and is now going to give an invited paper on how ideas of childhood and ideas of neuroscience are linked at the following symposium:

Depsychologizing/deneurologizing modern subjectivity?

One-day symposium and book launch Psychologization and the Subject of Late-Modernity (Jan De Vos, Palgrave 2014)

Ghent, Belgium, 8 January 2014

What does it mean to become the (neuro)psychologist of one’s own life? If something is not working in our education, in our marriage, in our work and in society in general we turn to the (neuro)psy-sciences. But is the latter’s paradigm precisely not relying on feeding neuro-psychological theories into the field of research and action? Isn’t therefore, psychology not always already psychologization, and is, concomitantly, neuroscience not always already neurologisation?

This one-day symposium brings together psychologists, psychoanalysts, philosophers and educationalists to reflect on the centrality of the (neuro)psy slope of modern subjectivity and its consequences for critique. The closing event of the day is the book launch of Jan De Vos’s book Psychologization and the Subject of Late Modernity (Palgrave, 2014).

There is a new AHRC website gathering together all the information on their ‘Science and Culture’ awards and projects, including our project on this blog. See at: http://www.sciculture.ac.uk/projects/exploratory-awards/the-value-of-the-literary-and-historical-study-of-biology-to-biologists/

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein

Since the start of October, I’ve been working on an AHRC Research Fellowship on the Pre-Raphaelites and science. Over the project as a whole I am going to be looking at Pre-Raphaelite poetry, painting and art criticism, but I’m starting off looking at how Pre-Raphaelite artistic ideals and practices shaped the decoration and design of Victorian natural history museums. I’ve been looking at two key buildings in particular.

Dr John Holmes at museum for pre-raphaelite art and science research project

Dr John Holmes scrutinizes woodwork in museum for his pre-raphaelite art and science project

First, I spent a few weeks reading through the archives of the Oxford University Museum, and looking closely at the museum itself. When the leading Oxford scientists finally persuaded the University to build them a science faculty (as we’d now call it) in the 1850s, they held a competition for the building. They ended up making an audacious, eccentric and ultimately brilliant choice, opting for Gothic architecture as the best style for their modern science museum and laboratories. The architects they chose were the Irish firm of Deane and Woodward, who had been inspired by the ideals of John Ruskin. The scientist who gave the project its momentum, Henry Acland, was an old friend of Ruskin’s, and a friend and patron of Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Lizzie Siddal. Ruskin introduced Woodward to Rossetti, and Rossetti put him in touch with the Pre-Raphaelite sculptors Thomas Woolner, John Lucas Tupper, and Alexander Munro, who went on to carve the dynamic statues of scientists who surround the museum’s main court. Meanwhile, Woodward’s stone-masons who had come over from Ireland – the brothers James and John O’Shea, and their nephew Edward Whelan – were carving some of the most beautiful, vibrant and intricate decorative stonework done since the middle ages. Between them, Woodward, the Pre-Raphaelites, the O’Sheas and the Oxford scientists created not only a rich and continually surprising building, but one of the most original and imaginative symbolic representations of the natural world and the scientific project ever created. (I’ll be giving a talk on the Oxford University Museum as a Pre-Raphaelite museum in a couple of weeks – please click on this link for the flier if you would like to come along.

The second building where Pre-Raphaelite ideals came into play in representing science and nature was the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Another triumph of Victorian Gothic (or more precisely Romanesque) architecture, the Natural History Museum was the brainchild of the great comparative anatomist Richard Owen and the architect Alfred Waterhouse. In the 1850s, when the Pre-Raphaelites had been arguing for an art modelled on science in its close observational accuracy and commitment to truth, Owen had become keen on Holman Hunt’s paintings in particular. While Owen went on to become friends with Hunt and his fellow Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, Waterhouse employed Woolner and the O’Sheas to carve the sculptures and decorations for the Manchester Assize Courts and Ford Madox Brown to paint the murals for the Manchester Town Hall. When they came to design and build the Natural History Museum, Owen and Waterhouse had the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of an art grounded in science and giving a true image of nature in their minds. The result is another building that is at once fantastic in its richness and decorative exuberance, and meticulous in the accuracy with which it depicts the animals and plants that adorn its walls, windows, roofs and arches.

Both museums look to represent nature, both are masterpieces, and both were born from a combination of Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics and Natural Theology (the view of science as revealing God’s work in Nature). Even so, they offer very different aesthetic experiences and even intellectual experiences. What I am moving on to think about now is why this should be, and how, in particular, the different materials, plans, styles and techniques of the two buildings give us subtly but very significantly different interpretations of the natural world.

Dr John Holmes, Department of English Literature, University of Reading.

Sasha Kagansky from the University of Edinburgh kindly sent us this example of common ground cultivation – a short video from a Summer event he was part of called Chromosome Carnival. It was a science/arts collaboration themed on chromosome separation and is a collaboration between biologists like himself and choreographers/physical theatre performers from Germany/Russia/Israel. See:

http://vimeo.com/52943913

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein

 

What Scientists Read is a project designed to look at the influence of literature upon scientists and their work. Interdisciplinary ‘sci-art’ projects that interpret scientific information in an artistic way are flourishing. But this project is different. What Scientists Read will test the assumption that the influence of science upon the arts is a one-way street.

For further information on the project and to take part by giving your views and reading, please go to http://www.whatscientistsread.com/ or e-mail Dr Sarah Dillon at: sjd16@st-andrews.ac.uk

Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein