On Wednesday 2nd February, 2011, people gathered in the CHH seminar room for the first meeting of The University of London Interdisciplinary Sciences and the Arts Discussion Group. The room was bursting to the seams with postgraduate researchers from across the London universities, Oxford, Cambridge, Sussex and elsewhere, including The Science Museum.
I founded this group, along with my friend Helen Barron who is a neuroscientist at UCL, as we both felt surprised by the lack of communication that takes place on a personal level between the disciplines within a university context.
Driven on by anger at C P Snow’s absurd, but yet still all too familiar remarks in his 1959 lecture The Two Cultures we decided to found the group. Snow writes that ‘I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups’ and that this also carries over into ‘practical life’, meaning that therefore, the attitudes of scientists and writers ‘are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground’. I would hope that this meeting, amongst numerous other things in our culture, went some way in proving Snow wrong.
Instead, I prefer the words of Mary Midgley who writes in her book Poetry and Science that ‘the idea of a war between two cultures is a futile one. Instead we all need to sit down together and exchange our visions’ (Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, London and New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 57).
There is a growing critical interest in the relationship between the sciences and the arts and interdisciplinary research is on the rise. Yet despite this, it is rare for a group of scientists and humanities postgraduate researchers to come together to discuss the ways in which their disciplines relate, interact and can be fruitful for or antagonistic towards one another. Therefore, this group intends to be a space for precisely this to happen. And based on the extremely lively debate that took place at the first meeting, along with the well balanced and highly varied demographic of attendees, it looks set, we hope, to be able to live up to its brief.
In light of the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, we chose the topic of drugs as the first topic. Furthermore, it seemed an interesting point to consider chemical brain changes alongside accounts of subjectivity.
We discussed two neuroscientific papers on drugs, and Neil Saigal, a researcher from Cambridge looking the opiod receptor, impulsivity and cocaine abuse, introduced his work. We also discussed Aldous Huxley’s text recounting his experiences of mescalin The Doors of Perception, which was introduced by Nicholas Murray, Huxley’s biographer and the King’s College Royal Literary fund writer in residence.
The group will meet again shortly. If you would like to join or suggest future topics for discussion, would like to speak or simply attend, please do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com