Once again, it’s the wonderful time of year when the BBC’s Reith Lectures are being presented. I’ve followed the Reith Lectures on my weblog for quite a few years now, so when I discovered that this year’s lecturer is none other than my old San Diego research supervisor, Prof. Vilanyanur Ramachandran, I was pretty damn surprised. The theme of his lectures is ‘The Emerging Mind’.
I actually first heard that Ramachandran was over in the UK when I was at an interview at Oxford University; I’d just been asked a question about multimodal sensory integration and the binding problem, and I responded by using synaesthesia as an example and mentioning my time in San Diego. One of the interviewers then said that Ramachandran would be over at Oxford next week to speak. “Really?” I said thoughtfully.
Anyway, on Tuesday I went to a Cambridge Science Society lecture on ‘The Phenomenal Brain’ by a visual neuroscientist called Richard Gregory. After the talk I had a brief chat with him, asking if he was familiar with the blind spot theory of qualia espoused by Ramachandran. He was – he collaborated with Rama on the original experiment! “I hear that Rama will be speaking at Trinity on Friday,” he told me. “Really?” I said thoughtfully.
The reason I didn’t know about this is because the organisers of the Trinity talk, Trinity College Medical Society, had seen it fit not to publicise the talk in any way other than an email to the University’s Medical mailing list. Thus, poor saps like myself, a mere scientist, didn’t hear wind of it unless they began investigating with the Trinity porters and figuring out which rooms had been booked up for Friday (that, and asking my medic friends about it).
So the upshot of all of this is that I went to a packed talk given by Rama yesterday evening. Rama was in top form, exuding a real energy and enthusiasm about his subject while gesticulating madly and delighting the audience. I fear that his ideas about synaesthesia and the development of language and metaphor may have been a bit too novel for some Cambridge students, but it seemed like most people really enjoyed the talk. I wasn’t sure whether he’d recognise me, but when I put my hand up to ask a question he remembered immediately. “Hello, how are you!” he boomed. “Uh, fine, thanks…” I said, taken a bit aback. “This guy worked in my lab last summer,” he explained to the audience.
It was all very cool and I had another chat with him afterwards about my future plans, and him suggesting that I should apply to UC San Diego one of these days. And then I went to a curry for dinner and watched an episode of 24 downloaded from the net, rounding off an ideal evening.