RIP: Jonathan Miller (1934-2019)

Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) was an English theatre and opera director, actor, author, television presenter, humorist and medical doctor. After training in medicine and specializing in neurology in the late 1950s, he came to prominence in the early 1960s in the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. He died 27 November 2019 at the age of 85. Obituary here.

At the age of 12, at the St. Paul’s School, his lifelong friendship with Dr. Oliver Sacks began. Indeed, the neurologist’s journey to international fame began when Mr. Miller showed the original manuscript of Dr. Sacks’s book “Awakenings” to a London publisher.

Another noteworthy interdisciplinary project was in 1983 with “States of Mind.” He interviewed the art historian Ernst Gombrich, the philosopher and scientist Daniel Dennett and others about consciousness and the brain.

In 1978 he presented “The Body in Question,” a 13-part BBC series about human biology during which he performed an autopsy on a dead vagrant. The book from that series, The Body in Question, is available here.

Nature Essay: 150 years of scientific illustration by Geoffrey Belknap

Image-making, research and visual technologies have shaped each other over the past century and a half, argues Geoffrey Belknap, marking Nature’s anniversary. here

From the essay:

“Over the years, Nature adapted through its succession of editors, with, in recent decades, ‘sister’ journals carving out their own space in increasingly specialized scientific disciplines. Images remained central throughout. For instance, in 1896, Nature published physicist Wilhelm Röntgen’s first X-ray plates1; in the 1920s, maps to debate Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift2; and in 1968, the graphs that described astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s discovery of pulsars.”

Book Review: The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity by Jeffrey Sconce

Reviewed by Amy Ione.   

The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity by Jeffrey Sconce is a robust and multidimensional reminder of the complexity of human consciousness. Moving from Enlightenment studies of electricity and human anatomy to our 21st century digitally-connected globe, this interdisciplinary study asserts that delusions of electronic persecution have been a preeminent symptom of psychosis for over 200 years. One impressive feature of the study is how deftly Sconce weaves together case studies, literary source material, court cases, and popular media. Through this material he argues that we are moving toward an increasingly psychotic reality in which data practices will produce a world in which thought, reflection, and doubt will be disrupted by the very structures humans are putting in place. In his view, the current melding of big data and political power is creating a situation in which it is becoming more difficult to isolate precisely how (or perhaps where) bodies, the mind, electronics, and information intersect. He draws a parallel between psychotic disembodiment and electronic simulations:

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CONFERENCE: Race and Biomedicine Beyond the Lab: 21st Century Mobilizations

26th-27th SEPTEMBER 2019, KING’S COLLEGE LONDON

PROPOSALS DUE 1 JULY 2019
Submit abstracts via Google Forms

This two-day interdisciplinary conference will be an important step toward building an international research network that focuses on the ways that race and biomedicine are mobilized beyond the lab in the 21st century. We seek to foreground how non-scientists are at the forefront of novel, plural, generative deployments of biomedical ideas of race that either entrench or resist historical ideas about race and its relation to biology across domains of environments, markets, and human rights.

Biomedical ideas of race have conventionally operated in two oppositional ways: notions of race as genetic or biological truth; and, conversely, accounts of health and health disparities as products of racism rather than caused by race itself. Debates about these opposing logics have never been completely cordoned off into domains of biomedical experts, but they are increasingly moving beyond the lab, and being deployed in diverse ways. Nonscientists are at the forefront of a range of deployments. On the one hand, biomedical ideas of race are being used by broader stakeholders to maintain historically entrenched ideas about race (e.g. pathologization of racialized groups to justify political repression and social service marginalization). On the other hand, biomedical ideas of race are also strategically mobilized in alternative directions, to stake claims and resist race-based injustice (e.g. identifying bodies in mass graves as racially indigenous in order to ground genocide claims in international courts).

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Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind (Book Review)

Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind
by Ben Shephard

Reviewed by Amy Ione

Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind traces a slice of history that in turn introduces us to some of those drawn to study human psychology and mental health a few decades after Darwin’s theory of evolution took root. Four of these pioneers are the focus of this book: William Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Myers, and William McDougall. They met at Cambridge in the 1890s and Shephard links their lives more broadly through their efforts to study the brain as biological approaches were gaining increased leverage due to Darwin’s work. The author begins the book by placing us in that context:

“How, then, did the human brain evolve? Why did it evolve as it did? In the 1870s, modern experimental neuroscience began, using electricity to stimulate the nervous system of animals and microscopes to observe the nerve cells of humans. Within two decades, researchers had established the location of functions within the brain, unraveled the way that the nervous system automatically governs the body’s functions, and begun to discover how messages are sent between neurons and synapses. But these extraordinary advances only posed further questions — about human behavior; man’s relations to his fellow primates, and the human occupation of the earth. A generation of scientists went looking for answers” (p. 1).

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