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February 14, 2009, 2:30 PM

Creative Ambiguity in Scientific and Humanistic Thought

Participants: Eva Brann, Heather Dubrow, Donald Pfaff (moderator), Robert Shapley, Michael Shelley, Sandra Sherman

Important and productive intellectual activities rarely proceed in a linear fashion from the beginning of an endeavor to its completion. Einstein said he thought in vague 'pictures.' Poets use ambiguity on a daily basis. This roundtable will explore, among other things, the similarities and differences among imaginative processes in humanistic and scientific thinking. Psychoanalytic insights will inform the panel as to possible sources and unconscious motives of these images and thoughts.

Eva Brann has been a teacher in the integrated program of St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland, for half a century. She's the author of a book about visual imagination, called The World of the Imagination: Sum and Substance, in addition to numerous other publications. Brann's long history of academic posts and honors includes fellowships with the NEH and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Heather Dubrow is John D. Boyd, S.J., Chair in the Poetic Imagination at Fordham University and director of the Poets Out Loud reading series. She is the author of six scholarly books, most recently The Challenges of Orpheus: Lyric Poetry and Early Modern England. Her other publications include a co-edited collection of essays, two chapbooks of poetry, and articles on early modern literature and on teaching, as well as poems in numerous journals. Current projects include a book on the academic profession and a revisionist study of immediacy in lyric poetry, focusing especially on spatiality and temporality. Among Dubrow's interdisciplinary interests is the relationship between the visual and literary arts.

Donald Pfaff is Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University. He is a brain scientist who uses neuroanatomical, neurochemical and neurophysiological methods to study the cellular mechanisms by which the brain controls behavior. Dr. Pfaff is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, a member of the Advisory Board of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves on the editorial boards of numerous scholarly journals.

Robert Shapley is Natalie Clews Spencer Professor of the Sciences at New York University's Center for Neural Science. In addition, he is Professor of Neural Science, Psychology and Biology at New York University and Director of the Program for Theoretical Visual Neuroscience. Professor Shapley is a former MacArthur Fellow and past recipient of the N.I.H. Research Career Development Award.

Michael Shelley is Lilian and George Lyttle Professor at the Courant Institute of New York University. He is also Professor of Mathematics and of Neuroscience, as well as the Co-Director of the Institute's Applied Mathematics Lab. He is a mathematician who uses theoretical modeling, analysis, and computer simulation to understand complex systems arising in the physical sciences and in biology. Among other honors, he was an NSF Presidential Young Investigator, received the Frenkiel Award of the American Physical Society and the Julian Cole Lectureship of SIAM, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Sandra Sherman is Assistant Director of the Fordham Intellectual Property Conference. Sherman was an attorney for several years in the U.S. Department of Energy, where she specialized in international and administrative law, and has held legal positions in the Justice Department and Department of State. Before joining the Institute, she was a professor at the University of Arkansas and Georgia State University, where she specialized in 18th century British literature and culture. Sherman is the author of three books, including Finance and Fictionality in the Early Eighteenth Century: Accounting for Defoe and Imagining Poverty: Quantification and the Decline of Paternalism. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. She was a Visiting Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University, and the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard.


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