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March 15, 2008, 3:30 PM

The Mirror and the Lamp

Participants: Paul Bloom, Margaret Browning, Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Paul Harris (moderator), Alan Leslie

This roundtable is part of the Brainwave Festival, held in conjunction with the Rubin Museum, Exit Art, The Graduate Center at CUNY, and the School of Visual Arts. The event will be preceded by a screening of the film Being There.

Creative artists have always received inspiration both from the objective world and from cortical processes on both the right and left hemispheres of the brain that play an essential role in the formation of imaginative constructs. Mimesis, the means by which so called objective reality is mirrored, has traditionally been counter-posed to inspiration, in which images, words, and music are considered to be vestiges of neurophysiological processes. Recent advances in neuroscience have refined the distinction between imaginative process and the mimetic process. In particular, the concept of neuroplasticity has fostered an understanding of the ways in which the brain interacts with and is shaped by external stimuli. Relying on findings derived from a broad arena of psycho-biological studies of adults and children (including those with autism) that delve into concept and belief formation, theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others), memory and emotion, this multidisciplinary panel will focus on the building blocks of imaginative processes.

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He is the author or editor of four books, including, most recently, Descarte's Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. He is currently writing a book about pleasure.

Margaret Browning has recently argued in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly that the work of philosopher Susanne Langer provides a unique framework for combining scientific and artistic perspectives on the human mind. Dr. Browning received her doctorate at The University of Chicago from the interdisciplinary Committee on Human Development. After conducting research with premature infants as an Associate Attending, Scientific Staff, in the Department of Pediatrics at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, she has moved to the other end of the developmental trajectory and is currently engaged in health services research as a Health Science Specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bhismadev Chakrabarti is the Charles and Katharine Darwin Research Fellow at Darwin College, University of Cambridge. He holds a degree in Chemistry from the University of Delhi, India, and a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. His doctoral research with Simon Baron-Cohen focussed on genetic, neuroimaging and behavioural studies of emotion processing and empathy. He is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre.

Paul Harris is a developmental psychologist with interests in the development of cognition, emotion and imagination. He has taught at the University of Lancaster, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the London School of Economics. In 1980, he moved to Oxford where he became Professor of Developmental Psychology and Fellow of St. John's College. In 1998, he was as elected as fellow of the British Academy. He currently teaches developmental psychology in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. His latest book is The Work of the Imagination.

Alan Leslie is Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, where he directs the Cognitive Development Laboratory. He was formerly Senior Scientist at the Medical Research Council's Cognitive Development Unit at the University of London. There he was a member of the team that discovered the "theory of mind" impairment in autism. He is interested in the basic design of the early cognitive system. In 2005 he gave the Kanizsa Memorial Lecture at the University of Trieste, Italy and in 2006 was the inaugural recipient of the Ann L. Brown Award for Excellence in Developmental Research. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science.


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