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This is an interdisciplinary resource site that explores the burgeoning area of experimental scholarship happening at the confluence of the neurosciences - humanities.

Listen to audio interviews with neuroscientists. Those listed here have had their work taken up in the humanities and participate in cross-disciplinary projects. Hear how they respond to questions about the value and popularity of the neurosciences. Hear how they think about the humanities and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Meet the interviewees, see the interview questions, or just listen to the interviews.

Interviews conducted between 2013-2014. Last updated spring 2015

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The Interviewees

  • Jack Gallant, University of California, Berkeley
  • Marco Iacoboni, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Gregory Hickok, University of California, Irvine
  • Larry Cahill, University of California, Irvine
  • Anna Kuhlen, Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Berlin
  • Daniel Margulies, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
  • Jack Gallant

    Dr. Gallant is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His specialized research lab explores how information is represented and processed in the human brain. Many of his experiments use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), emphasize naturalized settings, and focus on the visual areas of the brain. His website details his work, and articles about his research can be found here.

    Marco Iacoboni

    Dr. Iacoboni is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles. His work involves fMRI experiments to explore motor control, social cognition, and neuro-modulation. He has published an influential book on the topic of "mirror neurons" as well as contributed many high-profile papers about the relationship between motor systems and emotional processing.

    Gregory Hickok

    Dr. Hickok is a Professor of Cognitive Sciences at University of California, Irvine. He runs the Auditory and Language Neuroscience Lab, focusing on the neural basis of auditory perception and language processing. He is known both for his work on the neural organization of language as well as his discussion of "mirror neurons" as not coding the meaning of actions. His recent book about the myths of mirror neurons and the difficulties of scientific communication can be found here.

    Larry Cahill

    Dr. Cahill operates the Cahill Lab at the University of California, Irvine. His work focuses on the relationship between emotionally impactful events and memory. He also studies sex differences in the brain, specifically as they relate to memory and emotion. His well-known article, "Why sex matters for neuroscience" can be found here, and a larger list of publications is available here.

    Anna Kuhlen

    Dr. Kuhlen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany. Her research sits at the intersection of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology and advocates going beyond the individual mind to study how multiple individuals coordinate with each other. One line of her work investigates the brains of two verbally communicating individuals using electroencephalography (EEG). She collaborates with experts in physics, computer science, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy.

    Daniel Margulies

    Dr. Daniel Margulies is a neuroscientist with a background in the humanities. His work focuses on basic neuroanatomy that explores how connectivity within the cerebral cortex is organized as well as ongoing collaborations that address the functional implications of this organization for spontaneous thought (or ‘mind-wandering’, with Jonny Smallwood) and the historical emergence of the research fields surrounding such questions (with Felicity Callard). He currently leads the research group for Neuroanatomy & Connectivity at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and am a core member of Hubbub, the first residency at the Hub at Wellcome Collection.

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    Interview Questions

      All interviews were conducted by Dr. David Gruber, and all of the interviewees were asked the same set of questions. Although conversations often deviated and followed their own natural patterns, each neuroscientist was asked the following:

    1. Could you tell me about your research?
    2. What are your past experiences with trans/interdisciplinary projects? What did you do? How did they work?
    3. Did you discover any philosophical or disciplinary hurdles while working with scholars from the humanities or social sciences?
    4. The rise of the neurosciences and its popularity in recent years has led a lot of humanities and social sciences scholars to want to explore fMRI work and use cognitive neuroscience findings in their own research. In your view, why has neuroscience become so popular across the university?
    5. Could you describe a way that you’ve seen neuroscience being used in other areas of the university before? How has your own work been used across disciplines?
    6. This next question is about the rules or order of the work place. If you found good reason to pair up with philosophers or linguists to conduct new experiments, would you be able to do so? Does your existing research agenda leave you time to conduct cross-disciplinary explorations or one-off experiments?
    7. Have you ever been encouraged to work across the disciplines or form interdisciplinary teams with people from the humanities and social sciences? Is this encouragement common or regular in your field?
    8. I want to talk now about disciplinary "gaps" between the Humanities and Sciences. Specifically, I am thinking of common philosophical disagreements that had a lot of resonance in the 1990s (social constructivism VS scientific realism or objectivism). Do these gaps still exist, or do they in any way influence your work or effect trans/interdisciplinary work?
    9. In cultural theory and philosophy, there is a new move to embrace the material world and to see it as multiple. This embrace of multiplicity can suggest that if we change our practices and methodologies, then other dimensions or sets of relations come to the fore. It can also suggest that we may never be able to see the Whole of any material entity/thing. How does this relate to thinking about the brain and its systems? What implications might a philosophy of multiplicity have for you and your work?

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      Interview Segments

        All interviews were transcribed and coded thematically. Several recurring themes emerged across the interviews. The audio content placed under each theme is summarized. Click on a theme to listen to the interview segments filed under that theme.

      1. THE NEW-NESS: a lot of neuroscience is still new, and the brain is extremely complex; this poses challenges when testing ideas from the humanities or building theories about human behavior.
      2. THE MACRO-MICRO: neuroscientific concerns are mainly on the micro-scale, involving specific experiments often dealing with a small set of neurons; this poses challenges when working with researchers in the humanities and social sciences who may want to theorize behavior and social systems.
      3. THE HYPE: neuroscientists express concerns about new neuro-popularization and neuro-hype; several note how the popular media as well as other neuroscientists "over-sell" findings.
      4. THE FUNDING: neuroscience experiments are expensive and require strong funding sources; neuroscientists are not always confident that researchers in the humanities and social sciences understand the immense expense or realize how grant funding guides cognitive neuroscience research agendas.
      5. THE DIVIDE: neuroscientists recognize some history of a philosophical "divide" between the humanities and the sciences but see this divide as nonexistent now or diminishing. At the same time, however, some of the interviewees strongly defend scientific objectivism; other interviewees recognize that neuroscience is invested with social and cultural pre-conceptions and is subject to disciplined practices, including language practices.
      6. THE MULTIPLICITY: neuroscience work generally resonates with theories of multiplicity in the humanities and social sciences. Neuroscientists suggest that the brain is complex, able to be studied at multiple levels, and alive, so they note how theories of multiplicity seem relevant to some extent. However, they tend to emphasize seeing one object (a neuron or brain system) from multiple perspectives and do not necessarily embrace the idea that material things are, themselves, multiple.
      7. THE ACROSS-DISCIPLINES: many researchers now work with neuroscientists or want to work with neuroscientists on joint projects. Interviewees discuss their experiences with regard to the possibilities and challenges of being a member of a team.