Interdisciplinary Interest in Neuroscience

The first piece of information we received as participants in the UPenn Neuroscience Bootcamp was a list of the other participants. We then learned a bit more about each other in the introductory session this morning. I am one of a handful of philosophers, including the great Alvin Goldman, whose work in epistemology and cognitive science has had a substantial impact on the discipline. I’ve met an artist interested in using neuroscience and neuro-imaging in his creation of digital art, and a science writer for the Dana Foundation who also publishes romance novels. There are two theologians attending whose motivations for attending bootcamp I don’t yet understand, and three teachers creating neuroscience curriculums for high schoolers. There are quite a few law professors (from UCLA, Cornell, and Duke): the intersect of law and neuroscience is clearly a hot topic for many working in the criminal law. There are two defense attorneys who try capital cases and use neuroscience as a tool for mitigation, an education professor studying acquisition of second languages, and an art history professor studying (and hoping to debunk) neuroaesthetics. And there are two researchers associated with the US Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, an owner of a boutique consulting firm, and a Head of the Secretariat of the Bioethics Advisory Committee in Singapore.

I was fairly surprised to learn that we are also a fairly diverse group in terms of age, race and gender. The first day of bootcamp indicates that questions from the group will reflect participant’s interests (and biases). I hope this means that I will learn about neuroscience, about why other disciplines are interested in neuroscience, and about how neuroscientific data might impact other areas of policy and human endeavor I don’t tend to think about. Our host Martha Farah made the point early on that cognitive neuroscience holds the promise of proving that there is unity in the sciences. She meant that neuroscience might close the gap between the “hard” science of biology and “soft” science of psychology, such that they might be said to be examining the same basic phenomena (but at different levels of description). She indicated that in this way neuroscience might qualify psychology and sociology as natural sciences.

It remains to be seen how many of the participants will agree with her by the end of the week.

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