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Speaking across disciplines: The School of Advanced Study at The Crick Institute

A new event series jointly organised by SAS and The Francis Crick Institute is exploring the meaning and challenges of ‘being human’.

A considerable buzz rang out through the Francis Crick’s large and airy space where a reception was being held after the inaugural lecture in the Being Human series jointly run by the School of Advanced Study and the Francis Crick Institute.

Why, a member of the audience asked, is the series being held at the Crick—a life sciences research institute? The answer is that we aim to bring together researchers from world-renowned science and technology institutions with humanities scholars, and the wider public, to explore what it is to be human in the age of AI, neurobiology and genetics, climate change, and political unrest, and to explore the challenges that face us, each through a different disciplinary lens. In this way, we hope to connect-up local areas of specialist knowledge, to effectively amplify and share the knowledge we already have.

While its recognized that we are all a mixture of biology and culture, the hard part is disentangling which is which. The things that matter to us can be studied systematically and scientifically. The study of biology at any scale touches on things that matter to humans beyond scientific curiosity: whether that be disease and death, individual differences, sex and reproduction, or just where we come from. At the same time, will a deeper understanding of the genetic and neural basis of our behaviour threaten to undermine or revise the image of ourselves as rational, choosing agents?

Five people pose for a photograph against a white wall. Professor John Dupre stands in the centre holding a wine glass.
The first lecture was delivered by Professor John Dupré (centre).

This topic was touched on in the first Being Human lecture, ‘Biological Processes and Free Will’, given by Professor John Dupré. In future we will tackle the differences between biological and physical complexity, the nature of emotions, AI technologies and their likely effect on society, and the evolution of animal consciousness. After each talk there are short commentaries by thinkers from different disciplines to open up the discussion.

“We need more occasions like this where people with different backgrounds tackle the large issues”. The remark, by a designer talking to a group of animated biologists, psychologists and economists, came as welcome confirmation to the organisers – biologist, Gunes Taylor and philosopher, James Di Frisco from the Crick, and director of the Institute of Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study, Barry Smith – that they were meeting a need.

The Being Human series continues on Friday 22 March at 4.00pm with Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett talking about ‘Three Lessons for the Brain from the Neuroscience of the Emotions’. Book your place now.

Book now

Book your place at the next event in this series, taking place on Friday 22 March.

Book now