Pint of Science 2015 – Beautiful Mind

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One answer to the question: “Would you date a human-like, artificially intelligent machine?”

More than 50 scientists took the stage between 18th – 20th May in six local pubs in Cambridge. While having a drink in a relaxed atmosphere, the audience had the chance to listen to experts explaining their research. The festival aims to make science accessible and encourages participants to ask questions, discuss ideas and share opinions, without the need for previous knowledge or expertise.

Cambridge Neuroscience was proud to sponsor one of the six themes: “Beautiful Mind”, covering topics from neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry and featuring a brilliant line-up of many Cambridge Neuroscience speakers.

The first night was dedicated to the topic “Moving minds – the brain-body connection”. Dr Simon Stott presented new insights into Parkinson’s disease, Prof Daniel Wolpert explained why our brains’ most important function is movement control, outing himself as a “movement chauvinist”, and Dr Ian Coyle-Gilchrist described how our understanding of mental illness and diagnostic categories have changed.

The second night focused on “Consciousness and beyond – where science meets religion” and saw entertaining presentations from three other scientists. Prof Alasdair Coles, who is also a Reverend, impressed the audience with his thoughts on the interaction of faith and brain function. He explained how some people lose their faith after brain diseases and some find it during the course of neurological illness. Next, Dr Srivas Chennu told the audience about methods of detecting consciousness in some seemingly vegetative patients. Last, Prof Murray Shanahan captured the audience’s attention with his ideas on artificial intelligence and his advisory role for the Hollywood movie “Ex Machina”.

During the break, the audience was asked to answer the question “Would you date a human-like, artificially intelligent machine?” inspired by the movie. You can see one of the answers on the left.

Dr Joni Holmes, Dr Tom Manly and Imre Bard discussing cognitive enhancement.
Dr Joni Holmes, Dr Tom Manly and Imre Bard discussing cognitive enhancement.

On the last night, the audience saw three brief presentations on the topic “Electrifying minds – can we boost brain power?” Dr Joni Holmes  described her recent research on brain training accompanied by non-invasive brain stimulation. Dr Tom Manly explained the difficulty of transferring benefits from one training task to general function and the problems of publication bias. Finally, Imre Bard showed some of the ethical challenges of brain stimulation techniques.

After a break, the audience returned for a panel discussion with the three presenting scientists. Interesting questions about safety, efficacy and desirability of cognitive enhancement were discussed.

Overall, the festival was a big success. Participants enjoyed to opportunity to approach the scientists directly and to learn about recent findings. During breaks, attendants also had the chance to complete a scavenger hunt and to take part in a raffle for an exclusive Pint of Science pint glass.

There was also the special opportunity to see an artwork related to the talks. All 50 scientists were paired with a local artist, who interacted with the researchers before the festival, learned about the science and created a piece of art inspired by the findings. The pieces were on show on each night and also at a grand finale of all 50 artists on Thursday 20 May at St Barnabas Church – the popular event “Creative Reactions”.

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The Cambridge Pint of Science Beautiful Mind team 2015

Pint of Science is entirely run by volunteers. The Beautiful Mind events in Cambridge were organised by a team of 8 volunteers – 7 of whom are Cambridge Neuroscience students. The festival started three years ago as an idea of two London-based researchers who wanted to host an evening of talks in their local pub. Since then, Pint of Science has been rapidly growing in popularity and spanned 8 countries and 50 cities this year. The festival will return in May 2016.

Adapted from Cambridge Neuroscience News: Meeting report by Julia Gottwald (Department of Psychiatry)

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