“Science is a bossy bully, literature the dreamy geek in the corner.”


I do not like science. I’ve never liked it. This may have something to do with the fact that when I was eleven years old, an odious boy in my biology class put earwigs in my glasses case. Or it may have something to do with the fact that science has always seemed, in a vague way I’ve never really bothered to articulate properly, to stand against what I love most about art. It seeks to state, rather than to question. To close things down to facts, rather than open them up to possibilities. To say (mangling the words of Virginia Woolf) that “someone [or something] was this or that”. Literature, my most beloved form of art, has always seemed to be about the opposite of saying that things were this or that. It seems to be about taking the thisness or thatness, and prizing it apart to show the contradictions, the inconsistencies, the room to reframe or reinterpret. Science is a bossy bully, literature the dreamy geek in the corner. Oh, of course it’s NECESSARY. I owe science one every time I turn on my bedside lamp or log into my beloved Twitter. But that doesn’t mean we need to TALK about it.

What I say above is, of course, in itself a statement. Perhaps a rather silly one. In recent years, following my re-entrance to academia and the current vogue (an entirely worthy one, in my book) for interdisciplinarity, I’ve started to wonder whether my instinctive prejudice against the scientific bullyboy is misguided. Counterproductive. Whether perhaps my dislike for science is born more of fear (all that jargon! all those graphs!) and envy (so NECESSARY! so INDISPENSABLE! so … government-funded!) instead. I’ve started to take a tentative interest in one particular branch of science – psychology. What I’ve found has surprised and (cautiously) delighted me. Psychology, it seems to me, might be the story of the mind. Which gives it something rather in common with literature. 

This is another, more eloquent way of putting it. 

“No professional group is more interested in the workings of the human mind than writers of fiction. Novelists as different as David Lodge, Jonathan Franzen and Ian McEwan have turned to the language of neuroscience in exploring venerable ideas about human experience. Even those writers without any overt interest in the mind sciences face the daily challenge of representing human consciousness on the page. The problem with mental states, for writers as much as for psychologists, is that they are unobservable. Confronted with the task of portraying the unportrayable, writers do what scientists do: they build models and reason from analogy. Writers’ most powerful tool in this respect has been metaphor, the likening of mental processes to non-mental, usually physical, entities. But have these metaphors kept pace with the advances made by cognitive scientists? Can literary metaphors of mind shed light on our unspoken assumptions about what goes on in our brains?”

That is the psychologist / novelist Charles Fernyhough speaking – you can read the full article here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/oct/15/scienceandnature.society It’s rather old (2005) and Charles has done a lot of other stuff since then, but it was enough to convince me and my fellow Strange Bedfellows coordinators that we wanted to ask him to be our first speaker in the SB speaker series that kicks off on Thursday. The mission of the Strange Bedfellows project is to investigate and clarify the relationship between creativity and analysis. Who better to address this relationship than a scientist/artist, somebody who not only practices both disciplines but also sees a powerful and persuasive linkage between them? I’m looking forward to hearing how Charles separates the different strands of his professional life, forces or encourages them into interaction, and perceives the similarities and differences between them; to having him no doubt demolish my woffly objections to science’s stranglehold on the truth, but also perhaps to query convincingly whether science is concerned enough with beauty. 

Come and join us if you’re in York on Thursday and it sounds like your kind of thing. See the poster below for details. You can find out more about Charles here http://www.charlesfernyhough.com/about.html and more about the Strange Bedfellows project (including the recent fantastic posts from our interdisciplinary blogger team) here http://strange-bedfellows.org/?page_id=25.Image



Introducing our Strange Bedfellows bloggers!

Today, my friends, is an exciting day. As some of you may remember from this post, I’ve recently been working to launch an interdisciplinary academic/creative project called ‘Strange Bedfellows?: Creativity and Analysis in an Age of Austerity’. I run this with my York colleague Ben Madden, my Hull colleague Ryan Hanley, and more recently in collaboration with Alys Mostyn at the University of Leeds. We’re all PhD students with a keen interest in the relationship between creativity and analysis, both on a private cognitive level and in public and higher education policy. If you like my personal blog, which basically considers the relationship between creativity and analysis in my own life, I can say pretty definitively that you’ll find Strange Bedfellows interesting. You can find out more about the project’s mission statement here http://strange-bedfellows.org/?page_id=5.php

The project has four strands to it:

*a speaker series (kicking off with the fantastic Charles Fernyhough, novelist and Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Durham, speaking about Neuroscience And The Novel on October 18th http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/public-lectures/autumn2012/neuroscience-novel/);

*a public engagement project in a local secondary school (partners on board; funding application submitted; sitting tight);

*an interdisciplinary conference and panel of writers reflecting on government treatment of creativity and analysis, happening at the year’s end (currently being put together; exciting developments afoot)


The blog is the big news today. Over the last few months, Ben Ryan and I have been soliciting and evaluating applications from a huge range of dynamic, innovative thinkers who have something important to say about the way that creativity and analysis interact in their daily lives and wanted to blog collaboratively for Strange Bedfellows. With great difficulty, we selected our final panel of eleven in August. These people think, study, work and create across the disciplines of visual art, music, film, poetry, fiction, philosophy, publishing and criticism. They will all be blogging approx once every fortnight for us over the course of the next academic year, interacting with each other and the public to develop their own and our communal thinking about this relationship and why it’s important. You can read their profiles here http://strange-bedfellows.org/?page_id=18.php and see the Strange Bedfellows post explaining what the blog is all about here http://strange-bedfellows.org/?p=199.

If you’re interested in higher education / the arts / creativity / interdisciplinarity, bookmark this blog and follow us on @StrangeBedProj to get a digest of blog posts from day to day and follow the Strange Bedfellows journey over the academic year.

A big welcome to the blogging team! We’re delighted to have you on board.