Matthew Slocombe – ‘Telepathic Animals: How we use language to programme each other’s minds’

On 15th May, Matthew Slocombe, who once taught Design and Technology at the school, returned to participate in the Williams Project, talking about his current PhD research in the field of psychology. The talk was extremely interesting and eye-opening, with its details as to how easily the mind can be tricked and what the human brain is truly capable of.

Mr Slocombe began by explaining how there are two types of language: the language that we are taught as we grow and develop from birth; and the language that we are born with, almost as a reflex. One example he gave was that babies do not know how to form the sentence “I find this funny”, or how to communicate that feeling in words whatsoever; however, they are able to laugh in order to convey this. Laughter is a natural reaction to stimuli that we find humorous, and therefore no one needs to teach us to laugh when we find something funny.

Interestingly, this use of language can also occur in some mammals – one video of a gorilla in a zoo illustrated his ability to communicate with a human outside his enclosure through the use of gestures – for example, pointing – to convey what he wanted.

He further went on to explain that, as we develop our stores of language and words, we generalise thoughts instinctively. For example, we may learn that a colourful creature with wings in our garden is a ‘bird’. However, the next creature we see in our garden with wings may be black and significantly larger – we still understand that this is a bird. This is because we develop what is known as ‘schemas’ within our brain, in order to sort information into categories in terms of their relation to something else.

Finally, Mr Slocombe explained how the brain can be tricked to see what is not really there or generalise a piece of information to something that is not entirely linked to it. He demonstrated this through various optical illusions and explained how our brains expect for an image to look one way, and yet it can end up looking entirely different; for example, he showed a video of a rotating statue of Albert Einstein. Everyone expected the statue to be 3D and yet, as the statue continued its rotation, it turned out that it was actually hollow and we were seeing the face from the back, despite the fact that our brains made the image look normal.

In all, Matthew Slocombe’s talk on “How we use language to programme each other’s minds” was hugely intriguing and thought-provoking, proved by the amount of questions his audience had for him afterwards, which were equally as stimulating as the talk itself.

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Charlie Laderman – ‘American power: why the world needs it’

Dr Charlie Laderman (OC) is a lecturer in International History at the department of War Studies in King’s College London. He has studied across the country and also the United States where he attended both the University of Texas and Yale University.

Dr Laderman’s research focuses on the relations between the United States and nations around the world. During the afternoon we were introduced to Dr Laderman’s book ‘Donald Trump: The making of a worldview’, which led into a fascinating lecture on Trump’s foreign policy. The talk gave us an insight into why Trump is the way he is on the topic of international relations, and also revealed to us how his views and methods of berating other countries haven’t changed since 1987. Dr Laderman also discussed the necessity of American involvement in various regions in relation to defence, such as in the Middle East. Later, he went on to answer a number of ‘what if’ questions, with many answers putting us on edge. Overall, this lecture was both compelling and educational which really left us thinking about what could happen in the future with such an unexpected figure directing the foreign policy of arguably the most powerful nation in the world.

Radia Ar-Rumi

Dr Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia – ‘The Russian Revolution and the world today: exhibition and beyond’

Dr Katya (Ekaterina) Rogatchevskaia is the Lead Curator of the East European Collections in the British Library. She headed the organization of the Library’s exhibition “Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’’ which commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

During the meeting, Dr Rogatchevskaia guided us through the exhibition, beginning with its promoting poster. As she admitted, she did not initially like it, but the image used in 20th century by the Red Army for propaganda appeared to be powerful for modern spectators. Dr Rogatchevskaia vividly presented to us not only the history of the Russian Revolution, embodied in the British Library’s exhibits, but also the perception of the revolutions’ impact around the world. At the end of the meeting we could see fragments of Russian films from the first half of the 20th century and observe how those images – although stained with propaganda – managed to leave lasting and emotional impressions.

Aleksandra Bulira

Jonathan Burn – How machines learn: writing a phone app to recognise birdsong

Jonathan Burn (OC) works in merchant bank IT and marketing. He is, in addition, a funk musician and mathematician, was a primary school teacher, and did a degree in Economics at the LSE in his own time for fun. He also has a masters in Artificial Intelligence from Imperial.
With an engaging and clear set of slides, Jon took us carefully through what sound is, how computers store the information contained in sounds, and how they can be set up to learn the best ways of identifying new sounds. This is done mainly through the ‘random forest’ technique: a way of generating questions to ask about a new sound which most accurately and efficiently put it into the right group (e.g. robin or blackbird).

Film Night: The Truman Show

Star of the TV show named carrying his name, the whole world has watched him grow from infant to adult. But he doesn’t know this, living as he does in a giant studio, an entire town peopled by actors. One morning things start to click…

A profound modern myth, Truman is an everyman, both for his fictitious viewers and for us.

Tim Burrows: The Only Way is Online: being an Essex girl/boy in the internet age

Tim Burrows is a professional journalist for the Guardian, whose work has led him to closely investigate the phenomenon of ‘Essex’ in recent years. He has looked into ‘The power of Towie’ and how the ITV reality series has changed Essex itself, but also the preconceptions that people have of ‘Essex people.’

Some interesting questions were raised: ‘What does it mean to be from Essex?’ ‘Would you class yourself as an Essex boy/Essex girl?’ ‘When abroad, do you say that you come from Essex or London?’ ‘What is a typical Essex girl/boy?’

Some people who are not from Essex might say that the stereotypical Essex girl/boy would be well-groomed, materialistic, loud, extravagant, dramatic. But are these positive or negative descriptions? These were all questions asked and answered at the Williams Project this week, which uncovered the effects and the hidden reasons why the pre-conceived idea of the typical Essex boy or girl has evolved in our society today.

Alice Carter

Sue and Patrick Cunningham: The Heart of Brazil

Sue and Patrick Cunningham are professional photojournalists and writers who have been supporters of the indigenous communities of Brazil for the past 20 years. They both do lots of work for the Indigenous People’s Cultural Support Trust which raises awareness about the issues affecting tropical forests and their indigenous habitats. They have been involved in the writing of many educational publications including “Brazil in The School” and “Out of The Amazon”, and Patrick has written for many magazines such as Geographical Magazine and BBC Wildlife.

Mr and Mrs Cunningham are extremely lovely people who excellently communicated their passion and and knowledge about the indigenous communities of Brazil. They spoke to us about their recent trip down the Xingu River on a boat powered by solar panels. They talked to us about the people who lived in these communities and how their lives are being affected by deforestation. They also talked to us about how the tribes don’t want much money, they are happy and content with making whatever they need. This is what amazed me so much, how we as a community are so obsessed by materialistic things while they are living very happily making whatever they need.

Read more and see photographs of their travels and work here.

Stella Kearin

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