Autumn 2006

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View older lunch hour lectures as streamed media files (below), or visit the UCL iTunes U site to view and download all UCL Lunch Hour lectures.

Why Intelligent Design is Stupid (10 Oct 2006)

Professor Steve Jones (UCL Biology)
I wear glasses. My eye lens has become stiff and no longer focuses well. That's life, or a hint of impending death, for in the days of nuts, berries, and sabre-toothed tigers I would have starved or been eaten by now. Evolution cares only about the next generation; I am too old to pass on genes, and my eyesight is hence of no interest to Darwin's machine. I have nobody to blame - but what about advocates of Intelligent Design, the notion that the eye is so complicated that it needed a Designer to do the job? Some wear spectacles. Do they never have doubts about their astral engineer, who could give them a BMW of an organ rather than an Austin Allegro? I will show why theirs is the argument from ignorance, idleness and incuriosity - and why evolution is a far better theory.

Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7 (12 Oct 2006)

Emeritus Professor Ted Honderich (UCL Philosophy)
The morality of humanity, which owes something to analytic philosophy, demands rational steps to get and keep people out of bad lives. Does it justify Zionism (Israel in its original borders)? Can it give moral support to the Palestinians in their terrorism in Palestine against neo-Zionism (further expansion of Israel)? Was 9/11 wrong because it was an irrational means to an end partly defensible? Do Americans share moral responsibility for it? Is the Iraq War a terrorist war? Is it barbaric on account of our intentional killing of innocents? Do actual enemies of the terrorism of 7/7 act on 'Tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism'?

Un-coding the “SOS” sent by cells: How this drives us to the cure (17 Oct 2006)

Dr Marco Falasca (UCL Clinical Sciences)
One of the most exciting areas of medical research concerns the deciphering of signals that cells receive from their environment, and are transferred inside the cells. This is achieved by the activation of a cascade of intracellular biochemical reactions, the so-called signal transduction pathways. In different human diseases, mechanisms that regulate signal transduction are often altered. The elucidation of these mechanisms is driving us to the discovery of novel therapies.

Prosopagnosia: A world without facial identity (19 Oct 2006)

Dr Brad Duchaine (UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience)
Prosopagnosia is characterized by severe face recognition impairments with normal low-level visual processing. It can result from brain damage, but it has become apparent that a large number of individuals are prosopagnosic due to developmental problems. My talk will focus on the cognitive and neural basis of the condition and recent evidence demonstrating that it sometimes run in families. I will also discuss the challenges that the condition presents for individuals with prosopagnosia.

Bram Stoker’s Transylvania (24 Oct 2006)

Dr Rebecca Haynes (UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies)
A large number of academic studies have appeared since the 1970s concerning Bram Stoker’s Dracula (first published in 1897), but few of these have included any detailed discussion of Stoker’s depiction of Transylvania. Since Stoker never visited Transylvania, he was dependent entirely on secondary sources in his construction of the Transylvanian scenes in the novel. This lecture will explore Stoker’s source materials for Transylvania and analyse their contribution to the novel. The lecture will look in particular at Jonathan Harker’s journey from Bistritz to Castle Dracula, the location of Dracula’s castle, Stoker’s portrayal of various Transylvanian nationalities and the ‘identity’ of Count Dracula.

The Ibsen Centenary. Who or What are We Celebrating? (26 Oct 2006)

Dr Marie Wells (UCL Scandinavian Studies)
2006 marks the centenary of the death of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). But what does Ibsen mean to us today? Is he still, as the title of the huge International Conference in Oslo in August suggested ‘The Living Ibsen’? If so, what aspects of his work are still challenging, not only in the theatre, but in the academic world? He is the most performed dramatist after Shakespeare and his plays have recently provided material for Nietzschean, Freudian and Lacanian readings among others. So what is it about them that makes them so enduringly fascinating? That is the question this lecture will try to address.

Autism and the Social Brain (31 Oct 2006)

Professor Uta Frith (UCL Institute for Child Health)
Human beings crucially depend on each other and ceaselessly communicate with one another. Autism is a disorder of social communication and studies of autism have helped to identify brain mechanisms that underlie our social capacities. One key difficulty in autism is in the normally automatic ability to use mental states, such as feelings and beliefs, to explain and predict behaviour. One hitherto unexpected strength of people with autism is in their ability to categorise other people in terms of stereotypic social attributes. Both strengths and difficulties provide a glimpse of different facets of our complex social nature.

The lives of stars and people: from Astrology to Astrophysics (2 Nov 2006)

Dr Francisco Diego (UCL Physics and Astronomy)
The clear night sky has marvelled humankind for thousands of years. This lecture deals with our all time need to establish a relationship with the stars. Early astrological beliefs state that human destiny is controlled by the stars in some magical way. However, the fascinating discoveries of modern astrophysics establish that our links to the stars are much closer and even more magical than we could ever think. Like people, stars have their own lives and in the lives of stars we find not only our destiny, but the origins of everything around us, including ourselves.

What do crime and diseases have in common and how does this help us predict future locations of crime? (14 Nov 2006)

Dr Shane Johnson (UCL Jill Dando Institute for Crime Science)
Perfect prediction of when and where crimes were to take place would help facilitate their prevention or detection. The first part of this talk considers how reliable police officers’ perceptions of risky locations are for the crime of burglary. The results suggest that more accurate methods of forecasting are required to compliment the craft of policing. Our recent work demonstrates that the risks of volume crime are communicable, occurring in space and time in much the same way as a disease. Such regularities enable crime prediction. The second part of this talk will address the accuracy of such methods.

Le Corbusier: Modernist originality or copying (16 Nov 2006)

Dr Jan Birksted (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)
While describing the genius of his originality and his ‘intuitive flashes of insight’, Le Corbusier systematically obliterated unwanted references from the works of his biographers and set up a carefully vetted archive called the Le Corbusier Foundation. This lecture considers my discovery of a recently discovered hand-written entry in a ‘lost’ (i.e. thrown away) Le Corbusier notebook, which indicates that he found (more than) inspiration in the work of a relatively forgotten modernist architect of the late eighteenth-century. What are the implications for the modernist notion of originality versus that old-fashioned Beaux-Arts concept of ‘émulation’? And when did modernist originality begin?

Is there a measure of knowledge? (21 Nov 2006)

Professor Tony Gardner-Medwin (UCL Physiology)
Knowledge is the business of universities. Yet even philosophers are hard-pressed to define it. Huge resources go into assessing student knowledge, without any well-defined measure. I shall turn the issue upside down. One can measure ignorance of a topic (a finite set of true propositions and everything they entail). This is fundamentally linked to probability judgements, or degrees of belief. For the measure to be independent of specific questions in a test, the subject must receive feedback about the correctness of each answer and apply this rationally to subsequent questions. This puts a premium on 'understanding', since students (like parrots) able to recognise or generate true propositions but not to make inferences from them may be judged to have unlimited ignorance.

Redefining Normality (23 Nov 2006)

Dr Beau Lotto (UCL Institute for Ophthalmology)
Context is everything’. Here, within the realm human, bee and artificial life colour vision, we will explore why this must be the case. In doing so, we will discover that the relationship between the external world of light and the internal world of colour is far from simple, and that by exploring this complex relationship we can begin to understand why we see what we do. The result of this exploration may be surprising. Rather than a representation of an absolute external reality, what we see and how we see it is a manifestation of an empirical process of interaction, of continually redefining normality. We see what proved useful to see in the past.

What is the brain for? (28 Nov 2006)

Professor Geoffrey Raisman (UCL UCL Institute for Neurology)
The brain is the organ of evolution. In its complexity the human brain stands at the topmost pinnacle of biological development. Designed for the twin purposes of propagating its genes and eliminating its enemies, it can neither see nor hear objective reality. Indifferent to the static, its aim is to detect change and to change with it. I will talk about how its structure fulfils these roles. But, floating effortlessly over all, is that consciousness, that motivation we call the soul, dimly if at all aware of these things, and if it is, unmoved by them. The human brain has written our long history. Today it writes the history of all life on our planet. In it our future is written. We do well to understand it.

Why species are fuzzy: hybridization and the nature of biodiversity (30 Nov 2006)

Professor James Mallet (UCL Biology)
‘Species reality” and the supposed difficulty of evolving new species have both been overstated by biologists for about 70 years. Recent genetic studies in natural populations have led to a revolution in the understanding of biodiversity and speciation. Species are demonstrably continuous with subspecies and “varieties” in nature, and intermediates in the speciation process are all around us. I will illustrate my talk with examples such as butterflies, birds and even whales.

Pain in Preterm Infants (5 Dec 2006)

Professor Maria Firzgerald (UCL Anatomy & Developmental Biology)
The UK has the highest rate of low birthweight babies in Western Europe; 12% of babies need special care at birth and 2.5% need intensive care. As part of their care, such babies received numerous painful procedures and yet we know almost nothing about how to control their pain. Here I will discuss the problem of defining and measuring pain in preverbal children and the importance of understanding underlying neural circuitry when observing infant pain behaviour. I will show that specific brain cortical regions are activated by painful stimulation in preterm infants and how we aim to use this to improve pain control.

Page last modified on 13 may 10 17:02

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