Whitehead Lectures in Cognition, Computation and Culture

In this section


Goldsmiths' Departments of Computing and Psychology organise regular lectures by guest speakers throughout the academic year encompassing diverse aspects of cognition, computation and culture. All are welcome to attend.

All seminars are held at 4pm in the Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre, unless otherwise stated. Check our map for directions to Goldsmiths. For enquiries related to the lectures, please contact Karina Linnell or Frederic Leymarie.

Spring 2017

How Do We Interact in Immersive Virtual Reality?

Speaker: Prof. Anthony Steed (UCL)
Date: 4pm Wed. January 25, 2017
Venue: Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre

Abstract: The recent publicity around virtual reality has been driven by the novelty of head-mounted displays. Google, Facebook, HTC, Microsoft and Sony have all launched related displays. The publicity focuses on how the participant can be immersed within computer-generated sensory stimuli. However, the basic form of such head-mounted interfaces hasn’t changed for a couple of decades. Today’s consumer systems are certainly much more powerful but in the rush to get content out, developers and engineers have been guilty of over-looking some basic science in the field.

In this talk I will talk, from an engineering and design standpoint, how the ideas of embodied cognition can shape virtual reality experiences. Within virtual reality, you can be embodied in a virtual character and this can change how you interact with the world. I will focus on a thread of experimental work in our laboratory that demonstrates how self-representation impacts the way one interacts with the world, and with other people. The experiments will span body ownership illusions, the impact of self-representation on cognitive ability and the use of a self-avatar in tele-collaboration. I will also briefly explore the technical challenges facing virtual reality in the next 10 years.

Short bio: Professor Anthony Steed is Head of the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics (VECG) group at University College London. Prof Steed's research interests extend from virtual reality systems, through to mobile mixed-reality systems, and from system development through to measures of user response to virtual content. He has published over 200 papers in the area, and is the main author of the book “Networked Graphics: Building Networked Graphics and Networked Games”. He was the recipient of the IEEE VGTC’s 2016 Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award.


The artist emerges: the psychology of artistic production and appreciation

Speaker: Dr Rebecca Chamberlain, Goldsmiths
4pm Wednesday 1st February 2017
Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building

Among the many skills that humans evolved to design their environments, art-making is among the oldest, far predating evidence of written communication. However, we are still in the early stages of understanding how and why individuals create and respond so powerfully to works of art.

In this talk I will explore the psychological mechanisms by which expertise in artistic production and appreciation emerge, evaluating the role of practice and talent in the development of these abilities, drawing on my own and others’ research. I will also look at the interplay between artistic production and appreciation in the relatively new field of embodied aesthetics. Finally, I will address the putative therapeutic value of artistic production and appreciation, through its potential to promote mindfulness and emotional expression.

Biography: Dr Rebecca Chamberlain completed her PhD in psychology at UCL in 2013, followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship in Professor Johan Wagemans’ Gestalt Perception group at KU Leuven in Belgium. In 2017 she joined Goldsmiths as a lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Her research aims to understand artistic expertise and aesthetic perception from a psychological and a neuroscientific point of view.

What is Virtual Reality and How Does it Work for Social Psychologists?

Dr. Sylvia Xueni Pan
4pm Wednesday 8 February 2017
Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre

Virtual Reality may be new for many people, and it is certainly going to shape the future of many things, including gaming, training, and possibly education. But how does VR work for social psychologists?

As early as 2002, Blascovich et al. proposed the use of (immersive) VR "as a methodological tool for social psychology" because it helps improve the trade-off between ecological validity and experimental control.

In this talk, Dr Sylvia Pan will go through several examples from her own work from the past 10 years where VR was used to answer research questions in social interaction, and points out the benefits and pitfalls.

Biography: Sylvia Xueni Pan is a lecturer in Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. She received a BSc in Computer Science at Beihang University, Beijing, China in 2004, an MSc in Vision, Imaging and Virtual Environments at University College London (UCL), UK in 2005, and a PhD in Virtual Reality at UCL in 2009. Before joining Goldsmiths in 2015, She worked as a research associate in Computer Science, UCL, and in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (ICN), UCL, where she remains an honorary research fellow.

Over the past 10 years she developed a unique interdisciplinary research profile with journal and conference publications in both VR technology and social neuroscience.? Her work has been featured multiple times in the media, including BBC Horizon and the New Scientist magazine.

Brain plasticity in amputees

Speaker: Tamar Makin, University of Oxford
Time: 4pm Wednesday 15 February 2017
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths

Abstract: Following arm-amputation brain areas that previously operated the hand will become “freed-up” to work for other body parts. This process of brain plasticity is widely held to result in the experience of phantom limb pain (pain that is perceived to be arising from the missing hand), and is therefore considered to be maladaptive. I will present evidence to challenge the proposed link between brain plasticity and phantom pain, and instead demonstrate that representation of the missing hand persists decades after amputation. I will show that the cortical resources of the missing hand can be used by a multitude of body parts, and even artificial limbs. Based on this evidence, I suggest that plasticity in amputees is experience-dependant, and is not inherently maladaptive.

Biography: I graduated from the Brain and Behavioural Sciences programme at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2009. I was then awarded several career development fellowships to establish my research program on brain plasticity in amputees at FMRIB, the neuroimaging centre the University of Oxford, first as Research Fellow and later as a Principle Investigator. In 2016 I joined the faculty of UCL to continue this work.

The Invention of Consciousness

VENUE: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building

Abstract: In English we use the word "invention" in two ways. First, to mean a new device or process developed by experimentation, and designed to fulfil a practical goal. Second, to mean a mental fabrication, especially a falsehood, developed by art, and designed to please or persuade. In this talk I'll argue that human consciousness is an invention in both respects. First, it is a cognitive faculty, evolved by natural selection, designed to help us make sense of ourselves and our surroundings. But then, second, it is a fantasy, conjured up by the brain, designed to change the value we place on our own existence.

Brief Biography: Nicholas Humphrey is a theoretical psychologist who has migrated from neurophysiology, through animal behaviour to evolutionary psychology and the study of consciousness. He did research on mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, he was the first to demonstrate the existence of “blindsight” after brain damage in monkeys, he proposed the celebrated theory of the “social function of intellect”, and he has recently explained the evolutionary basis of the placebo effect. He has held positions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and is now emeritus professor at the LSE. Honours include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Pufendorf medal and the International Mind and Brain Prize.