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.

Check our map for directions to Goldsmiths. For enquiries related to the lectures, please contact Karina Linnell or Frederic Leymarie.

Morphogenetic Creations: A tale of complexity, emergence, and human-computer collaboration

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 10 October 2018
Venue: 137a Ground Floor, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Andy Lomas

Andy Lomas on "Morphogenetic Creations: A tale of complexity, emergence, and human-computer collaboration"

Morphogenetic Creations is an ongoing series of artworks that explore how intricate complex form, as often seen in nature, can be created emergently through computational simulation of growth processes. Inspired by the work of Alan Turing, D'Arcy Thompson and Ernst Haeckel, it exists at the boundary between art and science.

This talk looks at both the development of these artworks and the artist's changing relationship with the computer: developing from simply being a medium to create computational art to one where it becomes an active collaborator in the process of exploring the possibilities of generative systems.

Drawing analogies with Kasparov’s Advanced Chess and the deliberate development of unstable aircraft using fly-by-wire technology, the talk argues for a collaborative relationship with the computer that can free the artist to more fearlessly engage with the challenges of working with emergent systems that exhibit complex unpredictable behaviour.

Andy Lomas is a digital artist, mathematician, Emmy award-winning supervisor of computer-generated effects, and lecturer in Creative Computing at Goldsmiths.

He has exhibited internationally, including at the Pompidou Centre, V&A, Royal Society, Science Museum, SIGGRAPH, Japan Media Arts Festival, Ars Electronica Festival, Kinetica, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, Watermans, the Science Museum and the ZKM. His work is in the collections at the V&A, the Computer Arts Society and the D'Arcy Thompson Art Fund Collection. In 2014 his work Cellular Forms won The Lumen Prize Gold Award.

His production credits include Walking With Dinosaurs, Matrix: Revolutions, Matrix: Reloaded, Over the Hedge, The Tale of Despereaux, and Avatar. He received Emmys for his work on The Odyssey (1997) and Alice in Wonderland (1999).

Recent related published article (open access):
"On Hybrid Creativity", in Arts 2018, 7(3), 25

Andy's home page

Dhanraj Vishwanath: Deconstructing Realness

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 24 October 2018
Venue: Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart BuildingGoldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Dhanraj Vishwanath

The discovery of perspective projection during the Italian Renaissance led to the ability to create realistic 2-dimensional images (paintings) of 3-dimensional scenes. However, artists like da Vinci bemoaned the fact that the contents of a perspective painting, however well executed, lacked the sense of spatial realness: the impression of visual solidity, tangibility and immersiveness characteristic of real objects and scenes. Since Wheatstone’s invention of the stereoscope in 1838, it has been widely believed that the underlying cause of this phenomenology of realness (a.k.a. stereopsis) is the binocular disparities that objects in real scenes generate at the retinae. In this presentation, I will argue for an alternative view that the phenomenology of realness is not primarily linked to binocular disparity, but to the brain’s derivation of the egocentric scale of the visual scene. I will present a range of theoretical arguments as well as psychophysical and neurophysiological data in support of this alternative view. This view not only provides an explanation for why binocular disparities yield the most vivid impression of stereopsis but also why the impression of stereopsis can be attained in the absence of binocular disparity. Importantly, it provides an integrative understanding of the perceptual differences in viewing real objects, stereoscopic images and pictorial images. I will discuss the implication of this work for 3D film and VR technology.

Dhanraj Vishwanath is a lecturer in perception at the University of St. Andrews. He originally trained in Architectural Design at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). He obtained his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at Rutgers University, NJ and was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. His main empirical research interests are in 3D space perception, visuomotor control (eye movements) . He has a special interest in foundational and philosophical aspects of perception, perceptual phenomenology as well as the links among perception, art and design. He has published and lectured widely in all these subjects.

Profile at St-Andrews: https://tinyurl.com/y8ltkb7r

Sound design: so simple, yet so complicated

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 31 October 2018
Venue: 137a Ground Floor, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Sandra Pauletto

This talk will reflect on a series of sound design and sonification projects and will discuss the fascinating challenges presented by this area of research. It will consider what connects seemingly disparate works: research projects evaluating the effectiveness of sonification displays and sound design in health application (Data Mining through an Interactive Sonic Approach, SCORe), the use of sound in art installations (Listening and Silence, Virtual Symbiosis), and film and theatre approach to sound design.

Sandra Pauletto read music at the Conservatorio di Musica Tartini of Trieste (Italy), physics at The University of Manchester, and music technology (MSC and PhD) at the University of York. She was UK representative in the EU-COST Action on Sonic Interaction Design (2007-11), Deputy Director of the Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2) of the University of York (funded by the Wellcome Trust) and worked as PI, Co-I and RA on a number of research projects funded by the EPSRC, British Academy, C2D2. She is Senior Lecturer in Sound Design at the University of York.

Profile at York University: https://www.york.ac.uk/tftv/staff/academic/pauletto/

Why do people watch other people playing video games?

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 28 November 2018
Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Dr Mark R Johnson

Dr Mark R Johnson (University of Alberta) on the rise of the broadcasting and spectating of digital play.

Ever since the earliest days of video games, many people have chosen to watch others playing these interactive technologies instead (or as well as) playing them themselves.

Although this began with just looking over the shoulder of one's friend in the arcade, nowadays over two million individuals from around the world regularly broadcast themselves playing video games over the internet, to viewing audiences of over 100 million. Several thousand individuals are able to make a full-time income, potentially in the six-figures, by monetising their broadcasts. Equally, the rise in the last decade of "E-sports" - professionalised competitive video gameplay - has also highlighted this desire to watch others playing.

Drawing on interview and ethnographic research, this talk will explore the interwoven phenomena of live streaming and E-sports, and focus on three elements: 

  • Who is broadcasting/playing, and who is watching?
  • What are the lives of these highly-visible video game players like?
  • What do the futures of these two domains look like in the next five-to-ten years?

This talk will seek to explore these major changes in the sociotechnical entanglements of the video game industry and video game consumption - significantly larger than the film and music industries combined - and to begin to think about why precisely people would sometimes rather watch others playing video games, instead of simply playing them themselves.

Mark R Johnson is a Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta in Canada. His work focuses on the intersections between play and money, such as professionalised video game competition (E-sports), the live broadcast and spectating of video games on personalised online "channels", and the blurring of video games and gambling in numerous contexts.

His first book, 'The Unpredictability of Gameplay', is due to be published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2018 and presents a Deleuzean analysis of randomness, chance and luck in games, the effects different kinds of unpredictability have on players, and the communities that arise around them. He is currently writing two new monographs, one about the phenomenon of live streaming on Twitch.tv and the work, labour, lives and careers of those who make their living on the platform, and another about the growth of "fantasy sports betting" as a form of gambling disguised under the aesthetic, thematic and mechanical forms of sports management video games.

Outside academia, he is also an independent game developer, a regular games writer, blogger and podcaster, and a former professional poker player.



Why it’s great to be a baby

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 5 December 2018
Venue: Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Caspar Addyman https://www.gold.ac.uk/psychology/staff/addyman-caspar/

On the whole, babies enjoy being babies. Everything is fun, new and exciting and everyone is your friend. Your mummy and daddy provide food, shelter and unconditional love and every day is an adventure. But why are we born so helpless and is there any the purpose to our prolonged period of infancy?

Based on Caspar’s forthcoming book The Laughing Baby, this talk will explain why human infancy is unique and how the relationship between mother and infant are the foundation of our intelligence, our empathy, our language and our art.

Caspar is a developmental psychologist and director of the Goldsmiths’ InfantLab He is interested in how babies adapt to the world and how we support their learning. He has investigated early concept learning, the foundations of language, time perception and sleep. His most recent research has looked at the importance of laughter and positive emotion in early life. Caspar’s book The Laughing Baby is published by Unbound in 2019.



The Nature of Perception

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 12 December 2018
Venue: Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Brian Rogers https://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/team/brian-rogers 

In order to understand and study perception we need to consider what it is that we are trying to explain.  According to the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, the answer is “Why do things look as they do?”, that is, how can we account for our perceptual experiences of colours, shapes, three-dimensional forms and their motions.  But does appearance matter and what is its causative status?  Others, notably the American psychologist James Gibson, have argued that the underlying purpose of perception is to guide action - “Perceiving is an achievement of the individual, not an appearance in the theatre of his consciousness”.  From an evolutionary perspective, it has to be true that the ability to have experiences of the world would never have evolved without an action system that allowed the animal to use perceptual information to survive.  Perception and action should not be seen as separate or independent processes but rather as parts of a “perceptual system”.  In addition, we need to consider the particular environments of different animals and the way in which their sensory systems have adapted to the particular characteristics of those environments.  While it is true that the human perceptual system is more flexible, adaptable, and involved in a much wider variety of behaviours than the perceptual systems of other species, what we share with other species is the evolutionary legacy of exploiting the meaningful characteristics of the particular environment. 

Brian Rogers has taught psychology and carried out research in the field of perception for over forty years, initially in Bristol (both as an undergraduate and graduate student) and St Andrews before coming to Oxford in 1984.  His main research interests have been in 3-D vision, motion perception, perceptual theory and the visual control of action.  He co-authored several books with Ian Howard including “Binocular Vision and Stereopsis” (1995), “Seeing in Depth” (2002) and “Perceiving in Depth” (2012) and has recently published a Very Short Introduction (VSI) on “Perception” for Oxford University Press.  Currently, he is an Emeritus Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford, an Emeritus Fellow at Pembroke College and Professor of Psychology at St. Petersburg University.


The Mind of the Bee

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 16 January 2019
Venue: Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Lars Chiitka http://www.sbcs.qmul.ac.uk/staff/larschittka.html 

Bees have a diverse instinctual repertoire that exceeds in complexity that of most vertebrates. This repertoire allows the social organisation of such feats as the construction of precisely hexagonal honeycombs, an exact climate control system inside their home, the provision of the hive with commodities that must be harvested over a large territory (nectar, pollen, resin, and water), as well as a symbolic communication system that allows them to inform hive members about the location of these commodities.  However, the richness of bees’ instincts has traditionally been contrasted with the notion that bees’ small brains allow little behavioural flexibility and learning behaviour. This view has been entirely overturned in recent years, when it was discovered that bees display abilities such as counting, attention, simple tool use, learning by observation and metacognition (knowing their own knowledge). Thus, some scholars now discuss the possibility of consciousness-like phenomena in the bees. These observations raise the obvious question of how such capacities may be implemented at a neuronal level in the miniature brains of insects. We need to understand the neural circuits, not just the size of brain regions, which underlie these feats. Neural network analyses show that cognitive features found in insects, such as numerosity, attention and categorisation-like processes, may require only very limited neuron numbers. Using computational models of the bees' visual system, we explore whether seemingly advanced cognitive capacities might 'pop out' of the properties of relatively basic neural processes in the insect brain’s visual processing area, and their connection with the mushroom bodies, higher order learning centres in the brains of insects.

Lars Chittka is distinguished for his work on the evolutionary ecology of sensory systems and cognition, using insect-flower interactions as a model. He developed perceptual models of bee colour vision, allowing the derivation of optimal receiver systems as well as a quantification of the evolutionary pressures shaping flower signals. He also made fundamental contributions to the understanding of animal cognition and its fitness benefits in the economy of nature. He explored phenomena such as numerosity, speed-accuracy tradeoffs, false memories and social learning in bees. His discoveries have made a substantial impact on the understanding of animal intelligence and its neural-computational underpinnings. 

Lars is a recipient of the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and an Advanced Fellowship from the European Research Council (ERC). He is also an elected Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS), the Royal Entomological Society (FRES) as well as the Royal Society of Biology (FSB). He is also the founder of the Psychology Department at Queen Mary University of London, where he is a Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology.


Autonomic control, interoception, and experience 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 23 January 2019
Venue: Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London   
Speaker: Hugo Critchley https://www.bsms.ac.uk/about/contact-us/staff/professor-hugo-d-critchley.aspx 

The internal state of our bodies influence how we experience ourselves and the external environment. With a focus on the phasic signals that accompany individual heartbeats, I will discuss evidence implicating the predictive (autonomic) control and interoceptive representation of physiological state as the correlate of mental effort, the basis for affective feelings, and the substrate of self-representation. 

Such embodiment of mental processes underpins the experience of perceiving and acting on the world. Knowledge about the brain mechanisms supporting interoception informs our understanding of normative conscious processes and of how psychiatric symptoms arise through their disorder. 

Hugo Critchley is Professor of Psychiatry at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and co-Director with Anil Seth of the Sackler Centre of Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex. Hugo’s clinical interest in neuropsychiatry and training in brain imaging and autonomic medicine has allowed him to pursue an interdisciplinary research programme that combines cognitive psychology and neuroimaging with detailed physiological measurements and studies of patients. 



The Psychology of Magic, or Why the Mind is Tricked 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 13 February 2019
Venue: Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London  
Speaker: Nicky Clayton & Clive Wilkins https://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/people/nicola-clayton https://www.psychol.cam.ac.uk/people/clive-wilkins 

What do cognitive illusions demonstrate about the psychology of the human mind? We argue that magic effects reveal critical cognitive constraints on our ability to engage in mental time travel and theory of mind, as well as on perception and attention. 

Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins have a science-arts collaboration The Captured Thought.

Clive Wilkins is a writer and an artist. He is also a Member of the Magic Circle and Artist in Residence in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.  

Nicky Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is also Scientist in Residence at Rambert Dance Company.


Can the contents of Consciousness be studied quantitatively? 

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 27 February 2019
Venue: 137a, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Tristan Bekinschtein https://www.neuroscience.cam.ac.uk/directory/profile.php?trisbke 

We talk phenomenology and experiences and then we measure reaction times and errors. Can we study the contents of our mind? I would argue that we are always studying content in psychology but not caring or not willing to engage in the question. Two main methods to capture what we think - direct and indirect - may allow us to formalize the questions about content, and two methods in cognitive neuroscience to map underpinnings of the contents, neural decoding and intensity tracking. I will illustrate them with EEG and fMRI experiments during pharmacologically induced states, sleep transitions and meditative techniques. 

Tristan is a biologist, Master in Neurophysiology and PhD in Neuroscience, Buenos Aires University. He has been an EU Marie Curie Fellow and senior researcher at the MRC-Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, and a Fyssen fellow at ICM, Paris. In 2011 he founded the Consciousness and Cognition Lab, now at the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. He is Wellcome Trust Fellow and Turing Institute Fellow.


Conscious agency and the preconscious/unconscious self

Date: 4 pm Wednesday 20 March 2019
Venue: Council Chambers, Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Professor Max Velmans

We habitually think of our Self as a conscious agent operating largely in terms of how we consciously experience those operations. However, psychological and neuroscientific findings suggest that mental operations that seem to be initiated by the conscious Self are largely preconscious or unconscious.  In this talk I examine how these aspects of the Self and its operations combine in the exercise of free will—and suggest that the conscious wishes, choices and decisions that we normally associate with “conscious free will” result from preconscious processes that provide a form of “preconscious free will”.  The conscious experiences associated with other so-called “conscious processing” in complex tasks such as speech perception and production, reading and thinking, also result from preconscious processing, which requires a more nuanced analysis of how conscious experiences relate to the processes with which they are most closely associated. We need to distinguish processes that are conscious a) in the sense that we are conscious of them, b) in the sense that they result in a conscious experience, and c) in the sense that consciousness plays a causal role in those processes.  We also examine how consciousness enables real-ization: it is only when one experiences something for oneself that it becomes subjectively real. Together, these findings suggest that Self has a deeper architecture.  Although the real-ized aspects of the Self are the consciously experienced aspects, these are just the visible “tip” of a far more complex, embedding preconscious/unconscious ground. 


Max Velmans is Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. His main research focus is on integrating work on the philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology of consciousness, and, more recently, on East-West integrative approaches. He has over 100 publications on these topics including his books Understanding Consciousness (2000, 2009), The Science of Consciousness (1996), Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness (2000), The (co-edited) Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007, 2017), Towards a Deeper Understanding of Consciousness (2017) and the four-volume collection Consciousness (Critical Concepts in Psychology) (2018). He was a co-founder and, from 2004-2006, Chair of the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society, and an Indian Council of Philosophical Research National Visiting Professor for 2010-2011