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 2018

The Seductive Myth of Time Travel

Date: 4pm Wednesday 17 January 2018
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Professor Ray Tallis

The myth of time travel seemed to acquire scientific respectability from relativity theory which made time a space-like fourth dimension. This is an illusion and the speaker will examine why this is the case, noting that the time traveller’s journey, her ability to arrive at a chosen destination, and anything she might hope to achieve at her destination are metaphysically impossible.

Raymond Tallis is a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic, and a retired physician and clinical neuroscientist. He ran a large clinical service in Hope Hospital Salford and an academic department in the University of Manchester. His research focussed on epilepsy, stroke, and neurological rehabilitation. Professor Tallis has published fiction, poetry, and 25 books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary and cultural criticism. Aping Mankind (2010) was reissued in 2016 as a Routledge Classic. His latest book - Of Time and Lamentation: Reflections on Transience (2017) - is an inquiry into the nature of time. In 2013, he published a volume co-edited with Jacky Davis NHS SOS which examined the damaging impact of Tory policies on the NHS.

A Dialogue between Mathematics and Art: Interface, Concepts, Applications

Date: 4pm Wednesday 24 January 2018
Venue: RHB 101 (Curzon Cinema), Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths
Speaker: Dr. Maria Mannone

Branches of mathematics such as category theory are known for the abstraction and generalization power. They can also be successfully applied in several fields, such as arts. We give examples of the use of mathematics to define a conceptual framework to study musical composition and performance, as well as to contextualize comparisons and translations from music to visual arts and vice versa. We contextualize, in fact, sonification and visualization in a categorical framework. Such a developing research field, which can be called "MathemART" or "cARTegory theory", leads to applications in mathematics pedagogy and in music pedagogy, and it also may also constitute a source of inputs for technology development.

The frontier of these studies is about the application to machine learning, to automatically classify musical-performance elementary gestures within mathematically-defined equivalence classes. Mathematical thinking helps the development of new interfaces as a continuous dialogue between music and technology; thus, mathematics itself can be considered as a sort of creative interface, connecting thinking with sound and acoustic parameters.

Maria Mannone earned Masters in Theoretical Physics, Orchestral Conducting, Composition, and Piano in Italy, and the Master 2 ATIAM at IRCAM-UPMC Paris VI Sorbonne. She achieved the Ph.D. in Composition at the University of Minnesota, where she developed an interdisciplinary research also in collaboration with the Fine Institute of Theoretical Physics. Author and co-author of books and articles, she gave invited lectures in USA, Asia, and Europe, included at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) 2017 in Atlanta (Georgia).

Next, she will give a talk at the JMM 2018 in San Diego (California). Her music has been performed by the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, during Festival delle Orestiadi di Gibellina, and the Arts Quarter Festival at the University of Minnesota. Google Scholar citations 

Greening the Grey Matters - The Vital Psychological, Environmental and Economic Benefits of Green Spaces within the Urban Realm

Date: 4pm Wednesday 31 January 2018
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Edible Busstop

The crucial importance of green spaces in the city - small or large, passive or interactive - for our physical and psychological health is undervalued when it comes to garnering significant investment. The Edible Bus Stop team’s hands-on experience leads them to understand that green spaces within the urban realm have vitally important roles to play on a fundamental level. The interwoven factors of the psychological, environmental and economic benefits of urban green spaces are examined in this lecture.

The Edible Bus Stop team will present studies supporting the view that green spaces in our cities are essential for our physical health and mental well-being and that this, in turn, creates knock-on economic advantages. The environmental benefits of greenery in the city are well documented and - in the light of our dangerous air pollution levels - planting more is ever more important with every breath we take. However, the positive psychological and economic impact that green spaces bring are often overlooked and underestimated. There is a significant lack of real investment in these spaces and yet the transformation they provide is key to whether an area is pleasant to live, shop and work in.

BIO: The Edible Bus Stop Studio is a landscape architecture and design consultancy. Our projects are diverse and creative, our methodology provocative and playful. We transform spaces into design-led active places in both permanent and temporary settings, inspiring a wider audience to engage in social and environmental issues.

The lecture will be given by the studio’s two directors:

  • Founding Director Mak Gilchrist, FRSA, helps bring the studio’s schemes to life, consulting on the design, co-producing the builds and leading on community engagements. She is published, and presents talks on the importance of active green spaces in the public realm. Her focus is on the encouragement of positive social interaction and the importance of biodiversity in cities and its psychological benefits. 
  • Creative Director Will Sandy leads on all the designs from the initial concept to the detailed engineering elements of each project and co-produces the project’s site delivery. Will is published, and presents on the subject of innovative designs within the public realm. His focus is on re-thinking the urban environment and how to encourage social interaction by utilising design to create narrative environments in our cities.

Active inference and artificial curiosity

Date: 4pm Wednesday 21 February 2018
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Prof Karl Friston, Institute of Neurology, UCL, UK

This talk offers a formal account of insight and learning in terms of active (Bayesian) inference. It deals with the dual problem of inferring states of the world and learning its statistical structure. In contrast to current trends in machine learning (e.g., deep learning), we focus on how agents learn from a small number of ambiguous outcomes to form insight.

I will simulations of abstract rule-learning and approximate Bayesian inference to show that minimising (expected) free energy leads to active sampling of novel contingencies. This epistemic, curiosity-directed behaviour closes ‘explanatory gaps’ in knowledge about the causal structure of the world; thereby reducing ignorance, in addition to resolving uncertainty about states of the known world. We then move from inference to model selection or structure learning to show how abductive processes emerge when agents test plausible hypotheses about symmetries in their generative models of the world. The ensuing Bayesian model reduction evokes mechanisms associated with sleep and has all the hallmarks of ‘aha moments’.

BIO: Karl Friston is a theoretical neuroscientist and authority on brain imaging. He invented statistical parametric mapping (SPM), voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and dynamic causal modelling (DCM). These contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning, formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia. Mathematical contributions include variational Laplacian procedures and generalized filtering for hierarchical Bayesian model inversion. Friston currently works on models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions.

His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a free-energy principle for action and perception (active inference). Friston received the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping (1996) and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999). In 2000 he was President of the international Organization of Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 he was awarded the Minerva Golden Brain Award and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006.

In 2008 he received a Medal, College de France and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York in 2011. He became of Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2012, received the Weldon Memorial prize and Medal in 2013 for contributions to mathematical biology and was elected as a member of EMBO (excellence in the life sciences) in 2014 and the Academia Europaea in (2015). He was the 2016 recipient of the Charles Branch Award for unparalleled breakthroughs in Brain Research and the Glass Brain Award, a lifetime achievement award in the field of human brain mapping. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the University of Zurich and Radboud University.

The potential of brain rhythms to gauge the resiliency and vulnerability of an individual to mental illness

Date: 4pm Wednesday 21 March 2018
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths University of London
Speaker: Dr Ali Mazaheri, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham

The ongoing EEG contains rhythmic activity produced by various frequency-specific networks in the brain. These rhythms have been shown in previous work to capture the functional architecture of the brain at rest as well as during cognition.  The term ‘resiliency’ in psychological sciences refers to an individual's ability to successfully adapt/recover from an adverse event. Conversely, the term ‘vulnerability’ refers to factors that make someone at risk of or predisposed to an illness.  In the current lecture, I will present findings from both the typically healthy and clinical population showing that specific characteristics of brain rhythms - both at rest and during specific tasks - can be used to gauge the resiliency of individuals to developing pain, and their vulnerability to dementia and to developing PTSD after a traumatic event. I will also discuss the possible future direction of this research with regards to both basic science and translational endeavours.

BIO: I did my undergraduate and MSc degrees at the University of Toronto.  I completed my PhD at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, in Nijmgen, The Netherlands, under the supervision of Prof Ole Jensen. I then did a post-doc at UC-Davis under the supervision of Prof Ron Mangun. ;

Following this, I was an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Amsterdam from 2011-2014. I then moved to Birmingham for a senior lecturer post in January 2015.


Why do people watch other people playing video games?
The rise of the broadcasting and spectating of digital play

Speaker: Dr. Mark R Johnson, Affiliation: Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Date: New date TBC.
Venue: Curzon Cinema (RHB 101), Richard Hoggart Building

Abstract: 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 one hundred million in total, with several thousand individuals able to make a full-time income, potentially in the six-figures, by monetising their broadcasts.

Equally, the rise in the last decade of "Esports" - professionalised competitive video game play - has also highlighted this desire to watch others playing, with international competitions selling out arenas that can hold ten thousand spectators, and giving out tens of millions of dollars in prize money to the most skilled cyber-athletes that citizens tune in to view.

Drawing on two years of (still ongoing) interview and ethnographic research in numerous countries, this talk will explore the interwoven phenomena of live streaming and Esports, and focus on three elements.

  • Firstly: who is broadcasting/playing, and who is watching? What are the demographics, interests, backgrounds and motivations of those involved in both halves of these emerging ecosystems?
  • Secondly: what are the lives of these highly-visible video game players like, specifically in terms of labour and the transformation of play into work; and how do viewers view, and how does this differ (or remain similar to) television or cinematic media consumption?
  • Thirdly, what do the futures of these two domains look like in the next five-to-ten years? What is the impact these phenomena are having on the games industry specifically, and media consumption more generally?

The talk will therefore 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.

Short Bio: 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 (Esports), 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 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.