Humphrey, Nicholas


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Born in 1943, I went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1961 with a scholarship in Physics and Mathematics. But I soon decided that I wanted to study how the mind works - and I took my final degree in Psychology and Physiology. I stayed on at Cambridge to do a Ph.D. in psychology, and in 1964 began research (under the supervis ion of Lawrence Weiskrantz) on the brain mechanisms involved in visual perception in monkeys. In 1967 I moved with Weiskrantz to the Institute of Psychology at Oxford as a Demonstrator in Psychology. There I continued research into the nature of residual vision after striate cortex lesions. I also began work on sensory preferences, and developed a method for measuring the affective responses of monkeys to colours, pictures and sounds. I returned to Cambridge in 1970 as Assistant Director of Research in the Sub-Department of Animal Be haviour. I extended my work on sensory preferences. At the back of this work on sensory preferences lay my interest in the evolutionary psychology of aesthetics. Besides undertaking several empirical studies on human aesthetics, I developed a theory of the funct ion of the appreciation of beauty (which, in a popular version broadcast on radio won the Glaxo science-writing award). In 1972 I spent three months with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, observing mountain gorillas in the wild, and later visited Richard Leakey at his palaeo-anthropological study site on Lake Turkana. As a result, partly, of these visits to the field, I became more and more interested in questions concerning the evolution of human cognitive capacities. In 1975 I wrote a review essay on the "Social Function of Intellect", where I outlined a theory of how cognitive skills might have evolved in response to the exigencies of social life. My idea was that human beings have evolved to be "Natural Psychologists", who use introspectively derived models of their own minds as a basis for understanding other people. This paper had a considerable impact; and its success prompted me to move away from experimental work and to concentrate instead on more theoretical research. Since then I have focused, increasingly, on the problem of the evolution of consciousness. In 1987 Daniel Dennett invited me to join him as a Visiting Fellow in his Center for Cognitive Studies at the Department of Philosophy, Tufts University. This allowed me to catch up on and immerse myself in recent developments in the philosophy of mind. Dennett and I set out to explore the possibility of an empirically based theory of consciousness, which would do justice to both third-person and first-person facts about the human mind. Besides working on purely theoretical issues, we undertook a field-study of the sociology and symptomatology of Multiple Personality Disorder, and published our preliminary conclusions in a long essay, "Speaking for Our Selves". Through 1989-1992 I worked on my book "A History of the Mind.” In this book I took a radically new line about the nature consciousness, arguing (in contrast to my earlier position) that consciousness is essentially a matter of having bodily sensations rather than of having higher level thoughts - and I proposed a theory of how consciousness as feeling, as distinct from thinking, may have evolved. In 1992 I was appointed to a Senior Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge. In 1995 I took up a post in New York, as Professor of Psychology at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research. As of January 1999 I have been based in the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, where I have been appointed to a Senior Research Fellowship for three years. In 2001 I shall take up a permanent position as a School Professor at the LSE. Source: Abridged from Humphrey's website