Interviews, Philosophy, Research & Resources, The Human Mind Project
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SAS programme hopes for head start with ‘mind sourcing’

Dr Mattia Gallotti, manager of ‘The Human Mind Project’ at the School of Advanced Study, discusses the launch of the first Grand Challenges Public Consultation on the key questions in the study of the mind. Open to early-career and established researchers, and the general public, the Grand Challenge is a chance for everybody to suggest new avenues for research on the mind.

Unveiled in late 2013, The Human Mind Project is a coordinated, international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in the study of the mind, led by Professor Sir Colin Blakemore and Dr Mattia Gallotti at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

In summer 2015, the Project moved up a level from its pilot phase thanks partly to Catalyst Fund support from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It has stepped up again by launching the first online ‘mind and brain science’ Public Consultation to identify opportunities for new strands of research on the mind.

Dr Gallotti explains that The Human Mind Project has become an inclusive hub that encourages interactions and exchange of ideas between academics, practitioners, funders and the public at large, across the arts and humanities, the social and natural sciences.

What further lines of enquiry around the nature and significance of the human mind has this work generated for you to pursue further for the next phase?

This is a tricky, but important, question. We call it a project, but The Human Mind Project is more about opening possibilities for research than being one about discovering something new. We operate as a ‘research programme’ at different levels of activity to what you would expect if we were pursuing a ‘research project’.

What we do is help scholars to achieve new discoveries by pointing to interesting areas of research, potentially promising new avenues which still await funding to be pursued. We put them in the position to do that instead of doing it ourselves. Identifying new lines of enquiry and, possibly, new funding styles, is the goal of our Grand Challenges exercise.

You’ve been doing this for nearly four years, what have you learned?

As a trained philosopher, I have learned the value of the infrastructure that lies behind any research endeavour, that research management is as important as research production, and that you need the right skills to make things happen no matter your career level. It’s all about putting scholars in the best position to pursue their endeavours. This is what I tell colleagues who have just embarked on an academic career. I believe these management skills will become an increasingly important part of early-career research training and in future debates about the role of universities as organisations.

How and where are you sharing any feedback?

As a programme we do several things, one of which is digital activity. Our website is in constant progress, easy to navigate, fairly straightforward and ‘clean’, yet, full of content and information. If we think about what we do in terms of providing a forum for debate and dialogue, the hub has this very strong digital presence at its core.

Why have you decided to ask the public to help shape the future of research on the mind by launching the Grand Challenges Public Consultation?

The Public Consultation is built into the DNA of The Human Mind Project. The first of its kind across the mind and brain sciences, it speaks to our mission to identify new lines of research. Obviously, expertise matters in this world, but since the mind is so complex and multifaceted and, given the complexity and richness of mental activity, we are keen to hear from everybody, not just experts, into their own experiences and ways of thinking. Getting as many inputs and insights as we can, is vital, and we will not rule out any response. Our social media team is reaching out to as many people as possible through Twitter, Facebook, newsletters and partners.

What briefing will you be giving them?

The Public Consultation page on our website includes a short explanation of the programme and why it is important to get involved – (additional background and context is available in an accompanying one-page PDF). Anyone clicking through the ‘Take Part’ link will find two questions which take less than five minutes to answer: ‘What important questions about the mind are raised in your work or research?’ and ‘What new questions about the mind do you think are key for the future of your work or research?’

When will the consultation end and, what happens after that?

The Grand Challenges Public Consultation runs for one month from 22 May until 22 June. We will take all the results to an international event in Cambridge called The Human Mind Conference, to be held on 27–29 June.

The results from the Public Consultation and the international conference will inform the final report on the output of The Human Mind Project to be presented to HEFCE. It is expected to contain recommendations on what shape we think collaborative research on the mind will take, where funders should focus and invest energies and money in the future.

That is also very much in the spirit of the School of Advanced Study, which is to act as a hub and be the national centre for humanities research. As far as the study of the mind is concerned, The Human Mind Project, along with its big online public consultation, is proof that we can do this. This is really the top of the iceberg.

Dr Mattia Gallotti, is a research fellow in philosophy and the manager of The Human Mind Project at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. A trained philosopher of mind with a background in the social sciences, his work to date has sought to connect and unify various research domains under the general heading of the ‘social mind’, involving collaborations across the cognitive humanities. He has published in philosophy and cognitive science journals, and regularly consults for policy think-tanks. Dr Gallotti has held fellowships from the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris and Columbia University’s Italian Academy in New York City, before taking up his current position in London. He holds graduate degrees in economics and philosophy from Bocconi University, the London School of Economics and the University of Exeter.

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