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Archive for the 'Brain Sciences' Category

Elegy for a password

uclektm31 March 2014

We were gathered there on 25 March to commemorate “the end of an era in research” – the death of the password.

Professor M. Angela Sasse ably led the service (disguised as a Lunch Hour Lecture), the tone of which was sombre if not exactly mournful. Everybody seemed to agree that it was the password’s time to go.

For me, her lecture was an interesting lesson on the intersections between technology and human fallibility, and in particular, how the development of the former can outpace the latter.

This is particularly true of computer authentication systems, which most of us use in the form of passwords; the jumble of letters, numbers and symbols of a designated length needed before you can check emails.

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Still “crazy” after all these years?

ucyow3c10 March 2014

diversity-month2014pencil-iconWritten by Danelle Pettman (UCL Psychiatry)

Dr Claire Henderson’s talk ‘Still “crazy” after all these years? How public attitudes to mental health have changed over time’ began with the unusual request of asking the audience to get on their feet.

She asked us to imagine that we were experiencing a current episode of mental illness and then asked us to sit back down only if we would tell our partners and family about it. I remained standing as I imagined telling my mum and boyfriend; a few others sat.

Then, she invited us to sit if we would tell our friends. I was still standing but it was more a hover as I went through my friends and decided which ones I would tell; a few more in the room sat.

Finally she invited us to sit if we would share news of our mental health problem with the people in our workplace; this was answered with a large thud as the majority of the audience (including me) sat down.

This simple exercise highlighted the stigmatisation of mental illness, in this case anticipatory, that Dr Henderson and her colleges aim to study.

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“Let me explain how you have changed my life…”

ucyow3c5 March 2014

Provost Scholarships Reception

Provost speaking at the reception

pencil-iconWritten by Anastazja Grudnicka (BA History and recipient of the Sarmartian Bursary)

On Tuesday 25 February, the North Cloisters was transformed into an elegant reception venue. The reason for this metamorphosis was the biggest Scholarships and Bursaries Reception UCL has ever hosted.

This annual event, hosted by current scholarship and bursary recipients, celebrates the invaluable impact of philanthropy on the scholarships and bursaries programme at UCL.

Following an introduction by Professor Michael Arthur, President and Provost of UCL, the audience of more than 150 guests, comprising donors, the recipients of the awards and UCL friends and representatives, had the pleasure to listen to speeches from both beneficiaries and benefactors. Each speaker focused on different aspects of philanthropy and what such contributions meant to them personally.

It was incredibly inspiring to hear from the scholarship and bursary recipients themselves.  Although all three student speakers came from different backgrounds and faced obstacles of their own, they all shared a sense of gratitude for the support received.

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Can fish count?

Siobhan Pipa27 January 2014

Can fish count?
In the first Lunch Hour Lecture of 2014, Professor Brian Butterworth (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) asked the rather unusual question: Can fish count?

The peculiarity is not lost on Professor Butterworth, whose introduction includes slides on ‘Why you might think it’s a silly question’: Part 1 and Part 2. But there’s nothing fishy about this topic.

MosquitofishThere are numerous reasons why this could be considered a bit of an unusual subject for a lecture. It’s a common held belief that only humans can process abstract concepts, which numbers essentially are.

Then, there’s the idea that counting is intrinsically linked to language; to be able to possess the concept of ‘four’, ‘five’, ‘six’ there needs to be a counting vocabulary. As Noam Chomsky said: “The human number faculty [is] essentially an ‘abstraction’ from human language.”

What do we mean by counting?
If, like Chomsky, we consider it the recitation of counting words, then any group without such words cannot count. If, however, we define it as the ability to exactly enumerate the numbers in a set; through either identification or discrimination, counting words are no longer essential.

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