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UCL events news and reviews


Can fish count?

By Siobhan Pipa, on 27 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.


Disneyland in south London

By Ben Stevens H P Stevens, on 18 June 2013

As a lecturer, you know you’re off to a great start when your chosen lecture topic is dinosaurs.

Ever since fossils were first discovered in the 19th century, the public has been fascinated with these prehistoric creatures.

A painting of Crystal Palace Park

It was this public fascination that gave rise to the wonderful dinosaur sculptures that still stand in Crystal Palace Park and which Professor Joe Cain (UCL Science and Technology Studies) focused on in his hugely entertaining Lunch Hour Lecture at the Museum of London on 5 June. (more…)

What will the world be like in 50 years?

By news editor, on 7 March 2012

Last week, our Science Fiction; Science Futures event – organised by the wonderful UCL Science and Technology Studies was based around the concept of how we look at what’s around the corner. It included a fair bit of conversation about failed futures – those things that previous generations predicted would be here by now, like flying cars and invisibility cloaks (though apparently they’re not far off).

At the end of the event we asked the participants to make their own predictions for the world in fifty years time. This is what they said:

Selected Highlights
Grace – Human skills as currency given pressure and inequality in resources. Contact lenses with the web in, filter so that when you see things you’re interested in, stuff e.g. vouchers are overlaid. Two-way with cameras so you can publish what you see! (With and off switch).

Dennis – the end of the traditional nation-state replaced by smaller city-based units connected by multi-layered networks of information, trade and culture, and some federal structure.

Jared – America will be known by its new name, “New China”.

Richard – FLYING CARS. I’m serious. Not within the reach of the average consumer, but researchers at some military installations will have a prototype flying car.

Read more of Jack Ashby’s entry on the UCL Museums & Collections Blog