“Blindness” London Interdisciplinary Discussion Group, May 7th

We are delighted to announce the details of the next London Interdisciplinary Discussion Group event on ‘Blindness’ on May 7th, which will take place in Science Museum Director’s Suite, from 6.30-8.30pm, followed by a drinks reception

How can the non-blind understand blindness? How can blindness be represented? These questions and other aspects of blindness will be explored by writer and theologian John Hull, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, philosopher Ophelia Deroy and filmmakers James Spinney and Peter Middleton (who are currently making a film about John Hull’s experience of blindness). Each speaker will give a short presentation on blindness, and there will then be time for discussion and audience questions.
In this event blindness will be considered from across the arts and sciences. The diverse speakers will offer a wide range of insights into this topic and the issues associated with it.

Professor Colin Blakemore studied Medical Sciences at Cambridge and did a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. After 11 years in Cambridge, he moved to Oxford in 1979 to be Waynflete Professor of Physiology and he directed the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. From 2003-7 he was Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council. His research has been concerned with many aspects of vision, early development of the brain and plasticity of the cerebral cortex. He has been President of the British Science Association, the British Neuroscience Association, the Physiological Society and the Society of Biology. In 2012 he moved to his current position as Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study, University of London, where he leads a major project aimed at integrating philosophical and scientific approaches to the study of perception. He is a frequent broadcaster on radio and television, and writes in the national press about science and science policy.

Ophelia Deroy (PhD.) is the associate director of the Institute of Philosophy, at the University of London, and specialises in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. Her work has addressed the effects of blindness on other sensory modalities, and focused on the promises of sensory substitution devices to recruit touch or audition to compensate the loss of sight. She is a currently a co-investigator on the AHRC project ‘Rethinking the senses’ which is pioneering new interdisciplinary research on multisensory perception.

John M Hull is honorary Professor of Practical Theology in the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and Emeritus Professor of Religious Education in the University of Birmingham. He has written about his experiences of total blindness in Touching the Rock (SPCK, 2013), In the Beginning there was Darkness (SCM Press, 2001), and The Tactile Heart: Blindness and faith (SCM Press, 2013). In 2012 the RNIB granted him a Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to the literature of blindness. The short film ‘Notes on Blindness’, based on his own experiences, was presented at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and can be viewed on YouTube ‘NewYorkTimesNotesOnBlindness’.

James Spinney and Peter Middleton are London-based filmmakers. Their short film Rainfall won the best short award at Hot Docs Film Festival. The follow up Notes on Blindness was produced with the New York Times documentary strand Op-Docs and has been selected for Sundance and SXSW. Notes on BlindnessThey are currently developing their first feature “Into Darkness“.

When: May 7th, 6.30-8.30pm
Where: The Director’s Suite, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
Participation to the event is free but must be booked. Call 020 7942 4040 or email ticketsATdanacentre.org.uk

Applications are now open for the summer school ‘The Boundaries of Illness’, July 22-August 9, 2013

Applications are now open for the summer school ‘The Boundaries of Illness‘, King’s College London, July 22-August 9, 2013. For those studying and pursuing careers in medicine, public health, health and social policy and planning, as well as humanities disciplines, this course offers an invaluable insight into medicine from a new perspective – using literature, art, history, film and philosophy to explore concepts of illness, health and disease.

A social moment at a past summer school edition.

A social moment at a past summer school edition.

Introducing students to the medical humanities, this course will allow you to understand the medical humanities as a discipline and how it can be used in relation to healthcare, engage with the philosophical concepts behind health and disease, and develop a foundation understanding of the broad philosophical and cultural forces underpinning psychiatry.
The summer school is taught by researchers based at the Centre for the Humanities & Health who are at the forefront of their field, and King’s expertise in the medical humanities means that this is a subject which is not available at this level anywhere else in the UK. The course will include also visits to the Hunterian museum, the Gordon museum of Pathology, the Freud museum, the Florence Nightingale museum and the Wellcome Collection.

The course starts on July 22nd and runs for three weeks, Monday to Thursday, from 9 am to 5 pm. You can read more about the course details here, and you can apply here.

The Prince of Wales writing of support of the ‘Medical Humanities’ on the JRSM

For the first time the Prince of Wales has written in a medical journal about his vision on health and medicine, and what needs to be done in this country to improve health-care and the services to patients. He has done so by writing an editorial for the December 2012 issue of Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 84920942CF009_PRINCE_OF_WALThe article expands on themes raised by The Prince of Wales in a speech to the College of Medicine on the 3rd May 2012 at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
The Prince of Wales has been advocating for many years an integrated approach to medicine and health, and his previous reference to 16th century ‘healer’ Paracelsus and his defence of alternative medicine in public statements has put him at the centre of harsh media criticism.
In this editorial the Prince of Wales takes a more moderate stance and, while recognizing the fundamental need to develop science and technology for biomedical purposes, writes that it would be beneficial to “develop truly integrated systems of providing health and care. That is, not simply to treat the symptoms of disease, but actively to create health and to put the patient at the heart of this process by incorporating those core human elements of mind, body and spirit“.
The patient, and the patient’s narrative, need to become central to the integrated vision of medicine envisioned by the Prince of Wales, who “cannot help feeling that we need to be prepared to offer the patient the ‘best of all worlds’ according to a patient’s wishes, beliefs and needs. This requires modern science to understand, value and use patient perspective and belief rather than seeking to exclude them – something which, in the view of many professionals in the field, occurs too often and too readily“.

This kind of statement seems to me to be obviously in support of the Medical Humanities field of research. Even more so as the Prince of Wales goes on to write: “One senior professional said to me that what seems to go missing all too easily is the art of thoroughly understanding the patient’s narrative. He said that we need to equip our health professionals with skills (and a desire) to listen and honour what is being said, and – importantly – what is not said to them. Only in this way can they develop a thorough understanding of the patient’s story. This understanding is necessary to develop healing empathy and help the patient find their own particular path towards better health“.
But the editorial is not only expressing the Prince of Wales’ opinion on how medicine and healthcare should be, as it is also offering policy suggestions on how to improve the current situation, as: “Better care and compassion require systems which support the caring ambition of every health service organization, every health service leader and every clinician. If we really want to change things, then we must better support and encourage those organizations, leaders and frontline clinicians, who are fully committed to going the last mile in the care of their patients“.

After reading the editorial, should those of us working in the Medical Humanities (and always struggling to secure funding for our research!) have any more reasons to be optimistic for the future?

The full editorial by the Prince of Wales appeared on the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, volume 105 no. 12 and can be accessed here.