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Mad professors and free spirits

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Topics: 
approaches to dementia care, creative writing, research
Jim Findlay and Ulrike Johansson in Inside Out of Mind, written and directed by Tanya Myers of Meeting Ground theatre company

In generating public understanding about dementia, the arts and social sciences have as much to offer as neuroscience.  This is the starting-point of a group which has been invited to take up the 2016-2018 residency in The Hub at Wellcome Collection, a flagship space and resource for interdisciplinary projects exploring health and wellbeing. Bringing together a rich network including scientists, artists, clinicians, public health experts and broadcasters, the group will examine and challenge perceptions of dementia through both scientific and creative experimentation. They have been awarded £1 million to develop the project over two years. More than 60 individuals, charities and institutions in field of dementia and the arts will be involved in the hub, led by Sebastian Crutch (Project Director; UCL Dementia Research Centre).  The goal of this hub – yet to be formally named - is ‘to shape, enrich and inform the public and professional perception and understanding of dementia through science and the creative arts’. Its ambition is to ‘change the way scientists and artists interact’.  Of course that is a false dichotomy: we are all artists insofar as we have creativity programmed into us; and in a sense we are all scientists discovering and navigating the world around us by experimentation. Yet we are categorised from an early age, told what we can and cannot do well, encouraged in certain trajectories by well-meaning parents and teachers. As a grown-up academic researcher I fall into the ‘scientist’ category.  Yet what I do is entirely creative: I generate knowledge out of data, design complex studies to answer difficult questions, nurture talent and compose prose which is intended to convey ideas in a meaningful way.  I’d argue that the concentration which this work – science – demands and the satisfaction to be derived from it are just as profound as those experienced by a skilled artist. So where is the divide between an artist and scientist?  Communication and the pursuit of understanding seem to be a common purpose.  Leaving aside stereotypes (mad professor and free spirit) it seems to me to be something to do with how each relates to their respective community. Perhaps scientists observe shared norms, whereas artists – or so I assume – resist being governed?   I will leave you to reflect on this conundrum – please share your thoughts with other readers of this blog. 

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