Design and Healthcare in Britain

Today's designers are helping to transform the way the National Health Service (NHS) works with a range of 'human-centred' techniques that are unique to health-related environments.

The NHS is wising up to the value offered by the design industry: everything from improving the accuracy of surgical instruments, developing usable software that reduces clinical errors, and designing furniture that reduces MRSA, through to improving the patient experience by helping to design the ways in which non-clinical care is provided.

A new breed of designers have realised they can do more than the glossy consumer-brand work that might have otherwise filled their portfolios. They are bolstering their optimism, creativity and visualisation skills with a whole host of human-centred techniques unique to public sector design.

These advocate observation over assumption; facilitate collaboration between staff and patients; and prototype ideas so they can be seen, felt and tested in realistic contexts.


Implanted Neurons Let the Brain Rewire Itself Again

Experiments in mice show that the brain's ability to adapt might not disappear with age.

Transplanting fetal neurons into the brains of young mice opens a new window on neural plasticity, or flexibility in the brain's neural circuits. The research, published today in the journal Science, suggests that the brain's ability to radically adapt to new situations might not be permanently lost in youth, and helps to pinpoint the factors needed to reintroduce this plasticity.


Eric Topol: The wireless future of medicine

Emily Carr University is developing a Health Design Lab in association with the Children's Hospital in Vancouver. The use of wireless technologies both in developed and developing countries will be increasingly important to efficient and economic health care delivery. Eric Topol develops a brilliant argument for the wireless future of medicine in this TED presentation.

As director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, Eric Topol uses the study of genomics to propel game-changing medical research. The Institute combines clinical investigation with scientific theory, training physicians and scientists for research-based careers. He also serves on the board of the West Wireless Health Institute, discovering how wireless technology can change the future of health care.

We feel, therefore we learn by Daniel Siegel

The neuroscience of social emotion.

Presenting at the Mind and its Potential conference, Dr Daniel Siegel MD speaks about Interpersonal Neurobiology, an interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on over a dozen branches of science to create a framework for understanding of our subjective and interpersonal lives. Daniel Siegel completed his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and his post-graduate medical education at UCLA. He was the recipient of the UCLA psychiatry department's teaching award and several honorary fellowships for his work as director of UCLA's training program in child psychiatry and the Infant and Preschool Service at UCLA.

The role of research in the Creative Arts (1)

Ceramics is an extraordinary craft-based discipline. It is also an art and a science. The materials that ceramicists use have changed over the last century, but many of the core creative methods remain the same. None of what I have just said would be possible without some research into the history and practices of ceramic artists and the technologies they use. So, for example when I mention to people that ceramic engineering is a crucial part of the digital age, they don’t know what I am talking about. Optical fibers make use of ceramic materials. The tiles which cover the bottom of the Space Shuttle are made of ceramic materials shaped and formed using a variety of heating and manufacturing methods.

Ceramics is increasingly being used in the creation of products (other than the traditional ones) and is linking itself to product and industrial design. There are medical applications and so on.

I mention this to point out that research is fundamental to any creative exploration and that research may take any form — and make use of any number of different materials. A reductive approach will not recognize the rather extensive way in which the practice of creation is deeply involved with everything from theory through to reflection and self-criticism. For too long, universities in particular have maintained distinctions between their professional and non-professional disciplines as a way of differentiating between applied and pure research. The latter is supposed to reflect a disinterested approach to knowledge in the hope that over time the research will produce some results. The former is supposed to direct itself towards results from the outset and to be more directly connected to industry and the community. Engineering schools for example, are cloistered in separate buildings on university campuses and generally develop an applied approach to learning. In neither case, applied or pure can the distinctions I have just mentioned work since by its very nature research is **always** both applied and pure.

Creative practices are generally seen as applied because the focus is on materials even if they are virtual. The standardized and by now clichéd image of creative people driven by intuitions and/or inspiration actually covers up the years of apprenticeship that every artist has to engage in to become good at what they do.

Every creative discipline involves many different levels of research, some of which is directly derived from practices in the social sciences, as well as the sciences. In the next installment of this article, I will examine how creative practices are at the forefront of redefining not only the nature of research but the knowledge base for many disciplines.

Towards a Sustainable World

I have been rereading portions of my recently published book, How Images Think, not out of some sad state of hubris, but because I have been trying to understand why I chose the title. I should add that the title of the book has led to far more comment than much of the content, which says a great deal about the ways in which books are read and critiqued these days.

The comments that follow were provoked in large part by a brilliant lecture given by Bruno Latour to the British Sociological Association in April of 2007. Readers of this Blog and my web site will know that I am a profound admirer of Latour’s work.

I will provide the context for his essay in a moment. At a crucial point in his lecture he says, “objects have become things that is, issues, gatherings, assemblies of some sort.” (A Plea for Earthly Sciences, Keynote Lecture, British Sociological Association, p. 5) And, this is I now realize with hindsight, what was behind my selection of How Images Think as a title. “Things” in the broadest sense of that word operate within a world of discourse and language. Things have lost (and perhaps never had) a direct simplicity of meaning and instead have evolved into clusters with complex foundations and even more complex uses.

Religions have always built multi-faceted rituals around icons and symbols. Churches are objects as are the stained glass windows in them. The things that surround us carry varying degrees of weight depending on what we attribute to them. Attribution is the key.
Children who have teddy bears use attribution to give a silent, soft piece of fabric a highly charged set of meanings. A blanket can become a friend. Over time the nostalgia for that simple set of relationships becomes a characteristic of how people define their childhoods.

The history of things is further amplified when they are saved or placed into museums. Meaning is both attributed to and drawn from things in a continuous process of negotiation, the outcome of which cannot often be determined in advance. So much depends on context and language.

Attribution, amplification — words that describe the intense and interactive ways in which people sustain not only the social space they inhabit, but also the natural world. Latour’s presentation asks us to recognize the degree to which we have objectified things and in so doing collapsed and devalued the shared space we inhabit — nature as well as what we have built.

Nature treated as an object of exploitation and use leads to unsustainable practices. The environmental crisis in this context is not just another challenge that humans must face. Rather, it is a sign of the disrespect that we have for the collective space that we share with both humans and non-humans. And, as the environment deteriorates further and further, the abuse eventually leads to destruction. When you begin to think of objects differently, then all of our relationships slip into the foreground and one can sensitively apply values and ethical standards to all aspects of life, not just those that seem to be the most needed or expedient or socially based.
So, How Images Think is a title that suggests a change in the ways in which humans relate to images not simply as objects but as sites of communion and sharing. This is a collective engagement that draws upon images as objects of interaction, as provocateurs, as reflections, as windows and as sources of insight. We think, dream and communicate through images. In that sense, images are hybrids — the collective representations of human thought — things that live because of what we do to and with them.

In that sense, we need to ask questions about the application of thought to the human and object world we inhabit. This is urgent. Our environment cannot sustain humanity's prideful ideology that the crisis that the planet is in is simply one of many challenges that must be overcome. This is for the time being our only and most important challenge.

Building the Scientific Mind

Call for Participation

Second Advanced International Colloquium on Building the Scientific Mind

Under the patronage of the
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Science is not a mechanism but a human progress,
and not a set of findings but the search for them.

Jacob Bronowski, 1956. (in: Science and Human Values)

This is to invite you to participate in the Second Advanced International Colloquium on Building the Scientific Mind to be held from Monday 28 till Thursday 31 May 2007 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This unique event brings together innovative thinkers, researchers, practitioners and policymakers from across disciplines and sectors. We shall be honored by your decision to take part.


The event is being organized by the US and France-based Learning Development Institute, a transdisciplinary networked learning community devoted to excellence in the development and study of learning, in close collaboration with the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada, and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.


The colloquium aims at giving the human mind the prominent place it deserves. In many endeavors, both in education and communication, the tendency exists to depart from too narrow and restrictive a focus, failing to take into account the interpretation that individuals make of the context in which they live and operate. Thus, education systems address specific competencies in the context of compartmentalized fields of knowledge. Likewise, communication efforts focus on behavior change in ways that are frequently unrelated to the larger set of preoccupations and frameworks of experience with which human beings live. Yet, to borrow from the work of prominent brain researcher Susan Greenfield, our neuronal makeup is such that we continually make and remake ourselves as we grow and personalize our brain through the experiences that we, as individuals, live through. Such experiences provide us with a diverse set of dispositions, or ‘mindsets’, that help us make sense of the world and enable us to interact with it in a purposeful and mindful manner.
In addition to the scientific mind, different other mindsets can be identified, such as the entrepreneurial mind, the spiritual mind and the lyrical mind, to name but a few. We consider the scientific mind a useful starting point for a conversation among experts from different disciplines about the importance of mind and how to nurture its growth. That conversation ought to focus on how to change course in addressing fundamental problems of human learning through education and communication by focusing on the mind in an integral fashion. The scientific mind still being a somewhat elusive concept, one of the tasks of the BtSM colloquia is to build consensus around what the concept should look like and how the scientific mind relates to and interacts with other mindsets. The most distinguishing features of the scientific mind so far identified seem to focus on the disposition to not taking things for granted, questioning any given “truth,��? being inquisitive, seeking connections and patterns, and being relentless, methodical and probing in asking questions.


The BtSM2007 colloquium in Vancouver will build of the work of the previous BtSM colloquium held in 2005 in The Hague (for extensive and detailed documentation see the BtSM2005 page on the web). Besides, and considering the crucial problems of today’s world, BtSM2007 will have a specific overall focus on Learning in the Perspective of Complex and Long-Term Change. Part of the colloquium will be devoted to critical debate and discussion around overarching questions and issues, including such crucial concerns as the dimensions and attributes of the scientific mind and that of other mindsets, the conditions that foster development of the scientific mind, its potential applications in multiple learning settings, practical ways to improve and complement existing implicit and explicit efforts to develop the scientific mind, and the implications of the scientific mind for innovative interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. Because the issue of mindsets and mindfulness, and in particular of the scientific mind, is of potential relevance to such a wide variety of areas, the colloquium series has set itself the additional challenge of exploring this issue in the context of a number of thematic areas, including but not limited to such fields as scientific journalism, human rights and peace education, early childhood development, the crucial interaction between creativity, artistic spirit and scientific exploration, as well as the role of communication and education in relation to public health issues such as HIV and AIDS, care for the environment, the sustainable use of limited resources, and the development of a harmonious planetary society.


The purpose of the colloquium is to generate an environment for critical discussion and debate around the scientific mind, and to prepare the ground for research, further thinking and concrete action in this area. Participants are invited to contribute to the event by submitting specific proposals for a session or activity in their field. A workshop style approach will be adopted throughout the event to provide ample room for dialogue, exchange of experience, and to enable participants to work toward concrete final products. The establishment of frameworks for continuing the thinking and work around the scientific mind through post-colloquium collaboration will be encouraged and facilitated through the colloquium process.


Dates: Monday May 28 until and including Thursday May 31, 2007.

Venue: Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, 1399 Johnston Street, Granville Island, Vancouver BC V6H 3R9, Canada.

Working language: English (papers in other major languages may be considered for inclusion in the Web-based proceedings if accompanied by an abstract in English; however, oral presentations are in English).

Registration, fees, accommodation and meals: US$ 200 Can $250 / € 160 if paid before April 1, 2007; US$ 250 Can $300 / € 200 if paid after April 1, 2007. Participants are asked to make their own hotel bookings. A list of hotels can be found on the Web page of the event, listed below. Lunch for the four colloquium days is included in the colloquium fee, as is the official colloquium dinner. During morning and afternoon sessions, coffee and tea will be served.

Further information can be found at the web site for the colloquium.

Brain Imaging/Neurosciences/Cultural Theory


The Elekta Company has a machine which is called a magnetoencephalograph or MEG for short "…is presently regarded as the most efficient method for tracking brain activity in real-time for many reasons. Compared to EEG, MEG has unique sensitivity capabilities."

Real-time brain mapping allows scientists to "watch" the brain in action under controlled conditions. The Allen Institute for Brain Science (named after one of the founders of Microsoft, Paul Allen) has just completed an atlas of a mouse brain. "The goal of our inaugural project, the Allen Brain Atlas, is to create a detailed cellular-resolution, genome-wide map of gene expression in the mouse brain."

So, why is this important?

1. As more knowledge is gained about the human mind through scanning, the role of culture and images changes. Images are no longer just representations or interpreters of human actions. They have become central to every activity that connects humans to each other and to technology — mediators, progenitors, interfaces — as much reference points for information and knowledge, as visualizations of human creativity.

2. My main concern is the role played by images as the output of scanning procedures and the many different ways in which those images are appropriated within our culture to explain the intensity of our attraction to and dependence upon image-worlds as ways of explaining consciousness.

3. For better or for worse, depending on the perspectives that you hold and the research bias that you have, images are the raw material of scanning technologies like MRI’s and MEGS. In other words, the brain is visualized at a topological level, mapped according to various levels of excitation of a chemical and electrical nature and researched and treated through the knowledge that is gained. This is primarily a biological model and leaves many questions unanswered about the mind, thought and the relationship between perception and thinking.

4. The use of images entails far more than the transparent relationship of scanning to results would suggest. The biological metaphors at work make it appear as if the interpretation of scanning is similar to looking at a wound or a suture. The effort is to create as much transparency as possible between the scans and their interpretation. But, as with any of the issues that are normally raised about interpretive processes, it is important to ask questions about the use of images for these purposes from a variety of perspectives, including and most importantly, a cultural one.

5. The use of scanning technologies does not happen in a vacuum. Scientists spend a great deal of time cross-referencing their work and checking the interpretations that they make. (Many issues around image quality arise in the scanning process. These include, contrast, resolution, noise and distortion. Any one of these elements can change the relationship between images and diagnosis.) The central question for me is how to transfer the vast knowledge that has been gained from the study of images in a variety of disciplines from cultural studies to communications, into disciplines like the computer sciences and engineering which have been central to the invention and use of scanning technologies. In the same vein, how can the insights of the neurosciences be brought to bear in a substantial fashion on the research being pursued by cultural analysts, philosophers and psychologists?

The digital revolution is altering the fabric of research and practice in the sciences, arts and engineering and challenging many conventional wisdoms about the seemingly transparent relationship among images and meaning, mind and thought, as well as culture and identity.

 A complex cultural and biological topology is being drawn of consciousness in order to illuminate and illustrate mental processes. I labor under no illusions that this topology will solve centuries of debate and discussion about how and why humans think and act in the world. I do, however, make the point that images are a central feature of the many conundrums researchers have encountered in their examination of the mind and the human body. One example of the centrality of images to the debate about human consciousness has been the appearance of increasingly sophisticated imaging and scanning technologies that try to ‘picture’ the brain’s operations. The results of research in this area have been impressive and the impact on the cultural view of the brain has been enormous. In general this research has led to a more profound understanding of the rich complexity of the brain’s operations. Since I am not a specialist in these disciplines, I do not comment in detail on the medical or scientific claims that have been made about the usefulness of the research. My main concern is the role played by images as the output of scanning procedures and the many different ways in which those images are appropriated within our culture to explainthe intensity of our attraction to and dependence upon image-worlds. 

For better or for worse, depending on the perspectives that you hold and the research bias that you have, images are the raw material of scanning technologies like MRI’s. In other words, the brain is visualized at a topological level, mapped according to various levels of excitation of a chemical and electrical nature and researched and treated through the knowledge that is gained. This is primarily a biological model and leaves many questions unanswered about the mind, thought and the relationship between perception and thinking. In particular, the issues of how images are used to explain biological processes should not be marginalized.