Animal: What Makes Us Human
A Neuroscientist and a Humanist Walk into a Bar...
What if William Shakespeare tried to apply for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to write Hamlet? That’s the kind of question Northwestern University professors Susie Phillips and Indira Raman like to discuss when they get together. The two are on the vanguard of ideas at the intersection of science and humanism. This new—and exciting—collaboration between biologists and art historians, cognitive scientists and literary scholars, sparks big questions: Is our sense of beauty an evolutionary adaptation? Are we hard-wired to tell stories? How can humanistic inquiry inspire scientific questions? Phillips, an expert on gossip and medieval literature, and Raman, a neurobiologist who studies the transmission of electrical signals in the nervous system, share this dynamic exchange of ideas. They talk about how cutting-edge science can inform humanistic scholarship and vice versa, and how partnerships such as theirs can enliven research and teaching alike.
This program is generously underwritten by Sonia Marschak.
Images by Alissa Zhu
Susie Phillips is a specialist in medieval and early-modern literature, an award-winning teacher, and author of Transforming Talk: The Problem with Gossip in Late Medieval England. Her current project traces the cultural history of the dictionaries, phrasebooks, and guides to conversation that flooded the early modern marketplace, teaching readers how to negotiate with foreign merchants, insult neighbors, and chat up chambermaids in up to eight different languages.
Indira M. Raman is a professor in Northwestern University’s department of neurobiology and director of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience graduate program. Her research on ion channel biophysics and synaptic neurophysiology explores the language of the brain—how different classes of neurons generate and transmit electrical and chemical signals that encode distinct types of information. She has received scientific awards from the Sloan, Klingenstein, and Searle Foundations. She is currently a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence.