- Recent event:In the company of animals, 29 November 2005
- 2005 event:It’s epidemic
- 2003 event:Art and Imaging
- 2002 event:Living Science, Living Art
- 2001 event:Seeing red: colour perception and feeling
- 2000 event:The First Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
Events & Reports
Transcript of the 2nd Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
A dialogue between Richard Gregory and Howard Hodgkin, chaired by Professor Lisa Jardine
Good evening everybody. I’m going to remain seated here because we’re going to pretend that we’re in an extremely intimate conversation, on which you are simply eavesdropping. Those of you who are eavesdropping from a great height, forgive us if we don’t look up often enough.
Let me start by saying something about the Dennis Rosen Memorial Trust who are, with the Royal Institution, the joint sponsors of this evening’s event. Dennis was a distinguished biophysicist and many of you here knew him well and I can see people who worked with him. The shared passion of Dennis and Sylvia was the bringing together of science and art. And at Dennis’ death, Sylvia and the children devised the project of a Trust which would keep that enthusiasm going.
If you are passionately interested in science and art and their intersection – of the kind that you will listen to tonight – then you will know the kind of excitement that the beginning of the 21st century is bringing. Encounters between the greatest of artists and the greatest of scientists are producing, let’s be trendy, a third way which brings those together and takes us into an intellectual future. If you are interested in that, then please give to the Trust because these events depend entirely on monies raised. We will think of great funding events in the future but at the moment it is your personal largess that will allow these events to continue.
So let me go ahead to tonight’s event. Tonight’s event is a perfect example of exactly what Dennis and Sylvia Rosen were interested in. I will start by introducing Howard Hodgkin, then I will introduce Richard Gregory and then we will embark into our conversation and forget that you are here. My job is just to keep them from fighting one another or getting too cosy. And at a certain point, when I judge it appropriate, I will bring in questions from the audience so if you start fidgeting I’ll know to bring you in.
It gives me great personal pleasure to be introducing Howard Hodgkin whose painting I have admired for I suppose as long as I’ve admired painting. He was born in England, spent the war as a child in the United States, returned to England and so is truly a British painter in the grand tradition. He won the Turner Prize in 1985, has been a Trustee of the Tate, has been ennobled, though we will pass swiftly over that, and is simply at the present time (I think he was made an honorary doctor last year) – he may have become a national institution.
The topic tonight, as you know, is Seeing Red, Colour and Perception and let me just read you, before I pass to Richard Gregory, a wonderful quote by Howard Hodgkin which I think sets the stage beautifully for the kind of encounter we’re going to have. Howard wrote in 1995 – “Why is colour so difficult an idea, so verbally otiose? Most colour theories are by their very nature somehow ridiculous. It seems almost impossible to talk about colour rationally or sympathetically but nothing for a painter can compare with its infinite possibilities, its infinite seductions.” And so in a sense the question I think that Howard is bringing to Richard tonight is where does that idea of the somewhat ridiculous idea of talking rationally about colour and the specialist in perception. Where do they come together?
Richard Gregory is currently Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol. He is also part of my personal past because as a small child, no as a teenager, my father gave me Richard’s book – Eye and Brain. In particular I have pulled down my copy with his signature in it at home and Richard’s experiments with optical illusion and the illusions of perception. They let me understand the way that perception and vision worked in a way that was totally accessible and totally comprehensible. Richard has also been heaped with honours which again I have to pass over apparently. The thing I really like about really distinguished people is that they don’t want you to parade their honours. When someone gives you a list of honours it means that they are not as distinguished as they make out. These are the Lisa Jardine truisms for tonight.
According to Richard’s website, the University of Bristol, top of his specialisms is experimental study of human visual perception with special reference to phenomena such as illusions for investigating brain strategies. Theories of perception – especially developing a constructive knowledge-based account – and he’s always been passionately interested in artificial intelligence which will be a topic of the Dennis Rosen lecture next year, we hope.