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Cross-Cutting Disciplines: Mind, Brain, Body - From Biology to Culture

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Much of what we perceive and learn depends on our personal implicit biases, cultural background, socio-economic status, or level of education. Cross-disciplinary initiatives that look at the relationship between biology and culture with a specific focus on the interaction of brain, mind and body have the potential to generate research initiatives and produce insights that could not otherwise be gained. The brainstorming process underlying the initiatives we propose requires that STEM disciplines and the Humanities be ready to learn from one another. The proposed cross-disciplinary interactions on the theme “Mind—Brain—Body” will not only open new avenues of research, but also provide our future leaders with the cultural perspective needed to address pressing social problems. By developing a holistic view of mind, brain, and body, they will gain a unique ability to analyze situations from various distinct yet complementary perspectives, and thus find creative solutions to benefit us all.

In navigating our social, personal and professional worlds, we depend on perception, emotion and reason to read and react to the information given to us by our senses. Perception, however is not a matter of the senses alone. It is shaped and colored by our emotions, filtered through personal and cultural memory, and guided by reason and logic. Indeed, our personal preferences, moral convictions and previous experience give each of us a unique perspective on our common world, and strongly influence our decisions and interactions with others. Some of these factors are physical and biological in nature; others are founded in our beliefs, culture or objective rational principles. How we read situations and choose to act comes from the confluence of all these factors.

Here we propose three themes inspired by the relationship between Mind, Brain and Body that in our opinion will facilitate cross-disciplinary interactions across STEM disciplines and the Humanities. The themes build on current strengths within the College of Arts and Science. For each theme we propose specific initiatives to be implemented with short- medium- and long-term efforts:

a)   Brains in Action

b)   Food, Taste, and Culture

c)    Medical Humanities

The specific initiatives within this theme are:

  • for undergraduates to learn how a Mind-Brain-Body perspective can help navigate disciplines 
  • multidisciplinary series of keynote lectures 
  • workshops to provide opportunities for bringing together faculty 
  • visiting fellows
  • outreach
  • symposia

The initiatives we propose are based on strengths already present on campus and are designed to promote further growth and to act as incubators for intellectual development. We choose to focus on the themes listed because we believe they are central to the future of education and society. For example, with the rapid advances of Artificial Intelligence, the relation between the brain and mind is no longer a topic of theoretical interest. The very concepts of mind, intelligence, and their relation to a biological or physical substrate demand reconsideration. The topics of food and medicine offer more immediate payoffs. Even the apparently simple concept, “food,” is the origin of an endless set of interwoven research projects, from the biology of nutrition and diet, to the physiology and psychology of taste and smell, and on to food as a core constituent of social and cultural identity. And in a world of radical economic inequality, constant population growth and climate change, food and water will pose ever more pressing ethical and political problems in the near future. Last, the advancement in technology applied to medicine and the social differences in access to medical care requires medical professionals to be educated in establishing compassionate relationships with patients. In addition, research advancements in the medical field impose a careful application of ethical standards to research subjects as well as to the clinical practice. 


Name Current Title Department
Katheryn Twiss Associate Professor Anthropology
Karen Lloyd Assistant Professor Art
Timothy August Assistant Professor English
Arianna Maffei Associate Professor Neurobiology and Behavior
Alan Kim Associate Professor Philosophy
Ken Dill Distinguished Professor Physics and Astronomy
Christina Dahl Associate Professor Music