This is a personal blog. All views on this blog are my own, and I avoid posting things directly relating to my work. I wrote a short summary of how I use this blog, why I write it etc here.
I was trained as a systems neuroscientist at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I’m interested in a range of things, including neuroscience, AI, and the brain:body link. I am also interested in research policy as a problem of collective intelligence – how do you nurture human innovation to produce a better future? Outside my direct work I enjoy writing, poetry, drawing, reading (especially old notebooks), and dance. Over the past 4 years I’ve developed a deepening interest in Rinzai Zen Buddhism and traditional Japanese culture, in ways that link several of my other interests, though I am very much a beginner in this.
I am currently a Special Adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Research and Development, and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at University College London (2021-2023).
“I tried to live my life in such a fashion that in my last hour I would look back and feel not sad but happy. In this realisation I found strength within me, from knowing that the fight was worth it”.
Polish resistance fighter Witold Pilecki upon the announcement of his death sentence at a communist show trial.
“One day in Mino province I observed a cicada casting its skin in the shade. It managed to get its head free, and then its hands and its feet emerged one after the other. Only it’s left wing remained inside, still caught to the old skin. It didn’t look as though it would ever get that wing unstuck. Watching it struggling to free itself, I was moved by feelings of pity to assist it with my fingernail. Excellent, I thought, now you are free to go on your way. But the wing that I had touched remained shut and would not open. That cicada never was able to fly as it should have. Looking at it, I felt ashamed of myself and regretted deeply what I had done. When you think about it, present day Zen teachers act in much the same way when they guide their students. I’ve seen and heard how they take young people of exceptional talent—those destined to become the very pillars and ridgepoles of our school—and with their ill-advised and inopportune methods end up making them into something half-baked and unachieved. This is a direct cause of the decline of our Zen school, the reason the Zen gardens are withering away.”
From a Letter from Zen Master Hakuin to Layman Kokan, 18th Century Japan. As quoted and translated by Norman Waddell in ‘The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin”