The Conversation

From April 2017, Josephine Lethbridge will be The Conversation’s Interdisciplinary Editor, funded by the ISRF. Josephine’s role will include working with scholars at The Conversation’s member universities, as well as past and present Fellows of the ISRF, to bring interdisciplinary social research to millions of readers worldwide.

Any ISRF Fellows wishing to pitch an idea for an article to Josephine, or simply interested in knowing more, should contact her directly at josephine.lethbridge@theconversation.com.

Recent Interdisciplinary Articles at The Conversation

How neoliberalism colonised feminism – and what you can do about it
Catherine Rottenberg | Goldsmiths, University of London

All of a sudden, everyone wants to claim the feminist label. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to Ivanka Trump, an unprecedented number of high-profile corporate women are publicly declaring themselves feminists. The market is colonising feminist themes, it seems.

Indeed, identifying as feminist has not only become a source of pride but also serves as cultural capital for Hollywood stars and music celebrities alike, so much so that the new “f-word” has literally inundated mainstream and social media. Meghan Markle, the UK’s new feminist princess, is just the latest example in a very long list. It comes as little surprise that “feminism” was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2017.

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AI slaves: the questionable desire shaping our idea of technological progress
Beth Singler | University of Cambridge

From high impact Hollywood dystopic accounts such as the infamous Terminator films to public responses to the story of a burger flipping robot being “fired”, the stories we tell ourselves about AI are important. These narratives have an impact on our conception and development of the technology, as well as expressing elements of our unconscious understanding of AI. Recognising the shaping effect of stories – whether fictional or “news” – is increasingly important as technology advances. How we think about a technology can open up some pathways while closing others down.

A variety of narratives underpin popular conceptions of AI, but one in particular – that of the dynamic between the master and the slave – dominates accounts of AI at the moment. This is so pervasive that it arguably shapes our relationship with this technology.

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Some people with synaesthesia feel other people’s sensations of touch – painful and pleasurable
Michael Banissy | Goldsmiths, University of London

Your brain is a fascinating piece of machinery. It has remarkable capacity for development. Very subtle changes in how the brain develops, or in how it responds, can lead to us experiencing the world in vastly different ways. For instance, if I was to ask you “what do words taste like?” you may wonder what I am talking about – but, for some people with synaesthesia, this is a natural way of perceiving the world.

Synaesthesia is a rather rare experience where the senses get merged. This is not the normal sensory interactions that might happen day to day, but unusual merging – words may evoke tastes, for example, or music might evoke perceptions of colour.

There are many different types of synaesthesia, but I’ll consider just one here: mirror-sensory synaesthesia. People with mirror-sensory synaesthesia report experiencing first-hand sensations when viewing touch or pain to others. That is to say that seeing other people’s experiences evokes tactile sensations on their own body. Let’s say they saw someone being touched on the face: they would feel it on their face. These people report literally sharing the sensations of others.

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As Childish Gambino shows, pop music can be powerfully political – despite censorship
Matthew Alford | University of Bath
Patrycja Rozbicka | Aston University

It is a violently subversive darkly comic take on police brutality, white supremacy, and US machismo – and Childish Gambino’s music video, This is America, has been released to critical acclaim, 133,000,000 YouTube hits (and counting), and minimal backlash.

It may seem incongruous, then, that in 1988, Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman proposed that the media industry would not oppose state or private power in any fundamental way. Herman and Chomsky highlighted five causal factors that led them to this conclusion: concentrated corporate ownership; the prevalence of advertising money; the reliance on official information sources; the disproportionate ability of powerful organisations to issue flak against dissenters, and a pervasive axiom that the Western economic system is a panacea.

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Elon Musk, Grimes, and the philosophical thought experiment that brought them together
Sophie Ward | Goldsmiths, University of London

A reptile of legend recently reared its head. The basilisk is a fabled serpent king who, according to European bestiaries, can cause death with a single glance. Its most recent incarnation, however, looks to the technological future rather than the mythological past.

Roko’s Basilisk is a thought experiment that first appeared on the artificial intelligence discussion board LessWrong about ten years ago and was named after Roko, the user who posted the conundrum. It also, bizarrely, was the spark that brought tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and the musician Grimes together.

What, Roko asked, should we do if we are certain that artificial intelligence will reach what is known as “the singularity” and become self-aware and ultimately all-powerful? If we help such a being into existence we guarantee our obsolescence, but if we don’t, the all-powerful AI might punish us for eternity.

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How dementia is portrayed in comics – and what sufferers think about it
Sarah McNicol | Manchester Metropolitan University

Worldwide, there are an estimated 46.8m people living with dementia. The numbers affected will double every 20 years, rising to 115.4m in 2050. Another 7.7m people will develop dementia around the world every year. Given the prevalence of the condition, it is worrying that only 58% of people with dementia in the UK say they are living well, while internationally, 40% of people with dementia report not being included in everyday life.

Despite the numbers affected, for many years, significantly less has been spent on research into dementia in comparison to conditions such as cancer and heart disease. And a lack of awareness or thoughtfulness about those with the condition even prevails in hospitals – recent research by the National Institute for Health Research into the treatment of patients with dementia in hospitals in the UK found instances of raising the siderails of beds, putting walking frames out of reach, or sedating patients with drugs to reduce their mobility. The study says these sorts of containment and restraint tactics lead to the “dehumanisation” of patients, leaving them angry and highly stressed and worsening their already poor health.

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Josephine Lethbridge
Interdisciplinary Editor

About Josephine

Josephine Lethbridge became Interdisciplinary Editor at The Conversation after over three years as the UK’s initial Arts + Culture Editor. As well as articles on new research, she also commissioned academics to write commentary on popular culture news and to review films and art exhibitions.

Josephine has an MA in English Literature from the University in Glasgow, and since autumn 2015 has also been studying part-time towards an MSc in Science, Technology and Society at UCL, which she will complete in September 2017. She is mostly looking at the history of the idea of going to war on global warming and visions of geoengineering the climate. These diverse interests mean that she is thrilled to have become The Conversation’s first Interdisciplinary Editor.

In her spare time, Josephine enjoys going to the cinema and exploring London’s industrial history. She is also a trustee of the Queille Trust, which organises a biennial arts festival in the south of France and aims to support the careers of emerging performers. She lives in south east London.