Arts Across the Curriculum (AAC) invited best-selling author and neuroscientist David Eagleman for a two-day visit to Hunter on April 30 and May 1, 2012, to discuss his ideas about creative thinking, scientific discovery, and other subjects explored in Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, his acclaimed book of short fiction speculating on life after death. The events were among a series of AAC-sponsored programs at Hunter during the Spring 2012 semester.
Eagleman's fictional and scientific writings - including Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain - were inspired by experiments he has performed at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. His lab work has contributed to important advancements in fields ranging from geriatrics to criminal justice. With a hand in so many different disciplines, Eagleman personifies the spirit of the AAC initiative, which seeks to use the arts as a vehicle for interdisciplinary collaboration at Hunter.
May 1, 2012
In a special presentation for students in the Lang Recital Hall, Eagleman discussed the ideas that inspired Sum in a conversation led by Mark Bly, a distinguished lecturer in Hunter's Theatre department and a member of the AAC Faculty Committee.
"It is a work that proposes the ultimate philosophical, religious, creative, and scientific question: 'What if?'" Bly has said of Sum, which he has used for creative exercises in his playwriting classes.
Students were interested in hearing Eagleman's take on subjects such as memory, time, perception, and the creative process.
The author described how his research in neuroscience has fed his writing, as well as how other artists - including musician and producer Brian Eno - have used his books as the basis for operas, plays and other art works.
The event was particulary exciting for undergraduates who had read Sum as part of a semester reading project.
Students in departments ranging from Sociology to Religion read the book along with a study guide created by AAC. The guide provided creative and analytical prompts for readers, as well as links to outside materials related to Sum, including creative works inspired by the book or information on the scientific research that inspired Eagleman's stories.
AAC Project director Dara Meyers-Kingsley and AAC Faculty Committee member Donna McGregor, a Doctoral Lecturer in Chemistry, joined Bly and Eagleman at the event along with their students, who had participated in the Sum project.
Meyers-Kingsley introduced the program, and McGregor offered her thoughts on the link between creativity and scientific discovery during Eagleman's question-and-answer session with students.
April 30, 2012
Hunter faculty also had some time with Eagleman during a special event at the Roosevelt House, during which Eagleman discussed "Science as Creative Narrative.
Faculty from a wide range of academic departments came to hear Eagleman's thoughts on the complicated processes of the brain and find inspiration for enhancing their own creative powers.
After the presentation, Hunter Biology Professor Roger Persell sat with Eagleman for an informal conversation.
"It was a pleasure to have the chance to talk with David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who's exploring the creative process in a broad and fascinating way," Persell said. "Eagleman's skills as a writer and public speaker have garnered an enormous popular audience. His ability to engage a crowd, in addition to his well-earned appeal to young people, spread the results of recent research in neuroscience to a whole community of non-scientists."
During a reception preceding the presentation and discussion, Provost Vita Rabinowitz, Bly, and other faculty members mingled with Eagleman.
The Roosevelt House's historic reception room was filled with conversation, as faculty spoke informally with Eagleman about his work as a writer and scientist.