From 2010-2012, the two IAS themes were on the subject of ‘Futures’. In the first year (2010-11), IAS Fellows and Durham academics discussed the problems of predicting and responding to future challenges in government, science and culture. The second year of Futures (2011-12) marked the IAS’s successful completion of five major themes: The Legacy of Charles Darwin, Modelling, Being Human, Water, Futures. Thus it was an appropriate time to reflect on how the IAS can build on the model of such research projects to inform and drive Durham’s research programme into future areas of excellence. The Futures II year 2011-2012 subsequently developed the Fellowship programme around intra- inter- and multi-disciplinary ventures that could become real centres of excellence for Durham in the future.
The ‘Life of the Frontier’ programme brings together related research interests in Durham, creating a unique and innovative cross-disciplinary cluster of research skills, and offering a structure for a productive and sustained inter-disciplinary conversation. It involves a wider group of scholars in north-east England and Scotland who share this engagement with the theories and practice of frontiers, whilst also inviting other international visitors to Durham to help to create an international context for these discussions. We seek to forge new understandings of frontiers and borders, by working across the boundaries between a variety of academic disciplines and building on key strengths in Durham.
Exaption, uncertainty and technological change
Exaptation, i.e. “characters, evolved for other usages (or for no function at all), and later “coopted” for their current role…” (Gould and Vrba 1982), is one of the most important yet little studied mechanisms in the evolution of species, ecosystems and technologies. Exaptation arises from the indefinite, but rarely explicit, range of potential functions of existing objects/ideas (D’Arcy Thompson, 1942). Feathers were probably selected for thermal insulation and their use in flight was therefore an exaptation. Microwave ovens certainly originated as radar magnetrons. Principles of social organisation such as producer co-operatives have been applied to numerous resources beyond those for which they were first devised. We need to understand how the leap to new function -prior to the adaptational trajectory- can be conceptualized other than as accident or contingency. The transfer of known techniques and materials to new contexts can effect substantial savings and eliminate risks. The dynamics of co-evolving technologies, markets and societies are driven by recombinant and exaptive innovation mechanisms. These mechanisms also appear integral to the emergence of a Paretian Long Tail. This sub-theme studied the emergence of long tails via cases including agricultural co-operatives and the emergence of the quality sector in Brazilian coffee. Can the dynamics of exaptation enhance our understanding of creativity and innovation?
Hearing the Voice
Hearing the Voice is a multidisciplinary project aiming to achieve a better understanding of the experience of hearing voices in the absence of any external stimuli (termed auditory verbal hallucinations in a medical context). The project has four key interrelated aims. The first is to achieve a better understanding of the phenomenology of hearing voices (what is the experience actually like?). The second is to address the hermeneutics of voice-hearing (how do we interpret the experience, and what does it mean?). Third, the project aims to use results from the first two areas of investigation to inform our understanding of hearing voices at the level of cognitive neuroscience. Finally, the study aims to explore how the results of these three overlapping areas of research can inform the therapeutic management of the experience in cases where clinical help is sought.
IAS support for Hearing the Voice in the Futures II theme includes the award of fellowships to the internationally renowned founders of the Hearing Voices Movement, Prof Marius Romme and Dr Sandra Escher. The Hearing Voices Movement has profoundly altered how the experience of hearing voices is perceived, severing its necessary links to pathology, and giving voice-hearers a platform to speak of their experiences. A second IAS Fellowship has been awarded to the psychologist Prof Gail Hornstein, whose work on the meaning of voices provides a natural fit with Hearing the Voice. In addition to public engagement activities, talks and seminars, a conference on voice-hearing will also be held with support of the IAS.
New storylines for living with environmental change: Citizens' perspectives
Following the analysis report ‘Long-term opportunities and challenges for the UK’, produced by the Treasury to inform the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, there has been a consolidated shift of rhetoric within Government towards the funding of directed research, strategically targeted to ‘equip Britain for the long-term challenges that lie ahead’. Central to this move is the setting up of seven cross-research council priority themes, designed – at least for the purposes of research council negotiations with Treasury – as the mechanism to tackle the ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st Century. As of mid-2010 these are: (1) Sustainable energy systems, (2) Digital economy, (3) Living with environmental change (LWEC), (4) Global uncertainties: security for all in a changing world, (5) Ageing: Lifelong health and wellbeing, (6) Global Food Security, and (7) Connected Communities. The Living with Environmental Change (or LWEC) theme was charged with two broad objectives: to consolidate the UK research base as no.1 in climate science, and to provide ‘government, business and society with the foresight, knowledge and tools to mitigate, adapt to and capitalize on environmental change’.
The recovery of beauty
The overarching aim of the ‘The Recovery of Beauty’ is to explore whether and in what way beauty can be reinstated as real and valuable, rather than seen as simply or solely constructed and variable. The last decade has witnessed major changes in our understanding of what makes the human body beautiful: the traditional idea that beauty is subjective has been challenged, for example, by evolutionary psychologists. The project aims to uncover and rediscover the meanings and manifestations of beauty, exploring ways of moving beyond a sense of beauty as constructed; to explore how tensions frame and energise our experience of beauty; and to reflect on whether beauty can have a reparative or healing agency that underpins human flourishing.
The premises of this project are twofold. The first is the so-called ‘cultural turn’ in research on translation, which recognises that translation cannot be reduced to a series of semantic operations, but needs to be understood much more comprehensively as a form of cultural exchange and mediation. The second is the fact that Durham possesses a highly distinctive constellation of scholars – across a variety of departments – whose research interests involve the translation of languages and cultures. It is this that will allow the project to make a significant intervention in a wide range of overlapping scholarly debates, its distinctiveness being also a function of its sheer ambition. ‘Translating Cultures: Purpose, Process, Consequence’ seeks to address fundamental and wide-ranging questions concerning translation in its myriad forms, including the translation of cultural practices between different communities of speakers and practitioners, and posing fundamental research questions that of necessity require a multi- and interdisciplinary investigation that Durham is uniquely positioned to prosecute.
Biofuels, society and science
Biofuels have been subject to much scrutiny over the past decade. In reality, there are few practical alternatives in terms of delivering substitutes for road transport fuels compatible with existing transport infrastructure. In the long term other technologies may replace the present fossil fuel driven motor vehicles, including fuel cells, direct hydrogen, etc. However, in the short to medium term, a replacement is needed that will aid reduce carbon dioxide emissions and extend fossil fuel reserve life. We aim to bring together experts from every facet of biofuel production and implementation to discuss drivers for the use of biofuels, as well as the barriers to exploitation of biofuels.
Quantifying Output Uncertainty in Models used for Climatic Change Research
The overall aims of the proposed sub-theme were:
To develop an increased awareness amongst modellers both of the need to quantify uncertainties in model outputs that arise from uncertainties in the input data, parameter values and/or process specifications, and of the methods available for achieving such quantification.
To identify statistical tools and methods that can be applied to quantify uncertainties in model outputs, where these already are available.
To stimulate collaborative research between statisticians and those developing and applying models that will generate new tools able to provide more realistic uncertainty estimates for both (forward) process-based or dynamic models and for statistical models, including inverse models.
To stimulate the development and writing of grant proposals to various funding agencies seeking support for the research ideas that emerge from the discussions amongst researchers.
Evolutionary Medicine emerged in 1990 as a cross-disciplinary field applying evolutionary theory as a basic principle to medicine. For example, in emergency medicine, doctors used regularly to give blood infusions and oxygen perfusions to trauma patients in an effort to avoid organ failure. However, it is now recognised that organ failure is an adaptive mechanism to shut down body function while it undergoes critical recovery. Although criticised for lacking practical applications, the field has mushroomed with several international meetings under its rubric (including a satellite at the 2009 World Health Summit in Berlin), plus a number of edited tomes and a textbook.
Future-proofing eye function
The experimental goal of this project is to be able to model the development and growth of a vertebrate eye lens. As we age, so our vision deteriorates and for every normally-sighted person it is the change in our eye lenses that has the most noticeable and perhaps significant effects on our lives. This is because presbyopia and the transition to bifocal/varifocal glasses is one of those milestones that all of a certain age have experienced. To be able to understand this natural ageing event requires a detailed understanding of the lens, its cellular architecture and the molecular-level changes that accompany presbyopia. It is a complex multiscale problem and the most significant gap in our knowledge is how individual cells are organised to form such a beautifully crafted, optically functional structure as the eye lens and how this changes as we age.