During the summer of 2017, we prototyped a new way to ask scientific questions about behaviour and the mind with an interactive science exhibit at Sea Life Brighton! This is part of a larger effort to bring neuroscience experiments out of the lab and ‘into the wild’. Now we’re analyzing our initial data and working on exhibit version 2.0!
What is a mind?
We know we have minds. We don't know exactly how they work, but we know enough to shape and surprise minds, and we know that minds are somehow related to brains and nervous systems, while also related to bodies, places, and histories.
How can we study minds?
We want to study minds "in the wild", or in situations and environments outside the traditional science lab. We want to collaborate with not only professional neuroscience researchers and clinicians, but also artists, craftspersons, hospitality workers, teachers, parents, historians, animal trainers, chefs, philosophers, and engineers. Together, we hope to share our observations of minds "in the wild", design experiments to both explore and rigorously probe these observations, and compare minds "in the wild" with minds in controlled, standardized environments. We believe that no one knows everything and that everyone knows something, and great value lies in sharing our experiences with each other in respectful and open dialogue.
This is a bit different from how neuroscience research is traditionally done. Studies of human behaviour and minds are most often conducted in controlled, standardized environments with 10 to 50 participants, and then generalized to conclude something about the "how" and "why" of natural behaviour in all humans (around 8 billion humans!). We believe that such constrained environments and small datasets run a great risk of misleading our understanding of natural human behaviour.
So, we want to bring these studies of behaviour out "into the wild". For humans, this means bringing our experiments to museums, zoos, aquariums, festivals, and marketplaces, where over 50 people per day can participate in our studies, discuss our hypotheses and results, and learn about cutting edge ideas and technologies in a fun and playful context. We want to then combine these interactions with in-depth discussions and interdisciplinary analysis over the internet, to allow perspectives from many different locations and backgrounds to more easily converse and share insights.
We like to call this way of doing science a massively multiplayer open scientific collaboration, or "MMOSC". But we didn't make up the idea! Open, collaborative science research projects, often referred to as "crowd science", "citizen science", "networked science", or "massively-collaborative science", have been around since the early 2000s. You can learn more about MMOSCs by reading "Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects", an article published in 2014 by Chiara Franzoni and Henry Sauermann.