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 for?
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. You could say that a mind's purpose is to give us all of the abilities we need in order to "act intelligently", or to act with "cognitive competence".
So what is "intelligence", and why does it matter?
We define intelligence as the power of brains to predict the world. This power helps us learn what to expect next. We use our expectations all the time by creating a model in our minds of "how things should work". This model is often called our "model of the world". So, we can think of intelligence as the power to build and adapt a "model of the world."
You may have heard of other ways to define intelligence. Turns out, "intelligence" is an idea with a long and sometimes sordid history. To learn more, an excellent place to start is this Crash Course Psychology episode on the "Controversy of Intelligence":
How can we find the answers?
Studying brains is a challenge best met with many tools. We want to collaborate with not only professional science researchers, but also artists, engineers, teachers, historians, clinicians, animal trainers, chefs, philosophers, parents, and children. 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 inside laboratories with 10 to 50 participants, and then generalized to conclude something about the behaviour of all humans (around 8 billion humans!). We believe that such small datasets run a great risk of misleading our understanding of human behaviour.
So, we want to bring these studies of behaviour out of the laboratory and "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 for understanding minds. We want to then combine these real-world interactions with in-depth discussion and collaboration 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.