Saturday, April 11, 2009

Post 1: Saturday April 11, 2009, Cambridge UK

I’ve spent enough time in the UK, and heard enough stories, to know that the weather in England is nothing to write home about, even though it appears that I’m doing just that. So yes it’s cool, damp, and cloudy. But the daffodils and fruit trees are in bloom outside my second floor flat, which has a row of six windows looking out over the Downing College lawn.

I’m here at Cambridge on sabbatical spending time with two of my favorite scientific colleagues, Barry Everitt and Trevor Robbins. Both work in the same area of research as me, and I've long respected their contributions. So it is a delight to be here.

Barry is currently Master of Downing College. A College Master is the lord of the land, ruler supreme of the estate (kingdom) he presides over. The estate known as Downing College consists of a group of impressive neoclassical buildings. It was founded in the 1800s and is called the newest of the old and the oldest of the new colleges at Cambridge.

I can see the large fortress where Barry lives to the right of my view. These are indeed quarters fitting of a Master, at least from the outside, and I’m sure from the inside as well. Barry appears to be a benevolent dictator since students here say one of the reasons they like Downing is because of its Master. One of Barry’s jobs is to sit at the head the faculty table at formal dining evenings. He does this roughly 2 times each week. I’ve been at high tables at the “other place” to the west of here (you shouldn’t say Oxford in Cambridge or vice versa, otherwise there’s noticeable uneasiness, with throat clearing), but am looking forward to dining at the Master’s side at Downing this Wednesday.

This is the third time in my career that I’ve set off across the ocean for an extended stay at a University. The first was a wonderful trip in 1997 to Israel, where Yadin Dudai, another one of my favorite colleagues, looked after me. Then came a stay at All Souls at the “other place” for a 2 month encounter group on consciousness. And now I’m at Cambridge with Barry and Trevor.

I’m at Cambridge for a few reasons. The idea first came to me when my son Milo decided to attend college at Oxford (oops, I mean"the other place"). So it seemed like a good idea to take a sabbatical in the UK and be close to Milo, but not on top of him. Initially, my wife Nancy was planning to come as well, but things have heated up at her place of work, with layoff and other realities of the new economy making it difficult for her to leave NY for an extended time. So here I am.

But I couldn’t really justify a sabbatical to Cambridge just to be near Milo. There were other reasons, more legitimate ones (academically speaking), as well. Cambridge was a natural choice because my collaborator at NYU, Liz Phelps, has a joint grant with Trevor and Barry that I am part of. This trip allows me to do more in-depth interactions in that collaboration. It is going to be especially useful to me to be here since I’ve had some friendly controversies over the years with Barry and Trevor about how the amygdala works, and this will be an opportunity for some lively face time discussing those issues with them and their colleagues. We'll have a joint NYU-Cambridge meeting in a couple of weeks where my jet lagged friends from NYU will be hosted by Trevor, Barry and the gang for a day-long brainstorming session followed by a nice dinner lead by our Master.

Before I left NY, I also made noises about starting my career as a solo musician in the Cambridge music clubs. I doubt that will actually happen. It’s hard enough to mask my limited abilities a singer and guitar player behind the talented folks I play with in The Amygdaloids.

It’s almost lunchtime on Easter Saturday. All of the UK, except the pubs, seems to shut down from Good Friday through Easter Monday. I was planing to have a pretty quite weekend, but have gotten two late, breaking invites. Tony Dickinson, an esteemed experimental psychologist from Cambridge has invited to go out and hear a band he likes at a local pub tonight. And Monday I'll visit a couple that I was hooked up with by David Bemis and Lisa Hoke, friends from NY.

Stay tuned for future exciting tales, such as, "how did the weekend go," and "getting all my gadgets to work but blowing out some of my favorite toys through the fault of a faulty power adaptor."


  1. Sounds like you have hit the ground running! No surprise there. So glad that you are hooking up with Damian and Tricia at the outset. Say hi to them for us. Don't think you should give up on a try at playing in a club there. A pint or two will help pave the way. We will follow your exploits with much interest. Best, Lisa and David

  2. That’s a very vivid description of Barry as the master (can’t help thinking….Harry Potter…). Looking forward for our upcoming visit and the opportunity to sit at the table. Will follow with interest future reports of your arguments with Trevor and Barry about amygdala. What are the chances to reach common ground? I wish we could jam in one of the Cambridge clubs. Regards, Amygdalette.