Ignorance & Curiosity Panel at the Helix Center

Dropped on:April 27, 2013
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The Helix Center for Interdisciplinary Investigation
Marianne and Nicholas Young Auditorium
247 East 82nd St., between 2nd & 3rd, NY, NY, 10028

Saturday, April 27, 2013, 2:30 – 4:30 PM
Ignorance & Curiosity

Please register at under Events and Lectures

Physics Nobel laureate David Gross claims that the most important product of science is ignorance. Science is the quest not just for knowledge, but for better questions, and we’re generally more engaged by questions than by answers. Thus, ignorance drives science and curiosity is its engine. How do we know what we don’t know? Why are we driven to ask questions? How do we select questions? Is curiosity an integral mental process, or an emergent psychological phenomenon? How should curiosity and ignorance be applied to education, research, and policy?


Heather Berlin is a cognitive neuroscientist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She explores the complex interactions of the human brain and mind with the goal of contributing to improved treatment and prevention of impulsive and compulsive psychiatric disorders. She is also interested in the neural basis of consciousness and dynamic unconscious processes. Berlin is a Visiting Scholar at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Vassar College, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)/University of Zurich, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a presenter on the Discovery Channel and has appeared on the BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4, and StarTalk Radio.


Susan Engel is Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Founding Director of the Program in Teaching at Williams College. Her research interests include children’s narratives, play, the development of curiosity, and more generally, teaching and learning. Her work has appeared in journals such as Cognitive Development and the American Education Research Journal. She is the author of four books: The Stories Children Tell: Making Sense of the Narratives of Childhood, Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory, Real Kids: Making Sense in Everyday Life, and Red Flags or Red Herrings: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become. She is a founder of an experimental school in NY State, where for fourteen years she served as the Educational Advisor. Recently she oversaw a project, in conjunction with the Spencer Foundation, to develop new ways to measure what children learn in school. She is currently writing a book on the development of curiosity.


Stuart Firestein is the Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, where he studies the vertebrate olfactory system. Aside from its molecular detection capabilities, the olfactory system serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain. Dr. Firestein’s laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human question: How do I smell? Recently he was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. In 2012 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). His book on the workings of science for a general audience, Ignorance, How it drives Science, was published in 2012. Dr. Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science.


Paul Harris is a developmental psychologist with interests in the development of cognition, emotion, and imagination. He taught at the University of Lancaster, the Free University of Amsterdam, the London School of Economics, and St John’s College at Oxford. Since 2001, he has held the Victor S. Thomas Professorship of Education at Harvard. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. For 2006-2007, he received a Guggenheim award. His book on children’s play and imagination, The Work of the Imagination, appeared in 2000. He currently studies how young children learn about history, science, and religion on the basis of what trusted informants tell them. His latest book, Trusting What You’re Told: How Children Learn from Others, was published in 2012.


Alan Hirshfeld is Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. He is the author of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos, The Electric Life of Michael Faraday, Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes, and the forthcoming book Seeing the Light: How Astronomers Discovered the Modern Universe. He is a regular reviewer for the Wall Street Journal and has lectured nationwide about science history and discovery.


All Helix Center events are, unless otherwise noted, free and open to the public.


Please visit us at for more information about this and other upcoming events.


Educational Objectives:

After attending, participants will gain a greater appreciation and knowledge of the psychological and neuroscientific underpinnings of ignorance and curiosity and their role in the advancement of science.

The American Psychoanalytic Association designates this Live Activity for a maximum of [2] AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION FOR ALL LEARNERS: None of the planners and presenters of this CME program have any relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Information regarding CE credit for psychologists

Who Should Attend: Mental health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and licensed psychotherapists).


Psychologists: New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education programs for psychologists. NYPSI maintains responsibility for this program and its content. APA-approved CE credits are granted to participants with documented attendance and completed evaluation forms. Upon receipt of the completed evaluation form, you will receive a PDF via email of your CE credits.

Persons with disabilities: The building is wheelchair accessible and has an elevator. Please notify the registrar in advance if you require accommodations.

DISCLOSURE: None of the planners or presenters of this CE program has any relevant financial relationships to disclose.


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