National Science Week Opening Night
On 10 August, the Victorian Coordinating Committee for National Science Week, The Royal Society of Victoria, and the Parliament of Victoria presented ‘ExtraSensory’ for the launch of National Science Week.
An exhibition titled ‘Star stories, can you find the pattern?’ – developed by Dr Simon Cropper, Associate Professor Daniel Little and Maggie Webb – saw hundreds of participants enter a darkened room with the nights sky mapped on the roof. Participants used an app to map their own constellations, and write a story about the patterns they see in the nights sky.
The night also featured special talks by Dr Simon Cropper ‘Slave to sense: hallucinations and synesthesia’ and Dr Luke Smillie ‘Common sense and Pseudo-profound Bulls**t’.
Stories from the Cosmos: What Indigenous storytelling can teach us about memory, our highways and ourselves
On 14 August, we brought together a panel of experts to explore how the night’s sky has served as a map for Indigenous peoples all around the world for over 65,000 years. Aboriginal Australians plotted the absence and presence of stars to develop celestial maps for navigation to survive the harsh Australian landscape. In doing so, Aboriginal Australians built complex knowledge systems using signals from the sky and the landscape to recall and pass on significant knowledge, cultural values and wisdom.
Uncle David Wandin welcomed us to Wurundjeri lands with an engaging Welcome to Country. "The only way we're going to move forward is with modern science and ancient knowledge.” He said.
The oral tradition of dreaming and songlines are deeply tied to the Australian landscape and night’s sky, and this form of communication has endured phenomenally with memories being passed down from generation to generation to safeguard an encyclopaedic memory of water holes, walking routes and thousands of species of plants and animals across Australia.
Cultures around the world have long grouped stars into familiar patterns. Curiously, many of these constellations are perceived in strikingly similar ways, despite the cultures being geographically and temporally separated. Could this have something to do with psychological pattern recognition? And can we use the same method to encode our own memories in the modern world?
To answer these questions, Dr Meredith McKague moderated a panel of experts including Dr Simon Cropper, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Kat Clarke, Artist and Writer, Dr Lynne Kelly, Science Writer of "The Memory Code” and “Memory Craft” and Dr Duane Hamacher, Cultural Astronomy in the School of Physics, University of Melbourne.
This brilliant panel discussion on traditional Indigenous Australian knowledge systems & the remarkable feats of memory achieved through the practice of culture on country was moving and grounding.
- Recording of event
- Why do different cultures see such similar meanings in the constellations?
- The meaning in our stars
We gratefully acknowledge National Science Week and the Royal Society of Victoria for kindly sponsoring and supporting this event.
The meaning of life can be found by going for a walk in the trees
Moments of insight happen anywhere, but most commonly in nature, with 42% of people reporting having aha moments while walking or sitting in parks and out in the countryside.
This is one of the findings from the ABC’s National Science Week’s Citizen Science project, the Aha! Challenge.
The Aha! Challenge is an investigation into the memories that people have of their aha moments, but also of the tasks used to gently elicit the feelings of sudden certainty (and often pleasure) that arrive when you solve them.
“We know that insight and clarity can come about when you simply reframe a problem,” University of Melbourne psychologist and project lead Dr Simon Cropper said.
“But that doesn’t really answer the question. We’ve all had the experience in which a solution to a problem suddenly becomes apparent, but then when you try to track back, you simply can’t remember how you got there. Hopefully, this citizen science experiment will shed some light on that.”
It turns out insight and clarity can also come when you are looking at it from another person’s view.
A number of individuals who completed the survey noted that their aha experiences came when realising how their children, or their parents, were viewing a problem.
This has great implications for peer-to-peer learning in the classroom.
“A better understanding of aha moments will help educators plan more stimulating lessons, especially in maths,” Dr Cropper said. “There is also great interest in learning how to induce such moments as a potential way of helping older folk keep their brains active.”
A number of people who have completed the Aha! Challenge reported transformational moments of insight in the classroom, leading them to life-long loves of engineering, design, and technology.
But aha moments are not always grand and life-changing.
“We’re really surprised and in wonder at the breadth of aha moments people have in their daily lives,” said Margaret Webb, one of the fellow researchers on the project.
“They range from life-changing realisations about lives and relationships, to how to fix the vacuum cleaner, learning another language, solving the weekly crossword puzzle, and really anything in between.”
The researchers, including fellow Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences academic Daniel Little, have been able to compare people’s memories of aha moments with their tendency to have aha experiences while solving those problems currently used in the literature.
“We’ve had an amazing amount of interest – excitingly, much of that interest is from individuals we would not normally be able to reach.”
Linking up with the national broadcaster has offered the best chance to attract participants from the widest possible range of backgrounds and locations.
Five years ago, Australian Dr Linda Ovington found that 80% of people have aha moments in their daily life.
We’ve now reached more than 10 times that sample; with more than 11,000 people have completed the online survey, which will be open for another week.
Having such a diverse sample of individuals really lets us ask questions beyond the lab, yet leveraging the materials used in the scientific literature.
We’re excited about possibilities for improving the lives of younger and older Australians.
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