MLTalks: Curious Minds

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MIT Media Lab

Curious Minds: from building knowledge networks to inciting political resistance

Danielle Bassett, Perry Zurn, and Philipp Schmidt

What is curiosity? How does it work? And where does its seemingly limitless power to shape the mind and reshape society come from? In this talk, network neuroscientist Danielle Bassett and political philosopher Perry Zurn address the emerging field of curiosity studies, bringing fresh insights to this age-old phenomenon. Drawing on emerging work in cognitive neuroscience and network theory, Bassett discusses enacting a practice of curiosity with a flexible brain, one that walks through the landscape of common thought and leaps to locations of uncommon thought, thereby supporting learning and innovation. Drawing on the history of political theory, Zurn shows how curious practices—e.g. collecting, tracking, and innovating—can not only entrench systems of inequality, but also provide the impetus for political resistance. Together, Bassett and Zurn will compare and contrast the science and the humanity of curious minds.

Danielle Bassett is currently a MacArthur Fellow, as well as the Eduardo D. Glandt Faculty Fellow, and an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. She has 14 years of experience in developing and applying tools from network science to understand large-scale brain network organization estimated from structural and functional neuroimaging data from a wide range of modalities including MRI, fMRI, ECOG, DTI, DSI, and MEG in humans. Bassett has published extensively on topics related to network science, including 174 accepted or published articles that have together garnered >12,600 citations (h-index = 46). She gives approximately 50 talks per year, both nationally and internationally, on her lab’s work.

Bassett received a BS in physics from the Pennsylvania State University and a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK. Following a postdoctoral position at UC Santa Barbara, she was a junior research fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind. In 2012, she was named the American Psychological Association's Rising Star and given an Alumni Achievement Award from the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University for extraordinary achievement under the age of 35. In 2014, she was named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and received the MacArthur Fellow Genius Grant. In 2015, she received the IEEE EMBS Early Academic Achievement Award, and was named an ONR Young Investigator. In 2016, she received an NSF CAREER award and was named one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10. In 2017 she was awarded the Lagrange Prize in Complexity Science. She is the founding director of the Penn Network Visualization Program, a combined undergraduate art internship and K-12 outreach program bridging network science and the visual arts.  Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Office, the Army Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the ISI Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Perry Zurn is an assistant professor of philosophy at American University, and Center for Curiosity Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He researches broadly in political philosophy, gender theory, and applied ethics, and contributes specifically to critical prison studies and curiosity studies. Zurn’s work explores not only the contours of curiosity and knowledge formation, but the effects of social inequality on those modes and methods of inquiry. He is the author of The Politics of Curiosity (University of Minnesota Press, under contract), the co-author of Curious Minds (MIT Press, under contract), and the co-editor of Curiosity Studies: Toward a New Ecology of Knowledge (University of Minnesota Press, under contract), Intolerable: Writings from Michel Foucault and the Prisons Information Group (University of Minnesota Press, under contract), Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition (Palgrave, 2016), and Carceral Notebooks 12. He is the author of more than three dozen publications, and has co-authored with scholars in anthropology, education, neuroscience, psychology, and political theory. Committed to diversity work, he has served as the sophomore cohort program manager for the DePaul McNair Scholars Program (2011-2015), and a member of the American Philosophical Association’s Diversity Institute Advisory Panel (2015-2018). Henow chairs the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on LGBT People in the Profession (2017-2021).

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