The unconscious mind is a vast unmapped territory of feelings, thoughts, urges and memories that sit just outside our awareness. Luckily, our intrepid Garden Fellows are at the forefront of exploring it, and they're taking you with them on the journey.
Stress starts in the mind, but it can take an enormous toll on the body too. Left unchecked, it can even prove fatal. What is stress, from a scientific perspective, and how does it wreak havoc on our bodies when we're in a state of burnout? Read more
Dr David Plans
Dr David Plans initially studied music and artificial intelligence. He was interested in how humans improvise and wanted to understand how future forms of AI might understand emotional intention.
But while David was running a small startup, he experienced a cardiac event that made him re-examine everything. How is it possible for people to die of exhaustion and malnutrition? Why do we stop feeling our bodies when we're stressed?
To understand, these questions, David started first exploring meditative and movement-based practices, looking at theological and philosophical explanations of suffering, and eventually retrained in neuroscience and founded a startup that offered large organisations a way to measure burnout using computational psychiatry.
In the process of building and selling this company, David experienced burnout again, nearly twenty years on from the onset of that heart failure, and this time fell into a depression that nearly took his life. In the end, David realised that he had built a technological solution to a flesh-born problem. He's now a lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he focuses on creating new forms of therapy that put the body first.Read more
Humans are information-seeking beings at heart. But while technology has given us unprecedented access to the data we crave, it has created a deluge of side effects. How are we adapting to information and stimulation overload? Read more
Dr. Alexandra Crosswell
Alexandra has been interested in the mind-body connection since working at the Duke Cancer Center as an undergraduate, and meeting patients that were convinced that a stressful event in their life like a divorce had caused their cancer. Alexandra was, and continues to be, fascinated by the question of whether it's really possible that our minds have power over our cells. If so, that truth has the potential to turn upside down how we understand biology. It could mean that prayer actually can heal disease, or that unhealed trauma can cause physical pain, or that our intuition about our health can be accurate.
Because of the broad and theoretical implications of the connection between the mind and body, Alexandra's exploration of human behavior has always intertwined science and spirituality. To her, there is no difference - there may be two different approaches to viewing the way humans work, but there is just one truth we are trying to discover. And by unpacking the connections between the mind and the body, Alexandra believes that we also unpack fundamental pieces of who we are beyond just our physical body.
Alexandra has spent 15 years as a psychological scientist studying the effects of stress on biological health and well-being, with a new focus in recent years on how contemplative practices can create more resilient physical bodies. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCSF in the US.Read more
Meditation - training your attention and awareness to reach a calm and stable state - is an ancient practice found all over the world and used in the modern day to manage stress. What's going on in your brain when you achieve this level of focus? Read more
Prof. Steven Laureys
“It is curious how awareness of consciousness science is so low in the medical and scientific arenas. We need to inspire more neurologists and doctors to be interested in consciousness—and what it means for the thousands of people who experience traumatic brain injury and disorders of consciousness every year."
Prof. Steven Laureys has dedicated his career to doing just that. He founded the GIGA Consciousness and Coma Science Group at the University of Liège, Belgium, where his team of 60 people studies consciousness in all its forms, from anaesthesia to dreaming. Consciousness is a complex problem, so his team is made of up experts in physiology, pharmacology, psychology, engineering, and statistics, among other disciplines, who help him shed light on it.
Steven is also Professor at the CERVO Brain Centre at Laval University, Canada and has published over 500 scientific articles on the human mind and how it works.Read more
We think of sleep as a period of relaxation and recuperation, but while we snooze, our brains remain incredibly busy, often with intriguing "side effects" like dreams and sleepwalking. What does the mind get up to when we're not paying attention? Read more
Dr Lauren N. Whitehurst
What makes a night of sleep "good"? Staying asleep the whole night? Falling asleep once your head hits the pillow? Waking up refreshed and ready for your day? How does "good" sleep at night prepare you for a day filled with social interaction, cognitive challenges and emotional tests?
These are the questions that Dr Lauren N. Whitehurst explores in her sleep lab every day! She asks questions about what happens in the brain while we sleep and the effect of sleep on our waking behaviors. She focuses on how we can define "good" sleep based on physiological data and how sleep supports cognition and learning. She also examines how our daily experiences may impact sleep. Specifically, she explores how stress may deter good sleep and how sleep-stress interactions impact cognitive function. Dr Whitehurst is particularly interested in the role that the lack of access to restorative sleep can play in the accelerated aging of communities historically underserved by science and medicine in the US.
Dr Whitehurst received her BS in Psychology and an MA in Experimental Psychology from James Madison University, and her PhD in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. She also completed a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Center for Health and Community and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky.Read more
Have you ever arrived at your destination with no memory of the journey that got you there? Your unconscious mind has been at work. Does that mean we don't always have free will over our actions and decisions? And what does that tell us about the brain? Read more
Dr. Uri Maoz
Uri was a young scientist at grad school when he ended up at a conference he hadn't been invited to (a story he promises to tell us next time he's in The Garden) and was presented with a big question he hadn't thought about before; a question that usually gets left to philosophers to tackle. The question was, Do humans have free will?
We experience ourselves as very free, and think that whether we act or not is completely up to us. But the reality is, no mechanism for this kind of freedom is known to science.
Uri was hooked, and has dedicated his career to answering this question, not through philosophy but by looking at the brain and human behaviour. He spends his time designing experiments and devising computational models that illuminate just how much control we humans have over our own decision making.
Uri's career has taken him to some of the foremost research institutions globally, including UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Caltech, the Hebrew University and the Collège de France. He's now Assistant Professor of Computational Neuroscience at Chapman University in the US, and runs a large, international project that brings neuroscientists and philosophers together to investigate free will.Read more
Prof. Sidarta Ribeiro
Sidarta Ribeiro is the founder and first director of the Brain Institute of Federal University or Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, where he currently is Professor of Neuroscience. He received a Ph.D in Animal Behaviour from Rockefeller University. His research topics encompass memory, sleep and dreams, neuroplasticity, symbolic competence in in non-human animals, computational psychiatry, and psychedelics.Read more
The body can create a shocking array of symptoms, from paralysis to seizures, seemingly without any medical explanation. Is the brain responsible, and if so, why does it do it? Read more
Dr. Suzanne O'Sullivan
Suzanne O’Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at The Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and for a specialist unit based at the Epilepsy Society.
She specialises in the investigation of complex epilepsy and also has an active interest in psychogenic disorders. Suzanne’s book about psychosomatic illness, It's All in Your Head, won both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize.Read more
How can someone on an acid trip see sounds or hear colours? And why do some people have this same experience all the time, drug-free? Read more
Dr. David Luke
Few people have explored altered states of mind as much as David. His research led him into an adventure in one of the world’s most fascinating subjects: consciousness. From running clinical drug trials with LSD, to conducting DMT field experiments to observing apparent weather control with Mexican shamans, he is involved in a variety of fascinating activities. He also studied techniques of consciousness alteration from South America to India, from the perspective of scientists, shamans and Shivaites.
David is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich, where he has been teaching an undergraduate course on the Psychology of Exceptional Human Experience since 2009. These days, you will most likely find him in Sussex connecting with the land and building pirate tree houses. If not there, you will need to wait for him to come back from one of his expeditions exploring exotic trance rituals, psychedelic indigenous tribes or one of his shamanic pilgrimages across mountains and deserts.