Minds at Work


Jan|Feb 09 Contents
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Watching the stock market gyrate hundreds of points up or down (mostly down) in a day (or an hour) breeds a certain short-term perspective. We miss the forest for the individual leaf, never mind the trees.

We look at Penn and the economy in this issue’s “Gazetteer” section, and President Gutmann also addresses the subject in her “From College Hall” column. While describing how Penn will deal with the expected reduction in revenues for the coming period, in both articles the president emphasizes the continuity of the University’s essential mission of creating and communicating knowledge—with, in the current era, a special focus on scholarship and research that brings to bear insights from multiple academic disciplines.

Associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story, “An Architect Walks Into the Lab,” is a striking example of this kind of collaboration. At the heart of the article is an unlikely intellectual partnership struck up by Peter Lloyd Jones, an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and Jenny Sabin, a lecturer in the School of Design—one that began in 2005 when Jones wandered into a conference on “non-linear systems” in which Sabin was involved and “was ‘completely blown away’ by what he heard” and the possible connections with his own work as a biologist.

Since then, Jones and Sabin have formed LabStudio, which has paired up postdoctoral and graduate students at the Institute for Medicine and Engineering (where Jones makes his academic home) and at the School of Design. One of the most surprising tidbits in the piece is the fact that architects’ computer tools are much more sophisticated than those used in medicine and biomedical research. The idea behind the pairings is to try to develop new ways to visualize cells and cell behavior, eventually pointing the way to more effective disease treatments.

Though the work is still at a comparatively early stage, and Jones and Sabin have faced skepticism from more discipline-bound colleagues, the research community is beginning to take notice. A couple of years ago, Jones told Trey, this work “would have been a joke” to grant makers at the National Institutes of Health. “Now they’re crying out for new modes of visualization. And so is the NSF. So there’s a paradigm-turn occurring, I think.”

A bit more than a century ago, science was grappling with a whole set of questions arising from the widely popular belief in spiritualism. Frequent contributor Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 has written several essays for us exploring Penn’s honorable role in that effort. His latest, “In Dreams Begin Discoveries,” concerns  the well-known phenomenon in which long-sought answers seem to come “out of nowhere” in sleep.

Specifically, Dennis discusses a paper written in 1896 for The Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research by William Romaine Newbold C1887, a philosopher and Latin professor who was one of the University’s leading intellectual lights of his era. For good measure, his essay featured two more Penn stars—Greek scholar William A. Lamberton and archaeologist Hermann Hilprecht—as examples of problem-solving dreamers.

After describing Lamberton and Hilprecht’s recollections of their waking discoveries in detail, Newbold was forced to conclude that no “supernormal powers” were required to reach them. Dennis praises his analysis as “admirably clear-headed,” especially compared with the soon-to-follow Freudian theories that would dominate dream analysis for decades. These days, in a scholarly version of “what goes around comes around,” Newbold’s paper is receiving renewed attention by sleep researchers, he notes, and “remains as fresh and vital today as when first published, more than a hundred years ago.”

—John Prendergast C’80



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