Mystics and Scientists

The Nature of Inspiration in Art, Science and Spirituality

12 April 2013 - 14 April 2013

Venue: Warwick University

This year we are exploring the nature of intuitive inspiration and creativity in art, science and spirituality.We all experience inspiration to a greater or lesser extent, and artists channel this into their works, while scientists seek to understand the underlying processes of the world. Prof. BobTurner will report on his research into creativity and the brain, while Prof. Lord Richard Harries considers inspiration in spiritual experience and the visual arts, with particular reference to the image of Christ in modern art. Sculptor and painter Shakti Maira is travelling from India to talk about specific inspirations to some of his work, and virtuoso violinist Prof. Paul Robertson will speak about inspiration in musical experience. Finally, poet Ruth Padel will explore the deeper meaning of inspiration in relation to the senses, the way we take things in. 

The Mystics and Scientists conferences have been held every year since 1978, and are dedicated to forging a creative understanding of the complementary roles of scientific and mystical approaches to reality.The conferences always provide a highly engaging and creative opportunity to come together with like-minded people in a spirit of exploration and dialogue.We greatly look forward to your participation.

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Friday 12th April

Dinner followed by a welcome to the speakers’ panel from SMN President Dr. Peter Fenwick and Chair Prof. Bernard Carr. Programme Director David Lorimer will introduce the conference, revisiting some of the key themes of Arthur Koestler’s classic book, The Act of Creation. Koestler was an early member of the Network.

Saturday 13th April

Prof. Robert Turner - Creativity and the Brain 

“Evolution is slow thinking: thinking is fast evolution”. Adaptation is the fundamental evolutionary principle: getting ready for what comes next. Mammalian brains are superbly fitted, in the present moment, to prepare individual living creatures for the next moment, and the next hour, and the vicissitudes of future life experience. To do so, brains must themselves be ahead of the game: predicting, estimating, inventing scenarios, intending, initiating interventions with the world.At the same time, brains need to be well equipped to edit and record previous experience, thus forming an intelligent basis for prediction. So our brains are mostly occupied in remembering and imagining – perceiving and acting are relatively minor tasks.To be adaptive, and to adapt, a brain must be materially changed by every event that takes place within it—by perceiving, remembering, planning, and acting.We never use the same brain twice. Neurons sprout new dendrites and terminal axons, synapses are formed and others disappear. Evolutionary pressures drive brains to be adaptive, to be creative, and the ultimate creative act is to make a conscious change in the world around us, to suit ourselves better. So every human brain is creative—and the important question becomes one of meaningful creativity. Only an encultured brain, shaped by coherent social participation, can create anything meaningfully new. 

Bob Turner started his academic career as a physicist, studying maths and physics at Cornell University, and completed his doctorate in physics at Simon Fraser University,Vancouver. After three years as a post-doctoral physicist at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, he broadened his horizons by studying social anthropology at University College London. During the period of ethnographic fieldwork that followed, he encountered MRI, which had been recently invented, and realised that this technique could provide insight into basic aspects of human nature, via maps of human brain organization. Returning to physics as a lecturer at Nottingham University in 1984, he built his own MRI scanner in 1984, designed and built gradient coils for MRI, and assisted the Nobel Prize winning Peter Mansfield in developing ultra-fast MRI techniques.As a Visiting Scientist at NIH between 1988 and 1994, he pioneered functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion weighted imaging.This led to his appointment as Wellcome Principal Research Fellow and Professor in Imaging Physics at the Institute of Neurology in London, where he established fMRI as a tool for cognitive neuroscience. He is now Director of the Neurophysics Department at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig where he leads a major programme of investigation into the functional anatomy of the human brain using ultra-high field strength MRI.


Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth: Inspiration and the Challenge of Modern Art to Religious Imagery

By the end of the 19th century religious imagery was almost totally dead. Artistic developments were taking off in a new direction, with traditional religious themes abandoned.Yet a number of artists at the front of this movement did in fact find new inspiration to revitalise religious art. Richard Harries will explore this theme with particular relation to images of Christ.

Richard Harries was Bishop of Oxford from 1987-2006. On his retirement he was created a Life Peer, (Lord Harries of Pentregarth), and he continues to be active in the House of Lords. He is an Honorary Professor of Theology at King’s College, London and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is the author of a wide range of books on the interface of Christian faith including God outside the Box (2002); The Passion in Art (2004) and After the Evil: Christianity and Judaism in the Shadow of the Holocaust (2003). His book Art and the Beauty of God (2000) was chosen as a book of the year by the late Anthony Burgess in The Observer. His most recent books include The Re-Enchantment of Morality (2008), shortlisted for the 2011 Michael Ramsey prize for theological writing; Faith in Politics? Rediscovering the Christian roots of our political values and Questions of Life and Death: Christian Faith and Medical Intervention (2010). He edited, with Stephen Platten, Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics; God and Power (2010). His voice is well known as a regular contributor to BBC’s Today programme over many years, and in 2011 he was elected one of the 66 most influential people in the country over the age of 66.


Ruth Padel: Inside and Outside: Breath, Ear and Eye

The word “inspiration” means “breathing in”. Both in art and science, the ways we “make sense” of what is outside and inside us depend on our senses: how we take the world in and what we can bring out of ourselves in interaction with it. Words and song, for example, depend on the breath. Beginning with Greek poetry and science, Ruth Padel will explore patterns of our relations with the world outside us, visible and invisible. 

Ruth Padel is a British poet and writer, author of a wide range of non-fiction, a novel and eight poetry collections, most recently Darwin – A Life in Poems and The Mara Crossing, poems and prose on migration in the mediaeval form of the prosimetrum, mixing poetry and philosophy. She began as a Greek scholar, has written books on consciousness and self in ancient Greece, on reading contemporary poetry, and on tiger conservation. She is Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Council Member of the Zoological Society of London and an Ambassador for New Networks for Nature. Her broadcasting includes radio essays on British wild animals: their zoology and ecology and our imaginative responses to them. See



Sunday 14th April

Shakti Maira: Inspiration in Art: Unfolding, Connecting, Forming

The artist will attempt to reveal and share, by taking you inside the process that occurred while making art, the inspiration for two of his major series of work: Pilgrims’ Path (paintings) and The Seekers (sculpture). He will conclude with some observations on the relationship between experience, imagination and motivation in artistic inspiration.

Shakti Maira is an artist based in New Delhi. He has had 26 one-person exhibitions around the world. His work is in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and in many collections in India and abroad. He wrote Towards Ananda: Rethinking Indian Art and Aesthetics (2006). He was invited to the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival, and co-organized an international seminar in 2012 on The End of Art and The Promise of Beauty.


Prof. Paul Robertson: Grace and Effort: Sources of Inspiration Reconciled in Musical Experience

‘Music is a universal experience which for centuries has engaged humanity by its unspoken power.The structures of Music, which we all implicitly understand, map the laws of both Personal Identity and Organizational Relationship.’

Victor Frankl famously concluded that Mankind’s greatest need is for meaning. Contemporary psychology assumes that inspiration (or ‘flow’) is the culmination of a whole series of previous conditions (such as those defined by Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs). Many spiritual traditions, by contrast, stress that inspiration is Divinely dispensed often irrespective of apparent merit. Can musical experience reconcile such contrasting views? Paul will suggest that rather than being mutually exclusive such contrary beliefs may hide an essential commonality. His talk will include musical examples and performance.

Paul Robertson was founder and for more than 38 years, leader of the Medici String Quartet.Together with his wife, Dr. Chika Robertson he is now Joint Chief Executive of the Music Mind Spirit Trust. An eminent international lecturer, performer and broadcaster, some 30 years ago Paul began pioneering work into the relationship between musical experience and brain function about which he often speaks and broadcasts. He is Visiting Professor in Music and Medicine to the Peninsula Medical School and an Associate Fellow of Green,Templeton College, Oxford and Visiting Professor to the Bled School of Management, Slovenia. In 2011 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Plymouth. Just over 4 years ago Paul survived a serious cardio-thoracic episode after which he spent some weeks in a coma and many further months paralysed. Following this lifechanging experience he devotes much of his energy to deepening an understanding of Spirituality through music. In 2014 he has accepted a Fellowship to theWissenschaftskolleg, Berlin where he hopes to complete his book exploring Music and Meaning.Website: