BJKS Podcast

59. Chris Frith: Two Heads, social neuroscience, and the history of the FIL

June 19, 2022
BJKS Podcast
59. Chris Frith: Two Heads, social neuroscience, and the history of the FIL
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Chris Frith is an Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at University College London. His research has spanned several topics, including social cognition, schizophrenia, volition, and consciousness. We talk about Two Heads (a book co-written with his wife and son), his career, and the history of the FIL.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.). 

00:04: Why did Chris not become a musician?
06:14: How Chris became a comic book hero
14:31: Collaborating with economists (as a neuroscientist or psychologist)
22:34: A triple history of Chris's career, neuroimaging, and the FIL at UCL
47:14: Career advice: explorers and exploiters in science, and skills to learn
57:00: Was all the effort worth it?
1:00:10: Sci-fi and detective story recommendations

Podcast links

Chris's links

Ben's links

Blakemore ... (1998). Central cancellation of self-produced tickle sensation. Nature neuroscience.
Cook ... (2012). Automatic imitation in a strategic context ... Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Corcoran ... (1995). Schizophrenia, symptomatology and social inference ... Schizophrenia research.
Feinberg ... (1999). Schizophrenia–a disorder of the corollary discharge ... The British Journal of Psychiatry.
Fletcher ... (1995). Other minds in the brain ... Cognition.
Frith ... (2022). Two Heads: A Graphic Exploration of How Our Brains Work with Other Brains.
Frith (2013). Making up the mind: How the brain creates our mental world.
Frith ... (1991). Willed action and the prefrontal cortex in man: a study with PET. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.
Haruno ... (2010). Activity in the amygdala elicited by unfair divisions predicts social value orientation. Nature neuroscience.
Haruno ...  (2014). Activity in the nucleus accumbens and amygdala ... Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Helmholtz (1867). Treatise on physiological optics.
Johnstone ... (1976). Cerebral ventricular size and cognitive impairment in chronic schizophrenia. The Lancet.
Medwed (2007). The innocent prisoner's dilemma: ... Iowa Law Review.
Posner ... (1988). Localization of cognitive operations in the human brain. Science.
Shelley (1818). Frankenstein.
Wegner (2004). Précis of the illusion of conscious will. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Ma mère l'oye:
Dolly Suite:
Chris's interview with the BPS:

[This is an automated transcript that contains many errors]

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] By the way it was funny, like how the, the scheduling of these interviews works. Uh, two days ago, actually I published, um, an episode with Peter Vuust , who I believe, you know, from ours. And, you know, I'd been preparing my interview with him and suddenly I, you know, checked the references and saw that he had some papers with you together. 

And I didn't realize at all that there, there was a connection between basically these guests who I had, you know, very briefly after each other. And just before that, I talked to Mary Elizabeth Sutherland, who's, um, editor at nature or senior editor at nature and responsible for the behavioral sciences. 

And in both of those, you know, I talk, we started to talk about music because, um, Mary Elizabeth, uh, was a semi harpist almost.  

Chris Frith: Yes. I'm happy to talk about music.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. That's what I'd like. I thought I could, we could start talking about music again, because it seemed to me from reading some articles of yours, I seen here and there, and from some interviews that you were quite into music, so maybe, um, or even your, your brothers are both professional musicians. 

So why did you not [00:01:00] become a musician? 

Chris Frith: Huh? I was not. Well, That's a good question. I played the mu I played the Viola for many, many years in, in, in quartet and in, or on two occasions. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's so bad. 

Chris Frith: So that's not bad.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, I, I played music all my life and I never got paid. I think 

but yeah. How, by the way, I saw that in the, in the two heads book, you mentioned that you played the Viola and how does one get to play the Viola? It seems to me  

Chris Frith: oh, well, no, it's very easy. The reason you get to play the Viola particularly in orchestras is because there are always too many violins and there're never enough villas. So you can get a job. You can get a, you can get in there. And also my story is that. of course you have to learn to play in the Alto cliff. 

Which is a little bit weird. And I, I claim that because I'm basically a computer programmer. I was able to do this by [00:02:00] realizing that if I pretend I'm playing the violin in the third position and at a sharp, it works.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, by the way, is it, how is it going from violent to Iola? Is it, is it really confusing because it's, you know, very similar but slightly different or is it doesn't really  

Chris Frith: No, I think it's not, I mean, the, the real professionals usually play both, so I, it's not too difficult. Yeah. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. But I, I know, uh, the, what you mean about orchestra, not having enough of those. I, I played trumpet in double bass and at first I played trumpet and then we had this one piece, um, that only was for strings. I said, oh, shall I play double bass? And that they're like, wait a minute, you play double bass, play double bass. 

We don't need more trumpets . And so from then on, I played double, they said that orchestra, but I mean, did you ever entertain any serious kind of hopes for doing music or was it.  

Chris Frith: No, no. I mean, my brother, Fred was obviously much, much better. I mean, he's a real professional [00:03:00] musician and of course my father was semiprofessional  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: right? Like in terms of practicing  

Chris Frith: and 

he, and the sort of research took over, particularly when I got into brain imaging. I really well, there were two things. First of all, we used to live south of the river in London. 

And, um, I had lots of contacts there, but when we moved north of the river and you lose all your contacts, basically. So I, so that was part of the reason, but also going to conferences and things, I just didn't have the couldn't fulfill my obligations properly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: rehearsing 

Chris Frith: Exactly. I mean, I still, my wife and, I still play piano duets as long as there's no one there listening. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So I've always, I've never, I've always been in the weird position that I, even though lot knew lots of musicians. I never had anyone around to play duets or geos or whatever, which was always a [00:04:00] slight shame. Uh, so what kind of stuff would you play  

Chris Frith: Oh, all the, I mean, basically traditional, I mean, there's a very nice churn book of piano, duet exercises, which is quite nice, but there's Clemente and there's Moza but the, our favorite one is Matthew Cheba wrote a small number of very easy pieces of piano of foxtrots blues and things like, yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Uh, have you ever played AVEs? Um, Mawi  

Chris Frith: Oh, yes. That, that. is that's a little bit too difficult, I think.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. I guess the first movement  

Chris Frith: yes, we certainly tried. Yes. We certainly tried. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. That's uh, that's pretty nice.  

Chris Frith: And do is sweet of course, but that's Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, so in the, in the book, you also mentioned that the, um, uh, one of the conflicts you might have would be not to go to a football game or the opera, but to [00:05:00] go decide whether to go Toski I was curious, which side are you on the, on that? 

Chris Frith: Oh, well, I know I'm very keen on both. I guess my wife would be slightly more keen on the bar.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Uh, I see, I see, that's funny. I read, I read that because I read that basically, uh, at the same time that I was, uh, you know, interviewing Peter and we talked about tu this again, this kind of weird paradox. 

Chris Frith: Certainly when I was 16 or something, I, I went through the whole of the score of the right of spring and sort of wrote out the themes or something. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah. I, yeah. I mean, , that's why my grades weren't good in school because I skipped school and went to the library to borrow scores and read those instead. Um, but yeah. Uh, last question about music. What's so great about miles Davis is kind of blue yeah, 

Chris Frith: Oh, well, I guess that was the time. I mean, again, that was when I was a student and it was, but I, I mean, I still very fond of it. I, I, I would find [00:06:00] it very difficult to say why, but it's the  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, no, it's, it's difficult to describe why, uh, music is, I guess it just is anyway. So I guess, uh, I wanted to talk mainly today about, uh, your. Two heads where two neuroscientists explore how our brains work with other brains, um, and related topics. So first I'm really glad that this is the first time I can talk to a real life comic book hero, which I guess now you can call yourself, um, Batman Spiderman, Chris Fri. 

Um, yeah. And I guess, yeah, I thought it was really lovely also like seeing in the comic book form these people who I've, some of them I've met, most of them I've read of or something like that. It was just really lovely. Uh, so maybe the first kind of obvious question, uh, why write a comic book? How did this kind of come about. 

Chris Frith: Well, the reason, the reason was that we UTA and I were given a prize in Paris called the Jean Nico prize and it [00:07:00] comes from the ACOR superior. And you have to basically, you have to give four lectures in Paris. . And what is slightly odd about. 

this prize is that they won't give you the money until they assigned a contract with MIT pressed to write a book  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Really. Okay.  

Chris Frith: which we thought was a little,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Chris Frith: but it was a reasonable amount. And anyway, every, so we were living in the middle of Paris and you have to go from where we were over the river to the route dorm where the ACOR superior is. And the route that we took goes through the Ru Dante, which anybody who's into graphic novels will know is a road in Paris, entirely full of shops, sending graphic novels. 

And of course the French are much and the buildings with a much more interest into graphic novels. And you can, you can't just get Spiderman. You can get as a graphic in these  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. How's that? Did you, did you read that or  

Chris Frith: I never done.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. 

Chris Frith: And so we thought [00:08:00] it be really much more interesting to write a graphic novel about all this stuff. Or at least, I mean, that's the wrong term to write it in a graphic form. I can't really call it a novel, I suppose, a graphic nonfiction. And the other reason of course, is that our son, Alex, is a professional editor for ASBOs who they basically, he writes children's science books, which are mostly in graphic form. 

And he basically finds the artist and does the story boarding and is a keen graphic novel fan. So through him, I've read every issue of 2000 ad or something like that. And, um, we talked to him and he thought it was a very good idea. And we used some of the prize money to get some examples from various possible artists. 

And we chose Daniel lock who was wonderful and that's how it started off. And it's basically the work is by Alex and, and Daniel. And the way it's finished up, as you say, we're just the heroes as. [00:09:00] And the whole, the way it's done the, I mean, the way that it's so very biographical is, is due to him, Alex, that is, and we were worried about this and we said, um, we're not so happy about it being so much about ourselves. And he said, don't worry. That's very standard in graphic novels. And it's fine. As long as you come out in a bad light. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: exactly.  

Chris Frith: so  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I don't think you do though, right? I mean, I think it's, uh, as I said, like, it's, it's just a, I think it's a lovely book where yeah.  

Chris Frith: but meanwhile, of course we had to write the proper text academic book, which we finished at the end of it was due June, 2016. We finished us at the end of last year, on December, the last day of the year. And because it's an academic book, of course it got assessed. So we are currently just halfway through revising it.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I was, I was wondering on, on your website, it said there's the, this other book coming out at some point. 

Chris Frith: In a sort of way, [00:10:00] it's the sort of back background to the, the comic book version, although it actually has much more in it, but it has all, I mean, I think I'm quite, this is one of the first comic references, but even references  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, it, it's crazy to me also, like how much science, you know? I mean, obviously you can only like allude to stuff or mention it briefly in a, I dunno how, but how many words does each chapter have? Is it like,  

Chris Frith: the comic book,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, because.  

Chris Frith: I'm not sure, but it was, yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I was just curious because it's like, um, yeah, just like how much science you discuss on, you know, on so few words with like a speech bubble here and there and 

Chris Frith: that's right. But I mean, one of the things that struck us is if you are giving, if you're a, particularly, if you're an area scientist giving a talk, the vast numbers of PowerPoint or keynote slides with pictures on. So in a sense, we are producing the slides and 

the bubbles of the talk  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: fair. Okay. That's interesting. I never thought about it that way. [00:11:00] Yeah. 

Chris Frith: it's very annoying when you write an academic book. I mean, it's not quite as bad as it used to be, you know, you're not allowed to have color  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: too  

Chris Frith: or it has to go into the middle.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Although your, your book has the making up the minders color it.  

Chris Frith: Yes. But again, it's tipped into the middle, if  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. But I'm curious, like, how was. I mean, you said that, that, uh, your son and, um, Daniel Locke did kind of most of the putting it together, but I'm assuming, I mean, how did it work practically? Did you kind of talk to him about them? 

What the science was or 

Chris Frith: Yes. We had a list of the experiments we thought should go in, roughly speaking all the topics and then they did them. And then we had to check whether they thought, we thought it actually correctly said what the sounds was. There's one, quite which a bit I quite like was about Dean MOS and the trolley problem where something we talked about, there was an experiment that hasn't actually been done  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: still 

Chris Frith: was our idea. I, he, [00:12:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So the ex I thought the experiment had been done by, um, was a different version  

Chris Frith: was a twist on it. Cause the idea was that people, you know, what was nice about that experience was if you asked them hypothetically what they would do, they would say, they'd give all the money for the, to have the shocks being avoided. But if you did it in real life, as it were, then they would say, well, we'll keep some of the money and, and they can get a, you know, we can get a little money and they can get just a little pain. 

And then the, that we discussed. And in the other book also this business about, are we basically selfish or are we basically altruistic. And this is at least in relation to our in group. And this is something that UTA and I have slightly different opinions of because I am more inclined to think we're basically altruistic and she's more inclined to think that we're basically selfish, but the, the experiment was, if you did the troll problem in real life, as it [00:13:00] were, and you gave a cognitive load, would they become more altruistic or. 

more selfish?  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So you kind of distract them from allow, you don't allow them to think about the problem, but kind of let them more respond intuitively. Yeah.  

Chris Frith: And I did, we did that with my friend, um, Massa, Hao in Japan and the, where we were using the I can't, is it the dictator game or one PO or one of those games? And there, we found that if we distracted people, the prosocial people became more prosocial and the competitive people became more competitive.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Huh? So like deliberation makes everyone slightly more similar almost, or, 

Chris Frith: No, that's pulling them apart in this case then. So the prosocial become more prosocial.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh, but sorry. I meant deliberation makes the more right. Because you said if they're distracted then. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.  

Chris Frith: Yeah. Yes, exactly. Yeah. Yes,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, It's funny that you mention. Um, Haruno because, you know, it's funny, like I'd been like reading some of your [00:14:00] papers in the books, in preparation, that kinda stuff. And then I completely like realized just today, basically that one of the papers that we've basically everyone in the lab has read is your Haruno and fourth, 2010 nature, neuro science paper. 

And, uh, yeah, I thought maybe, I mean, I wanted to ask about kind of neuroeconomics and, um, the kind of, let's say neuroscience of yeah. If economic games and that kind of stuff. And I guess that paper kind of plays into that a bit. I was curious, um, like one thing that I always find slightly difficult is that it seems to me that economists and psychologists and neuroscientists have there's something fundamentally different about the way they approach and look at things, but they do very similar things and I haven't necessarily quite figured out what it is. 

Um, so I'm curious, like how, what's the difference here between the two fields or approaches or. Yeah. 

Chris Frith: Well, yes. I mean the most obvious difference, which is not quite relevant to your question of course, is that psychologists were perfectly happy to deceive people and the economists think this [00:15:00] is wrong. To the extent that they will not include psychology students in their experiments for fear, that they've had experience of being deceived, which is quite interesting. 

I guess the main difference is that, I mean, I had an interesting chat a long time ago with a very imminent economist in Oxford. And I was saying, doesn't it worry that people don't behave in the way that your classic model says they should says they, they, and he says, no, not on the least, cuz my, our models are not about how people do behave our models about people, how people should behave, which is a very different sort of question. 

And also that they seem to be very naught. Yes. In that sense, they're very normative. I 

mean, I think. 

psychologists are much more interested in putting people In situations and seeing what happens. And I think the economists are much more interesting in, um, I, I can't, we put it somewhere in our academic book, but the difference was that they're much more interested in having a very clear model. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: In this book, I think you said [00:16:00] they're much more interested in the strategies people choose, whereas psychologists are interested in how they make the decision in a much broader sense. Yeah. I mean, it seems to me that, that there's, there is this kind of divide, but that, to some extent also it's I think a slightly false divide because, you know, I think economists kind of say, if these are the utilities you have, then you're gonna make this decision. 

And psychologist is more about like figuring out where the utility comes from. 

Chris Frith: Yes, exactly. I mean, that's, I mean, that's very interesting because of the sort of Basian view you can see can. So the one story was that people are irrational because they're not choosing their best option. And then the Basian come in and say, oh, well, yes, it's all a matter of what the priors are. So you can just, the danger of that is you can always show that somebody is rational. 

if you can work out what the, what the priors would have to be. And I think that's quite an interesting dichotomy there. So, I mean, cuz Summerfield in Oxford has written about how you can show that the ignoring the [00:17:00] base rate is perfectly rational in most situations or something. Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I need to read more of his papers. He has lots of really interesting stuff. Yeah. I mean, did you, I'm curious like how much, I mean, it seems to be that lots of that. You're very interested in talking to people from different disciplines. I think there was one, I think this might have been in the BPS interview. 

You did if 10 years ago of something like that. Um, I think you said something like when you did your PhD with Hans, Izak he didn't, he, he said don't talk to the, uh, ex whatever it was like, people's doing something slightly different.  

Chris Frith: Well it's is virtually, we had two corridors for clinical psychologists and experimental psychologists. And I finished up in the experimental corridor and never really spoke to the clinical psychologist, but said, very talk to as a physiologist. And he said, Yeah, 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but it seems to me that you are kind of the opposite, right? You like talking to people from different disciplines. So I'm curious, like when talking to people from economics, I mean, was it ever difficult [00:18:00] because of, uh, common words but different approaches or  

Chris Frith: a yes. I mean, you just have to do your homework a bit, but I've, I mean, certainly talking to behavioral economists. I mean, I've talked to people like S fair and that was absolutely fine. And, um, my friend who I did a lot of work with, did some work with, um, Ken Binmore, who's a hard line game, theoretician who, and has a very low opinion of Basian, but I mean, it's still possible.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I mean, that's something that I'm also really interested in what to get kind of going. Um, but yeah, it's funny. We, we published this. Oh, we submitted a paper and got, uh, which is like vaguely game theoretical. Although for me, it's a psychological paper that uses game theory and we just got completely destroyed by someone from game theory. 

Cause like, this is all irrelevant. We've known this for like  

Chris Frith: well, that's, that's the trouble. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Chris Frith: I mean, when I, I was at all soul for a while and, um, Celia Hayes [00:19:00] done a very nice paper. Stone paper scissors, showing that people imitate that, that you can't suppress your tends as it imitate so that you so 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you do rock than I more likely to do rock the next one. 

Chris Frith: No, no. At the same more at the same time. Cause you can see it happening out there.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, I see. 

Chris Frith: I mean, that's how you must have seen there's this wonderful Japanese video computer that can beat everybody at stone paper scissors. And that's because it can recognize what it's going to be so quickly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, so just from like seeing what you're going to do or oh, okay. Okay. There was, yeah, no, there's a, there's a different game. I thought you were gonna mention, which is, this is related more to volition, which I guess we'll talk about later. And I have, unfortunately I don't know what it is. Um, I have to ask, um, Aaron sh again, but he showed it to me once, which is this game where you have to choose a or B you know, just press between two buttons. 

And basically if the game predicts correctly, what you're gonna do next, then you win. Uh, then, then [00:20:00] it wins. And if you can fold it, then you win. And it's just impossible to beat that thing. 

Chris Frith: that's the hide and seek game effectively.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. But it's just like, it's funny, like how, how difficult it is to basically not be corrective  

Chris Frith: well that that's right. Yeah. But see Haer published his paper and then there's somebody else at also at the time Vince Crawford, who's a hard line game. The, and he said, no, this was all wrong. We hadn't done it properly. So they had to do it again properly with, you know, big rewards and only two possibilities, which so you have to do turn it into. 

They were using hand movements. So you would still get the imitation effect and they got exactly the same result. I'm pleased to say. Yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's good. Yeah. Um, It's handy to have him sitting around. 

Chris Frith: I could talk a bit more about interacting with the widely different people and escaping from Isaac and so on. I, the first thing that happened is I went into a group studying schizophrenia, and there you had no choice, but to [00:21:00] interact with widely different people, because it was a sort of biological psychiatry unit and it had one or two people from each of the possible disciplines, no psychology, neuro anatomy, comparative psychology, um, biochemistry, which then turned into molecular genetics. 

So I, we were having coffee every day. Eight different disciplines or something. And then brain imaging is very similar. Cause when you go into brain imaging, you need a physicist. You need atom, you need a psychologist to think about what tasks to need to, to this. So again, of, and of course, when I went to AHU, one of the main reasons for going there was precisely because we were then going started off as an interacting minds group. But we went the head of, it was an anthropologist who got into brain imaging. And then there was, of course, Peter Wooster's a double based player. 

There were political scientists. They [00:22:00] were even, we had the people from the theology department were involved in that. And in fact, fascinating, the one group that was not interested in were the psychologists  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: why not 

Chris Frith: they? I mean, they were, they seemed to be very much self-contained and they were mostly training. 

What do you call it? Um, people who are going to, you know, client psychology of various kinds is I'm less interested in research. I mean, I've always been into research for research his sake.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: rather than a, I mean, but, but I guess you, you did start off working in like, directly with patients. 

Chris Frith: Yes. I mean, trained as a clinical psychologist, but that, at that time, as that was my way back into research, having not got a good enough degree,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Why not,  

Chris Frith: I don't really  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: not studious enough or 

Chris Frith: probably not, probably not studious enough. Um, nowadays of course, completely opposite. And if you want to get into clinical psychology, you have to get a PhD first or something like that. But, [00:23:00] and they very rapidly decided that they said, yes, yes, you are totally good. But we think you shouldn't see patients. 

You should be doing research.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: do you think that was the correct?  

Chris Frith: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah. I mean, you mentioned, uh, and I think of the book again that, um, you said something like the happiest years of research for me was, um, those years working directly in the hospital. Um, I think you mentioned it somewhere. I'm curious, uh, why, like, what was,  

Chris Frith: Oh, no. The reason that was, that was, again, that was with when I was with the MRC, you know, it was partly because we had all these different people, which I was who I was closely collaborating with all these different disciplines. But at that point we were studying schizophrenia. And the wonderful thing about it was that my lab so called was in the middle of the acute psychiatric unit. It was very funny. It's especially built for us and they built a lab and they, so they, that? 

a lab has to have gas taps and funny water taps with. Benson [00:24:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You mean like, almost like a chemistry kind of, uh, 

Chris Frith: and that meant of course, that, um, I had extraordinary access to patients. I mean, to the extent that, of course, of being a patient is extremely boring. 

So they would come and knock on the door and say, have you the means?  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or something? Yeah. anything to do here. 

Chris Frith: So we did some great work. And then of course we moved eventually, which will come back to out to the Institute of neurology. And it became quite impossible to see patients  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Just practically or 

Chris Frith: But I mean, they had, I think they had three psychiatric bits in the whole place or 

something, a  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: right. Yeah. So, I mean, was it just the, I mean, I just, the ease of getting participants and in this case, even an unusual population  

Chris Frith: unusual and 

here. So getting a very unusual population, we were able, because drug trials were going on at that time, there was often a, they would, you would have a placebo arm. So you could actually see drug free patients, which is almost impossible. These days. And I, some [00:25:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. So I guess the kind of, it seemed to me like when I see people who do clinical work, um, or work with patients, it always seems to me that there's so much like adminis of stuff and getting the patients is really difficult. So I guess basically we had all of that largely taken care of and. 

Chris Frith: people think it's unethical, but I'm noted. That's my main collaborator. There was Johnson who was a psychiatrist who basically the, really, to someone like that keen to doing that sort of research.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, so how do you, it's funny that to me, that, you know, I know you mainly from your work at UCO, at the Phil and, you know, social neuroscience, et cetera, et cetera, but, you know, you had like these 20 years or whatever of schizophrenia research before that, um, I'm curious, like how did you, yeah. How and why did you make that shift from, I think you said also this was ham Smith hospital first or something, which is, you know, quite far away within London, but quite far away [00:26:00] from queen square. 

Um, so yeah. 

Chris Frith: Well, that's the trouble with London? Um, the reason basically the, the, the schizophrenia unit did extremely well, but it came to the end of its life in various ways. And they actually, for complicated reasons, mainly political, we were in something called the clinical research center in Norwick park hospital, which had, um, about 20 different MRC research units in it. 

And they decided to close the whole thing down, as I say, mainly for political reasons. And we had to decide what to do then. And the unit was effectively disbanded and at right the last part of the time, On the research and schizophrenia, we started doing scanning. So we, I think we did the first cat scan as it was in those days of patients. 

And then we also were doing some Gama scanning with [00:27:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: What's that. Um, 

Chris Frith: it's one of the very that's looking at radioactive of  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. So again, like you give a radioactive trace  

Chris Frith: yeah, that's right. Yeah. There's a very primitive one where you just have a thing that goes round and around, but we also did a very early pet scanning study and you could only do that at the Hammersmith hospital. And, um, so when we came to be disbanded, one of my options was to go to the ham hospital and join the Tron unit as it then was, which was extremely exciting because this was enabled me to do pet scanning when it actually first became known and possible.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So when was this rough? 

Chris Frith: This was in the seventies. And there is, there was a famous paper by Michael Posner and, um, Mike Posner and, um, God, I can't remember his name, but he was so Posner was a famous cognitive psychologist is I should say. And then [00:28:00] chappy was collaborating with, was a radiographer who had started doing pet scanning. 

And they had a couple of papers in nature and science basically going from the traditional cognitive neuropsychology, which is where you have a box and a diagram of them functions and brain areas mapped onto it by studying patients with lesions. And they were able to do the same picture, except they were now studying healthy volunteers in a pet scanner. 

And I thought this was absolutely wonderful. And luckily they took me on and that's where it that's. So that's, that was how the shift happened. So really started doing scanning and this became possible. And that of course is where we, I got together with Karlton and various other I think he arrived shortly afterwards. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, 

Chris Frith: Yeah. Yeah. I can't remember where, I mean, the, the first schizophrenia paper with [00:29:00] cat scanning was 1976. That's right. And I think we were doing some pit scanning yes. in 91. So it must have been in the late eighties,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. 

I didn't know. So basically all of like some, most of the start people who started kind of the, the functioning inland laboratory were together, but at a different building. 

Chris Frith: Yes. So in the Hammersmith, yes. I mean, so there was Karl arrived, McGuire arrived, Kathy price Ray do. And that was the core of what became the Phil least. Right. I mean, all set up by Richard for Ko of.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay. I didn't know that all of you were that early together. I thought it was the kind of thing where the thing had, you know, I think the center created at UCL and then people  

Chris Frith: No, no, no. I think that's why it worked because we were already working together. The, the newcomer was Bob Turner, who was the person who knew about FMRI. Well,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So I'm curious, like, what did you first think when you heard of FMRI scanning this [00:30:00] new opportunity? Because I think you alluded somewhere to it that it was also kind of controversial in the beginning or people didn't quite believe  

Chris Frith: that's right. I mean, the,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: what was kind of your 

Chris Frith: I thought it was very exciting. I mean, the problem with doing pet scanning is you have to inject people with radiation and the health and safety became more and more strict. So during the time we were doing it, first of all, you know, no women of childbearing age, and then you were allowed to do it once a year. 

And then you were only allowed to do it once or something. And there's a nice graph you could draw. I mean, I actually have a certificate somewhere. It allows me to give radiation to people which I've never  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: still today? 

Chris Frith: they still But you have a nice little graph where, you know, you have the amount of radiation along the bottom and bad side effects at the side. 

And there are really only two points on it. There was AIMA up there somewhere  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Chris Frith: pet scan down there. And we didn't know whether it was a straight line or a, that sort curve or of the [00:31:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. So you needed something that was slightly, that allowed you to test more people more frequently or 

Chris Frith: exactly. And, and of course in the early days, which was again, sort of slightly comical story, the, the way to measure blood flow properly, you had to have an intravenous line. So it was not just, and obviously you had to stick something into stick the radio actual oxygen necessarily who you had to have an inter arterial line, which is not very pleasant.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like in the, in your head or  

Chris Frith: No, no, no into the arm, but it has to be into the artery rather than the vein, which is much more dangerous. And than of my bases, I've had, I have personally had an arterial line inserted by who, of course started psychiatrist.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Do you do a good job? 

Chris Frith: He did a good job, but he rapidly proved that you didn't need to do this. You could get just as good an answer. Yes. The problem with FM R I in the very early [00:32:00] days was that people didn't quite know what to do about movement,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Mm-hmm like head movement 

Chris Frith: head and head, basically head movement, which is very difficult to stop. And, um, the political problem was that the, we had the cyclotron unit, which was doing pet scanning, and then next door in the Hammersmith, there was the MRI unit that was doing structural MRI. 

And they were in particular were deeply suspicious of functional MRI and they had done a study demonstrating that you could using visual stimuli. You could show that the sort of movements of the head caused by time, the light flashed on and off could account for the activity you apparently saw in the visual cortex. 

And this got quite a lot of, I mean, some people believed. Certainly the MRC was very worried about this. And in, there was a meeting we had about this problem where people came from all [00:33:00] over the world. I'm particularly from the states where they were doing more function MRI, and it all became a bit dodgy because they were saying it's all very well. 

Just saying, you know, the movement of the back of. 

the head when you flash things on and off can cause this. But what, but why is it that we're also getting activity in the auditory cortex from sound and activity in the motor cortex from moving your fingers? It seems a little bit farfetched  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, all of that's 

Chris Frith: you've got different movement. 


And luckily at that point, the welcome trust basically decided that they want to have an imaging department.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So they didn't have any in the UK. Well, I guess welcome contrast is for the UK. And so they just didn't have one.  

Chris Frith: didn't have one. So we got, and whereas the MRC was worried about it. So we, and really moved in on that and put in a wonderful proposal and we got the money with pet and MRI. And initially I was using pet and they eventually worked their house to do the MRI, which is obviously much better in many ways. 

Although you still can't do things [00:34:00] like dopamine and so on.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Mm-hmm but the new department is then the one that was at queen square or is that still at the. 

Chris Frith: And that was delayed for a year because the building that we're in which used to be a nurse's having schools in Joseph's house or something, they had lost the deed. So no one knew who it belonged to. So there had to be an of parliament to, in case somebody turned up.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And did, did anyone turn up and say, this is my building. Okay. 

Chris Frith: So that was delayed for a year and, but then completely rebuilt inside keeping the front,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And that, that property would be worth a lot of money though, in central London, right? I mean, , that's not a, a cheap property to lose. 

Chris Frith: yeah. But I think that's the reason for the success of the film that nearly all of us had been working together before it even was sort of, and also during that year in which we couldn't move into the new building, I'm very keen on things working [00:35:00] bottom up rather than top down. If you want have a good unit of that kind. 

I it's very similar with the, in AHU where we started off with an interacting mind group and we now, they now have an interacting mind center and that again was cause a lot of people being already there and working together.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So by bottom up, you mean this kind of, there's already a group that wants to expand rather than someone's, but I guess so I guess the welcome trust center said, like, we want to have a center, but you said we already are a center  

Chris Frith: Yes. And we just, I say we had to add, we had to show that we had some MRI expertise as well, which was bringing Bob Turner and some of his people.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: mm-hmm you mentioned somewhere that I think again, in this BPS interview I saw, um, by the way, for people new to the podcast, I'll put links to anything I mentioned basically, or that Chris mentions papers, interviews, whatever, uh, in the description of the podcast, uh, that, what was it, one of the be, because you were basically [00:36:00] the first group to have access to an MRI scanner, you could basically do whatever you wanted and get it published in nature science and that, that then , and that, that stopped at some point,  

Chris Frith: Yes. I mean, one of the first papers that was published had only four subjects.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Does, does that, does actually do the early studies still hold up or is it because I guess it's changed so much since then, right? The whole, um, very 

Chris Frith: no, I think, I mean, the, the basic, the sort of vision motor auditions type stuff holds up. I'm quite, I claim that we did this very early theory of mind study using a pet scanner at the Hammersmith, which I think was published in 95. And that basically, I mean, one of the things we trained there was medial prefrontal CORs, and that has held up quite well,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: well, yeah.  

Chris Frith: And there's a nice story about that because we had a, we had a [00:37:00] grand opening conference and banquet, and various people came over from the states and other countries and we gave talks and I gave the first talk about the, you know, the theory of mind area in the brain. And, uh, before it had been published and, um, many years later, One of the people, eminent people who was there at the meeting said, we all thought you were mad. trying to find, you know, specific brain areas were such a wooy concept. Yeah, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, did, did you think you were mad at the time or did you think it was the most sensible thing to do or. 

Chris Frith: Well that was, that was again, that's the sort of start of the next step in the story because, um, my wife UTA was one of the earliest people who demonstrated this theory of mine problem in people with autism, with sound Baron, Karen and so on. And in particular, they had shown that this seemed to be very specific. 

So the same people who were very bad at mental [00:38:00] causality, which is what theory of mine is about, were perfectly good at physical causality. Although in many ways, computations are just as complex if you like. And you could also show that people with down syndrome did not have this specific problem. So the, the question there, it suggested that there was a. 

Plausibly a dedicated brain system that was being damaged while those bits were remaining intact rather than being a general problem. I mean, this is in the days when autism was still strongly associated with what we used to call mental retardation. So it was a sort  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Just a kind of general disorder or okay.  

Chris Frith: So that was the reason for scanning it very early because we had all the tests and so on and it seemed an interesting idea to go into. 

And that of course is immediately starting to talk about social cognition and roughly at that. And also at that time, we were studying people with schizophrenia and ensuring that they were bad at [00:39:00] Syria. So-called Syria, mind tests. And, uh, but we had the idea that this is for the opposite reason. So you could say that the people with autism treat people as if they don't have mental states. 

Or they can't work out what they are. Whereas the people with sch particularly people with positive schizophrenia and paranoia think they do have mental states, but didn't make the wrong inferences about them. So it's sort over mentalizing and under mentalizing and in the sense, that's why we started. 

It's interesting. Cause UTRA, and I didn't really work together until we retired, which is of course a long time ago. Um, but it started because of these joint interests in autism, in schizophrenia, and maybe they're both problems about social interactions. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I guess isn't the, so I don't, uh, I'm not at all basically read in the schizophrenia literature, but isn't, it seems to me that the, what you just said about the over mentalizing schizophrenia is more, a general [00:40:00] problem of inference in the brain or. 

Chris Frith: Well, no, that's very interesting. People have done that cause they, I, yes, that was one story, you know, it's just irrational, but they actually, people with particularly the positive symptoms can be Johnny Good at, um, making inferences. It's just, I think you can make a case and it's more to do with the social inferences and it's parti and I, yes, I remember there's a nice story. 

A funny story. Again, one of the things that people with schizophrenia do is call jumping to conclusions, which is basically you have this of classic computational test. So you have two jars, one with mostly yellow beads and one with mostly blue beads. And then you are told piece person is going to pick a series of beads from one of these jars. 

With replacement and you have to decide whether it's the bluebe jar or the yellow beat jar. And the question is, how many do you have to remove before you make your decision? And people with schizophrenia made their decisions earlier [00:41:00] than controls, hence jumping to conclusions, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So basically you get like two yellow ones you like yet. That's definitely the one with a mainly,  

Chris Frith: And, um, this was presented a long time ago when Jeffrey Hinton happened to be in the audience. This is not my work on. And he got up and said yes, but I mean, they were perfectly right. That is the point where you should say so as the controls are being too cautious.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: right. I so ICC. So he basically pointed out like from a, yeah, from a computational perspective, they were actually just correct. Whereas everyone else is okay. 

Chris Frith: And a friend of mine did a sort of similar thing. He was doing the three card trick. Is it where anyway, you have these three cups and there's a ball hidden under one and you constantly move it about, and then people have to try and find the ball. And of course, what you've done is there isn't any ball anymore. And his question is how long do people go on [00:42:00] before they realize that there isn't a ball anymore? And he said, he's shown that experimental psychologists go on much longer than clinical psychologists.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.  

Chris Frith: That  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, yeah, I'd maybe like to go slightly back and talk about the, um, cuz Whil, we were doing a bit of the history and you doing schizophrenia. I'm curious. So if I remember correctly, there was, I think maybe from reading Daniel Wagner book or something like that, there were like some cases of schizophrenia and abnormalities of volition or something like that in them is I'm curious because you were also interested in volition. 

Um, did that come from that or was it. 

Chris Frith: though interest in tion certainly came from schizophrenia where one of the classic so-called Schneiderian symptoms is the delusion of control where the patient thinks or feels, however you like this. it. 

says that, you know, my actions are not being made by me. It's some external force and these can be quite [00:43:00] trivial actions like combining your hair or drinking outta a cup. 

And, um, I was trying to think about how one. So when I, this goes back then to what we were talking about a bit earlier. So one story was that the symptoms of schizophrenia just irrational, you can't understand them, Which I didn't like. And I was trying to say, well, what, what could go wrong? That could give you a symptom like this? 

And I became very interested there's this phenomen, Corolla, discharge, which was, goes right back to Helms, but, and people like that were talking about it, which is what Helms pointed out is that, why is it when you move your eyes? You don't see the world jumping about all over place. And the answer was that you predict in advance what's gonna happen because the, the message that tend goes to the muscles to make your eyes move is also sent to the perceptual system to correct for this. 

And the same happens with hand moves and all [00:44:00] sorts of things. One idea was that you can have a delusion of control. If something goes wrong with this systems, This enables you to detect if, if something happens that was not due to your movement, then you know, it's caused externally. So if something goes wrong with the system, they might might start getting signals saying that what they intend that this, what they're seeing is not connected properly to their movement. 

No, somebody else thought about this just before I did and published it, which is a bit sad, uh, oh, in Feinberg. But anyway, I came up with that idea and then we did some experiments that seemed to show that this indeed might be the case. And eventually it led to the tickling experiment, which Sarah Jane Blake more did, because the idea is the reason you can't tickle yourself is cuz you can predict from your movements exactly what you're going to feel. 

And that have been shown that this is probably true because if you break the connection, you can start, it feels much stronger. And Sarah Jane did this thing with [00:45:00] Daniel war, where you have a robot, which you are tickling yourself through. And if you put in delays of 200 milliseconds between your movement and feeling, you start to feel it more, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Which is really not that much.  

Chris Frith: there's not that much. 

And its sufficiently short that you don't notice the delay. Interesting. Yeah. 

Consciously. And then she did the same thing with schizophrenic patients and showed the S and D the ones who have delusions of control can tickle on the souls. And that's where that came. Perhaps I lost the original question, but  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Uh, yeah, it was basically whether, whether your interest of evolution came from, I also, I guess, interacting with the patients and whether that was like a common thing you saw. 

Chris Frith: but I mean that, again leads you straight into the question of religion because, um, in a sense, you know, it's you, that's how you distinguish me in your movements and other things happen in the outside world. Cause the predictions of what's gonna happen work. So if your predictions of what's gonna happen, don't work, then you would start saying it wasn't me. 

That did it. So this was the delusion of control where you, you lose [00:46:00] your sense of evolution because of this feedback system is the  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, yeah, by the way, a really random question that, uh, I have like lots and lots of really random questions because especially in the book, there's just like occasional things you throw out without explaining it. Um, but why did you start walking with a limp when you started walking with, uh, mark? 

Chris Frith: idea because he has a,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I'd say you just accidentally imitated. 

Chris Frith: and it's because the, the, the steps are no longer equal. So if you're trying to keep in step with someone, you will also automatically adopt the limp, the effect of the limp. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Did did, did he think you were making fun of him more? 

Chris Frith: I, no, I think he, he doesn't notice it.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. Okay. Always just used to it. Yeah, 

Chris Frith: I mean, we had a similar story with somebody who went to visit in hospital who had throat cancer and he could only whisper and we all start whispering with.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but I, yeah, I guess it's, I guess [00:47:00] like, especially whispering is such a social signal to like turn it down because you know, whatever have to be quiet. 

I have. The overarching question kind of that I'm asking is basically career advice for people like me, people who's who say, well, Christopher definitely had, uh, quite an impressive career and I'd like to have as many findings as he had, or, you know, at least there's a lot I can probably learn from you. 

So let's get the overarching question. Yeah. Maybe, um, to, to kind of make this slightly more specific. I mean, so you mentioned one thing in the, in the book, the difference between explorers and exploiters and that you and UTA see yourself as explorers, at least in science. Uh, yeah. Maybe can you first, like, talk about that distinction there? 

Um, what exactly you mean by that kind of what, what I explorers and who are, what I explode as in,  

Chris Frith: Well, no, I mean the classic version, as I'm sure, you know, as the exploiters [00:48:00] do what is best from what they have learned so far. And the explorers always wonder whether there's something out there that would make them behave differently, which they haven't found out yet. And, um, I always talk about the bees. 

So the, and when you are searching for food, if you know where the food is, you exploit this and you go there, but there's always the danger that it'll run out. And then you won't know where to go. So you need the Explorer of bees who are constantly looking for new food sources. And I, I think that's really, I mean, it's all about whether you just use the information you've already got or whether you want to find new information. 

And I guess that would be the sort of equivalent in the science. 

field, but my own, one of my favorite papers, which is when I was doing my PhD was discovered because I was, you know, went to the, our library as one did in those days and read some journal as one did in those days and found some completely irrelevant paper. 

That was much more interesting, which [00:49:00] led me into doing a analysis of hand movements and things in tracking tasks, which originally been used for eye movements. I was applying this to hand movements instead. That was, I mean, the sort of example of exploring. And then, and I guess from then on, I was always interested in not doing quite the thing was supposed,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I know that feeling. I, I sometimes annoy my supervisor, I think by saying like, I mean, in the first year on PhD, I once spent like two days reading a law review article and telling him about it. Like, that's very good. you should be very interested in this law review article. What does that have to do with what we are doing? 

Chris Frith: but I think that's much more difficult to get away with, with the problems in getting grants and so on. Cause I mean, I Was very lucky in the first 10 years of my post work. I was on one year contracts, which the 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Was that stressful or. 

Chris Frith: I mean, I wasn't collecting them. Somebody, I mean the head of the department was collecting them.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But did you know, like basically every year it's like, I [00:50:00] might have to find a new job in. Yeah. 

Chris Frith: knew that, but this wasn't the idea. The days of course, when the universes were rapidly, expanding and jobs were easy. And then I moved to the MRC. And at that time you had these units, which basically belonged to the director. So once you were in a unit, you didn't have to do anything. 

The director did everything in terms of getting money So I was very lucky in that sense, but I certainly always wanted to go slightly off field. And as I said earlier, that was one of the reasons interact people of in the.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. It seems to me, especially in, in AHU or whatever it's called, um, or AHU. Oh yeah. That's they. It seems to me, at least, at least from like kind of stuff that I'm interested in, that they are also, um, much more collaborating with people who psychologists, you usually [00:51:00] the kind of psychology I read, usually don't collaborate with, because I guess we're used to like lots of, um, interdisciplinary stuff, like with computer scientists, biologists, physicists, mathematicians, whatever. 

But I rarely meet someone who's worked with someone from the humanities. I feel like that's much more rare, at least in the kind of well competition neuroscience stuff that I read.  

Chris Frith: Yeah. I mean, I'm very, I've just finished, but I was for the last five years, it was, I was chair of this apex committee, which is, has a very small amount of money from the lever who trust, which is specifically aimed at interdisciplinary research, which has to bring together the I can't. What is it? The Royal academy of engineering, the Royal society and the British academy, which is the humanities side. 

So the, the collaborate, they have to be collaborations between at least two of these three academies to get the money, or they only get very small amounts of money. And we did do fairly well. We get quite a few who go across all three [00:52:00] academies and we get quite a few between the British. Humanities and Royal society we have last time we didn't get any between the humanities and the engineers, but, we would like to  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: curious, like with the explore explorers and exploiters, do you like, how do you balance that? Because. You know, to some extent, I feel like I can come up with a new experiment every day, but then I'll have several years of not actually doing anything. So how do you do that? You just like, at some point, say like I have to decide on something and then finish it,  

Chris Frith: yes, you have to, well, you can certainly start things and sometimes you find that they don't work. So you probably have to be quite good at dropping things as well. And you, I guess you have to be lucky in choosing the right ones and have a nose for when it's actually going to work.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: how do you get that? Just by experience or? 

Chris Frith: guess it's my experience feels of things, but the, and other, I mean, I would [00:53:00] certainly say you should always be a subject in your own experiments. You get a much better idea of what's really going on. I mean, I'm always worried about do these people who are doing the experiment. Think it's the same experiment that you do. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, 

Chris Frith: but  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah,  

Chris Frith: particularly if you're working with patients yeah. 

And you, yes. And you need lots of maths.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's gonna, I was gonna ask, like, what's some skills everyone should learn. I mean, you, in the, the interview with the BPS, I think you mentioned maths and, um, programming then 

Chris Frith: Cause I got into programming. In 1965 or something when we got our first link computer. And, um, I did math as a student a bit. So I used to be the person who did the maths in the unit as was,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: he took over or, yeah. 

so what, what were you then you were, if you weren't the person who did the [00:54:00] maths anymore, what was your.  

Chris Frith: I was the person who suggested to him to trying to persuade him to do impossible things, which he then  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: come on, Carl do it. um, yeah, but I mean, yeah, I definitely agree with the math. It also feels like I wish I'd started it earlier and did it more consistently. I mean, I'm not naturally particularly interested in it. I always, I can, like, I think I can be interested in math for about five minutes and then I just get vaguely bored, but, um, 

Chris Frith: no, I guess I still have this. I'm still, I'm not so much these days, but I certainly. Had an obsessive interest in data and looking at data and doing things with data, I guess, where the maths comes in, in the programming. So, yes, when I retired, I wanted to learn MATLAB programming. I did manage to write a program that will play stone paper scissors, or hide and seek or something with you at various levels of sophistication  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Wait, but what, what [00:55:00] language were you  

Chris Frith: in  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: in before that?  

Chris Frith: in MATLAB.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, I thought you said you learned that when you 

Chris Frith: Oh yes. Before that I, well, I started off in fortune four. No, the earliest stuff was in machine code where there weren't any, then fortune four, then a bit of basic and then C, C plus plus I could never understand properly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So was that the stuff that was, I was curious, like, especially like in the eighties and nineties, when you drew neuro imaging, was that kind of stuff with. 

Chris Frith: Well, that's where Carl that's where Carl came in.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, because I guess SPM was Inma up from the beginning, right?  

Chris Frith: Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, yeah. 

Chris Frith: Yes. I mean, if you were going to do brain stuff, you really ought to know a bit of neuro and that is still very weak in my case. And we depended on people like Dick passing, who actually knew about  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So neuro neuroanatomy programming and math, uh, I guess in math's just the basics, right? Like would of any algebra probability theory calculus or any, I guess the fancy stuff only if, if [00:56:00] read, like, yeah, 

Chris Frith: neurolab takes care of, I mean, in a sense MetLab takes care of some of it for you. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, I guess yeah. It's the whole thing. Like you learn how to do some sort of thing, but then you can just put it into Mathematica or MADLAB or whatever, and just spits it  

Chris Frith: I mean, the other thing that certainly Dick passer was used to say, and I tended to agree is there's a danger, particularly in brain imaging that you have these packages that actually do anything, do everything for you when you just press a button. And, um, we would always say, you should look at the raw data, whether that sometimes that's quite difficult to do. 

Yeah. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I, yeah. Yeah, I definitely, but I definitely agree. Like you can just press a button and then, and in some sense it can be really useful, but also, I guess it's a bit like, like the way statistics is often taught in psychology almost just like, oh, you just do a T test and you get a P value and then that's all you care about. 

And you don't actually think about like what's going on, but what the test is actually for and all these kind of things, um, hope you don't don't mind me ending on this question. [00:57:00] Uh, but there was fairly early on in the book. Uh, you wrote. Like the, the superhero character of Chris Fri said, um, occasionally I wonder, have I wasted my life, even such a little thing as a working definition of consciousness is ever out of grasp. 

Um, and then it seemed like the, the superhero character of UTA Fri tried to console you of it. Um, but yeah, I'm curious, like how do you, I mean, and then the second quote, maybe, which is much more optimistic later on is, um, is in science, marvelous, we've devoted years of our lives to trying to understand things. 

Literally nobody understands and we basically know we're going to fail in our lifetimes at least. So I dunno. I mean, especially asking, cause sometimes it feels like, you know, you, you spend so much like you being, I spend time, um, you know, you do all this research and then you have this like minus seeming finding that comes out at the end and like, was it worth all the effort and all that [00:58:00] kind of stuff. 

So I'm curious, how do you think about that? 

Chris Frith: I think it, yes. I, I still think it is worth all the effort and that's probably, cause I can't remember how much effort it was. and I'm still interested very much in consciousness even though I dunno what it is and I know, but there are lots of theories that I know are definitely wrong. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. So making progress by exclusion, or just kind of assume that, 

Chris Frith: Yeah. Yeah. And, but I guess, yes, it is. You have to forget the ones that, 

didn't work.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you know, a certain percentage is  

Chris Frith: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: gonna lead to anything and focus on, I mean, I guess in your case, quite a few very cool  

Chris Frith: Well, I've been lucky. I mean, Peter Meow had this book called the art of the solubles, something that, which is what, um, is partly to do with that. But you have to have a, you have to have an intuition about what's soluble and what's not soluble. I guess. I,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But I [00:59:00] guess consciousness seems like one of those questions that  

Chris Frith: I, consciousness has become more soluble in the 

last several years actually.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: solu, the UN soluble can become solu if you just hack it long enough, 

Chris Frith: But usually it's, it's a, you achieve this by redefining what it is. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: right. yeah. I 

Chris Frith: Because in the olden days, life and consciousness used to be much the same thing, as well as always fascinated with Frankenstein's monster in the original. Is it hyper and clever?  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: actually read that like a year ago or something about chance. Yeah. It's, it's a weird book.  

Chris Frith: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it's a really whip , but yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, the, the monsters completely. Self aware of ever it is just a human right.  

Chris Frith: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it's, it has the same emotions and feels ashamed of the  

Chris Frith: And it 

is only relatively recently. And I think that life and has got sort of split. And in fact, there are still these pan psychics who think everything is that's. [01:00:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: looks. . Yeah. Um, actually, whilst we were just, uh, talking about books, uh, one thing I wanted to ask is, uh, said earlier, early on in your book, uh, you say, uh, you were really into 1960 sci-fi books and detective novels. Uh, so I'm curious any recommendations. What's 

Chris Frith: Oh, well, I mean the, um, the science fiction, I'm still fairly obsessed with Philip K Dick is particularly in influential and he's always talking about hidden realities and things. And of course, when I was reading him, he was not famous, but now he has all these films are made of his stuff. And I guess detective stories are a bit similar because it's a, you know, you are discovering, you are given lots of data and you have to discover what is the model that fits. 

I mean, AGA Christie is still the person who can do this most brilliantly, and I'm not really into the new people quite so much. I mean, Edmond crisp. I used to be very fond, [01:01:00] but it was a long time ago and he didn't write very. They're  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: what's the book there. I'm not  

Chris Frith: they're detective stories, but the detective is an academic of course. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I feel like with Philip ick, I mean, you said like, he's the guy who wrote the, what's it called? Your Android?  

Chris Frith: Yes. Do dream of electric sheet. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that way. Yeah. Yeah. I feel like, and that was the basis for blade runner, right? Yeah. And I feel like I have to probably watch that again because I watched that when I don't know, like 10 years ago or something, and I just didn't get what was interesting about it. 

But when I hear, like, I think also you mentioned like, it's about like, what's the difference between a human and a robot and these kind of things. I think maybe that stuff just like went over my head. something like that. I'm not sure, but there's a real possibility it did. Um, yeah, I guess I've kind of run through most of my questions or, uh, now I'd just be bringing up more random topics. 

um, so unless you have anything you wanna [01:02:00] add, I don't know anything you wanna tell the world. 

Chris Frith: No, I don't think so. I mean, I, the, the graphic book I'm very pleased with, but I'm slightly disappointed that it seems to be being perceived as a graphic novel and not as a popular science book.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Right. The difference being like a graphic novel is, is just a, I mean, not just, but it's a story,  

Chris Frith: Which section it goes in the book shops and that sort of thing. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh,  

Chris Frith: And who reviews  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: think though it might, it might sell more copies in the graphic, novel section than the, or popular science or, 

Chris Frith: No, no, I want, I think it's doing okay in the graphic novel section, but it's, it's not getting into the sound section.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, definitely is the popular science, but I mean, there's no doubt about it. Yeah. So if any owners of bookshops are listening, please put it in the appropriate category.

Why did Chris not become a musician?
How Chris became a comic book hero
Collaborating with economists (as a neuroscientist or psychologist)
A triple history of Chris's career, neuroimaging, and the FIL at UCL
Career advice: explorers and exploiters in science, and skills to learn
Was all the effort worth it?
Sci-fi and detective story recommendations