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Oliver Sacks to Open the 2008 ASC Conference

Raleigh, NC, November 13, 2008 --( The National Humanities Center will host the third and final Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity (ASC) Conference, from Nov. 13 – 15. A keynote address from world-renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, M.D. will open the event. The full symposium will include lectures and panel discussions with scientists, philosophers, and social critics offering their thoughts on what it means to be “human” and how technological advances and recent scientific discoveries alter our traditional definitions of humanity.

The National Humanities Center embarked on the three-year ASC initiative to offer a platform for discussion about characteristics of the human experience. According to Geoffrey Harpham, president and director of the National Humanities Center, scientific revelations in fields of study like cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary science, and computer programs – that mimic human cognition – spur new questions about qualities long thought to be distinctively human, such as creativity, proficiency with language, and self-awareness.

Dr. Sacks’ keynote address entitled, “Creativity and the Brain,” will highlight his previous work on neurology, and experience treating individuals with mental or physical impairments who display unexpected talents and capacities despite their disabilities.

Sacks has been a leading researcher on many conditions that have received more attention in recent years, such as Tourette’s Syndrome, Alzheimer’s Disease, autism and other neurological impairments. The 1990 movie Awakenings was based on patients that Dr. Sacks worked with during the 1960s. His patients had suffered from sleep-sickness for decades, until he gave them a new drug, at the time, called L-DOPA, which relieved them of their catatonic state.

“The fundamental questions of our self understanding have long been the subjects of humanistic inquiry,” said National Humanities Center Director Geoffrey Harpham, “but recent scientific research and technological advances have shed new light on these topics and invigorated discussions across many fields of study, both in the sciences and the humanities. The Center is pleased to provide a forum for these stimulating discussions.”

The ASC conferences in 2006 and 2007 have featured more than 50 of the nation’s top scholars discussing issues such as the evolutionary origins of empathy and the use of tools, creativity in computers, and the links between language, philosophy, psychology and literature and human nature. Previous panelists and guest speakers involved with ASC have included Sir Patrick Bateson, Sir Paul Nurse, Michael Pollan, Terrence Deacon, Ian Hacking, Daniel Dennett, Frans deWaal, Steven Pinker and Martha Nussbaum.

The influence of the Center’s ASC initiative has already been significant as it has sparked related discussions at academic institutions and intellectual bodies worldwide. More than 1,000 scholars and interested citizens from across the United States and as far away as Europe have taken part in NHC-sponsored events including public lectures and symposia. These conversations have led to new insights on these topics as well as the development of new thought-provoking curricula at a number of colleges and universities.

This year, the conference will serve as the culmination of the various discussions and subjects that have been presented over the past three years. Participants will address questions about how evolving scientific data may call for us to alter our basic conceptions of what it means to be human. In addition, the discussion will include conversations about how scientific descriptions of human attributes may complement, compete with, or even supersede the accounts that have been traditionally used by philosophers, historians, and religious thinkers.

The 2008 ASC conference will take place in conjunction with an exhibition of works by local Chapel Hill artist, James Williams. The artists’ exhibition, entitled “Signs of Life” imaginatively depicts human behaviors and emotions through figures resembling insects and other animals, in a creative exploration of topics under consideration by conference participants. Williams’ works will be on display at the National Humanities Center throughout the three-day conference.

The 2008 ASC Conference will begin with Sacks’s lecture at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13, at the William and Ida Friday Center near the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Other events and lectures will take place at the National Humanities Center and nearby at the NC Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park, NC. For more information on the ASC Conference or how to register to attend, please visit www. or contact Martha Johnson at (919)549-0661 or e-mail

About the National Humanities Center:
The National Humanities Center, located in the Research Triangle Park of North Carolina, is a privately incorporated independent institute for advanced study in the humanities. Since 1978 the Center has awarded fellowships to leading scholars in the humanities, whose work at the Center has resulted in the publication of more than 1,000 books in all fields of humanistic study. The Center also sponsors programs to strengthen the teaching of the humanities in secondary and higher education and hosts regular public events to encourage greater public awareness and understanding of the importance of the humanities in American life.

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National Humanities Center
Ebony Brooks

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