What They Built at Brain Camp

From Chronicle Review:

Like so many love stories, this one started with a cup of wine and a guitar. It was late on a summer's night in 2001, and a group of neuroscience graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from around the country and the world were spread across an oversize balcony on the campus of Dartmouth College. They had all given up their summers to come to Hanover, N.H., and spend their days listening to lectures and their nights discussing and debating them as part of the 14th annual Cognitive Neuroscience Summer Institute—or, as they called it, “Brain Camp.” On the balcony that night, beer, wine, and conversation flowed freely: these three discussing executive function and its control by parts of the frontal cortex, those other two, in the corner, tossing back and forth perspectives on memory and the hippocampus. But off to one side, a guitar had materialized, and a young man, a graduate student from Princeton, was playing. A woman, late in her Ph.D. studies at the University of Iowa, was listening, hearing little else. Eleven years later, that woman, Andrea Heberlein, and that man, Joshua Greene, are happily married. They are also leaders in their chosen field of cognitive neuroscience, working at Boston College and Harvard University, respectively. Both look back at their time in Brain Camp as a foundational, formative experience in their personal and professional lives.

Greene arrived at Brain Camp that summer as a late-stage doctoral candidate in philosophy with a budding interest in cognitive neuroscience. He left, he says, transformed and motivated, having seen a human brain in the flesh for the first time and with a network of close contacts spread throughout the world. “Before I went I knew no one in the field, except for a couple of people in my lab,” he says. “And after, I felt like I was part of a community.” Today Greene is known as an innovator in that community, for using techniques from psychology and neuroscience to answer philosophical questions, like why we make the moral decisions we do and whether there truly is such a thing as objective morality. Heberlein likewise has made a name for herself, studying theory of mind and social neuroscience. Like her husband, she raves about Brain Camp—how she suddenly went from being relatively isolated to being part of a team. To hear Greene tell it, Brain Camp was instrumental in imparting the methodological knowledge, the contacts, and, perhaps most of all, the chutzpah that have taken him from a humanities Ph.D. program to prominence in his scientific field. “It would be hard for me to point to two weeks in my life that were more consequential than those two weeks,” Greene says. “I mean, my children owe their existence to Brain Camp.”

More here.