From phantom limbs to paleobiology

  • November 30, 2013
From phantom limbs to paleobiology

Four Gates Cambridge Scholars will give presentations on their research relating to phantom limbs, paleobiology, rural women’s perceptions of claiming inheritance rights and how different land use affects forest-dwelling animals next week.

Phantom limbs, paleobiology, rural women’s perceptions of claiming inheritance rights and how different land use affects forest-dwelling animals will be the subjects of the last internal symposium this term.

Four Gates Cambridge Scholars will present their research to fellow Scholars and their guests at the symposium on 3rd December.

Kate Crowcroft [2011], who is doing a PhD in English, will talk about conceptions of the extra-bodily experience of the phantom limb in medieval theological and medical texts. She will cite the French surgeon Ambrose Pare who in 1551 encountered a thing ‘wondrous strange’ that he feared would ‘scarce be credited’. He and others had ‘seene with their eyes’ and ‘heard with their ears’ a patient, who, many months after the ‘cutting away of the legge’, felt ‘exceeding great paine of that legge so cut off’. Today, it is estimated that ninety-five to one hundred per cent of amputees experience some form of sensation in the missing limb, and many specifically experience pain in the phantom limb. Kate will suggest that Medieval and Early Modern miracle accounts of limbs returned to the body have their basis in the physiological experience of the phantom.

She says: “Phantom limb syndrome raises fascinating questions that challenge our understanding of the nature of sensory perception and experience, and help researchers to appreciate how, historically, unknown biological processes were adapted to create and proliferate theological cultures.”  Kate recently presented this work at a conference at Cambridge in collaboration with Addenbrookes hospital.

Collin VanBuren [2013], a PhD student in Earth Sciences, will speak about how palaeobiology is seeking to use the fossil record to answer large-scale questions about the evolutionary and ecological history of life on Earth. “It presents the only non-theoretical data available about the world during a variety of climactic scenarios and without the impact of modern human influence. With the development of methods using biomechanics, three-dimensional modelling, phylogenies (evolutionary trees), and isotope data, we are unravelling many informative secrets buried in the past,” he says.

Girija Godbole [2008], a PhD student in Geography, will talk about her research in western Maharashtra, India, into rural women’s perceptions on claiming inheritance rights. She says gender progressive inheritance legislation may not necessarily mean that women will have increased access and control over ancestral land because certain traditional norms related to ‘appropriate’ behaviour for a daughter may make her relinquish the rightful share in parental land. However, she says, expanding land market and escalating prices may bring about changes in this.

David Kurz [2013], an MPhil student in Biological Science, will talk about how different human land-uses are not uniform in their ecological effects on forest-dwelling animals. His research involved studying reptiles and amphibians in forest fragments, pastures, and heart-of-palm (palmito) plantations in northeastern Costa Rica in order to understand how common land-uses influence habitat quality around tropical forest patches. The number of species and the number of reptiles and amphibians within each species were greatest in forest habitats and lowest in pasture habitats.  The results for palmito were intermediate and it was shown to support populations that were similar in composition to those found in forest, particularly for reptiles. He says: “Understanding these differences is crucial for identifying agricultural environments that can complement the natural forest habitats of sensitive reptile and amphibian species.”

The symposium takes place at 7pm in the Gates Cambridge Common Room on 3rd December.

Picture credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net and gubgib.

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