Lee Boot on Researching Human Nature
At the beginning of the year, I was wrapping up a year and a half’s worth of research for my master’s thesis on organizations at the artscience nexus when I stumbled upon Lee Boot. Boot is experimental media artist and researcher who teaches film and video at UMBC and is also the associate director of the university’s Imaging Research Center. I ended up contacting him for a phone interview to discuss his experiences with applying for funding on projects that overlap art with science. Boot has applied to eight science grants and received three; two of which were awarded by the National Institutes of Health for Euphoria, “a science-based-self-help-art-film” about happiness and natural-versus-chemical highs.
In our conversation I was struck by Boot’s ideas on the greater implications of art on science, human behavior, and society. He believes that art can play a more active role in science by doing more than explaining or communicating scientific concepts. He said, “[Art] can translate into the human sphere the meaning of science.” So art can actually create new knowledge. Later, Boot went on to talk about how the social sciences are looking into the importance of culture on human behavior, saying:
IF in fact culture is the driver of human behavior as it appears to be and art is the language of culture, just like math is the language of science, the implications for the potential of art to do pro-social things seems amazing and very non-modern and really interesting.
The video above features Boot introducing Who We Am, a research project of UMBC’s Imaging Research center that aims “to stimulate transdisciplinary discourse and research at intersection points in the wide landscape of human nature-related knowledge and research.” They hope to explore the following:
1) How ideas become established in social and cultural environments?
2) How individual perceptions of social normalcy develop?
3) What sources of ideas do individuals report influence their beliefs, attitudes and decisions?
4) What have other civilizations done to infuse their cultures with prosocial ideas?
5) What types of cultural interventions might produce positive behavior change today?
Needless to say, I’m very excited to see where this research leads.