My guest this week is Srivas Chennu who is based on the Medway campus of the University of Kent where he works in the School of Computing. Srivas does cross-disciplinary work on consciousness, and in this really insightful interview he talks about how we are today able to ask questions that the ancient Greeks could not. We discuss how his research intersects with my own work in near-death experiences and he talks about how his collaborators are studying what happens in the brain when someone has an NDE. We also discuss how films are often better at conveying these techniques than academic papers.
Srivas reflects on how a decade ago to study consciousness would have been laughed at as it was deemed to be so amorphous, and how and why that has now changed.
Originally from South India and born in Madras, Srivas talks about his scholastic education and how his earliest memories were very colourful and multifarious. He talks about his religious memories – his grandfather was a Hindu priest and religion was woven into the fabric of his life. He considers, though, how they have separated out somewhat since becoming an academic and Srivas talks about how he makes a mental switch when he returns to India.
As a child Srivas enjoyed reading and watching movies and was definitely not sporty. Regarding music, Srivas had a classical training and he talks about how the popular music he enjoyed listening to arrived 10 years after it first hit the UK, such as Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and the Alan Parsons Project – the latter is less well known in Britain than was the case in India when he was growing up.
We learn that the reason Srivas entered academia was down to a book he read that documented the oddities of the human brain, and we turn to the teachers who inspired him and the cultural shift that has taken place over the last few decades in universities. Srivas talks about what was going on in current affairs during the time he spent at Kent doing his PhD and how students are more political today than they used to be. More broadly, Srivas discusses some of the changes he has observed between India and the UK in terms, e.g., of diets.
Srivas speaks about how BBC 6 Music has been an important undercurrent in his life and about the time when he watched lots of Monty Python when he was living in Germany. More recently, his wife has introduced him to new comedy which has grown on him.
In the final part of the interview Srivas talks about why he would call himself a ‘sceptical rationalist’ and he reflects on how if he had stayed in India he would have lived a very different life to the one he is living now, and we learn what he thinks he might have been doing if he’d stayed in India. He uses the metaphor of ‘Sliding Doors’. We learn that he wanted to be a scientist when he was young and that his grandfather would have wanted him to become a priest.
We learn whether Srivas is still in touch with friends from his past, some of whom have heard him being interviewed on the radio, and he reflects on what he thinks his friends think of him and what he does for a living. Finally, we learn why nostalgia for him is neither positive nor negative and whether he is more of a looking forward or a looking forward sort of person.
Please note: Opinions expressed are solely those of Chris Deacy and Srivas Chennu and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Kent.