Professor Joel Pearson

Professor Joel Pearson

Professor Joel Pearson

Professor, Director Future Minds Lab, NHMRC fellow, MindX

BFA (Fine Arts), 1999, UNSW College of Fine Arts, Sydney
BA (Psych.), 2003, Macquarie University, Australia
Hon (1st), 2004, The University of Sydney
Ph.D., 2007, The University of Sydney

2007, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN Department of Psychology

2007-2009,CJ Martin Fellow, (co-appointment) Vanderbilt and Sydney Universities, Departments of Psychology


Contact details

Phone: (02) 9385 3969
Email: Professor Joel Pearson

Office: Future Minds Lab, Lvl 16 Mathews Building

Research Summary

Like most people, I’m excited by discovery. I’m a scientist, but unlike many scientists I’m interested in possibilities as much as proof. I’m of the opinion that questions can be more valuable than answers, and that imagination is a powerful catalyst for progress.

It all starts with discovery - radical discovery. I’m addicted to discovery because of how it moves me, but also for how it moves other people. Inspiring people with ideas and explanations is akin to magic in the real world. Beyond inspiration, I use discovery to improve people’s lives: to alleviate suffering and to optimise performance; to lessen depression and anxiety; to control imagination, and to strengthen our decision-making. Radical discovery can improve our realities, individually and collectively, by mitigating the negative and optimising the positive aspects of life. 

I come to science from a creative background. As well as a PhD in neuroscience, I’ve been to art school. I bring the informality of a creative approach to the formality of scientific study. I’m comfortable with the uncomfortable, playing as well as proving, working at the edge of knowledge. There is much to be learnt about the human mind from applying a creative lens to the doctrine of science. I’m driven to question what value science can bring to industry, business and the creative sectors. What happens when science goes beyond the lab? How might we evolve the culture of science and help unlock its wider potential in daily life?

I call my field agile science. This means applying a creative mindset to the dogma of science to liberate both scientific study and its application outside academia. It is liberating, because it allows me to look under the hood of the phenomena that we consider beyond the boundaries of scientific analysis and measurement. Demystifying consciousness through neuroscience is the umbrella of my work. I’ve studied imagination, emotion, intuition, creativity, decision-making, memory, visual illusions and mental imagery. I’m the world’s leading authority on aphantasia. These are all vital aspects and idiosyncrasies of humanity that are real, yet believed to be unmeasurable.

That’s not good enough for me. My work is concerned with finding ways to map and measure such phenomena. I take a first principles approach to determine the barest ingredients of my subject matter, and I find the constant, concrete baseline of truth upon which a measurement might be able to be taken. This means developing a minimal definition and measuring the subject in a whole new way, from the ground up. Working without a guide or safety net, playing on the edge of the known, is where real discovery happens. Often uncomfortable or taboo paradigm shifts come from nowhere, they are hard to recognise at first, but the discovery quickly grows into something impossible.

What might we unlock if we are able to understand, nurture and harness aspects of the human consciousness for broader benefit? My mission is to expand our knowledge and explore the potential application of our creative consciousness. I work with people and communities, businesses and brands, studios and start-ups, helping to find ways in which we can apply the knowledge we have of our human consciousness to everyday situations. The results are always illuminating.

Ultimately, I’m motivated by the possibilities of scientific thinking to help us address our present and shape our future. Discovery is about making the impossible possible. Agile science is concerned with the realm of possibility, and that sounds like the future to me.


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