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3 April 2024

Camilla Nord Q&A: “I do at least one handstand every day”

The neuroscientist on the predictive brain, Rory Stewart and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

By New Statesman

Camilla Nord was born in Paris in 1989. She leads the Mental Health Neuroscience Lab at the University of Cambridge, where she researches brain-body interactions in neuropsychiatric disorders.

What’s your earliest memory?

Eating an ice lolly with my aunt during the birth of my younger brother. Although when teaching, I use this memory as an example of memory’s fallibility. I was just under two years old at the time, so its veracity is questionable at best.

Who are your heroes?

As a teenager, Temple Grandin. I liked the idea that thinking about the inner life of cows could have such pragmatic consequences on livestock handling. As an adult, Charles Sherrington. His ideas about what neurons do changed the way we think about the brain and wider nervous system.

What book last changed your thinking?

Richard Powers’ The Overstory. I have not felt the same way about trees since.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I quite like Rory Stewart, though some of the things I like most about him – that he is principled, not beholden to party politics – are precisely the things that stand in the way of him being a successful politician in the UK today.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Either psychopharmacology, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Top of my list might be Renaissance Florence (after the plague, ideally, although my Covid-19 lockdown would have been far more enjoyable if it had more closely resembled The Decameron).

What TV show could you not live without?

I loved Succession. And, like everyone else in Britain, I was captivated by The Traitors

Who would paint your portrait?

My mother, a brilliant portraitist – though it would probably be in oil pastels.

What’s your theme tune?

“Walking in the Air” from The Snowman has played on repeat in my head since November because my toddler insists on watching it at least once weekly. On Christmas Eve I spent an hour convinced I could hear it playing through our neighbour’s wall, but this turned out to be a demonstration of the predictive brain, creating a sensory experience from my own very strong expectations.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I have received sage pieces of advice about the virtues of patience. Unfortunately, I have never followed them.

What’s currently bugging you?

Three words guaranteed to bring about horror: rail replacement buses.

What single thing would make your life better?

Living closer to my parents. I haven’t lived in the same country as them since I was 18.

When were you happiest?

I am usually happiest swimming in the river on a swelteringly hot summer day.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I wanted to be a circus performer as a child: I was obsessed with the flying trapeze. I still do at least one handstand every day, but it is less integral to my day job.

Are we all doomed?

I think throughout history people have often felt “doomed”. So my answer is – probably, no.

“The Balanced Brain: the Science of Mental Health” by Camilla Nord is published by Allen Lane. She will appear in conversation
at Cambridge Literary Festival on 18 April

[See also: Jackie Kay Q&A: “Audre Lorde told me: ‘You can be black and Scottish’”]

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This article appears in the 03 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Fragile Crown

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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