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Reflections on Early Days: Past Perceptions

R. L. Gregory

I went up to Cambridge just after the war (1947) and immediately felt six inches taller. So one knows what it means by "going up". Actually my father and both grandfathers were at Cambridge, so it was a family tradition, but a considerable miracle given the war.

One did have a sense of a kind of Divine Right being at Cambridge - and this transferred into the EPS. (Actually I was a member of the EPG earlier.) It was very much restricted to Cambridge and Oxford (really in that order) and I think the membership was about 20, and rather deliberately restricted. Giving a paper was a major event for the younger people. My first paper was at Reading, with Maggie Vernon sitting in the middle of the front row. It was something to do with the perception of movement - which was one of her interests. After ten minutes she fell asleep with her mouth wide open. A memorable talk at Reading was given by Lord Adrian, suggesting, as I remember, that increase of cortical noise might be a way of switching out unnecessary signals. I don't know if this was ever published.

An intellectual leader was W. H. Hick. (Actually I was the only subject for his gain of information experiment to complete the course, as he was the only other subject and he packed it in when the apparatus fell apart.) Ideas from information, signal to noise ratio, and analogue computing were highly dominant at Cambridge and also Oxford, together with control systems and tracking. This was very much in the tradition of Craik, who was always in the background, as a ghost setting the standard (rather like Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution).

Grindley was in many ways a loved figure, though also tragic. He had enormous charm, very quietly did the right thing (such as giving the initial money for the Society) but could be bizarre. I remember on occasion when he was lecturing while smoking a cigarette (as always) and started to write on the board with the cigarette instead of the chalk.

The Society had very high standards for presentation and discussion. The discussion could be quite merciless. In particular Giles Brindley would go in for logic chopping. Bartlett was urbane, greatly respected and usually talked about prediction playing cricket.