Every human being deserves space, freedom and autonomy.
We are all born to different sets of parents in different parts of the world, in different geographical areas.
Our abilities and disabilities are varying. And, yet, we are all bound together by our shared humanity.
Today, when we think about the world, we are confronted with many daunting challenges and, perhaps, a deep nagging sense that rationality is backsliding.
It can feel like we increasingly live in a world riven by divides. Divides which – in some cases – have been, sadly, deepened by coronavirus over recent months.
In the current climate, how are we going to heal these divides?
I believe that a renewed commitment to humanism holds the solution – a renewed commitment to the common, shared humanity between ourselves; the belief that all of us as people, regardless of where we live, our circumstances and our abilities, have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to our own lives.
When we see the world this way, the Chinese walls that divide us melt away.
We realise that what we thought divided us – our different views, backgrounds, and upbringings – were merely ephemeral and fleeting appendages on our core common humanity; the central light that burns within all of us.
In the words of A.J. Ayer, who lectured only a stone’s throw away from here at Christ Church:
“The only possible basis for a sound morality is mutual tolerance and respect: tolerance of one another’s customs and opinions; respect for one another’s rights and feelings; awareness of one another’s needs.”
As you will hear tonight, it is this fundamental belief that lies at the heart of the Study Centre.
Over the last 40 years, I have practiced two occupations.
To the outside world, I have been a lawyer. And this has put me in the very fortunate position to build up a certain degree of resources.
But all through this time, I have practiced a second, silent profession.
This secondary occupation is as a psychologist, sociologist and psychiatrist. I have always worked, quietly, to better understand how the mind operates: its abilities, disabilities and how it is impacted by mental health.
In fact, this is an area of study that is especially pertinent to law.
An intimate understanding of how the mind works, develops and matures gives us a better appreciation of how and why bad decisions are made.
It also provides us with a new-found sense of compassion for those who struggle with mental health issues who become trapped in our court and prison systems globally.
So, originally as an interested outsider, I became interested in how mental conditions – such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder – develop and change the decision-making capabilities of people.
This led me to further research into depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
And having read and considered the effect of these conditions have on people’s lives, I could not help but feel a persistent obligation to want to do something to find solutions, answers and remedies.
The Subramanium Study Centre
And it is this foundational belief that drives the opening of the Subramanium Study Centre tonight, to search for solutions that will alleviate, reverse, or arrest deterioration in mental health.
To that end it will host scientific work that shines a light on the workings of the mind, so that we can better understand mental health, its causes, effects and its treatments.
The ambitious mission of the Study Centre is, then, fourfold:
- It will seek to uncover the underlying cognitive and physiological commonalities between different mental health disorders – from autism to Alzheimer’s.
- It will seek to identify the overlapping and shared sociological, psychological, psychiatric and neurological causes and clinical traits of these various conditions.
- It will seek to identify changes that can be made to our education system, legal processes, and public service infrastructure to better support people to overcome these conditions.
- And, finally and most importantly, it will seek to identify targeted pharmacological interventions that are able to attack the core common neurological patterns of these various mental illnesses.
On this last point, I have the privilege of being an intellectual property lawyer for a number of the most prominent pharmaceutical companies in the world.
And a number of these companies, out of their regard and respect for me, have offered to provide technical pharmacological support to the Study Centre as – and when – it is required.
By its very nature, this is a broad programme of work – and it leaves a lot of scope for different projects. It is also a tall task, and one that will not be tackled easily.
As a result, we have structured the activity of the new Study Centre into three core streams of work:
- On one hand: it will conduct its own research through our team of staff researchers, who are currently being recruited, as well as its visiting researcher programme.
- On the other hand: it will sponsor and support collaborative work in concert with other institutions, labs and organisations.
- And: it will constitute an Advisory Board of academics, researchers and experienced professionals who will guide and steer the activity of the centre.
Finally, I also could not turn away completely from the law, so the Study Centre will also host my own research into constitutional law.
With that in mind, it will look to publish a new landmark model Constitution whose principles, precedents, rights and obligations have been updated to meet the needs of our increasingly digital and globalised world.
This Constitution will also be especially sensitive to the needs and requirements of the most underprivileged people in society, especially those who struggle with mental health challenges.
Finally, I must share a few words about this building.
I could not think of a more fitting place to house my research. Opened by HRH the Prince of Wales in 2003, it was conceived as a single central location to bring together people from different academic backgrounds to study mental health.
This is fitting not only because I would like to bring my own academic and professional experience to bear on the challenge of mental health, but because, fundamentally, I believe – much like HRH Prince of Wales – that problems can only be solved through multi- and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Bridges must be built between disciplines but I do not pretend that this will be easy. I am reminded of this quote from Rudolf Carnap:
“If one is interested in the relations between fields which, according to customary academic divisions, belong to different departments, then he will not be welcomed as a builder of bridges, as he might have expected, but will rather be regarded by both sides as an outsider and troublesome intruder.”
The final reason this location is fitting is because it builds further on my existing relationship with Oxford.
I was deeply honoured to be elected a Foundation Fellow of Somerville College last year. However, I did make it clear that I wanted to contribute something meaningfully to the pursuits of excellence in multidisciplinary research which would benefit all of us whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world.
I, therefore, welcome all of you on this wonderful occasion of inaugurating this Subramanium Study Centre.
I have no great attachment to my name, I only want the study centre to be a permanent feature and for it to house the greatest of scholars in and out of Oxford.
I want this Study Centre to ultimately be a fundamental part of the life and advancement of Oxford and all that it stands for.
Thank you, and have a wonderful evening.