In this week’s The New Yorker (Oct.1, 2012), a long “reporter-at-large” feature on Mitt Romney (“Transaction Man”) concludes with a botched brain metaphor from a Mormon brother. About Romney’s inability to connect to other people, Clayton Christensen says: “You have to push a neuron across the synapse,” which Romney, in Christensen’s own estimation, cannot do. One would not expect a devout Mormon to understand the functional mechanics of the brain, and the fact that scientific terms appear at all is surprising. But The New Yorker? The magazine decided to give Christensen the last word: “The neuron can’t get across that synapse.” This is not a science piece; there is no duty to educate the reader about anything other than the mind of Mitt Romney. However, one cannot help but lament a lost comedic opportunity. What better way to illustrate the ignorance of a candidate and his worldview than to point out the perfect absurdity of this language? We wonder if the writer and editors were in on the joke.
“This is Your Brain on Art” took place on September 13th, 2012, at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn, NY, and featured this interactive panel discussion about “neuroaesthetics” and “neurocinematics,” the studies of looking at art and film. This panel was part of a series organized by the Deconstructive Theatre Project, with founding director of DTP, Adam J. Thompson, serving as moderator.
The panel here includes Noah Hutton, filmmaker and founding editor of The Beautiful Brain; Dr. M.A. Greenstein, an author and founder and “Chief Brainiac” of the George Greenstein Institute, a neuro-consulting/design thinking lab; and Dr. Edward Vessel, a cognitive neuroscientist who works as a research scientist at NYU’s Center for Brain Imaging. All three panelists concentrate their work on using neurology to examine interactions with and reactions to art.
The personal genomics lab 23andme, which boasts the largest DNA database in the world and featured on PBS’ special series Finding Your Roots, has recently created a new music lab that lets customers listen to their genes — literally. Mark Ackerly, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, developed an algorithm that converts genetic data into an unique melody. Customers can then choose musical instruments to enliven their personal melody. 23andme offers ongoing, subscription-free access to all of their services (including ancestry composition, genetic relatives, family tree, paternal lineages, and Neanderthal percentages) for $299.
The Deconstructive Theatre Project is hosting a panel discussion at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn on Thursday, September 13th, that will explore the intersection of brain science and the arts. The Beautiful Brain editor Noah Hutton will be on the panel along with several artists and a cognitive neuroscientist. Here is the description of the event from the site:
Are you curious about what occurs inside your head while you sit in the dark watching a film? How does your mind organize the bombardment of images, voices, music, and light in order to create a cohesive narrative experience? How does your brain keep track of story, why do you empathize so effortlessly with the characters, and what leads you to fall in love with or loathe a film?
This is Your Brain on Art is an interactive panel discussion exploring neuroaesthetics: the study of your brain during an artistic experience, and specifically neurocinematics: the study of your brain on film. The interactive conversation will feature guest cognitive neuroscientists and members of The Deconstructive Theatre Project’s performance ensemble and creative team. The conversation will be moderated by the company’s Founding Director, Adam J. Thompson.
On July 21, 2012 the Ukrainian scientist and doctor Leo Gerbilsky presented his ideas about art and the brain at the 8th FENS Forum of Neuroscience in Barcelona. His concept, called CEREBRART, integrates the cultures of the arts and sciences and suggests a new way of understanding neuroscience. Professor Gerbilsky has proposed a model of the brain as a chaotically connected dynamic network of seven modules: Integration, Information, Motivation, Intention, Volition, Action, and Reflection. Dr. Gerbilsky has created a blog, also called CEREBRART, where he explains his work and displays work that inspires him, such as this image of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
In my work translating Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s Café Chats, I came across the following quote: “Like creatures of the deep sea, great geniuses go forth illuminated by their own light.” Cajal is referring to bioluminescence, the ability of certain creatures to produce light without the sun’s energy. Currently, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, there is a special exhibition called CREATURES OF LIGHT: NATURE’S BIOLUMINESCENCE, which highlights these amazing organisms. With scaled-up models of fireflies (not flies at all, but rather beetles, you will learn) and iPad videos of a dolphin swimming through sparkling dinoflagellates (some genera of the marine protist become blue-green when jostled), the exhibition provides you with that classic museum experience, one of magic and wonder. At the same time, the science that explains and attempts to explain this complicated trait, which evolved distinctly many times in life on earth, will humble and bewilder.