The Beautiful Brain explores the latest findings from the ever-growing field of neuroscience through monthly long-form essays, reviews, galleries, short-form blog posts and more, with particular attention to the dialogue between the arts and sciences.
The eminent primatologist Frans De Waal’s recent TED talk may be one of my favorite TEDs yet. De Waal presents compelling data on primate senses of fairness and empathy, buttressed by entertaining (and mesmerizing) videos of complex primate social behaviors (the Capuchin monkey experiment is my personal favorite). Oh yea, there are elephants too.
De Waal makes a strong case that empathy and fairness are not traits only seen in humans, and that they have older evolutionary roots. Take a look and tell us what you think:
If you love hip hop, you love the Wu Tang Clan, which many people would say is the greatest thing to ever come from Staten Island. (Please understand that I mean no offense to Staten Island; we’re talking about legends here.) Matthew Perpetua caught up with one of them — GZA aka The Genius aka Gary Grice — and asked about the influence of science on his upcoming album Dark Matter. Here is an excerpt from the interview in Rolling Stone:
You have a new album, Dark Matter, that is coming out. I understand that you put another record on hold to start on this. What made this record more urgent?
I didn’t make it urgent. I just pick and choose. I mean, it would probably be urgent in the sense that I decided to do this before. Plus, the other needed more of a setup and different type of approach. I mean I had several different ideas and concepts in my head. It’s just a journey of the universe. Dark matter, dark energy.
So this is about astronomy and physics?
Yes. And not necessarily so in that sense. It’s just a beautiful story – planets, black holes, comets.
Neuroscientist Heather Bimonte-Nelson of the Memory and Aging Lab at Arizona State University paints in order to visualize her research. Her artwork depicts neurons, cells, memories, and seizures. Check out this article about her and her work.
The Rubin Museum of Art’s wonderful and acclaimed Brainwave series is in the middle of its third season. Check out the events, and see the collection and special exhibitions while you’re at it! The museum is located on 17th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.
The New York Times recently covered some cool new research that shows that Australia’s Great Bowerbirds use techniques of illusion and perspective to make their mate-attracting constructions sexier. The researches explain:
Male great bowerbirds actively maintain size-distance gradients of objects on their bower courts that create forced-perspective illusions for females viewing their displays from within the bower avenue.
Bowerbird aesthetics offer an interesting angle on evolution and art itself — there are a variety of theories about the biology of art, which we explore here at The Beautiful Brain. Some of the most striking theories are reductionist views: perhaps art sprung directly from sexual selection – the need to impress our mates – and it’s variety, constant change, and centrality to human life should be viewed through an evolutionary lens. It’s an interesting thought, and certainly gets some support from the bowerbird arts collective.
Yesterday, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation announced a nearly $500,000 dollar grant to the Science on Screen program. Conceived by the Coolidge Corner Theatre, a beloved New England movie house whose foundation is dedicated to providing audiences with excellent and interesting cinematic experiences, Science on Screen pairs feature films and presentations with lively presentations by science and technology experts. In 2012 and 2013, 20 independent non-profit nationwide—up from 8 last year—will receive $7,000 dollar grants to develop their own Science on Screen programs.
For example, Randy Criss, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida Department of Physics explains the science behind Mel Brooks’ classic comedy “Young Frankenstein:”