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.
A review article published this month in the journal Neuron looks at the last decade of the brain in popular media. In “Neuroscience in the Public Sphere,” [full text available here], the authors reviewed media databases for articles discussing brain research published between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010 in the six top-selling British newspapers and tabloids. The results? The majority of stories (43%) dealt with brain optimization in some regard, with disease and psychopathology coming in second (36%). Most interesting to me was the topic at the bottom of this list: the brain as it relates to spiritual experiences and religion (1%).
From their analysis, some major, overarching themes jumped out about how the brain is typically portrayed or used to further a point in popular media. In the words of the authors:
This research identified three emerging trends in media interpretations of neuroimaging. Neurorealism describes the use of neuroimages to make phenomena seem objective, offering visual proof that a subjective experience (e.g., love, pain, addiction) is a “real thing.”Neuroessentialism denotes depictions of the brain as the essence of a person, with the brain a synonym for concepts like person, self, or soul. Finally, neuropolicy captures the recruitment of neuroscience to support political or policy agendas.
You can see the full results and read the article here.
In an interview with Casey Schwartz for Newsweek — The Daily Beast, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein argues that knowledge is overrated:
As I began to think about it, I realized that, contrary to popular view, scientists don’t really care that much about facts. We recognize that facts are the most unreliable part of the whole operation. They don’t last, they’re always under revision. Whatever fact you seemed to have uncovered is likely to be revised by the next generation. That’s the difference between science and many other endeavors. Science revels in revision. For science, revision is a victory. In religion, or astrology, or any other belief system, revision is a kind of defeat. You were supposed to have known the answer to this. But the joy of science is that it’s about revision.
Dr. Firestein, the chair of the biological sciences department at Columbia University, has taught a popular course called IGNORANCE, dedicated to what we don’t know. His new book, Ignorance: How it Drives Science, was released today by Oxford University Press. It promises to be a great read.
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.