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Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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January 16, 2004

Neuroecology is Psycho-biogeography

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Update 8/8/04: I'm adding this link to the real definition of neuroecology for all of those who come to this site via search engines looking for information on neuroecology.

New Year's Eve day I was walking through UCLA's sculpture garden when I ran into my first college professor, Hartmut Walter, Professor of Biogeography. Harmut has spent over 30 years trying to answer questions like:

-- How do species persist?
-- How do they avoid extinction?
-- At what point will a species distribution area hasten extinction processes?
-- How can biogeography aid endangered species conservation?

Conserving biological diversity has always been at the heart of his research, as well as a deep interest of mine. During our discussion, Harmut shared his latest realization with me, namely that unless we include human perceptions of the natural ecology into the conservation equations, we will inevitably fail to halt species extinction. Like a true geographer, Harmut is now focused on bringing place back into biogeography.

At its core, geography is the study of place. So while economists study economic theories, economic geographers, like my graduate advisor Allen Scott, analyze economic history to understand the complexity of factors that allow certain economic regions to thrive and others to wilt.

A newly emerging discipline within geography is psychogeography. Psychogeography is concerned with the human perception of place and how it changes over time. In a way, what Hartmut is trying to do is meld psychogeography with biogeography, creating in effect, psycho-biogeography.

As I sat through the neuroesthetics conference last weekend, I was thinking of my conversation with Harmut and realized that there was a further step that needs to be taken in order to bring humans into the conservation solution.

Whereas neuroesthetics uses the latest brain imaging and genetic analysis techniques to understand the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement, the same techniques could be used to get a more scientific understanding of our perception of nature. And that's when I thought of the term, neuroecology.

Neuroecology uses neurotechnology to understand the neural basis of our perception and appreciation of the natural world.

As I thanked him that day for the rigorous introductory course in biogeography that he put me through, I was grateful for having crossed paths with him when I did. Biogeography solidified my basic understanding of ecological principles.

Update: Photo of Harmut and I this day (taken by my friend Ross)

Comments (2) | Category: Economic Geography


1. Denny on January 20, 2004 11:56 AM writes...

I'll throw this in as a possible clue. Human perception involves the perceptual centers of the cortex located essentially in the back part of the brain. These areas receive input from the sensory organs via neuronal pathways through the thalamus (command and control center) to the cortical areas. APPRECIATION, however, is a front-brain activity. To the degree that appreciation includes a logical dimension, this would involve the left-front cortical area. However, I would guess that appreciation is more feel-based and associative, which would involve the right-front cortical area. These hypotheses, based on neurological theory, could be evaluated using the neuroesthetic imaging projects you speak of. Would be good research. In addition, esthetic appreciation seems to be personality-based, i.e., some people use those regions more than others in their cognitive/behavioral styles.

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2. Adam Fish on January 20, 2004 7:29 PM writes...


And the writerly implications of analogizing your descriptive neologisms is equally engaging, it peaks my APPRECIATION. As a method, to a social knowledge about place, the approach of appreciation demands an embodied reflexivity, which, ideally, is an integration of right and left frontal cortices and their actions.

Representations are invented and understood in both descriptive and analytic modes of engagement which intermingle in such a way in emission and perception so as to make "knowledging" bi-hemispherical and performative.

Archaeology is neither subjective or objective; it transcends this dualism.

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