About this author
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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February 18, 2004

Neuroesthetics Defined

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From my recently published article in The Lancet Neurology --

"Neuroesthetics uses brain imaging and genetic analysis to understand the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement."

Neuroesthetics' (also spelled, neuroaesthetics by the British) research has broad implications for all parts of society, including: our legal systems, business productivity and entertainment. The increasing interest and compelling research occurring in this emerging discipline has led the Institute for Neuroesthetics to launch the Journal of Neuroesthetics, due to appear late this summer.

See Semir Zeki's recent articles to get a taste of the direction the journal will likely take, or try to attend (and blog) the symposium on "Embodied Esthetics" in Zurich, March 1st and 2nd.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics


1. Denny on February 18, 2004 11:08 AM writes...

I hope the researcher's gaze is focused on the right side of the cortex, the posterior providing perceptual input, and the frontal associating these perceptions according to the emotional priorities of the artist. Sounds like wonderful research.

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2. Carole Smith on February 20, 2004 3:23 PM writes...

“The arts have always been at the cutting edge of cultural consciousness…
February 13, 2004.

Dear Zack
Film makers as well as neuroethicists should welcome any address to the ethical implications of neurotechnology. In so far as the origin and authorship of ideas is of considerable interest in assessing the nature and direction of cultural consciousness, fiction and films reflect the imaginative leaps which result also from the artist’s wider observation of society, and of scientific advancements in particular.

In the field of science fiction, the film-maker’s vision seems to be ahead of the game. Of those films which set out to thrill and entertain with themes that involve smothering, consumption, dematerialisation, or incorporation ( to wit, “The Blob”, which despite dating from 1958 currently boasts its own website and arranges tours of the film’s locations) one didn’t have to look too carefully to see that their success depends largely on the re-activation of thrills which derive from infant fantasy. The relationship that such films bear to current anxieties about the destruction of the environment, and, more specifically to issues which might be designated ‘nano-technological’ and which threaten to reduce us to that famous ‘grey goo’, bring us sharply into focus with modern science.

Is it fantasy driving technology then? Do scientists absorb, on their days off, while relaxing in front of the television, or the latest movie, all sorts of notions, partly conscious, perhaps partly not, which fuel their inventions?

In the field of military intelligence, a perusal of CIA files which have become widely available for unclassified inspection, suggest that many ideas have come and gone which derive from the most bizarre ideas, and one has to say, often from bizarrely sadistic impulses. One imagines a great junk yard of discarded projects that didn’t get off the ground, so to speak.

Regarding imitation, one should be careful to note that in the film business, one bad film often begets another better one – at least the idea is better executed or with more discernment. “The Final Cut” , 2004, to which you referred here last week, dealt with the reconstitution of a life, as a film to be shown at a funeral, made by a professional cutter who was paid to dignify that life by removing unpleasant incidents, thereby granting absolution and erasing the need for individual conscience and reparative work. It is an interesting comment on the whitewashing of public figures. It also alerts us, as you have alerted us, to the actual capability of technology to record – and therefore distort – individual experience. In fact, a film was made in the UK in 1998, entitled “Final Cut”, starring no less than Jude Law, which had as its setting a group of friends watching a video of a home movie of themselves, made by the man whose funeral they had just attended, and who had, by using hidden cameras, exposed these same friends in unsavoury activities. This is the dead doing the dirty on the living, in contrast to the living doing the dirty work of the dead.

It seems reasonable to wonder whether the viewing of one film was the source of an idea for the other, as the arts are no strangers to theft and plagiarism. If in the recent film, the film makers are concerned with the replacement of conscience by technology, the earlier film, to use the words of a reviewer, “succeeds in creating the illusion of a reality that confirms rumours of morality’s rape. Truth is seen as humiliating and destructive, which is the dead man’s sick joke.”
IOFILM.CO.UK (Final Cut film review, 1998)

One might derive some encouragement from the self-corrective capacity of the film business to expose and hold up to criticism the exposition of less than honourable enterprises. Can one say the same for public participation in the correction of the inventions of science – and of neurotechnology, since the technical grasp lies outside the scope of the ordinary man’s education? This applies even more when, say, quantum physics is linked with neurotechnology in the service of the military. Who are the moral censors of such works of invention? Who are the supervisors of the inventors?

Finally, two scenarios which we might envisage:
Film A: A script writer discusses his idea with a movie producer who is interested in making the movie. He is describing the idea in detail, and is very excited at its originality.
As he speaks, there is someone who is recording every word he says. But it is not only his spoken words. His thoughts also are being recorded and translated by a computerised programmed which depends on the capture of his neurological
frequencies via the energy that is emitted from his nervous system in the form of an electro-magnetic field, and which by a process of biofusion and feedback has been codified, appropriated and controlled.
The film that was the product of his creative imagination is made – but not by him, nor by his producer.

Film B: Outside a town in the Middle East, perhaps Baghdad or could be Tehran. Ghostly holographs , dressed in US Marine combat gear, move through the night. They make no noise as they make their way through the streets. Overhead a spacecraft, shaped like a discus, with no visible pilot, moves methodically around the sky above the town but there is no show of attack. Units of the local army, together with the braver of the inhabitants, are mobilised but their actions have no effect as the holographic soldiers proceed past them without expression, melting through and into the walls. Others cower, terrified, indoors while some search the sky for more attackers. There are none to be seen. After a short period, terror is replaced by dizziness, and then by confusion, followed by loss of consciousness.
There is little opposition when the flesh and blood Marines shortly descend to take over the town.

Are such scenarios the product of the imagination, or the putting into film action of perfectly plausible events, plausible that is in terms of existing technology?
Film, which used to be the depiction of story projected by light onto a screen, has now become the depiction of the virtual onto reality.

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