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January 19, 2006

NYC's Neurofest Explores Nexus of Art and Neuroscience

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Posted by Zack Lynch

For those of you in the NYC area you might drop in on one of the many performances in progress at this month's NEUROfest.

Untitled Theater Company #61 explores the nexus of science and art in NEUROfest, the first-ever theater festival dedicated to neurological conditions from January 5 through 29, 2006. Among the performances:

CJD: A multimedia one man show written and performed by a neurologist about his experience with a patient with CJD, augmented with live music performance.

Impostors: After a brain injury, a son believes his parents have been replaced with exact duplicates of themselves, triggering a series of events that threatens to unravel the entire family. Based on a rare neurological condition called Capgras' Syndrome, Impostors is a quirky, funny, heartfelt exploration of the contradictions and distortions that hold all families together. Impostors won the Kennedy Center-ACTF playwriting contest for the Mid-Atlantic region, and was also a finalist for the Abingdon Theatre's Wolk Award and the Princess Grace Award.

117120logo.jpgNEUROshorts: A collection of short plays including The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Robot, Doctors Jane and Alexander, The Taste of Blue and Vestibular.

Strangers and Linguish: Linguish posits a disease which causes aphasia, the neurological disorder that takes away one's ability to use language. Four relative strangers are among the first to be affected, and are thrown together in quarantine. As the disease affects them, they are forced to try to find new ways to communicate. In Strangers a man and a woman are in what seems to be a waiting room. Is it a doctor's waiting room? If so, what's wrong?

Syndrome: A play about a man sitting in his room attempting to muster the courage to meet his parents for dinner. We quickly discover that there are reasons for his anxiety, stemming from his submission to Syndrome, a "spectrum of psychological disorders" that have taken over his mind via the following code words: Tourette's, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Paranoia, and Delusion. Of course, this man is perfectly normal, but he has a job to do. He must conquer Syndrome. And the only way to do that is by fully engaging, and then defusing, his manic-depressive array of memories, obsessions, and tics.

Tabula Rasa: An opera/theater work of three interlocking stories about children lost in the woods: Tabula Rasa examines the effects of nature and nurture, and the fundamental meaning of language and human relationships.

Welcome to Tourettaville!: A musical inspired by a young boy's dreamworld where 4 aliens

Cincinatti: A one-woman show starring Nancy Walsh, a portrait of madness--originally performed after the removal of a brain tumor from Nancy Walsh, allowing her to only say things she had already memorized.

Box Office Hours: 1/2 before any show. Thanks to Mahoney for the headsup on the Festival.

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

December 19, 2005

Flavors of Experience - 5th Neuroesthetics Conference

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Posted by Zack Lynch

It's that time, again! Come join internationally renowned scientists and artists discussing the brain's responses to such things as gourmet food, fine wine and aromatic perfumes at the Fifth International Conference on Neuroesthetics at UC Berkley on Saturday, January 21, 2006.

cook.jpgThe theme of this year's conference is Flavors of Experience. Understanding how chocolate, champagne or Channel No. 5 can elicit intense reactions and enhance long-term memories promises to guide scientists in their research of how pleasure centers and the memory system in the brain are connected. Likewise, chefs, vintners and perfumers can learn from scientists how our brains respond to their products. At the day-long conference, speakers will range from Yale University's Dana M. Small, an expert in how the brain processes flavor, to San Francisco Zen Center's Ed Epse Brown, a priest, cook and author.

The conference, which is sponsored by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation and the Institute of Neuroesthetics in London, is free and open to the public. Speakers, include:

"There is no accounting for flavour without having first experienced it."
Dana M. Small Assistant Professor of Psychology and Surgery, Yale University, Assistant Fellow of the John B Pierce Laboratory: "The Phenomenology of Terroir" Randall Grahm Viticulturist and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyards Santa Cruz, California; "Comparing Pepsi to Picasso: neural valuation responses to aesthetic and consummatory preference." Read Montague Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; "The Neuroesthetics of Smell: From Pavlov to Proust, with Pleasure." Jay A. Gottfried Cognitive Neurology & Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois; "Aroma, Emotion and Memory"Daniel Patterson, Restaurateur and chef, Frisson, San Francisco, California; "Neurobiology underlying the neuroesthetic experience of taste." Scott Herness Professor of Oral Biology, College of Dentistry, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; "Awakening Taste: The Ceremony of Eating Just One Potato Chip." Ed Espe Brown Zen priest, cook, and author, San Francisco Zen Center; "Odor and pheromone processing in the human brain in relation to sex and sexual orientation" Ivanka Savic Berglund Associate professor and senior consultant neurologist, Centre of Gender Related Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

This is always a fantastic conference. Here are my write ups from 2004 (Emotions in Art and the Brain) and 2005 (Empathy in the Brain and Art) in case you are interested.

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September 27, 2005

Beautiful Neuron Art

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The 2005 winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's illustration challenge is Graham Johnson of Boulder, Colorado.


"Deep inside the brain, a neuron prepares to transmit a signal to its target. To capture that fleeting moment, Graham Johnson based this elegant drawing on ultra-thin micrographs of sequential brain slices. After scanning a sketch into 3D modeling software, he colored the image and added texture and glowing lighting reminiscent of a scanning electron micrograph."

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August 05, 2005

The Politics of Face

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Posted by Zack Lynch

What constitutes an attractive face? For both men and women symmetry, averageness, large eyes and large cheekbones are deemed attractive. Across cultures males find females with thick lips, small noses, and thin eyebrows more attractive, while women are attracted to men with more "chiseled" features. Given there is a natural propensity to find certain faces attractive, what impact might this be having in politics?

In a Report in the 10 June 2005 Science, researchers demonstrated just how quickly first impressions are formed and what consequences they can have. "Volunteers were asked to judge the relative competence of recent candidates for U.S. Congress races, based solely on 1-second view of the candidates' black-and-white head shots. Amazingly, these inferences, based solely on facial appearance and with no prior knowledge of the person, correctly predicted the election outcomes nearly 70% of the time. Moreover, the competence judgments were linearly related to the margin of victory.

Inferences of other traits such as likeability and trustworthiness did not prove to be accurate predictors. These findings suggest that that rapid unreflective trait judgments contribute to voting choices, which are assumed to be primarily based on rational, deliberative considerations. In an accompanying Perspective, it is suggested that candidates perceived as less competent in the study probably looked more "babyfaced" -- a facial quality often associated with being submissive, naïve and weak."

Some say that first impressions are everything. They influence how we approach and react to others, and often lead us to make snap judgments about a person's character. I'd be interested to see this experiment tested in the next national election.

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July 13, 2005

Art, Science and Creativity to Take a Quantum Leap Tonight

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Magic Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Initiative presents Quantum Leaps: Science, Art and Creativity tonight in San Francisco. The colloquium - featuring leading scientists sharing their experiences and visions with an audience of artists and other creative thinkers - is designed to to convey the significance, excitement and drama inherent in a wide range of scientific endevours and discoveries, and to inspire new creative works exploreing the worlds of science and technology.

I'll report tomorrow on the implications for neuroesthetics, the study of the neurological basis of artistic creativity and achievement. For those new to Brain Waves I recommend reading an article I wrote last year in the Lancet Neurology on Art, Emotions and the Brain, if this topic interests you.

A special thanks to Bruce Jenett at Heller Ehrman for inviting us.

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January 15, 2005

London's City Brain - Meta Psychogeography

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From the Real Surreal to the Unreal
This is meta-psychogeography, annotated neighborhoods visualized. Many are already wandering around.

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December 27, 2004

Empathy in the Brain and in Art

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Empathy in the Brain and In Art is the theme of the upcoming fourth international conference on neuroesthetics to be held on January 15th, 2005 at UC Berkeley.

While last year's conference focused on "Emotions in Art and the Brain," here is a brief overview of this year's event from the organizers: (click here for schedule)

"Empathy, one of the most extraordinary feats of the human brain, plays a major role in social and artistic communication. We empathize with others and often respond with emotion to their condition. Artists, photographers, actors and film directors use our capacity to empathize to give their works heightened emotional appeal. But what are the neurological foundations of empathy, and on what specialized brain cells and systems does it depend?

The Fourth International Conference on Neuroesthetics will bring together scientists and artists to explore the mechanisms for empathy in the brain and the way in which artists intuitively use these processes to express or evoke empathy. The conference will cover the theme of empathy at all levels-from the response of single cells in the brain, to brain areas engaged during empathetic experience, to the devices and strategies that artists, actors and photographers use to elicit the spectator's empathy and sympathy.

Our distinguished speakers will share their insights into the mechanisms of a brain system that acts as a powerful social adhesive and is instrumental in communication - whether through language, art or music."

I highly recommend this annual conference and look forward to seeing some of you there again.

Empathy is what we all feel for our extended family and friends impacted by the 9.0 quake and the painful tsunami that followed. We are each fragile.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics

September 13, 2004

The Future of Neuroesthetics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Semir Zeki recently shared his vision of the future of neuroesthetics and how he hopes that it will help tackle humanity's most complex issues like the neural basis of religious belief and the relation between morality, jurisprudence and brain function. "Like art, these play a critical role in our lives and are also subject to the quality of variability that is at the heart of our civilization."

Closer to home, neuroesthetics will impact fields such as architecture where concepts like the golden section, which is common in classical architectures, might have a deep neurobiological basis that could help us design environments and buildings that soothe the mind.

As Virginia Postrel pointed out recently, hospitals don't have to be ugly. Perhaps we could even make movies more entertaining.

Comments (3) | Category: Neuroesthetics

April 07, 2004

Celebrating Obsessive Art

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Posted by Zack Lynch

1 in 50 adults Americans experience obsessive-compulsive behavior during their lives. While OCD is a serious social disabling disorder, it has also become a source of inspiration for some artists.

Celebrating the creative power of obsession is an art exhibit at The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts, called OCD. OCD is an exhibition of artists whose works study the pursuit of obsessive behavior.

"It could be argued that all forms of art making contain an element of obsession; it drives the will to create and underlies most great works. Though most artists accept their obsession as a means to an end, there are some who explore the nature of obsession, itself, and the statements that an obsessive act can make.

In response to the variety of options that have become available, many artists have narrowed their focus to very limited parameters to explore a singular goal. To the observer, this can be viewed as “obsessive,” especially in a culture that glorifies the opposite of obsession – distraction.

OCD delves into the phenomena with eight artists for whom obsession and compulsion are both the subject and the method of their workJoseph Trupia, Nancy Havlick, Luke Walker, Morgan Phalen, Jennifer Schmidt, Chris Francione, Jason Dean, and Matthew Nash. These artists all work with methods that require extensive physical and emotional exertion, as well as finely tuned mental control. Each artist brings a different media to the exhibit, portraying their individual form of obsession. Their works range from the more traditionally grounded forms, like drawings, photographs, and prints, to works that are more playful in their media, such as sugar eggs or bubble wrap."

While neuroesthetics has focused on the neurobiology of creativity and the role of emotions in artistic expression, it would be valuable to extend the boundaries of research to include artists who exhibit OCD or even techies who have ADD.

Thanks to sumitsays for the pointer.

Update 4/9: Latest research on OCD via Nature neuropsychopharmacology --
Amygdala Volume Reductions in Pediatric Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treated with Paroxetine: Preliminary Findings

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March 11, 2004

This is Your Brain on Movies

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neuroesthetics is emerging fast and the entertainment industry should wake up and learn. Here is Luiz Pessoa's perpective on this cutting-edge research in this week's Science:

"When two people watch the same movie, are their brains activated in the same way?" More specifically, "To what extent do all brains work alike during natural conditions?

The results reveal a surprising tendency of individual brains to "tick collectively" during natural vision. The intersubject synchronization consisted of a widespread cortical activation pattern correlated with emotionally arousing scenes and regionally selective components."

Would the brain activity of individuals be more similiar, or less, if the individuals were on Ritalin or something else? This sounds like an experiment for Rodolfo Llinas.

Update: Psychscape on Reel Psychology

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March 04, 2004

Art and the Brain in Action - Neural Audio and More

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Take some time to visit these incredible artists I've come across while exploring how art drives cultural change for my forthcoming book -- Neurosociety: How Brain Science Will Shape the Future of Business, Politics and Culture. (see Cubism, Camouflage and Cultural Change). Clearly, humanity's neurofuture is looking to be quite extraordinary.

Brain Wave Chick, Paras Kaul, has created a new art form called neural audio. By strapping an electrode-studded band to her head, Brainwave Chick, as she is known, guides her music by moving between different states of mind. For the audience, the music is a blend of nontraditional, at times discordant, sound. Listen to neural audio.

Art Blogger, has added a new feature to his site called "redesign" where the banner on the home page randomly regenerates a spectrum of colorful squares each time the page is reloaded. (Check it out). This is something every dance club should have. Also, this is the best blog title I've ever seen "the cult of speed and surface." I also highly recommended Arts Feed for a comprehensive global social network of the world's art as well as Art Forum.

Pink and Sting have nailed it in two of their recent songs: Pink: "God is a DJ, life is the dance floor, love is rhythm, and you are the music." (electro headz remix) Sting:: "Send your love, send your love into the future, send your previous love to some distant time. There is no religion but the joys of rhythm, there is nothing sacred by the joys of trance. Send your love. (Dave Aude vocal remix)

While neuroesthetics is still an emerging discipline, it is being accelerated by places like the Neuroscience Institute's research facility that focuses on music and the brain is accelerating our understanding of the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement. Just as information technology has made all these art forms (brain wave synthesizers, digital banners and electronica) listed possible, neurotechnology will surely play an important role in the ever evolving world of art, architecture and entertainment.

What does a Van Gogh sound like anyway?

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

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.

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February 16, 2004

Neuroesthetics, Emotions in Art and the Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

My article, Emotions in Art and the Brain, a review of the key findings discussed at the Third International Conference on Neuroesthetics, was published today in the March issue of The Lancet Neurology.

The article highlights the following research:

- Arthur Shimamura, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, on embodied esthetics
- Ray Dolan, Director of the Emotions and Cognition Group at the University college London, on emotions and feelings
- Semir Zeki, conference organizer, from the University of College London, on the legal ramifications of neuresthetics
- Dan Fessler, UCLA's Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture, on the evolutionary advantage of emotions
- Rosa-Aurora Chavez, National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico City, on the neurobiology of creativity

As I mentioned in cubism, camouflage and cultural change, I am spending a considerable amount of my time these days exploring the cultural implications of neurotechnology. This article was part of this ongoing process.

I would like to thank Peter Hayward at the Lancet for his continued interest in Brain Waves and for the opportunity to share some of my initial thoughts on our rising neuroculture. Purchase the full article.

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

January 06, 2004

Emotions in Art and the Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As I mentioned in cubism, camouflage and cultural change, art and "high culture" are important drivers of societal change. In the case of the neurotechnology wave, I believe this trend will hold true once again.

Today, the primary focus of those interested in understanding our emerging neurosociety is on how tools that enhance human cognitive and sensory performance will impact society. While I obviously agree that these are critical components to understand, I sense that the area of emotional enhancement or (enablement of more refined conditions of emotional stability, control and exploration) will prove to be the most powerful and historically unique driver of change in the decades to come.

Virginia Postrel, always trying to understand the pulse of planetary change, has already insightfully chronicled the power of aesthetics as a major economic driver in her most recent book, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness. (Obviously, highly recommended)

The current obsession with cognition can be partially explained by the fact we still exist within the paradigm of the information technology wave, where information is the most valuable resource. Only by realizing how our own perception of future possibilities is clouded by the focus of today's tools, can one begin to get a sense of the emotional revolution that awaits humanity.

To explore this concept further I'll be attending (and blogging) The Institute for Neuroesthetics third annual conference at U.C. Berkeley on Emotions in Art and the Brain this coming weekend

Here is a list of some of the talks that I'll be blogging on next week:

The Brain, Emotion and Aesthetic Judgments -- Ray Dolan
Steps Toward an Evolutionary Psychology of Emotion -- Dan Fessler
Embodied Aesthetics: A Neuropsychological Perspective -- Arthur P. Shimamura
Emotion, Transformation Through Art and Neurological Coincidents -- Dennis M. Dake, A. M. Barry
Art, Emotion and the Brain: The Historical Dimension -- David Freedberg
On the Neurobiology of Creativity and Emotion -- Rosa-Aurora Chávez
The Techniques of Emotion -- Anna Winestein
The Self-Organizing Landscape and the Brain -- Robert Steinberg
The Neurophysiology of aesthetic experience -- William Seeley
The Neural Correlates of Love and Beauty -- Semir Zeki

Comments (2) | Category: Neuroesthetics

January 05, 2004

Cubism, Camouflage, and Cultural Change

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Posted by Zack Lynch

What do Picasso, a French telephone operator, and the British navy have in common?

Each used cubist-painting techniques to make objects in a field of vision appear to be equal in distance with their background. In doing so, they forever changed how people perceive space and also invented camouflage in the process.

While the Picasso made his breakthrough to Cubism in 1907, it wasn't until 1914 that Guirand de Scevola conceived of camouflage. Working as a telephone operator for a French artillery unit, de Scevola (a painter himself) realized that there was a way to conceal artillery guns using a net splashed with earth colors in a cubist manner. Quickly adopted by the French army, it took three more years for the British navy to devise a way of painting the sides of ships with geometric patterns to make them more difficult for German u-boat captains to judge a ship's distance and speed when looking at it through a periscope.

As Stephen Kern points out in The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918, this example is not only intellectually interesting, but yields a deep insight into the nature of societal change. "In cultural histories the causal arrow usually runs from technology to culture. In the case of cubism and camouflage, however, it went the other way, from cubist art to war technology."

I am now entering the third year of researching and writing my book on Neurotechnology and Society. Having spent the first year exploring the underlying technologies and last year envisioning the political and economic impacts of neurotechnology, the end is in view.

My primary focus is now on art and culture. As the above example highlights -- even though technology is a primary initiator of change, it also operates within the walls of political and cultural contexts not completely of its making. Given this fact, I am sure that the thoughts uncovered over the next few months will provide further evidence of our emerging neurosociety.

I look forward to sharing my journey and complete vision with you in 2004.

Comments (4) | Category: Neuroesthetics

November 11, 2003

Culture Will Drive Neurotechnology

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As I mentioned in my letter to President Bush, neurotechnology will more profoundly impact humanity in a much nearer time frame than genetic engineering for several reasons. One important reason is culture.

To get a sense of the resistance genetic engineering faces, just look at Germany and France’s 1997 decision to categorically ban human genetic engineering, labeling it “an attack on human dignity and a violation of our right to an unaltered gene pool.” And these countries are not alone. The European Union’s current ban on genetically modified food highlights the deep opposition to the permanent nature of genetic engineering. Neurotechnology does not face similar roadblocks.

First generation neurotechnologies in the form of pharmaceuticals for depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are already widely accepted. In fact, France, a beacon of western cultural concern and major opponent to any form of genetic engineering, has one of the highest number of pharmaceutical prescriptions per person in the world.

Clearly, in the minds of the masses, there is an important difference between technologies that permanently alter humans and tools whose influence is only temporary.

Comments (1) | Category: Neuroesthetics

March 13, 2003

Buildings that Soothe the Mind

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Why is art such a conspicuous feature of all societies? Why are certain sights and sounds more pleasing than others?  Although most people believe that artistic tastes are entirely dependent on cultural influences, there is a small group of neuroscientists who are searching for more innate reasons. 

Neuroaesthetics is attemping to understand how art and architecture arouse aesthetic experience by starting from the basis of emotional and sensory experience.  The movement is young, but in time may provide some interesting suggestion on how to design more soothing hospitals and intellectually arousing schools.  It's all about the Look and Feel.

Comments (1) | Category: Neuroesthetics