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Save the Date! ArtLab: Memory + Myth // March 22nd

memory-and-myth-final-wide
How much can we trust our memories? On Sunday, March 22th, ArtLab presents Memory + Myth: a live theater-infused exploration of the neuroscience of memory. The evening features original work from The Deconstructive Theatre Project–a Brooklyn-based performing arts company mixing neuroscience with multimedia–with insights into the brain from the mind of Dr. Paula Croxson.

ArtLab kicks off with an interactive experiment as Paula tests our powers of recall and introduces us to the neuroscience of how we remember. This crash course in recollection will be followed by an excerpt from the DTP’s The Orpheus Variations–a reimagining of the famous myth as a tale of the mutability of memory by blending live performance, neuroscience, and interactive technology. Rounding out the night, ArtLab will turn to the audience to delve deeper into the realm of remembrance through moderated discussion with Paula and DTP founder + director Adam J. Thompson.

Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.∇Δ John Dewey

ArtLab: Memory + Myth will begin at 6:30 pm at the Center for Performance Research and is presented as part of Brain Awareness Week, featuring brain-themed events happening across New York City.

About Our Guests

croxsonPaula Croxson is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn Mount Sinai School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, where she researches how memories are stored in the brain and what happens when they are compromised. Her work focuses on the complex, autobiographical life memories that are lost in aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When she’s not doing science, or talking about science, she plays the flute with indie rock band Marlowe Grey.

thompsonAdam J. Thompson is the Founding Director of The Deconstructive Theatre Project and a multimedia artist and producer. For The Deconstructive Theatre Project, he has created and directed six productions, including most recently The Orpheus Variations (Magic Futurebox 2012, HERE 2013, Under the Radar 2014, Theater at the 14th Street Y 2015). Documentary footage of The Orpheus Variations was installed as a part of “Um, Nenhum, e Cem Mil,” a visual art exhibition exploring the intersections of art and science, at Edge Arts in Lisbon, Portugal between January and March 2013. He is currently developing Searching for Sebald, the second in the company’s series of live cinema events, to premiere in early 2016. Adam is a member of The Builders Association and the Associate Producer of PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theatre/Now. He has taught and guest lectured at The School of Making Thinking, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and NYU. He holds a BA in directing and dramaturgy from Emerson College in Boston.

dtpThe Deconstructive Theatre Project is a Brooklyn-based multimedia creative laboratory that is currently creating a series of works that collide live performance, neuroscience, and interactive technology. It’s most recent live cinema project, The Orpheus Variations, just completed a sold-out engagement at The Public Theater’s 2015 Under the Radar Festival followed by an encore engagement at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y in New York City. The company has been singled out for “masterfully reinventing what live theatre can mean for the individual” and as “innovatively reflective on the future of the performing arts.” To learn more visit deconstructivetheatreproject.org

Event details:

Location:

Center for Performance Research

361 Manhattan Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11237

http://cprnyc.org

Date + Time: March 22, 2015 @ 6:30 pm
Admission:

$10, 21+
Buy advanced tickets [no fee]

Proudly Partnered with:

Bluebrain: Documenting the Frontiers of Brain Research

In his 2009 TED Talk, Dr. Henry Markram publicly announced the Blue Brain Project, a ten-year initiative to reverse-engineer a fully functional supercomputer-powered simulation of the human brain in ten years. Inspired by such an ambitious project, filmmaker Noah Hutton set about chronicling the progress of Markram’s [blue]brainchild in an independently produced documentary spanning the ten-year timeline—a true-life brain-themed “will-they-won’t-they” story.

On January 28, 2013, the European Commission awarded Henry Markram and his team $1.3 billion for the Human Brain Project.

Since 2009, Bluebrain: the Film has evolved into a 14-year-long documentary-in-the-making. By 2013, the Blue Brain team joined forces with scientists across Europe, receiving $1.3 billion in funding awarded by the European Commission for the Human Brain Project: a unified effort to create the brain simulation under a renewed 10-year timeline. 2013 also marked the official US entry into the quest to understand the human brain, as Obama announced the BRAIN Initiative specifically geared towards developing new neuroscience technologies over the next decade.

To accommodate the growing breadth of brain research, Hutton has widened the film’s scope to include scientists from around the world as they attempt to tackle one of the greatest challenges facing science. Each year, he releases an installment of Bluebrain—an annual “state-of-the-union” for the latest from the field—providing a unique, real-time glimpse into the pace of progress + the process of scientific discovery. Below, you can watch the fourth installment of Bluebrain and enjoy ArtLab’s Q&A for more about the film + his insights into these groundbreaking brainy projects.

Could you talk about how you got started making the film and how the project has evolved since you began in 2009?

I graduated from college as a neuroscience major. At that point, I had already made my first feature-length documentary and knew that I wanted to make films. I was aware of the Blue Brain Project because I had seen Henry Markram’s TED Talk in 2009, when he laid out a ten-year timeline to create a simulation of the brain. It was exciting, but also controversial. And it just hit me that I had become so interested in neuroscience anyway, and I really liked the Seven Up! series where the filmmaker follows the lives of 14 people every seven years. So I thought it would be very interesting to do a longitudinal film about such a lofty goal of ten years to understand the human brain.

I took my first trip to Lausanne to interview Dr. Markram and show him my first film. After that first visit he emailed me and gave me exclusive access to make the film. So that was how it started. Originally I thought I was in it until 2020, but it became 14 years after they re-booted the project this year as the Human Brain Project. So now it’s until 2024/2025.

Initially I was going to focus on The Blue Brain Project and building these brain simulations. I thought it was philosophically interesting if a film would develop as the brain simulation would develop—two parallel entities growing and getting more complex. That is still part of my interest in making the film, but over the years, I’ve realized this is a much bigger topic and that there are a lot more people and countries—especially this year—throwing in their hats to create big consortiums and projects to really tackle this in our lifetime.

On April 2, 2013, the US officially entered the so-called race to understand the human brain when Obama announced the BRAIN Initiative. [Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak]

So I started gradually widening the scope of the film, which really started last year when I began interviewing critics of brain simulation in general. Scientists working on the connectome, who have a fundamentally different approach to Markram, were interesting to talk to because they are openly critical of simulating the brain to understand it. It has been eye-opening for me to find these critics and talk to them. To be convinced by them and then go back to Dr. Markram and be re-convinced by him that he is really doing it right. My needle is all over the place in terms of what I believe because I don’t really know enough of the science to know. So whoever I’m with at the moment kind of convinces me.

You’ve been following the evolution of this quest to understand the human brain for four years now. As a documentarian, do you have any ideas at this point of the ideal story you’d like to tell looking ten years down the line?

There are several ideal stories. One of them is that Markram succeeds in his quest and he creates a simulation of a full human brain that can be the first real example of artificial intelligence. That of course is what he set out to do with The Blue Brain Project and it would be this unbelievable moment. So that’s definitely a possible narrative, which would be wild and great for the film. 

On the other hand, it would be just as interesting—and I think just as compelling—if all this hard work happened over this fourteen years of the film, and we’re just not that much closer to creating this simulation. Or we’ve done a big part of it, but it’s not behaving like a human. So failure in how the goal was originally defined would show where we really are in understanding the brain. And it also shows philosophically that it might be much further from that level of understanding in these big projects than we think that we are in how they define their goals and their timelines.

While it ushered us into the genomics age, the decade-long Human Genome Project did little to show us what genes make us human or find cures to common diseases. And a number of parallels have been drawn between the HGP and these brain-focused initiatives. So do you have any insights into what makes these projects different and what we might ultimately learn from them?

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last two years is that there are fundamentally two different approaches to how we’re going to understand the question of the brain right now, which are nicely represented by the European project on the one hand, and by many of the people involved in the US BRAIN Initiative on the other. The European approach, led by Markram, is reverse engineering a simulation of the human brain that will be able to predict the results of experiments we haven’t even done yet. Markram thinks we can actually learn about most of the brain through this simulation, as opposed to collecting every piece of data in the lab. That is opposed to scientists in the connectome crowd, like Sebastian Seung and Jeff Lichtman, who really believe we don’t know enough yet to predict unknown results. Instead, we have to trace every connection in tissue and collect much more data to understand emergent principles before we go about building a model of the brain.

Some of Markram’s critics argue that before we can understand the brain, we must first create a map—the connectome—of every neural connection in the brain. [Image credit: V.J. Wedeen + L.L. Wald, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH

So it’s hard to generalize what everyone thinks we’re going to get out of this. Henry Markram would say once you have a functional simulation that’s accurate—that you’ve tested at every stop and it behaves just like a real biological system—then you can simulate diseases on the model and model different kinds of treatments. It would be this amazing telescope—a predictive, diagnostic tool—that can look at any potential brain disease or malfunction and come up with a set of solutions. The US approach seems much more geared towards continuing basic science and the way that we already go about solving problems—identifying genes and markers of disease and figuring out on animal models how to treat them.

So those are two different timelines and two different ways of approaching a problem. I’m just so interested that that is the case right now—that we don’t know which way is the best way to move forward in understanding the brain. We are just fundamentally divided between both camps in a sense, even though people from both camps will tell you that they are going to work together very nicely. And in fact, they probably will. That’s the most hopeful scenario—that the brain simulation will be getting all this rich data from the US and the US can use the simulations to tell them which parts of the brain we need to study more. So there is hope for massive scale collaboration that speeds up progress, but we will have to overcome some of the tensions in the field, which of course exist.

As you’ve been expanding the scope of the film, have you considered including the perspectives of nonscientists who have been following these projects?

I want to talk to people who have a firm footing in—or have at least checked out—science and materialism. I’m skeptical of talking to people who reject brain science completely. At the same time, there are philosophers who I think would add good context to the film; philosophers who draw upon neuroscience and are firmly grounded in brain science as a basis for their theorizing, like Paul and Patricia Churchland.

I do want to include other people and perspectives as we go on. The cool thing about filming each year is that—now that I feel I’ve covered the beginning of the project, the critics, and this big year of re-launching—every year I have the opportunity to shift the focus of the piece onto a different part of the story. Whatever is most interesting that year, I can check out. Because it is such a long-term project, if there is nothing major to report on in the development of the science, one year I might just talk to philosophers and have it be a philosophical year.

How has your relationship with Henry Markram changed over the course of the four years you’ve been filming?

When I interviewed him for the first time, I was so nervous. There’s this setting on the camera called “gain”—so if you’re in a really dark room, you pump up the gain and it makes things really grainy, but you can see the room. And I was so nervous that in setting up the camera, I had pumped the gain up to the maximum, and that was how I filmed the first interview. It was a disaster. Luckily the footage was salvageable, but my point is that I went from that to now being super comfortable—I consider him a friend now. It has been a very nice evolution of feeling more and more comfortable.

Navigating a relationship with a subject, especially where they’re watching a little film about themselves each year that you make, is very delicate. That’s such a personal thing to have your image put out into the world. The relationship on that level of the subject to the filmmaker is very dynamic. I’m sensitive to not making them feel uncomfortable—I want them to feel good about what’s out there. But at the same time I need to be independent and objective. It’s really interesting to balance that. There’s no one way to do it, and I have to feel it out every year.


To watch Bluebrain from the beginning + stay tuned for more from the project, be sure to visit the official website. And for Noah’s insights on the intersection between neuroscience + art, check out The Beautiful Brain.

The Art Between Your Ears

Julia Polaroid_1Julia Buntaine is a New York-based visual artist. An MFA student at School of the Visual Arts, Julia has been artfully crafting brainy renderings of our headspace since she discovered her love of neuroscience in college. Taking her passion for science-based art one step further, she founded SciArt in America, an online magazine dedicated to all things at the intersection between art + science. Just before meeting up to discuss our upcoming SciArt Speed Date // Collaborate event, Julia was kind enough to share some of her personal art works, as well as the spirit journey that led her to the science + art juncture.

How did you find your way into making science-based art?

I entered college having done art for a long time, and I knew I wanted to pursue it, but I also didn’t want to limit myself to just that. So I just started taking classes kind of randomly. I took an intro to neuroscience course, and for some reason it just clicked in a way that nothing else academic really had previously. At first I was in complete awe – I loved knowing that when dopamine is swirling around my brain it is because and making me happy. And then the more I studied, the more I came to deeply desire exploration of those Big questions—about what shapes perception, what it is to be conscious, what is the feeling of seeing red? So I spent half my time in college still doing art, and the other half getting deeper into cellular and molecular biology and the neuroscience of consciousness.

But in our final year everyone has to do a thesis project. I realized I couldn’t just keep double majoring, but I didn’t want to give up art or science. In one of my insomnia-induced freak-outs about my future, I realized I could just do art about science—pursue science on my own, while pursuing art more professionally. So I used the forms in neuroscience—making neurons and G-protein coupled receptors and ion channels—integrating them into more visual, metaphorical pieces. And when I started doing science-based art, I began realizing that science was important to convey artistically. It gave me real purpose as an artist.

Neural Correlate Of Concrete. 2009, insulation board, concrete. The very first of Julia's neuroscience-based art pieces.

Neural Correlate Of Concrete. 2009, insulation board, concrete. The very first of Julia’s neuroscience-based art pieces.

And how did that trajectory lead you to founding SciArt in America?

Over the last three years since college, I had been searching for a sciart community. But if you Google “science art” or “sciart” you won’t find a lot of it. I knew there was a lot of sciart in the UK and in Berlin, so when I moved to New York to start graduate school last year, I knew it had to be here too. I was really lucky to go to the School of Visual Arts where Suzanne Anker, who has been a bioartist for the last 40 years and a pioneer of sorts, teaches. She was really the first person I met here who did science art as seriously as I did.

As a science artist, I work with things that cannot be found in an art store. I might want to use a microscope, but how do I get one of those if I can’t afford to buy it? So I was sitting in class one day thinking about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t find other people to at least problem solve with and talk to about these things. And I realized the solution was probably to create the thing that I was looking for in all my Google searches—a place where artists can be featured, and where artists can learn about each other and get in touch with each other.

Could you talk more about some of the neuroscience-based art you’ve made over the years, and how it has evolved?

During my final year of college I was working only in concrete. I was very material-driven back then, meaning I was very interested in getting dirty with plaster, and the really studio heavy, labor-intensive process was very much a part of my practice.

Chemical Play. 2010, 8'x16'. insulation board, concrete, astroturf, golf balls, bricks, putter.

Chemical Play. 2010, 8’x16′. insulation board, concrete, astroturf, golf balls, bricks, putter.

Chemical Play [2010]. I had a thesis show at the end of my senior year and this was one of the pieces in it. These are the G protein-coupled receptors made out of white concrete. I wanted to talk about how we play with pharmaceuticals, or how we play with neurotransmitters generally. So I had all of these different colored golf balls representing not only neurotransmitters that move around that we putt in this direction or that direction, but also just how we play with the brain. So I had a golf putter, and during the opening these little kids just jumped in because they didn’t know that rule that you’re not supposed to touch art. It was great because then other people started getting in there, and even adults were taking turns putting. It was a great piece since something happened that I really didn’t expect to!

Recently my work has gotten really concept-driven. Generally, there are two ways to do artwork. One is to start with the material and see how the piece forms and what it turns into, and the other is to start with the concept and find the appropriate material. I made the switch from the former to the latter after realizing that with the complexity of ideas I was begging to have, an arbitrary choice in material would end up competing with the concept I was going for—this is because materials are concept laden things, and that point can’t be overlooked while making. For other artists with more open ideas, this isn’t a problem at all, but that’s just not my case. I also find it really fun, to dream of a project in a medium I’ve never worked in, and the learning process that goes along with making it. It’s brought me to learn many things I never thought I would a few years ago.

Brodmann's Subways. 2013, 5"x5"x5". papier mache, complete NYC subway map

Brodmann’s Subways. 2013, 5″x5″x5″. papier mache, complete NYC subway map

Brodmann’s Subways [2013]. One bigger concept I come back to continually is the conceptual connection between brains and cities. If you look at a subway map, you can think of the way subways serve the city to connect different parts of it—helping one part literally, physically communicate with another by carrying information or people. Then you can think of the brain as having all these communication tracks that connect different areas in certain ways. I that idea like a lot—brains and cities and maps. I also think a lot about the way the brain is represented, is organized visually, in the way that cities are visually organized into maps. Korbinian Brodmann was the German anatomist this piece is named for—he created a map of the brain’s cortex based on cell type. I decided to apply this idea to the subway map, divide the map into squares and arrange by “type”, and cluster them on a brain from by likeness the way Brodmann did.

What We See. 2013, size variable (103 pieces) // images acquired from visual perception Neuroscience and psychology studies

What We See. 2013, size variable (103 pieces) // images acquired from visual perception Neuroscience and psychology studies

What We See [2013]. I framed stimuli from visual neuroscience studies—103 of them to be precise—and put them on a wall. I was thinking about neuroscience studies and what they show the subjects in order to measure a reaction from them in the brain. I’ve done this myself. I’ve run studies and read a ton of papers, so I’ve known these images for a long time, and they are kind of weird looking—a series squiggly lines in a row, or blurred faces, or a weird alien face that has some strange expression on it. So I wanted to use them as the art objects, not only because I think they’re very interesting pictures, but also because it brings up this larger issue: neuroscientists use these images to test our visual system in the lab, to understand what happens in the real world. Since you can’t test in the real world, these images must act as real world approximations in a sense. But when I look at them, I think are these really real world approximations? Or are these just really weird looking pictures. So I have a certain level of criticality when it comes to neuroscience. I do love it, but I don’t love it without also thinking of these sorts of problems too. All these neuroscience studies are out now that tell us how our visual systems work based on these images. So yes this is what we see in the lab, but is this how we see in the real world?

How have you gone about presenting art that is very much rooted in scientific concepts, some of which may be completely foreign to your viewer?

the spaces between

The Spaces Between. 2013, 3″x6′. clay. “In charting the connections between every neuron, neuroscientists accidentally charted the space between the neurons.”

When I exhibit my work it’s repeatedly been a question for me whether I should offer an explanation in a press release to my viewer, or as a paragraph on the wall next to the piece. So for instance in the piece The Spaces Between, if you looked at those sculptures without knowing what they were, you would just think they were these weird looking objects on a shelf. I want people to know more than that. I want them to know that this is the negative space made positive inside your brain between the neurons. Because that’s what interesting to me. So I just give out just the scientific information, not what you should necessarily be getting from the piece or how it should impact you. And I don’t want my reader to have to read something in order to enjoy it. Aesthetics are a huge concern of mine, not just the concept. I like making things that are beautiful, so the hope is that you look at it and you have an experience of pleasure. And then, if that happens, you would be interested to read further. And reading further, in my experience, enhances the work and doesn’t detract from it.


For the last year I have been interviewing local artists and am constantly amazed // invigorated by how my conversations with them have added an entirely new dimension to my own scientific thoughts and curiosities. Stay tuned for more Conversations with Artists!!

12.10.2013 // Film + the Unconscious

On December 10th, ArtLab presented Film + the Unconscious: a conversation between cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin and filmmaker Alexandra Stergiou. Through moderated discussion and audience participation, the evening explored what happens in our brains as we watch our favorite films: how does film portray the way we think and dream? How can filmmakers appeal to the unconscious to strike a mood or evoke emotion? What is the neuroscience behind some of filmmaking’s oldest tricks?

Still craving more neuroscience insight? Enjoy this clip of Heather fielding a question from the audience about why filmmakers dream in film.

about the guests

Heather-Berlin-webHeather Berlin is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Using neuroimaging techniques, she explores the complex interactions of the human brain with the goal of improving treatment for impulsive and compulsive psychiatric disorders. She is also interested in the neural basis of consciousness and unconscious processes. An avid science communicator, Heather has appeared as a featured scientist on the Discovery Channel’s Superhuman Showdown and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio, while sharing her work with live audiences at local events including the Secret Science Club and Lucid NYC.

4856_789965730189_4898480_nAlexandra Stergiou is a New York-based filmmaker. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, she landed in Brooklyn where she worked at Vice as Associate Producer on the cult TV show, The Vice Guide to Everything. Serving as director and cinematographer on numerous productions, her films have screened across the U.S., being honored by the Columbus International Film and Video Festival (Chris Award for Humanities), New York University’s First Run Film Festival (Wasserman Finalist, Award for Achievement in Documentary, National Board of Review Student Award Nominee), and the Jesse Thompkins III Foundation (Emerging Storyteller Award).


Many thanks to The West for hosting Film + the Unconscious. Stay tuned for more events from ArtLab: The Series!

Reading Brainbow

Scientists are story tellers. Biographers of the universe’s constituent components. All of our hypotheses // experiments // theories are aimed at painting a cohesive picture of some phenomenon. At going back and further complicating this picture, seeking to reveal all of its inherent nuances and caveats.

[As their name implies] neuroscientists are constantly pursuing the story of the nervous system, seeking to tell the nerve cell’s tale. our body communicates with itself // with others // with the environment around us via an interconnected and [overwhelmingly] complex network of neurons. All the information transfer required for sentient life occurs along these neuronal tracks.

Tamily Weissman

In an effort to understand how our neurons are connected to one another—to map the informational highways that run through our bodies—Harvard’s Dr. Jeff Lichtman and Dr. Joshua Sanes developed The Brainbow. Believe it or not, the vividly colored image above is no Jackson Pollock! Instead, it is actually a photograph of a mouse’s hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for spatial navigation and memory—generated by the brainbow technique. What’s more, if we were to take a snapshot of our own human brains using this same method, it would turn out to look very much like the mouse’s above.

the dentate gyrus - the memory making part of our brains. lichtman + sanes 2007.

the dentate gyrus – the memory making part of our brains. lichtman + sanes 2007.

Just as a monitor uses red // green // blue to produce the myriad of colors we see flashing across our television screens, Dr. Lichtman + Dr. Sanes’s brainbow use orange // green // red // cyan *fluorescent proteins* to produce brilliantly colored images of the brain’s many connections. Its connectome. Each fluorescent protein is coded for by a different gene, with different combinations of these genes expressed in a particular neuron to label the neuronal cell any one of roughly one hundred [!] different colors.

These distinct hues can be detected and traced by a computer so that we may follow a given neuron down its individual color-paved path. By chasing the brainbow, we have the potential to follow this cell as it develops over time. We can track what other cells this neuron talks to. we can observe how different stimuli modulate this cell’s behavior. We can better understand how this cell passes along or receives a given biological message.

As we zoom out, we can begin to trace the neural circuitry of the brain as a whole. with brainbow technology, neuroscientists are now working to construct three-dimensional models [shown in video below] of all the connections in the brain by stacking together fluorescent images of thin sections of the brain. Compiling these glowing neural snapshots have begun to untangle and illuminate the mysteries behind how we are wired.

Welcome to ArtLab

Oversimplification is the kryptonite of any scientific idea, oftentimes turning pop science into an elaborate game of telephone, carelessly paring away all the nuances and caveats that make the idea so impactful in the first place. The lateralization of the brain, first studied by Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Walcott Sperry in the 1960s, has been perhaps the biggest victim of bastardization by oversimplification.

The left brain//right brain divide has been pigeon-holing folks for decades now, neatly sorting us into the science-oriented versus the artistically-inclined. The rational male versus the emotional female. The *Spocks* versus  the *Kirks*. The practical, ordered, and scientific world is the territory of the left brain, while the imaginative, aesthetic, artistic world is the right brain’s domain…

… The problem with such a black-and-white picture of the brain is that it doesn’t account for all the grey in your grey matter. Sure, neuroscientists agree that the right hemisphere sees the bigger, interconnected picture, and that the left hemisphere picks out details and organizes information to create a sort of rule-bound world. However, regardless of whether math or science or business or literature or philosophy is your jam, you likely rely heavily on both your left and right brain.

As a molecular biologist, I deal almost exclusively in the microscopic, “hidden” world. The world that belongs to the right side of my brain. Of course I spend most of my days making observations, honing in on details and organizing them in my lab notebook searching for patterns in the data. But, what I depend on while devising my experiments and what I rely on while telling the story of these microscopic molecules is all the right-brain power I can muster.

Scientists are in constant search of patterns inherent not just in the data in front of us, but patterns that can be applied broadly to the natural world. We consider the information gathered from the observable world, and extrapolate it to a model through right-brained induction. More importantly, we must be able to weigh the evidence and see what fits into our existing models and what doesn’t, which is a task our think-inside-the-box, rule-bound left brains cannot do. If not for our right brains, we may to this day still believe that the sun rotates around the earth! We may never have transitioned from Newton’s laws of physics to the law of relativity!

Likewise, artists cannot operate solely with their right hemispheres. Sure our right brains give us a whole sensual picture of the world. And maybe artists are slightly better in touch with their right brains compared to their scientific/mathematical counterpoints. But the fact remains that artists depend on their left brains for the detail, the focusing, the ability to convey meaning through language be it written or musical or moving.

The left brain is what allows the photographer to hone in on one a particular moment in time that is relevant or impactful or just downright gorgeous. The left brain is what releases all the insight and emotion and imagery floating around in the writer’s right brain onto the page through language. The left brain is what gives the painter the ability to capture the details of her subject to get the shading just so.

With all this said, something I have been struggling to grasp for quite some time now is why it is that so many scientists and so many artists feel that we belong to two separate worlds? It’s obviously not so simple as “well scientists and artists exist in two fundamentally different brain spaces” because they don’t. Some of the most creative people I’ve met are scientists and some of the most methodical people i’ve met would count themselves artists. We even deal in the same mediums. Open any scientific journal and you’ll see some of the most stunning images you’ve ever seen. Scientists deal in movies, images, color, sound… We all speak the same language, so why aren’t we talking? I have started this blog as a dare to myself to step outside the Ivory Tower and actually venture to talk about what it is we do up here using the language of art. The language of the so-called right brain.

Welcome to ArtLab.

* Photo taken from Iain McGilchrist’s TED talk “The Divided Brain”