Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week 4: Neuroscience + Art

The human brain has always struck me as an organ of true beauty. In this week’s lecture, Professor Vesna focused on Ramon y Cajal, who contributed greatly towards our understanding of brain anatomy and neurons. During his research of neurons, he made a lot of original slides and drawing of various neurons that has great scientific as well as artistic values. 

Cajal's drawing of a retinal neuron

Since the brain is so integral to our existence and yet its structure so complex, the representation of the brain has sparked the creativity of both scientists and artists. In April 2016, a unique representation of the brain made it to the cover of Nature. The cover belonged to a research project that mapped out a “brain dictionary”. The project used fMRI to show the organization of the semantic system which represents the meaning of language in the brain. 

The issue of Nature covering the research of a brain "dictionary"

Artists have different opinions on the visualization of the brain. Suzanne Anker’s work “MRI butterfly” uses fMRI scans superimposed with butterfly to create an optical illusion. The brain can capture the attention of both artists and scientists because it “reveal aspects of our individuality”, according to the article “Neuroculture”. It is fascinating how one single structure makes us so different from everyone else, just like how the MRI scans make the identical butterfly look somehow different from each other. 

Professor Vesna also focused on the topic of drugs. The mind altering effects of drugs like LSD has often become a source of inspiration for artists. It was believed by some people that famous children’s tale “Alice in Wonderland” could be created by the author Lewis Carroll under the influence of drugs. Although it is just a rumor, the claim is not based on nothing. In the book, the protagonist Alice undergoes a series of bazaar experiences like becoming larger or smaller after drinking potions and eating “magic” mushrooms, and encountering a smoking caterpillar. It is definitely true that the state of the mind affects art creation greatly. 
Fan art of what Alice in Wonderland looks like under the influence of drugs

1. Huth, Alexander G., Wendy A. De Heer, Thomas L. Griffiths, Frédéric E. Theunissen, and Jack L. Gallant. "Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps That Tile Human Cerebral Cortex." Nature 532.7600 (2016): 453-58. Web.
2. Frazzetto, Giovanni, and Suzanne Anker. "Neuroculture." Nature Reviews Neuroscience Nat Rev Neurosci 10.11 (2009): 815-21. Web.
3. "Is Alice in Wonderland Really about Drugs?" BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016. <>
4. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience + Art- Lectures part I." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
5. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience + Art- Lectures part III." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.

"Drawing of a Retinal Neuron by Ramón Y Cajal." Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
2. "Volume 532 Number 7600." Nature Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
3. "Alice in Wonderland." Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016. <>

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