Neuroscience and Society: Creativity, Genius and the Brain

Photo: spiral galaxy (08/14/13). Credit: NASA/ESO/VLT

Photo: spiral galaxy (08/14/13). Credit: NASA/ESO/VLT

From William Morgan’s sudden insight while staring at the stars that our galaxy must have a spiral shape to Leonardo da Vinci’s deep reimagining of the subject of “The Last Supper,”  stories describing “Aha!” moments and acts of genius can awe and inspire. What do scientists know about the minds of geniuses? Can they tell us anything about creativity, perhaps offer some sort of practice to help the rest of us extend our own creative wings?

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment

“Prison should not actually do things that are knowingly going to make people worse,” replied Hank Greely when asked about the ethical issues of solitary confinement. Greely, who is director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University, pointed out that the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population. “So in that sense,” he quipped, “we’re number one!” Sitting alongside a panel of experts, Greely was one of three speakers to open up the discussion of mental health and safety for prison inmates at the annual International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting.

From left to right: Hank Greely, Alan Leshner, James Blair, James Giordano. Photo credit: Gillian Hue

From left to right: Hank Greely, Alan Leshner, James Blair, James Giordano. Photo credit: Gillian Hue

The panel addressed prison system policy in the U.S., as well as the world’s growing mental health crisis. Alan Leshner, chief executive officer emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a Dana Alliance member, introduced the topic as a “criminal-justice issue, a human-rights issue, and a neuroethics issue of the highest order.” The prevalence of mental illness in criminal justice is tremendous, he added, and rhetorically asked if it can be seen as a direct consequence of incarceration.

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Scientists Weigh in on Special Needs Learning

“Allowing children to fail, to think they’re ‘dumb,’ is no longer acceptable,” said Dana Alliance member Sally Shaywitz at a recent Capitol Hill briefing on what neuroscience can tell us about educating special needs children.

Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, joined fellow panelists Dana Alliance member Martha Denckla and Damien Fair for a discussion that addressed the importance and the difficulty of early detection of learning disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

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Mental Illness Across the Ages

Despite some recent improvements, the chance that children or adults in America will get care for their mental illnesses is still critically low.


Nelson Freimer

While around 42 million adults in the US have a mental illness each year, “less than 40 percent of all adults who have mental illness got any treatment at all last year,” said psychiatrist Nelson Freimer during a panel discussion on mental illness across the lifespan at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. Freimer, director of the UCLA Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics, also warns of “an epidemic of depression” among people just entering adulthood now, more than in previous generations.

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The Science of Educating Special Needs Children

A Public Luncheon Briefing
Hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Through the Support of the Dana Foundation

In Conjunction with Rep. Chaka Fattah

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
12:00-1:30 p.m.
B369 Rayburn House Office Building
Lunch Provided

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