Discovering the Art of the Brain

New imaging techniques let scientists and doctors see what is going on inside our brains in better detail than ever before. These images help develop a better understanding of the brain and its disorders, but what if we looked at them as art?

In honor of Brain Awareness Week (March 13-19), Mount Sinai’s Friedman Brain Institute opened their 2017 “Art of the Brain” exhibition to celebrate the beauty of the brain. Researchers took on the role of artist and displayed brain-inspired pieces at the Grady Alexis Gallery in New York City.

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Brain tumors by Anthony B. Costa, Ph.D.; Holly Oemke; Leslie Schlachter; Jillian Beroza; and Joshua B. Bederon, M.D.

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SfN Discussion Centers on Youth Football

On an early Sunday afternoon a few blocks away from the Society for Neuroscience Conference at the San Diego Convention Center, sports bars packed with football fans watched their heroes bang heads playing the most popular sport in America. Inside the center, four neuroscientists who specialize in head trauma and a former NFL player talked about the complex issues of concussion and multiple impacts to the brain in football, others sports, military service, and in random accidents.

“Here is an October 9 New York Times article about Jordan Reed, a tight end for the Washington Redskins, who sustained his sixth concussion and pondered whether if and when he should return to the field,” Harry Levin, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor University, enlarged on a screen. “Six is too many, and he ended up missing only two games.”

“Did he have come back too soon?” asked Levin. The answer, to the frustration of athletes, their families, and neuroscientists head trauma researchers is: We really don’t know.

While the roundtable discussion, “Concussion: From the Players’ Experience to the Future of Research,” offered compelling data on the scope of concussion and mild head trauma by gender, age, and circumstance, the speakers emphasized that in light of heightened awareness and the challenges facing researchers about quantifying the dangers, making public policy decisions is purely speculative and premature. [See full video of the discussion, below.]

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Science Meets Art in New Kandel Book

Creativity (2).jpgWe don’t typically think of science and art as rooted in similar methodologies or techniques. Science is considered a strict, fact-based study of the world around us, while art is a no-rules expression of creativity. By thinking of the two disciplines as distinctly different, there has not been much study of their similarities.

Dana Alliance member Eric R. Kandel, M.D., noticed the lack of interdisciplinary study of artistic and scientific methodologies and used it as the foundation for his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. The book examines modern neuroscience alongside modern art, focusing on how both disciplines use reductive techniques. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal about his book, Kandel said:

This is reductionism—to take a complex problem and select a central, but limited, component that you can study in depth. Rothko—only color. And yet the power it conveys is fantastic. Jackson Pollock got rid of all form.

[In neuroscience] you have to look at how behavior is changed by environmental experience…I began to realize we’ve got to find a very simple learning situation…I looked around for an animal that had the kind of [simple] nervous system I would like. Aplysia [has] the largest nerve cells in the animal kingdom.

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Art in the Lab

How do you envision the brain? Do you imagine a blue glowing brain or a brain-shaped computer, which graphic designers love? Or perhaps you think of more technical imagery, such as brain slices or an MRI? While the former are purely artistic and the latter are very scientific, neither group really translates the intricacy of the brain.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Greg Dunn, Ph.D., is trying to bridge the gap between these types of images by illustrating the complexity of the brain through artistic renderings on the cellular level. Dunn received his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania and now focuses on art full-time. On Wednesday, he shared his passion with the public at an Art in the Lab program at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, as part of Brain Awareness Week.

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Genius: Mind, Brain, and Molecules at the 92nd Street Y

What makes someone a genius? According to Nobel Laureate Eric R. Kandel, M.D., it is a person who is a “game-changer” and who “through their work, permanently changed the way we perceive the world.” It is less about IQ and more about “drive, persistence, and creativity.” At the 92nd Street Y’s third annual 7 Days of Genius in Manhattan, four eminent scientists, arguably geniuses themselves, discussed historical geniuses of the mind, brain, and molecules. The three speakers included two members of the Dana Alliance, Larry W. Swanson, Ph.D., and Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D., as well as Robert Michels, M.D. Kandel, also a Dana Alliance member, moderated the event.

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