SfN18 Celebrates Brain Awareness

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With this year’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting now in full swing, downtown San Diego couldn’t be more bustling. Everywhere you turn, street signs, store windows, and flyers read “Neuroscience 2018” to encourage visitors to check out at least one of the many events happening at the San Diego Convention Center.

Helping to kick off the meeting on Saturday was the Brain Awareness Campaign reception and poster presentation. Alongside the reception stage, shared by numerous Brain Awareness Week “influencers,” were aisles lined with more than 40 colorful poster boards created largely by neuroscientists at various stages of their careers to showcase their neuroscience outreach initiatives.

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The Science of Music: A Talk with Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D.

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Image: Shutterstock

Why do humans listen to music? Why do we create it? And what does our taste in music say about us as individuals? These were some of the questions that Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D, set out to address in his talk at an event titled, The Science of Music. Hosted by Think & Drink NYC, this talk was part of an ongoing series organized by the cultural initiative to bring experts in their fields to local bars in hopes of stimulating the minds of bar-goers. Responding to thoughts regarding previous studies on music, Wallisch said, “To be honest with you, I don’t think we fully understand what music is.”

Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at New York University, began his lecture by explaining that what differentiates music from sound in general is repetition. “If you ask people,” Wallisch said, “to judge when [a repeating sound] becomes music, there’s a certain repetition frequency in which a random environmental noise becomes music.” For example, as Wallisch explained, water droplets falling are just sounds, but at a certain point of repetition they would be considered musical. He continued by saying that while repetition over time is necessary for something to be considered music, it is not sufficient. “If rhythm is all that matters, then music would be palindromic,” he said, meaning that it would play the same backwards as forwards. Obviously, this is not the case for most, if not all, music.

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Eric Kandel is Alan Alda’s Podcast Guest

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Image courtesy of Alda Communication Training Co.

On the latest episode of the Clear + Vivid podcast, host Alan Alda, well-known actor, writer, and, in recent years, crusader of science outreach, sits down with old friend and Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Eric R. Kandel, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University and author of The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves. Kandel speaks to Alda about his work, the satisfaction of connecting with audiences, and fleeing Austria in the aftermath of its annexation to Nazi Germany.

The podcast focuses on communication and connection. It’s through conversations with individuals holding mastery in various fields that Alda guides the listener, stopping to appreciate peaks and valleys of the art form. In this, Alda and Nobel Laureate Kandel find and sustain a relaxed stride, offering listeners morsels of wisdom: The importance of being mindful of your audience, focusing on one person and changing your approach based on their responses (favorable or not); the role of laughter in forming connections; and the delicate dance of simplifying your ideas to a lay audience without treading on and distorting the science. Continue reading

Sound Health: Shaping Our Children’s Lives Through Music Engagement

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For the second year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts spent a weekend exploring the connections between music, the brain, and humanity. A piece of their ongoing “Sound Health” partnership, the events at the Center this past weekend focused on how important the arts are to children’s development, both experiencing art and practicing and producing it. [See also our report and KC videos from last year’s event.]

The idea partnership came up in conversations between NIH director Francis Collins and renowned soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor Renée Fleming, and they led the chorus of brain experts and musical prodigies starting with a conversation and concert on Friday. Collins also announced a new program that will soon offer $5 million in research grants to study the effects of the arts on the brain, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

All the Saturday events are available as webcasts—including a drumming circle led by Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart! They are all worth a watch or two, with engaging scientists talking interspersed with great musicians performing. Together they add up to more than seven hours, so take your time. Many have small sections where the audience can participate; if you really want to get your rhythm on, jump down to the Interactive Drum Circle recording and have at it for a good 60 minutes.

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Explore “The Senses” Now at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian

A new art exhibit in New York City is taking an innovative approach to how our brains receive and experience sights, sounds, textures, scents, and even taste. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in the city’s Upper East Side is open to the public now through October 28 and is definitely worth a visit, no matter your age or background in science.

At “The Senses: Design Beyond Vision,” visitors are encouraged to take an active role in the various installations that test—and play with—the human body’s five classical senses. From a faux fur-covered wall that responds to touch with orchestral sounds, to wooden chairs that use patterns of vibrations to evoke oddly specific sensations (such as “getting zipped up” or “the needle on a sewing machine”), the multi-sensory experiences achieved by artists reminds guests of the brain’s powerful ability to process information.

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Running your hand along the synthetic fur—or rolling along the wall with your whole body—creates melodies by stringed instruments. The Tactile Orchestra, created by Studio Roos Meerman and KunstLAB Arnhem. Photo: Scott Rudd

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