Sound Health: Music and the Mind

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Kennedy Center for the Arts have teamed up to explore the connections among music, the brain, and human wellness. The idea for the “Sound Health” partnership came up in conversations between NIH director Francis Collins and renowned soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor Renée Fleming. In March NIH hosted a science workshop, where researchers shared what they know about sound and sense with Fleming and other musicians, scientists, and music therapists. This past weekend, they moved to the Kennedy Center for a shared performance with the National Symphony Orchestra and a day of talk and music-making for the general public.

Bone flute from Geissenklösterle, a cave in Germany. Photo by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez

“Music is a critical part in understanding how the brain works,” Collins said on Friday. It’s likely that early people made music before developing formal language–we’ve found  flutes that are more than 35,000 years old. “It’s critical to understanding” how the oldest circuits in our brains work, and it can add “new and stronger scientific basis” to the range of techniques that music therapists use to help people recover from stroke, trauma, chronic pain, and other maladies.

All the Saturday events except a kids’ movement workshop were recorded; I’m including them here. 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! I’m listing them in the order of the day, but if you want the general overview, skip down to “The Future of Music and the Mind” (but that is the only one without a musical performance).

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World Science Festival: Computational Creativity

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) seems like it’s at an all-time high, with people both wary and intrigued about how machine learning systems will change, and hopefully improve, our lives. Past discussions we’ve covered have delved into the ethical sphere: Can autonomous robots that (currently) lack consciousness and emotions serve us well as future healthcare aides and soldiers? Can robots be moral? But last week’s World Science Festival in New York City looked at a different side of AI, with a panel discussion on “Computational Creativity: The Art of Ingenuity.”

Focused on the creation of art, music, and culinary arts, the panel was tasked with answering such questions as: Can a robot truly imagine an original masterpiece or just replicate known styles? Is computational creativity a collaborator or a competitor?

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Vanishing Perception With Magic

Master magician Prakash Puru took out a silver coin and held it with one hand. He snapped his fingers. In seconds the coin disappeared, only to reappear later by his elbow. Over and over again the coin vanished, much to the delight of a packed audience at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.

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Tony Ro (left) and Prakash Puru (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

Puru was invited to discuss the ways magicians manipulate perception to create illusions with neuroscientist Tony Ro. The Brainwave Series program, “Why Magicians are Master Manipulators,” focused on the neuroscience of perception and how its principles can be used to create magic.

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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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2017 Winners for “Design a Brain Experiment” Competition

The time has finally come to announce this year’s champions of the Dana Foundation’s annual “Design a Brain Experiment” competition, where we asked high school students across the country to try their hand at creating an original science experiment to test theories about the brain. Every year, the competition judges face the challenge of selecting two winners from a tall stack of impressive submissions. However, this year made history with a first-ever tie for our second-place winners!

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Photo courtesy of Medha Palnati

The first place prize of $500 goes to Medha Palnati from Westford Academy in Massachusetts for her impressive submission, “The Use of CRISPR Technology to Test Gene Therapy as a Treatment to Early-Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease in Zebrafish.” Palnati’s proposal explores the potential of using an exciting new experimental form of gene therapy to treat early-onset Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD). FAD is usually caused by an inherited gene mutation and occurs in about five percent of all people with Alzheimer’s disease. Palnati’s research proposal uses zebrafish as a model to test this potential therapy.

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