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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Exploring the Geography of the Brain

Early world explorers worked with crude maps, painfully charting the geography of new locations for future generations. Today, anyone can log on to the internet for detailed descriptions of the countries, cities, and roads of our world. In comparison, the map of the brain still has a long way to go. In fact, a map of the brain made over 100 years ago is still being used by neuroscientists today.

Cartographers of the Brain: Mapping the Connectome,” a discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City, focused on efforts by neuroscientists to create new, more detailed maps of the brain. Deanna Barch, Washington University School of Medicine; Nim Tottenham, Columbia University; Dana Alliance member Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University; and Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Washington University, formed the expert panel.

wsf_connectome

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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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Matters of Life and Death

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What if life expectancy expanded and we could live into our nineties and beyond in relative good health? That was one of the crucial questions debated in “Engineering Immortality,” a panel discussion at last week’s World Science Festival in New York City.

In introducing the sold-out program at NYU’s Global Center, host and ABC-TV news correspondent Bill Blakemore pointed out that American life expectancy has gone from 47 to 79 years in just a century. “Today’s scientists are growing hearts in the lab, creating organs with 3-D bio-printers, and eliminating cells that shorten life,” he said. “Will this new technology yield another dramatic increase in life expectancy?”

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Brain Awareness Week 2017 in Photos

Iran

A lecture demonstrating stereotaxic surgery on a rat, organized by Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in Iran.

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) has come and gone and now is the time to reflect on the success and reach of BAW partners’ efforts. Impressively, there are more than 800 events on the BAW Calendar of Events! Perhaps the best way to see the success of the campaign is to check out the BAW Photo Gallery.

Virginia

Minds games at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Brain School.

The photo gallery reflects the international nature of BAW, a global campaign with more than half of the events during the week occurring outside the US. From Germany to Australia, Brazil to Nigeria, Canada to Spain, partners coordinated events from all reaches of the globe. For BAW 2017, there were events in 40 countries and 46 US states!

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