Free Public Event on Autism

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Autism is a mysterious and puzzling disorder. In 1943, American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner first published a paper describing 11 children who were highly intelligent but displayed “a powerful desire for aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.” He called this condition “early infantile autism.” Prior to that time, people with autism were simply called insane. Autism is now officially known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and, while there is a wide variation in the nature and severity of its signs, people with ASD typically have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. 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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A Guide to Pursuing a Neuroscience Career

The Dana Foundation promotes a lot of resources designed for young students in hopes of inspiring them to want to learn more about the brain as they move up the ranks of grade school. But what if you’ve already been inspired and are now looking for practical ways to prepare for a neuroscience career? While there is certainly no “one way” to achieve this, we want to share a few resources that can help point you in the right direction.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) recently published an article on BrainFacts.org (a great resource in itself) with tips for students on how to jumpstart a career in neuroscience. Here are just a few points mentioned:

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Extraordinary Show on Consciousness Extended

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Baba Brinkman with his wife Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

At $5 a ticket, theater lovers can experience the steal of the century at the SoHo Playhouse through mid-August. Baba Brinkman is starting a new run of his one-man, interactive show, “Rap Guide to Consciousness.” “We’ve had good crowds the last couple of days, and I’m excited to be doing the show again,” says Brinkman. “There’s also a new discount site that lets you book a ticket for $5 and then choose whether to pay more after you see it.”

The play fuses hip-hop, humor, and neuroscience together in a 70-minute multimedia presentation that attempts to explain difficult complex topics such as free will, artificial intelligence, the effects of psychedelic drugs, Bayesian probability, the presence or absence of thoughts in infants and animals, and much more. To hear about the origins of Brinkman’s first name Baba, his rapping influences and origins, and the time he and Lin Manuel Miranda were on the street together in Edinburgh Fringe handing out flyers, listen to my podcast with Brinkman.

– Bill Glovin

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