the age of insight / the summer of perspicacity

“The function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths.”

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“Science may explain aspects of art but it will not replace the inspiration that art evokes…”

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“Viennese life at the turn of the century provided opportunities in salons and coffeehouses for scientists, writers, and artists to come together in an atmosphere that was at once inspiring, optimistic, and politically engaged. …science was no longer the narrow and restrictive province of scientists but had become an integral part of Viennese culture. …a paradigm for how an open dialogue can be achieved.”

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-Eric Kandel, excerpted from The Age of Insight

Portraits of the Natural Brain

Often times, nature imitates itself. A neural structure only micrometers wide mimics shapes of organisms in the wilderness that are perceptible with the naked eye. Conversely, the awe-inspiring mammoth forms found in the wild are evocative of neural patterns a scientist would be interested in studying under a microscope.

The Natural Brain

Center
Neuron – formed from the varied colorings of cracks in ice

Top
Spinal Column – tree trunk
Corpus Callosum – banana leaf’s branching colorations represents fibers emanating from a central midline
Cortical Layers – natural gradient of white sands
Sulci & Gyri – canyon giving way to a river mimics the folding of the cortex

Bottom
Cerebral Aqueduct – waterfall symbolizing cerebrospinal fluid flowing from 3rd ventricle to the spinal cord
Ventricle – geothermal hot springs
Astrocytes – starlike daisies
Dendrite – evergreen overlooking the Continental Divide

[The brain] is not encased in a black box, but a vibrant and active organ whose constituent parts emulate natural forms we see regularly.

in search of memory

“Twenty-first-century culture continues to be significantly influenced by events that took place in [Vienna] during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as each of us continues to be influenced by every experience we have ever had. For human beings, however, ‘influence’ is far to weak a word. We are made of memories. Every moment of our lives brings to a focus the totality of all the moments preceding it.”

St Stephen's Cathedral

“Kandel’s life work has been to demonstrate that memory, learning, and by extension, every other mental process are the result not of some vague set of unexplainable psychic phenomena but rather of distinctive molecular events determined by physicochemical qualities of cellular life.”

Man hiking in Colorado

“Sigmund Freud repeatedly expressed his hope that psychoanalytic theory would one day be subjected to the scrutiny of basic science. There is profound symmetry in the fact that Kandel, another son of Vienna, should have fulfilled so much of that hope… Freud, who began his career as a neuroanatomist studying the structure of cells, made his greatest contributions as a psychoanalyst. Kandel did it the other way around.”

Vienna State Opera House

Excerpted from The Secret Life of the Mind 

our alternate constructs

“Consciousness does not passively represent the external environment and the body; rather, it actively and continuously constructs and revises a model of the body and the external world.”

“Processing limitations constrain the conditions for the construction of momentary consciousness.”

“The brain samples selectively and self-organizes what it will use to construct an immediate reality. Attention is a part of this process, directing the focus of ongoing construction and governing the rate at which the brain either shifts or fixates the reality it constructs.”

Re: Music and Pain — “The brain can modulate the entry of nociceptive signals from tissue trauma in to consciousness.” Pain and cognitive processing has been shown to share the same resources and neural areas — “Increasing the dimensionality of a competing activity [musical monitoring] will increase the cognitive and emotional resources allocated to that activity relative to those allocated to pain.”

Bradshaw et al., Effects of music engagement on responses to painful stimulation

“Are we all just a big bag of voxels?”… constructing reality to our own ends and means?