sábado, 30 de mayo de 2009

Eye of the Storm

An Arts Catalyst / Tate Britain Conference, in association with Leonardo/Olats

Eye of the Storm
An interdisciplinary conference on scientific controversy
19 / 20 June 2009
Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1, UK

Interested in how artists are responding to today's hot issues in science and society? Join artists, scientists and social scientists at this conference exploring belief and experiment, dissent and discord, big science, high finance,
geopolitics and the legislation of uncertainty around subjects including climate change, biotechnology, genetics and astrophysics. From esoteric arguments over the structure of the universe to highly charged public controversies around the use of stem cells, Eye of the Storm brings together an extraordinary international group of artists whose work playfully and provocatively intervenes in science, scientists at the heart of these controversies, and other experts to spark two days of dynamic conversations about our changing world.

Speakers include artist Eduardo Kac, whose artworks creating transgenic animals have generated controversy since he first persuaded French geneticists to produce a rabbit that glows in the dark, Sheila Jasanoff, one of the major voices in
science and technology studies who has called for a new humility in technology, artist Rod Dickinson whose re-enactments of scientific experiments form part of his
ongoing exploration into the mechanisms underpinning systems of belief and social control, Oron Catts, pioneer in the use of bioscience as a medium for artistic expression, Helen and Newton Mayer Harrison, pioneers of environmental art, who
have worked for over thirty years with biologists, ecologists and urban planners to to uncover ideas and solutions to complex ecological problems, astronomer Roger
Malina who will discuss the current crisis in astronomy with dark energy, and sociologist Harry Collins who for many years has studied the human dynamics of controversies raging between astronomers in the search for gravity waves.

Organised by The Arts Catalyst and Tate Britain, in association with Leonardo/Olats

martes, 26 de mayo de 2009

From Jackson Pollock to John Coltrane — how creativity springs from a choreographed set of mental events.

Creation on Command

What We Know / by Jonah Lehrer / May 6, 2009 /SEED

From Jackson Pollock to John Coltrane — how creativity springs from a choreographed set of mental events.Al Kooper didn’t know what to play. He’d told some half-truths to get into Bob Dylan’s recording session — the musicians were working on some song tentatively titled “Like A Rolling Stone” — and Kooper had been assigned the Hammond organ. There was only one problem: Kooper didn’t play the organ. He was a guitarist.

The first takes were predictably terrible — Kooper was just trying not to get kicked out of the studio. But on take four, he suddenly found his chords. Kooper’s playing was pure improv — “I was like a little kid fumbling in the dark for a light switch,” he would later remember — but he ended up inventing one of the most famous organ riffs in modern music.

There is something profoundly mysterious about this kind of creativity. Kooper didn’t have time to think — the chorus was about to happen — and so he just started banging on the ivory keys. This same impromptu process defines some of the most famous creations of modern art, from John Coltrane letting loose on “A Love Supreme,” to Jackson Pollock dripping paint haphazardly on a canvas. These are works made entirely in the moment — their beauty is spontaneous.

But how does such an act of imagination happen? How does the mind create on command? William James described the creative process as a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.” In the last year, two separate experiments have attempted to see inside the cauldron, to figure out how a loom of electric cells finds the exact right notes on the upright organ.

The first study, led by Charles Limb of the NIH and Johns Hopkins University, examined the brain activity of jazz musicians as they played on a piano. The musicians began with pieces that required no imagination such as the C-major scale and a simple blues tune they’d memorized in advance. But then came the creativity condition: The musicians were told to improvise a new melody as they played alongside a recorded jazz quartet.

While the musicians riffed on the piano, giant magnets whirred overhead monitoring minor shifts in their brain activity. The researchers found that jazz improv relied on a carefully choreographed set of mental events, which allowed the musicians to discover their new melodies. Before a single note was played, the pianists exhibited a “deactivation” of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a brain area associated with planned actions and self-control. In other words, they were inhibiting their inhibitions, which allowed the musicians to create without worrying about what they were creating.

But it’s not enough to just unleash the mind — successful improv requires a very particular kind of expression. That’s why the fMRI machine also recorded a spike in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a fold of frontal lobe just behind the eyes. This area is often linked with self-expression — it lights up, for instance, whenever people tell a story in which they’re the main character. The scientists argue that this part of the brain is required for jazz improv because the musicians are channeling their artistic identity, searching for the notes that best summarize their style. “Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form,” Limb says. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

In the second experiment scientists at Harvard investigated the varieties of musical improvisation. They recruited 12 classically trained pianists and had them spontaneously create both rhythms and melodies. Unlike the Hopkins experiment, which compared brain activity between improv and memorized piano melodies, this brain scanning experiment was primarily designed to compare activity between two different kinds of improv.

As expected, both improv conditions led to a surge in activity in a variety of brain areas, including parts of the premotor cortex and, most intriguingly, the inferior frontal gyrus. The premotor activity is simply an echo of execution — the novel musical patterns, after all, must still be translated by the fingers. The inferior frontal gyrus, however, has primarily been investigated for its role in language — it includes Broca’s area, which is essential for the production of speech. Why, then, is it so active when people create music on the piano? The scientists argue that expert musicians create new melodies by relying on the same mental muscles used to create a sentence; every note is another word.

These two brain-scanning studies provide an elegant view into our seething cauldron. They reveal a brain able to selectively silence that which keeps us silent. And just when we’ve found the courage to create something new, the brain surprises us with an expression of ourselves. We suddenly find our reflection — not in the mirror, or even in our words. It’s in the music.

Iluminar el cerebro con algas

Who would have predicted that researchers who spend their days teasing apart the complexities of the human brain would be indebted to pond scum? In some ways, that day has come: Thanks to light-sensitive proteins from green algae and other microorganisms, neuroscientists can now activate and record brain cells with unprecedented precision.