Archive for the ‘Art and the Brain’ Category

The New Brain Ecology: Connecting Brains, Bodies, and Minds!

December 29, 2008

The Platform: The New Brain Ecology:  Connect Body, Brain and Mind!

The Twitter: SpaceSuit Yoga.com is migrating to another blogisphere!

The Big Idea:  Create a trustworthy go-to space where cogent commentary and top quality coaching take brain, body and mind fitness to the next level!


The new year is almost upon us and with that, SpaceSuitYoga will soon be migrating to the newly renovated, bodiesinspace.com.

Bodiesinspace.com  is being designed to help you navigate the complex world of neuroscience, neuro-plasticity,  brain fitness and brain injury  interconnected with the health of the body and mind.   Look for our special reports by the Virtual Visionary Tobey Crockett illuminating  indigenous perspectives on aging along with SpaceSuit Yoga  and guest contributer columns on mediation practice and art for the brain.   Prepare to applaud the winners of the 1st Bodinesinspace award for brilliance in social entrepreneurship and design!  And check out our new coaching  and teleseminar programs specializing in collaborative partnering in managing  health,  creativity practices and best strategies for performance!

Finally, come 2009, you’ll be able to surf through text, image and podcasts on the new interactive zine site!

So somanauts and neuroleaders, suit up, prep your multi-sensory antennae and  get ready to map out

BETTER BRAINS

AGELESS BODIES

SPACIOUS MINDS

In the meantime, remember to “Plug In.”  Host a Brain Awareness Week on Facebook, on your site, at  your school, in your health center, place of worship or  office. 

 

brainawareweek

 

Wishing everyone a healthy new year, one marked by vision, imagination,  integrity and insight!

Dr. M. A. Greenstein a.k.a. Dr. G.

The George Greenstein Institute, creating a sustainable future by coaching bodies, brains and minds!

Visual meditation is great for brain/mind training!

December 14, 2008

Welcome back to the discussion on visual meditation and mandalas!

Within major wisdom traditions of meditation, be they spiritual, religious or scientific brain and health training programs, there is typically the path of education or entrainment. Meditation or mental practice, after all, is not the default mode of a mature human central nervous system that is wired for turbo”different detecting” in space/time! Remember, difference detecting is that old survival mechanism that helps all mammals determine: Will that eat me or will I eat that? Is it safe to sleep here or is it not? And now in our modern jungle version where we communicate and travel at the speed of light, our human brains and central nervous systems race faster and faster to keep up with the deluge of information, images, and experiences we encounter day after day!

It makes sense that in response to or retreat from cultures drunk on speed, we would turn to “best practices” of earlier times, namely the ancient art and science of meditation, to help us slow down, to assist us in creating equilibrium in our bodies and in our lives. The good news is that at the dawn of the 21st century, meditation traditions practiced around the globe are finding their way into translation in order to prevent suffering and benefit all humankind. A grand project indeed!

So how does visual meditation figure into all of the hoopla about meditation as being great for creating inner peace. lowering stress and brain training?

Drawing upon both Buddhist and Hatha Yogic traditions, we find two key lessons to enable the learner: Turning Inward and Consciousness of Abstracting.

Turning inward allows us to find the most important radar signaling systems of the human body: Breathing and Paying Attention, both made possible by a “conscious” brain. [I’m using the term “conscious” in the here and now, scientific sense of brain activation.]

Paying attention enables us to “consciously abstract” or selectively focus upon a sign, an feeling, a sensation, a process of movement out of all that we might experience at any given moment.

Now, suggesting that someone turn inward seems to be completely counter intuitive to surviving in a culture that demands external focus for reading signs for survival! In gung ho American culture, think of the mockery we make of the quiet, reflective types — the teen who hides in in fantasy novels, the poet who sits and reflects on life, the college student who prefers to study Art, Sufi Dancing or Zen practice rather than ice hockey!

The irony of course is that in today’s sports training, “turning in” is one of the key training tools of Olympic training practice! (Think of Michael Phelp’s incredible ability to turn inward and “focus.”!!!). So turning inward, drawing one’s attention away from the noise of the outside world and turning it toward the space of one’s own inner life is a key step of Hatha Yoga, Zen, T.M. and Vipassana or Mindfulness traditions.

You might be saying at this point, “O.K., turn inward. And consciousness of what? How exactly do I use a visual image placed outside my own body?

Good question: Here’s the neuro-scoop and poop on using visual mandalas: (more…)

KODAK SNAPSHOT: JAPANESE SCIENTISTS RECONSTRUCT IMAGES FROM BRAIN ACTIVITY!

December 12, 2008

Talk about about visual meditation!

Check out Pink Tentacles’s synoposis of ground breaking work in the neuroscience of visual perception: Visual Image Reconstruction based on Brain Activity!!!!!

http://www.pinktentacle.com/2008/12/scientists-extract-images-directly-from-brain/

The original article can be found in NEURON Volume 60, Issue 5, Pages 731-940 (10 December 2008)

Title: “Visual Image Reconstruction from Human Brain Activity using a Combination of Multiscale Local Image Decoders”

Authors: Researchers from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories

Meditation, Mandalas and the Brain

December 9, 2008

Greetings readers, a follow up on questions concerning choosing a visual meditation practice:

First a few words about the practice itself:

With respect to stress reduction and the desire to create a sense of inner well being, visual meditations may be ideal for

a) Those who find deep appreciation and calm in viewing visual art; and

b) Those who find the visual complexity of a mandala, the perfect sensory road to travel on in the quest for time/space centering of one’s “self.”

Put in everyday (well sorta) terms, visual meditations call on rehearsed neural circuits that enable the human brain to “pattern recognize” in ways that stretch beyond ordinary looking and seeing. Pattern recognition, after all, is basic to the acts of looking and seeing.   As the great anthropologist and cognitive theorist Gregory Bateson pointed out, “pattern recognition” is that which binds mind to life. Or as AI theorist Ray Kurzweil maintains, pattern recognition constitutes the first sign of biological intelligence (something that can be shared with non-biological intelligence, presuming we program the “thing,”).  Following this line of thinking, rehearsed pattern recognition creates the neurochemical connections necessary for the production of  new “brain maps” —  neural networks that correlate with learning and memory retention.

Practice, in other words, creates greater synaptic connections in our brains that form and correlate with sense perceptions, images, ideas, feelings and intuitions. With respect to using visual meditation as a way to reduce stress, some evidence suggests the less complex visual image, the easier it is to perceive and focus attention upon.  Let’s take. for instance, the act of attending to a single image like this week’s Hubble Telescope shot of a globular cluster of stars in the Northern Sky!

hubble

Northern Sky, Globular Cluster M13 captured by the Hubble Telescope

If you’re prone to nature mysticism (C.F. William James), then you might first sense the awesome beauty of the cosmic start system. If you’re given to the metaphysics of geometry, you might pause on the elegance symbology of a cosmic circle. But if you’re interested in using the image of a cosmic star system to train your attention toward calmness and stability, then I suggest bringing along with visual attention, your sensory awareness of ordinary breathing. As one learns from the ancient Buddhist practice of mandala gazing, its the repeated experiential pairing of “looking” and “breathing” that helps one move from image perception and analysis to image experience. Meditative looking, to put it neatly, is embodied.

Today, neuroscientists reporting on perception and cognition, tell us that visual meditation experiences, like all other visual experiences, are synthesized in the visual cortex, related to other areas of the brain, e.g. the somasensory cortex. By adding breathing to the mix, visuality is further grounded in the body of experience.

Or to put it another way,

Bringing the art of breathing to the art of meditative visual image gazing transforms the neuroscience, if you will, of the visual experience.

What then do we make of the complex patterns one finds in Buddhist mandalas or Islamic mosque imagery, such as we find anew on Phil George’s sublime surfboards?

To be continued in my next blog….

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.



Core Neuroscience Concepts 7 & 8: The future is in our hands and brains!

November 27, 2008

The Platform: Society for Neuroscience 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: The Human Brain….it gets curiouser and curiouser!

The Big Idea:  Curiosity is the natural province of the human brain!  

Of the 8 Core Concepts put forward recently by the Society for Neuroscience, Concepts 7 & 8 may be the most important to drive home, not just to kids and teens but to culture changers and thought leaders of any age: What makes these two concepts so special?   Gather for yourself:

7.  The human brain endows us with a natural curiousity to understand how the world works. [Notice it doesn’t say why the world works]

8.  Fundamental discoveries promote healthy living and treatment of disease.

     [http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=core_concepts]

For those of you who worship at the temple of the incurious, I guess you can stop reading here.  But if you stay with me, I bet it’s because you, like many of us, wish curiosity would come back into style, not in the form of paparazzi gossip feeders but more in the way of thirst that drives explorers, artists and scientists to wander this earth, striving to reach new vistas of insight and understanding. Those of you who saw the recent Werner Herzog film Encounters at the end of the World, will have an idea what I mean.  Or check out http://www.stellaraxis.com, a stunning project organized by my dear colleague Lita Albuquerque, who like Herzog, received National Science Foundation grants for art and science expeditions to study the biosphere of Antartica.

By emphasizing curiosity as a given condition of the human brain, SfN sets up the logic for neuroscience itself, that is, to pose questions about the very thing that enables us to be curious, i.e., the brain extended by the nervous system.  In a world suffocating with information overload and in a country like the U.S. that has shown venal scepticism towards scientific endeavors, it’s a rare day that we chance to relish scientific achievement.  Still, leaders of SfN assure us that neuroscience is that field that will astonish us with “unexpected discoveries that can benefit humanity.”

A colleague recently wrote of neuroscience as perhaps, the single most creative field study within his lifetime.  Given my reading and in light of conferences I’ve recently attended, I would have to agree: We are witnessing the rapid emergence of a science that overturns some of the fundamental questions of human physiology, psychology and philosophy while bearing out the truth of others. And with that revolution comes the development of new technologies that allow us to penetrate into the mysteries of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, TBI along with a host of other brain and nervous systems disorders!

Of the many disruptions, one of my favorites is the evidence pointing to the neuroplastic ways in which we ourselves can change our brains and transform stress, injury and unhappiness through daily practice of meditation or focused states of attention.

I will return to these subjects as they are at the heart of my mission in setting up this blog along with a new one that will launch in weeks to come!

Stay tuned and for those in the States, I’d like to dedicate this Thanksgiving holiday to all of the researchers, inventors, intellectuals, artists, coaches and teachers who dare to use their curiosity and encourage others to do so!

Happy Turkey Day!  May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Neuroscience 2008 descends on D.C.!

November 16, 2008

The Platform: NEUROSCIENCE 2008, Convention Center, Washington D.C.

The Twitter: How many neuroscientists does it take to put in a light bulb?

The Big Idea: The future of neuroscience lays in the hands of youth.

Intense? Immersive? An Indeterminate Neural Network? Making it through a crowd of over 30,000 people, and a four day roster that includes symposia, mini symposia, keynote lectures, satellite events and over a 1000 poster and slides sessions, does, as one AI scientist once remarked, separate the human from the robot.

And it is that extraordinary navigational capacity of human intelligence and specifically, the human brain, along with a whole host of questions about the brain that has drawn neuroscientists young and old to the rainy U.S. capital, to share their research, update their brains and discuss the future of advocating brain awareness at NEUROSCIENCE 2008!images-21

With neuroscience becoming the seductive frontier of 21st century biological, medical and cognitive science study, as well as the field of promising and lucrative applied biotechnologies, NEUROSCIENCE 2008 is the brain child of the Society for Neuroscience, a dedicated group of scientists that has grown in membership and in sensibility regarding the role they play in developing allied research, public policy and K-12 education where the brain is concerned.

For the lay public, the hard science description of pain-staking empirical studies is enough to send the unitiated back to talking about Leggos, Pac-Man and 7th grade science fair. Yet as inimitable choreographer Mark Morris was apt to point out to the audience during the opening Keynote discussion, “the problem of talking about what’s going on in the brain, is not mine but yours!”

Mark Morris

Mark Morris

It was rather confirming for yours truly, to find the president of SFN, who researches rhythm, choosing the once bad boy post modern choreographer to open the annual meeting. The brain is, after all, in a body, and from the sessions I attended today, it seems more and more scientists are reading to point to roles experiment and experience play in shaping neural growth and visa versa. And yet, the questions put to Morris suggest that scientists might want to do more dancing or as Morris reminded them, “more skipping,” if they want to study the choreographic corellates in the somasensory cortex. Morris, a performing artist known for his love and sensitivity to the musicality of dancing, and now for his work with Parkinson’s disease, drove home the message of using somatic intelligence: ‘It’s not something that abstact, like thinking, “now this left foot, on this second beat.” It’s more like: “Here… Now.”‘

I must admit, the rudimentary science questions put to Morris pointed up to the old C.P. Snow two culture divide, pitting science and art against each other like political foes. I for one, was rather shocked by the retro p.o.v. pervading much of the scientific thinking, signaling a real gap in the education of scientists regarding the “research” conducted by somanauts like performing artists and athletes. Then again, Morris, the uber cosmopolitan, had no better understanding of the science of brain/mind/body connectivity. Sigh.

a1252_11The afternoon Presidential lecture given by Dr. Allison Doupe offered a different picture of art and science. Doupe gave an exquisite talk on the pattern recognition capacities of songbirds, and posed the question: ‘What can we can we learn about neural basis of “vocal” practices as distinct from performances? How does the nervous system mediate behavior?’

A terrific speaker, poised and passionate, Doupe’s research pointed to several neural circuits that appear to operate in directing the process of learning a new pattern of sound, practicing the new pattern, and performing it to accomplish a “salient” goal, in the case of songbirds, a male finch courting a female.

My favorite Doupe image? The one that showed how courting performance showed little randomness in pattern generation! The take home message? Forget the creativity bud. If ya want the girl, just sing the damn song!

Leaving some of us to ponder the implications of romantic innovation, Doupe’s lecture did reinforce one of the key ideas and metaphors, surfacing in the language of neuroscientists presenting at this conference: the role of pattern recognition and neural mapping in development and learning.

More tomorrow!

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

NappingPods:BrainRestforHighPerformance/Creativity!

October 2, 2008

The Platform: The New Idea Lab: The Urban Pod

The Twitter: Cat Naps are back in!

The Big Idea: Deep rest influences creative synthesis of ideas!

Remember kindergarten “quiet time”? — Those rows of squeaky cots, the whispering, the agony of waiting out time until we could get up to play!? Well leave it to science and inventive high tech ingenuity to tap the wisdom of childhood: Napping Pods!

Today high tech napping pods are on the market. Recently reviewed in Wired Magazine and the subject of Google buzz, these “metro” pods are said to promote brain rest with musical and other aids to encourage a neural shift into “quiet time.”

From the standpoint of neural rest, I love it when science reinforces a childhood and an ancient wisdom, in this case, one that has long been recognized by the creative, the somatic and the psychological communities, namely: Incubation leads to creation! Yes, providing an appropriate break for neural rest during intense think-tanking allows our brain to rest in order to digest the onslaught of ideas, feelings and intuitions. Nap pods, in other words, mimic the “rest and digest” processes of our parasympathetic nervous system – the system that allow our bodies to restore energy that we’ve depleted with activity between meals.

The more we learn about the role of parasympathetic nervous system in brain/mind/body functioning, the more we understand why cognitive scientists would target sleep to understand how the brain replenishes itself during naps. And the more we learn about the role of sleep and neural rest in creativity, the more we can appreciate why artists and writers naturally choose to include aimless doodling into their studio practice or why business coaches and psychotherapists advocate relaxation to counter creative blocks, or why leading yoga teachers insist on incorporating savasana (“corpse pose”) and even yoga nidra (“waking sleep”) into one’s daily yoga practice.

So whether you’re brain-storming a new idea, preparing creative strategies for a race, improving “your game” or opening the channels of artistic practice, consider all of the possibilities, both high and low tech for catching some zzzzzzssss!

For more tips on brain rest, feel free to surf this blog. ***

Here’s to Brain Rest!

Dr. G.

***For corporate or private consults on brain and body wellness and high performance, please write to me through the GGI website or leave a comment below.

Brains Down Under!

August 9, 2008

The Platform: AUSTRALIA, 2008

The Twitter: The Brain Makes Culture; Culture Makes the Brain

The Application:  Art and Design

It’s a rainy afternoon in Melbourne Australia and the subject of the embodied brain finds new avenues of discussion.   I am down under, here to lecture on “neuroaesthetics in art and design” at universities in Sydney and Melbourne, where the question of the ënculturated brain has come to the fore:  Sitting at the Chocolate Buddha Bar, eating yummy gyoza and kingfish sashimi, I had the chance to speak with a couple who took an interest in the idea that art has a direct”, phenomenal impact on the actual neural structure of the brain.  They posed the question:  What affect do different cultural art forms have on the human brain? Or to ask it another way, are Australian or Chinese brains different if they are raised on a different set of visual images?

If anyone was watching the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics, one might be quick to say, the proof is in the pudding! Thousands of years evolution have clearly contributed to the neural networking that produced Chinese trapeze and firework aesthetics!  But does that mean Chinese brains are structurally different than Australian brains?

Neurologists of art and neuro-aesthetes tell us that “the brain makes culture and culture makes the brain. The reciprocal feedback that takes place during the course of an artist’s education is bound to take on both neural and cultural dimensions, especially where values of light, space, color, line, scale  — the fundamentals of visual composition are concerned.  Likewise, the novel human experiences like watching the bedazzling opening Olympic ceremony surely affects the brain, especially if one has never seen Chinese art, Chinese film, Chinese opera, or experienced the thrilling spectacle of fire-works.   Novelty, after all, is a hall-mark motif of those conditions that are ripe for changing brains. (Think of the Anti-Aging Benefits!)  Newness, the “first ëncounter,the stunning effect of unique invention –graps our ear and our eye and most assuredly our brain!

To the extent that neurologists can detect the differents in the ways in which different cultural traditions affect the human brain, is the extent to which we can begin to understand the value of culture and cultural tradition in training the brain.   Let us remember that as humans, we phylogenically share the potential to grow a brain with the same structural and developmental likeness, and with the structural capacity for neuroplasticity.   And as a specie, we have the capacity to grow a neural network that challenges our ethnocentric inclinations and enables us to share language, food,  music, images, sport — and as my  good Ozzie compadre Nick Tsoutas reminds me — love. (If you’re in Sydney, check out Nick’s latest efforts at Casula Powerhouse, entitled “Äustralian”.)“Nike Sawas, “Ätomic full of love, full of wonder”

SPACE SUIT YOGA LATE SUMMER/WINTER Neuroaesthetic TIP:   Seek Novelty! Expand Your Brain!

*Travel down under (or to any “foreign” country for that matter)

*Learn a new language 

*Test out your mind’s eye on a challenging piece of art

*Play Suduko during a 13 hour trip to Oz

*Surf the great oceans of the world!  (For you Ozzies, compare L. A. surf to Sydney Surf;  for all Northern Hemisphere folks, check out the azure blue waters of Bondi!)

 

From Aussieland,  where the most civilized and the most ancient meet ….. may the breath be with you!   And in these days of Olympic contest and glory,  may all brains be inspired to make culture so that culture inspires the growth and well-being of the each and every embodied brain!

Zoom Zooom!

Dr. G. a.k.a. M. A. from L. A.

The Neuroscience Revolution: Neural Buddhism and Proust

May 14, 2008

Well, May has rolled into town. The jacarandas are turning Los Angeles into a “purple haze” and the star jasmine buds send wafting scents of Pacific Rim sweetness into the air.

As seasons change, so does the discussion regarding neuroscience and its far reaching affects visual art, literature and religion. As all of the authors suggest, one gets the feeling that we’re clearly in the midst of revolution, with Frankensteinian fantasies that loom large. For your pleasure and curiosity, an article and books of note:

1. Today the New York Times ran an online article by David Brooks entitled “The Neural Buddhists.” Brooks ponders the limits of a materialist perspective held by 20th century scientists in light of the cognitive, existential and religious implications of neuro-plasticity. His claim? The debate between science and religion is moved into the non-reductivist territory of “neural-mysticism.” (Sadly, here again we see mysticism used as the over-arching frame for Buddhist practice — which by the way is recognized as a religious practice throughout Asian countries.)

See: OPINION | May 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist: The Neural Buddhists
By DAVID BROOKS
The cognitive revolution is not going to undermine faith in God — it’s going to challenge faith in the Bible.

2. Art historian Barbara Marie Stafford has published her thoughts on neuroscience and art history in her latest book ECHO OBJECTS, a frothy, in depth study of art history from a neuro-aesthetic perspective. Stafford, influenced by my colleague Warren Neidich, takes his “brain makes culture, culture makes the brain” thesis and translates its implications into a claim for the reciprocal alignment between neuroscience and the humanities.

3. SEED Magazine editor in chief Jonah Lehrer takes on the art and humanities, especially the “lit crit” crowd in his first book PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST. Lehrer, trained in neuroscience and literature, joins critical thinker Brian Massumi to claim we don’t need to know neuroscience to make or understand the mysteries of art but we sure can learn some fascinating stuff about the brain if we do so! I depart from Leher and Massumi as I’ve found, by sharing neuroscience insights with art students regarding the relations between the visual and soma-sensory cortex), light-bulbs of thinking brighten… and new perspectives about 2-d and 3-d media come about.

The question of how we study neuroscience and to what end remains before us: In an age that celebrates the autodidact and the social networking of learning, surely a little look under the hood of our own “minds” couldn’t hurt.

As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Frankenstein, feel free to enter and teach us what you’ve found!

May the Breath and the Creative Brain be with You!

Dr. G.