Archive for the ‘Literature and the Brain’ Category

Neuroscience 2008: Let’s Zero in on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6!

November 26, 2008

The Platform: The Society for Neuroscience: 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: Hey! Do you know the core concepts of neuroscience?

The Big Idea: Teach 8 core concepts of neuroscience and watch for the tranformation of science and culture at large!

transparent_sfnlogo2As previously noted on this blog, The Society for Neuroscience has a noble vision: Identify 8 core neuroscience concepts, teach those concepts (and related principles) to children and teens and imagine a future redefined by a new and inspired league of young brain scientists. “Life should be so good,” as my grandmother use to say.

For neuroscience to compete with the pop wizardry of computer tech, it will take more than mere naming of concepts. I’ll be on the look out for some nifty interactive gizmos and gadgets, the toys and games that drive the concepts home and park them directly in front of the theater of the young mind. Inventors, designers, artists take note!

Since Core Concepts 1, 2, and 3 have been previously noted or inferred in this blog, (for review see below*), I’d like to comment directly on Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6.

Core Concepts 4, 5, and 6 are particularly interesting for those with general interest in brain matters and brain fitness and for those of us who teach or work in creative fields:

4. Life experiences change the nervous system.

5. Life arises as the brain reasons, plans and solves problems.

6. The brain makes it possible to communicate knowledge through language.

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O.K., is it me or do other readers detect the over arching “ratio-empirical” bias to these general concepts? Granted they’ve been conceived by scientists for those studying science. But we’re talking about the whole brain and central nervous system, the brain and spine that keeps our heart and liver pumping, that loves, invents games, pretends, dreams, dances, tells stories in pictures, shares feelings with flowers or with something more gross like dumping garbage in your older brother or boyfriend’s bed! I think what we have here is a conflation of brain and mind, especially, the Enlightenment paradigm for the rational, speaking and writing mind.

Core Concept 5 is a case in point: “Intelligence arise as the brain reasons, plans….” Wait! When did the brain suddenly show itself to be adapted only to analytical practices of difference-detecting leading to logic and planning? What happened to the idea of “multiple intelligence” put forward by Harvard prof. Howard Gardner? What about soma-sensory intelligence? Auditory signals? Visual Icons?images1Granted, one needs to read further to discover that Concept 5 includes human perception in the process of arising intelligence, e.g.: “senses, emotions, instincts and remembered experience” are counted as being relevant for information processing. Even consciousness gets its due: “Consciousness depends on the normal activity of the brain.” Fair enough, especially if one is learning about traumatic brain injury and coma.

Yet for those who read deeply into neuroscience literature and into other cultural models of consciousness, remember Gerald Edelman’s argument for the limits of philosophic debate on consciousness. Seems SfN has transgressed the limits and put the question back on the table.

Concept 4 (Life changes the NS): This concept is easier to digest if only due to the increasing press on neuroplasticity. Here we are taught to recognize the interactivity of nature/nurture, to awaken to the role our own lives play in developing nerve cells, to recognize how we affect the health of cells by way of stress and trauma and how we can generate neural growth through our own efforts. A curious notation: “Neuronal death is a natural part of development and aging.” For the anti-aging activists like Aubrey de Grey, this will surely be contested.

And Concept 6? (Communicating knowlege through language) ….What can I say?

Speaking on behalf of the somanauts, artists and designers I’ve taught for over 15 years, I have to wonder where scientists have been during during the culture and cyber wars of the last century? Were they not told of the departmental battles that dared to push “knowledge” and “language” into the larger domains of cultural “meaning” and “sign systems?” Are they simply unaware of pertinent research conducted in fields that stretch from info technology to cultural anthropology?

Allow me then to urge science and all other educators who plan to use the core concepts and who wish to avoid the built in biases, to write to SfN requesting clarification: http:// http://www.sfn.org

Better yet, form study groups and invite a semiotician, a designer, a choreographer, a cultural ethnographer or an intellectual historian — any one who can offer an expanded view of actual brain/mind function in the world!

Finally, I welcome your thoughts and comments and will gladly refer you to texts and topics that unpack these thorny issues. And Look for my comments in days to come on Core Concepts 7 & 8

I remain synaptically yours,

Dr. G. sending breath your way

* Core Concepts 1, 2, 3 (see blogs Nov 17 and 18)

1. The Brain is the body’s most complex organ.

2. Neurons communicate using electrical and chemical signals.

3. Genetically determined circuits are the foundation of the nervous system.

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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.