Archive for the ‘Self-assembly’ Category

Neuroscience 2008: The map is the territory…at least for now.

November 17, 2008

The Platform: Neuroscience 2008, Washington D.C., Convention Center, Day 2

The Twitter: Systems analysis comes to Neuroscience!

The Big Idea: Brain Maps and Brain Circuits Open the Doors to Studies in Neuroplasticity!

If there is a primary metaphor, a picture which best communicates the paradigm shift in neuroscience, it is the image of “mapping.” Makes sense, right? Maps, as we all know, hail back to some of the earliest days of navigational science, when cartography was as much a visual art as an artifact of empirical science.

old_world_map_21

Today, mapping along with circuits, networks, and other info-tech terms have entered the lexicon of neuroscientific thinking — and to that end, has in part redefined how neuroscientists study the neurogenetic and neurochemical operations of the brain. No doubt, the cyberpunks and digerati reading this blog do so in complete and utter wonder. Yes, it seems a collective head scratching is in order when putting the neuroscience paradigm shift in context to the cybernetic revolution named nearly sixty or so years prior. Then again, as historian Thomas Kuhn reminds us, glacial is the speed of great scientific revolutions.

sfnphoto2Surveying the mob scene at Neuroscience 2008 and listening to some of the symposia lectures, I suspect the shift has come with a generation of researchers who grew up on Atari and first generation X Boxes, who have played with “code” on Second Life, or who have picked up a thing or two from grad students who majored in 3-D modeling before they decided to switch to neuroscience. It might also be the case that the cognitive systems science work of Maturana and Varela, the Neural Darwinist writings of Gerald Edelman and new biotech imaging tools have made their way into labs throughout the world. These are questions I will pose to the scientists and doctoral students during the next two days.

In the meantime, under the clear, shining light of brain circuit mapping, “epigenetics” and “neuroplasticity” have taken center stage in neurodevelopmental and neurochemical studies. There were some like Zack Lynch of NIO* who questioned a round table discussion of NIH directors regarding the future of government funding to these studies. Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIH Drug Abuse program was one who offered a particularly optimistic view stating, ‘Epigenetic evidence opens the doors to future studies in neuroplasticity’ — studies that can unlock the mysteries of how human experience actually modifies and shapes the genetic markers of brain development.

Yes, gang, it’s “the brain creates culture, culture creates the brain” argument rethought in neurogenetic and neurochemical terms. Seems we are back to talking about nature/nature once more.

I leave with one thought on brain mapping, rethinking the words of American philosopher Josiah Royce who is quoted as saying, “The map is not the territory.”

Well, at Neuroscience 2008, the map is the territory, at least for now.

From D.C. this is Dr. G, wish you good neural networking!

*Neurotechnology Industry Organization

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TED Day 3: Recap II: What Stirs Us? Design and Imagine from the Inside Out!

March 3, 2008

For the somanauts, artists and designers logging onto this blog…

There has been much to celebrate and feel inspired by in the way of visionary ideas presented at TED and for thus of us in the arts and design, two of the best speakers on beauty and creativity gave us ever more reason to remember to create from the “inside out.” Especially after witnessing the tired march of patriarch genius artists led by (now former) Guggenheim Museum director Thomas Krens, it was a relief to hear Yves Behar and Amy Tan each speak on what sparks their idiosyncratic lives. I for one felt both Behar and Tan spoke for all artists and inventors, men AND women who can testify to the deep aesthetic satisfaction one receives by drawing from one’s own wellspring of curiosity and confusion with life on Planet Earth. Clearly these two artists understand what it means to rescue ideas and feelings from places deep inside the cells, tissues and neural connections of their body/minds.

Yves Behar, designer, TED 2008: How do we create?

For Behar and Tan, maybe it was the gift of learning how to connect the past to the present, of growing up in homes with utterly different values and aesthetics than those representing a normative, American mainstream habitat filled with emotional repression and bland, lifeless decor. Behar spoke about the childhood influence of a home made beautiful with Turkish furniture and carpets. He pointed to his playful inspection of animals, battle and love scenes that wove tales of conquest and delight. Tan, with tongue planted playfully in cheek, used quantum mechanics theory to discuss her creative process (a riff on the particle physics presentations that had been given on days prior). Pointing to neurotic family influence as one plausible theory for her literary search for “dark matter,” Tan named her narrative process as one that starts with the search for personal meaning.

Amy Tan, author, TED 2008 Day 3: How Do We Create

How refreshing it was to hear two world-class “imagineers” admit to the stuff that is often at the heart of the creative process, despite what young grad students studying po—mo, lit.crit might tell you. Sure, these two have received enough professional recognition to insure the safety of their confessions. But to speak to the importance of placing ones own values into a work of art to touch the user – that takes a perspective large enough to encompass more than one’s own narcissistic point of view. To paraphrase Behar, ‘it’s not just the value of the object that matters, it’s the values you put into the object, of designing the whole experience from the inside out.” Those of us at TED are now lucky to be touched by Behar’s vision. Look for a TEDster sporting Behar’s latest design for Jawbone – a sleek, luminescent Bluetooth prosthetic that will be the envy of every jewelry designer on the block!

Robert Lang, Origami Theorist and Artist

And speaking of creating from the inside out, origami strategist Robert Lang took the art of folding paper to a new level of high math requiring the smarts of a system’s analyst to figure out the self-assembly algorithms of the folds. Model builders rejoice! (or beware!)

May the Breath Be With You!

M. A. from L. A. a.k.a. Dr. G. blogging on TED 2008

TED Day 2: How to Create and Destroy Planet Earth in One Easy Lesson

February 29, 2008

Garrett Lisi, Physicist TED2008 Day 2: Is Beauty TruthIt’s been a long, challenging day at TED — one that followed from the euphoria of the greatly anticipated opening. By challenge I mean that by posing the Big Questions concerning life on Planet Earth (and beyond), TEDsters in Monterey and Aspen were asked to consider the full, complex span of biotech probabilities that point to some of greatest achievements acribed to the human race: Craig Venter’s newest venture in synthetic probability, Cal Tech’s Paul Rothemund’s study of self-assembly approaches to molecular computation and Garrett Lisi’s aesthetic “theory of everything” that may open the doors to seeing more fundamental particles of life. Surely the stunning insights allowed by computation in all three ventures are matched in turn by dark, hellish views of biotech abuse. The afternoon focused on that abuse, drawing speakers into a response to the question “Will Evil Prevail?” (see TED conference list of talks).Philip Zimbardo, Social Psychologist, TED 2008, Day 2: Will Evil Prevail?

There was a self styled pragmatism that over-ruled conceptual analysis in these talks, leading speakers like Irwin Redlener to offer brief historical overviews and a recipe for surviving nuclear attacks. Phil Zimbardo’s analysis of “evil” or what he calls “the Lucifer effect” however managed to penetrate the social theories of evil, demonstating with photos from Abu Ghraib, the line “normal” people cross to commit crimes of power and sadism when pushed into high stress states.

Somewhere between complex systems analysis of synethic life and stats on nuclear war heads, we entertained the “innate” power and truth of “beauty.” For those of us engaged in the professional practice of art and art criticism, the discussions were philosphically thin (not an unfair comment given the session was reaching back into Platonic questions). They were also diasppointing, especially Thomas Kren’s patriarchal parade of artistic genius (with one mention only of a female, Vanessa Beecroft) and his survey of Guggenheim spawns. Where Krens argued the Guggenheim sought to demonstrate a new paradigm of a museum, it seems his global outreach to Singapore, Taichung, and Abu Dhabi looked more like a 21st century viral expression of an old model of public exhibition space: the Kunsthalle.

More tomorrow on the prize winners and Day 3