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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Your Brain on Art

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Today's Sunday Morning at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities discusses a research program article from the University of Houston titled:

Your Brain on Art: The Emerging Science of Neuroaesthetics Probes What Art Does to Our Brains.

Neuroaesthetics received its formal definition in 2002, as the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art. 

So it seems just a bit unusual for Houston to identify neuroaesthetics as an emerging science, which unfortunately discounts the tremendous contributions of University College of London's Semir Zeki, as well as the work of V. S. Ramachandran, the director of the Center of Brain and Cognition at University of California-San Diego, and the University of Pennsylvania's Anjan Chatterjee, MD, Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital, as well as the author of a personal favorite titled The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art.

"These scientists over the past two decades have proven they are responsible for the founding domain of neuroaesthetics, which has been a discipline of cognitive neuroscience since the 1990s," according to an esteemed Biosyntrx board member Vincent DeLuise, MD.

Art has emerged from the human brain for tens of thousands of years, and every human culture has made art. Academics have been using modern science brain imaging tools to study how art affects the brain for a number of years, which was previously considered the domain of the heart. Creativity transporting effects are proving to start in the brain. and the good news is that most humans are hardwired to appreciate the beauty inherent in the arts.  


For those of you whose after-dinner friendly debates might include discussions on scientism (the view that only scientific methodology research claims are meaningful), it's important to understand that scientism also includes the humanities, the social sciences, art historians, artists, psychologists, and philosophers, which have sadly all been impacted by sweeping government budget cuts that seriously affect intellectual thought and civilized forward movement for this and future generations.  

Hopefully, the University of Houston's goal is not to academically dissect the arts, but to continue to observe creative processes and what art actually does to positively shape the brain.

In our opinion, this may finally prove that science is also an art form and that art creation and appreciation is epigenetically based in the cellular science of the eyes, the ears, the heart, and the brain. 

According to  University of Houston Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, "the more we understand the way the brain responds to the arts we create, and the arts we are exposed to, the better we can understand ourselves."  

His research suggests that brains stimulated by arts, such as dance, theater, and music, are proving to affect our desire to experience intense emotions together in a group as a form of social cohesion. Interestingly, his research also suggests most film can trigger a neural rush. 

So far, the Texas project has also recorded electrical signals in the brains of 450 individuals as they engaged with the exciting work of Sculptor of Memory artist Dario Robleto in a Houston public art installation.

Robleto, a famous conceptual human-condition transdisciplinary artist, materialist poet, and citizen-scientist, is famous for spinning and shaping unconventional materials, from old boots, to dinosaur fossils, to pulverized vintage records, to stretched audiotape recordings of Sylvia Plath into poetic meditations on love, war, and healing.  

Contreras-Vidal's 450 person brain imaging suggests deeper viewer understanding of Robleto's work, which clearly represents observant eyes, brain, and human heart's domain during the artist's creation, as well as the viewers reaction during the research experiment. 

For now, it seems that neuroaesthetics continue to primarily be discussed in academic settings, and some feel that the discipline could be in competition with philosophies classically concerned with aesthetics, though the two endeavors seem brilliantly complementary in our minds. 

Hopefully, serious scientific curiosity about the oldest and most universal of human activities might provide justification in a different administration, for refunding and providing public support for generous production of important public art that stimulates and supports a socially cohesive society that works toward the well- being of all its members.  

Have a thoughtful Sunday.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff