Etikettarkiv: fMRI

Scanning for Picasso, Dalí Found in fMRI Study

Neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani have in a small-scale study scanned a dozen students watching images by Picasso and Dalí trying to find patterns in their brain activity. Through the findings they purport that scientists will be able to read your mind when it comes to the exacts neural differences between artworks by different artistic hands. New Scientist reports.

The study was conducted at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan where the team showed 12 students images of Picasso and Dalí while scanning their brains using functional MRI. A computer program then identified patterns in activity that were supposed to be unique for each of the two artists. But the program ”merely” completed about 80% of the guessing game, a bit more than just guessing.

Crucifixion (Hypercubic Body) by Salvador Dalí

The most interesting finding was that to identify the artists, the computer program relied on activity in multiple brain regions, not just the visual ones. But, we must be very wary to make statements about how the brain process styles, since this is not just biochemically given, it is also a matter of training the brain to see and identify images off multiple sorts.

Studies conducted on chess players find that a trained eye can remember and identify a given set of chess pieces but only if it correlates with a known scenario within the game of chess. A control group then has much harder remembering any such scenario, random or not.  So memory and constructed patterns in our minds can surely play a vital role for how these relults play out. I would advise mr Kamitani to continue the interesting research but extending it to art students and artists alike.

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Neuromusic and the autonomy of artists

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The brain could have a center for subdivision of artistic autonomy and social code, according to deafness researchers Charles J. Limb and Allen R. Braun in an article on Plos ONE. Sounds explosive, of course, which research on these complex issues always does when it is simplified in catchy terms. The writers argue that there was extensive de-activation in the frontal cortex as well as in those areas of the brain that are thought to regulate emotions when they fMRI:ed Jazz pianists while improvising. Limb and Braun write that the frontal areas that were de-activated in their study are believed to be important for the conscious monitoring, evaluation and correction of behaviour. One of the de-activated prefrontal regions may be involved in assessing whether behavior conform to social demands, exerting inhibitory control over inappropriate or maladaptive performance. Basically they are assessing that, on a neural level, social demands, pressure and various inherent human codes could stagger the performance of the artist, in this case a improvising pianist. But they are stating it while watching the Jazz improvisations, so this is not self-induced, conscious de-activations but strictly neural (neurodarwinian) ones.

It is an interesting piece of research and combined with cultural sociology, philosophy and behavioral economics I think we could get even closer to finding out if and how Politics with a big P (or the ”disruption of the distribution of the sensible” – that which is sensed, thought and felt in the world) shapes and moulds artistic works in a way more subtle than propaganda, cultural policy, economical fluctuations and academic training could formulate.

Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology and neuroaesthetics at University College London, blogs about this article stating: ”It is only when an artist is dis-inhibited that he or she can reach the heights of artistic achievement.”, recalling quotes by Proust and others in a far to simplifying manner. He definitely misses the complex form of today´s aesthetic processes as well as slightly overestimating the significance of only one study on Jazz pianists. A simple counterexample is Swede Måns Wrange, as an example, whose Good Rumour Project has been ongoing in different guises for five years, with avatars in exhibitions, seminars, publications and of course the very complexity of the piece itself which involves the interaction of possible millions of people. When and how you should scan Wrange for potential de-activations in the frontal cortex, I leave to another blog post.

Jazz pianists is the first of step toward an understanding of the creative brain, what we need is researcher and artists alike working in a cross section in order to really grasp complexities in the brain. So, keep up the good work fMRI:ers!

Bytheway: Oliver Sacks has some interesting writings in the neuromusic area as well, check it!

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