Vernon Mountcastle, father of neuroscience died this January at age 96
“Can our brain understand our brain?” is the real question behind this website.
This was the naïve question I asked in my own head as a university sophomore in my Physiology 101 class. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do in my life. But this one question that came during an idle moment, while half listening to the lecture on the nervous system, has remained with me—after years involved in studying art history and design, writing and poetry… everything other than physiology.
The mind-body question had been the province of philosophers up until just recently. It was only in 1969 when the Society for Neuroscience was founded, by Vernon B. Mountcastle (U.S.A. 1918 – 2015) , often called the Jacques Cousteau of the cortex because of his pioneering work. He was the first to demonstrate a through-connect between the action of a single sensory neuron in the skin, its path through the body and brain, and the resulting behavior in the functioning animal: in other words, from sensory reception to motor response. (Why/how artists paint what they paint?) Today with non-invasive techniques like fMRI to record multiple neurons in action, in an aware human and, combined with deep probes into the molecules and organelles inside the single neuron, we have gathered much more valuable information about our brain and body.
Mountcastle said: “There is virtually no science that’s not relevant to the study of the brain… It provides the opportunity to understand ourselves, to understand how our brain functions, how we remember, how we generate emotions …”. Yes, today, we also know that visual art is an important perceptual tool to the brain and to understand ourselves—but the story goes back more than one hundred years.
Gestalt psychology which developed in Germany over a century ago was an attempt to scientifically study our perception and it influenced a generation of artists from Kandinsky to Klee to Albers. I am working on a piece about how Gestalt principles may be behind Ellsworth Kelly’s art of flat planes.
And… to remind us that practical utility can come from our perceptual discoveries, the following update is about how wild bats can naturally modulate their bio-sonar beam to better assess the world around them…
UPDATES TO BLOGS POSTS:
Blind Tennis to Dolphin Dance – William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt (Posted 2/16/2014)
5/31/2015 How bats zero in on its prey… Active sensing in SSD can help the blind.
As we can squint our eyes to better zoom in for finer details in our visual field, so can the bats with their bio-sonar echolocation to zero in on smaller objects. They do so (for mouth-emitting bats), by changing their mouth gape to narrow or widen the beam. See report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The knowledge could potentially help us refine our sonar-based SSD (Sensory Substitution Device) for blind people.