Neuroaesthetics is a field of experimental science that aims to combine neurological and psychological research with aesthetics by investigating the perception, production, and response to art in the brain. Neuropoetics is the same, but with a focus on a very specific exploration, and definition of poetry. That is an artform referent to language whose primary aim is not necessary communication or information. My work in this field is naturally from the aesthetic end, having no training or even mild expertise in neuroscience or scientific research.
Neuropoetics, like neuroaesthetics in general, is concerned with the human brain and the concept of mind, and its relation to poetic literature. It must begin from shaky footing in both areas, but I have found, concretely, that latter, when discussed and explored, is very often done so by those without expertise or experience in the field. I have tried, in all my projects in this area of exploration, to make the case against complete relativity. We can say what makes a poem, just without absolutes. We can say why one poem might be better than another, just again, without quantitative certainty. The absence of such surety should not remove the necessity of such architecture of thought, most especially when we then are thinking about what the brain is doing when reading, writing, experiencing poetry.
Practically, this has led me to explore improvisation, listening, sound, states of consciousness, cognitive states and neurodiversity. It has simply led me to more questions in my writing and curating. It has led me into the company of some extraordinary experts in the field of neuroscience and psychology, from Daniel Margulies to Arne Dietrich, from Srivas Chennu to Joseph Devlin.
I thought my presence in this field silly initially (still do really) but at one conference on neuroaesthetics I heard of a study, extremely well funded, where a team of neuroscientists endeavoured to put a group of ‘poets’ in an MRI machine to examine brain activity as they wrote and draw conclusions from this. When I asked what kind of poetry they wrote, interested in the role of say, narrative, in their poetics, I was met with an answer which made me realise it might be worth my time discussing my ideas. They told they wrote ‘good’ poetry.
I am not at all interested in quantified view of poetry and art, just fundamental attempts at definitions (which is powerfully different, the latter suggesting in its auspices an inevitable failure), but I am interested in the link between specific brain areas and poetic activity. This can be applied both to the ability to create and interpret literature. A common approach to uncover the neural mechanisms is through the study of individuals, specifically artists, with neural disorders such as savant syndrome or some form of traumatic injury. The analysis of art created by these patients provides valuable insights to the brain areas responsible for capturing the essence of art.
in the idea that that pleasing sensations are derived from the repeated activation of neurons due to primitive visual stimuli such as horizontal and vertical lines. In addition to the generation of theories to explain this, such as Ramachandran's set of laws, it is important to use neuroscience to determine and understand the neurological mechanisms involved.
The link between specific brain areas and artistic activity is of great importance to the field of neuroesthetics. This can be applied both to the ability to create and interpret art. A common approach to uncover the neural mechanisms is through the study of individuals, specifically artists, with neural disorders such as savant syndrome or some form of traumatic injury. The analysis of art created by these patients provides valuable insights to the brain areas responsible for capturing the essence of art.
The aesthetic enjoyment of individuals can be investigated using brain imaging experiments. When subjects are confronted with images of a particular level of aesthetics, the specific brain areas that are activated can be identified. It is argued that the sense of beauty and aesthetic judgment presupposes a change in the activation of the brain's reward system.
A crucial aspect of research lies in whether aesthetic judgment can be thought of as a bottom-up process driven by neural primitives or as a top-down process with high level cognition. Neurologists have had success researching primitives. However, there is a need to define higher level abstract philosophical concepts objectively with neural correlates. It is suggested that aesthetic experience is a function of the interaction between top-down, intentional orientation of attention and the bottom-up perceptual facilitation of image construction. In other words, because untrained persons automatically apply the object-identification habit to viewing artworks, top-down control to reduce this habit may be necessary to engage aesthetic perception. This suggests that artists would show different levels of activation than non-artists.
Aesthetic responses to different types of art and techniques has recently been explored. Cubism is the most radical departure from Western forms of art, with the proposed purpose of forcing the viewer to discover less unstable elements of the object to be represented. It eliminates interferences such as lighting and perspective angle to capture objects as they really are. This may be compared to how the brain maintains an object's identity despite varying conditions. Modern, representational, and impressionistic art has also been studied for the purpose of explaining visual processing systems. Yet aesthetic judgments exists in all domains, not just art.
The Neurocantos are a sequence of poems, of varying methodologies, relating to neuroscience and the human brain. The poems have emerged from my attendance at the Salzburg Global Seminar on Neuroscience and Creativity, my time in residency with the Hubbub Group at Wellcome collection, and my co-curation of the A World Without Words project, exploring aphasia and the human brain, with Lotje Sodderland and Thomas Duggan, all in 2015.
The Neurocantos have taken on multiple forms, not just in publication of the texts, but in exhibitions, performances, soundscapes, video installations, most often in collaboration. The Neurocantos, often led by found text writing methodologies, owes itself to inspiration provided by collaborators in both science and art, like Noah Hutton, Daniel Margulies and Rebecca Kamen, amongst many others.
Poems from The Neurocantos have been presented at Humboldt University School of Mind and Brain, Berlin and the National Institute of Health, Maryland. They have also been exhibited at the Greater Reston Arts Centre, Virginia and the Janelia Research Institute, Washington, DC
Continuum and the Neurocantos with Rebecca Kamen
After a lengthy and extraordinary correspondence with the artist Rebecca Kamen, who I met at the Salzburg Global Seminar, the impetus for the original Neurocantos poems began by remixing her remarkable expressions and texts around the descriptions and inspirations for her remarkable sculptural artworks and installations.
You can read more about the Continuum exhibition here http://restonarts.org/exhibition/rebecca-kamen-continuum-2/ The exhibition runs from December 1st 2015 to February 13th 2016.
The exhibition will also be shown at the gallery at Janelia Research Institute (https://www.janelia.org) in the Washington, DC area next fall.
As part of continuum, two editions of prints of the Neurocantos are included in the exhibition program, framed for display. Alongside the exhibition's primary sculptural elements, there is also a soundscape, created by Susan which involves my reading from the text and a series of 3 moving poem fragments as video projections from 2 of the Neurocantos poems alongside a Cajal quote.
The NeuroCantos has also been part of Rebecca's presentation at an international neuroscience symposium, honoring the legacy of Santiago Ramon y Cajal at National Institute of Health on November 4th 2015.
The poems have been formed into images... Lobe and a second scan for a print titled, Points of Light. The overlapping circle forms in Points of Light represent the Vesicas Pisces, a symbol of creation, representing in geometry, the birth of a line. It seems quite metaphorical on many levels including “line” in relationship to the concept of proses.
Tractography published by Pyramid Editions - February 2016
Neurocantos at Humboldt University, School of Mind and Brain, Berlin