Neuronico Art & Neuroscience is an online gallery featuring the work of Paul Franklin Smith. Visitors can browse the images online, or purchase one or more image compositions as mounted, unmounted, and/or framed art, printed in high resolution using vivid archival inks on photographic paper, canvas, glass, or aluminum panels. Orders are printed on-demand by world-class photographic labs, expertly packed, and shipped to your location.
The Art & Neuroscience website features blog posts, articles, neuroscience art prints, and descriptions of art which relate neuroscience information: the science of sensation, perception, vision, visualization, memory, and neuroaesthetics.
The brain as the seat of thought, perception, and consciousness
Imhotep: early brain scientist or sports medicine doctor?
Art inspired by neuroscience is a relatively recent genre, but fascination with the brain as the seat of thought, perception, and consciousness has a longer history. Imhotep, Chancellor to the Egyptian King Djoser, lived during the 27th century BC, around 2650–2600 BC, and is attributed with writing the earliest known medical text. In it, he describes 27 different cases of head injury, and makes some links between brain injury and changes in personality and cognition.
Plato and the easy-chair of consciousness
Plato wrote in his dialogue Timaeus that the seat of the Psyche, the source of reason and wisdom, was in the crown and brow regions of the head, but he also placed other aspects of consciousness in the chest and belly. By the time of the Greek medical doctor and philosopher Galen (circa 130-210 AD), there was a view circulating amoung the Greeks that the seat of consciousness was the pineal gland, a structure about the size and shape of a pine nut (the source of its name) in the center of the brain. Galen went to great lengths to refute this view in his anatomical work On the usefulness of the parts of the body.
René Descartes and the pine nut
The philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) was also interested in anatomy and physiology, and wrote about the pineal gland in his first book the Treatise of man circa 1637, in letters written between 1640 and 1641, and in his last book, The passions of the soul (1649). Descarte wrote:
"Although the soul is joined with the entire body, there is one part of the body [the pineal gland] in which it exercises its function more than elsewhere... [The pineal] is so suspended between the passages containing the animal spirits [guiding reason and carrying sensation and movement] that it can be moved by them...; and it carries this motion on to the soul ... Then conversely, the body machine is so constituted that whenever the gland is moved in one way or another by the soul, or for that matter by any other cause, it pushes the animal spirits which surround it to the pores of the brain."
The pineal gland is not the seat of consciousness, but it is part of the endocrine system [check out this quick Prezi intro to the endocrine system], and secretes melatonin, a hormone which helps regulate the human sleep cycle. To Descartes, it was an attractive candidate for consciousness because it is the only brain organ which is not mirrored in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and because of its proximity to the ventricles and cerebrospinal fluid. Descartes had a very "hydraulic" view of brain function.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal ("but daaad, I want to be an Artiste!")
By the time of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), optics were sohpisticated enough to produce microscopes capable of studying the arrangement and shape of individual cells in the brain.
Ramón y Cajal, a Nobel prize-winning scientist who originally wanted to be an artist, produced hundreds of detailed drawings of the microscopic structure of the brain. His drawings are still used in some anatomy classes. He was the first to document that adjoining neurons don't actually touch at their connection points: there is a tiny gap - a synapse - between presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. Looking at the Ramón y Cajal on the right, one can begin to appreciate the complexity and number of neural connections in the brain. You can also see the potential for brain science as inspiration for artistic works, both as literal objects - in the complex and infinitely varied structures of neurons - and conceptually, as the seat of perception and consciousness.
I, Paul Franklin Smith, fall into the group of artists who are inspired by the concepts and images of brain science. I'm an older returning student finishing a psychology degree, and hoping to go on to graduate school. I'm also a brain tumor survivor who was reading books and journal articles on neuroscience topics for years before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Having a fascination with the biology and behavior of the brain helped me immensely as I went through surgery and recovery. I see evidence-based psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience as a source of answers to big life questions such as who are we?, where do we come from?, why can't I get that song out of my head?, why do people believe such strange things?, why is there so much conflict in the world?, and can humankind learn to cooperate well enough to address our global challenges? I have some life experience (meaning I've made plenty of mistakes and can relate to both the suffering and joy of many people); I've had a number of jobs, including a few where I had the good fortune to work with individuals who had a wide range of disabilities. None of that qualifies me to write on such lofty topics, but I do it anyway.
I have a secular humanistic view of the world, but I'm not particularly confrontational. I find joy and wonder in scientific explanations of life, behavior, and the world around us, so the "magic" in my art and music is the product of my musings on perception and consciousness, my playful personality, and my desire to relate a feeling in visual or auditory poetry. One doesn't need to espouse my view of the world to enjoy my neuroscience art prints or this website, though, so have a look around, let me know what you think, and...
Welcome to Neuronico!