Favorite Non-fiction of the Year: “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science”

This book is by Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but it’s already my favorite non-fiction of the year. To be more precise, it was published in 2016, so I should say favorite non-fiction that I read this year.

Things that I learned from the book:

  1. There are two parallel visual pathways in the brain, one that deals with what an image is about and one that deals with where it is located in the world. The what pathway is the only one that leads to hippocampus, which deals with the explicit memory of people, places, and objects. The where pathway is concerned with motion, depth, and spatial information. The pathways can exchange information, but they are distinct and separated. Art exploits the fact that seemingly inseparable information is actually processed in separate pathways.
  2. Occipital cortex responds to both sight and the sense of touch. The texture of an object activates cells in the medial occipital cortex regardless of whether the object is perceived by the eye or by the hand.  (This explains how I ‘feel’ the textures of Raku tea bowls or Franz Kline’s paintings.)
  3. Aplysia (large sea snail) has about 20,000 neurons. Its neural circuit is wired in a fixed way, but learning changes the strength of the connections among neurons.
  4. Each nerve cell in the primary visual cortex responds to simple lines and edges with a specific orientation, and that’w how we assemble contours and geometric shapes.
  5. Mating and fighting are mediated by the same population of neurons, and the difference is only on the intensity of the stimulus.
  6. The prefrontal cortex responds to categorized figurative images, whereas the superior parietal cortex is activated by any visual image, meaningful or not.

Some random art facts:

  1. Kandinsky discovered his abstract painting style from listening to Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet and Three Piano Pieces Op 11.
  2. Legend has it that upon viewing a sunset painted by Turner, a young women remarked, “I never saw a sunset like that, Mr. Turner,” to which Turner replied, “Don’t you wish you could, madam?”
  3. Klimt shows women’s teeth in his paintings, such as in Judith and Woman I.

 

 

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