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Lectures for a New Year: The Brain, Art, and Neurology

V.S. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist of the peculiar. Rama investigates unusual cases, and through his research he often helps people tremendously -- for example, he invented the mirror box, which is used to treat phantom limb pain in amputees. He also actively studies and seeks to understand topics like synesthesia, rather than simply dismissing them as odd or quirky phenomena.

In this riveting lecture, Rama walks through a variety of curious neurological topics, building a case for how the brain perceives everything -- and ultimately how it perceives art. While this lecture has more to do with neurology than art, it's still of interest to those who dig art, and there is indeed a lot of discussion in the latter half of what art might be, whether art can be considered universal, and how art might function in the brain.

Topics: Capgras Delusion (aka "my mother is an imposter!"), synesthesia (aka "C Major is green!"), what a metaphor really is (schizophrenics don't understand metaphor!), "bite you!", a series of interesting visual illusions, how the brain responds to art, bird beaks, art, art, and artists.

For: fans of science, anyone who's curious how the brain really works, fans of art, and anyone who loves a good lecture (can you imagine having this man as your professor? Fantastic!).

Viewing note: Skip to 3:13 to get to the lecture; the intro isn't necessary.

Further Reading

Rama's book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind is a classic, though a tad out of date. His latest is The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. You might also enjoy his lecture Synesthesia in Mystical Traditions.

Transcript

I haven't been able to find a transcript of this talk. The only option I've found is to enable YouTube's automated captioning system, which doesn't work at all well with the technical terms in this lecture.

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science
Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
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Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
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On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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