Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
“Brain-science & the arts” for human well-being
Art is mysterious. A piece of artwork can be so impressive that it gives us goose bumps, it may comfort and sooth a broken heart or inspire one to change his/her life. Such power is so incredible that Plato worried about the tremendous power of the arts. A single sound or line can strike a chord, and we are moved at that moment. Why does art have such power? This has long been a mystery for scientists - persons full of curiosity. Scientists have been interested in art for a long time and revered the wonder of art that is beyond science.
The concept of the “Brain-Science & the Arts” entails two directions. One is to deepen our understanding of the essence of art through brain-science and the other is to deepen our understanding of the human brain and human beings through art. “What is art?” is an eternal question that has been asked at least since the era of ancient Greece and might never be answered. I feel, however, that “Brain-Science & the Arts” may gradually provide some reliable answers to this question.
A backdrop to “Brain-Science & the Arts” is the recent rapid progress in brain-science, through which we are now able to directly observe our brain functions as images and videos. Brain functions during creative work, a musical performance and viewing artwork can now be depicted as a result of noninvasive brain function imaging, which does not cut into the brain and is therefore safe. With this method, research on “Brain-Science & the Arts” is no longer just theory.
We must take into account the recent trend of a gradual and inconspicuous decline in interest in art education. In line with ongoing technological innovations and economic policies, the educational world is increasingly emphasizing intellectual education. Too much emphasis is put on the five primary subjects, including mathematics and language, whereas art classes are gradually being reduced or phased out in Japan. This trend is not a desirable direction from the perspective of brain-science as it will affect our ability to act with passion and enthusiasm to use our knowledge and skills for the benefit of society. As a well-known proverb goes, an unused treasure is a wasted treasure. The Arts must contribute to nurture sensibility, passion and creativity.
Art contains hidden wisdom. Genuine inspiration triggered by art can originate a passion for learning and improvement. Our brain retains the history of its evolution with a structure that consists of three layers as the brain evolved from its center outward. The brain stem - the center of the human brain - sustains life through such functions as metabolism and circulation. The brain stem is surrounded by the old cortex, which is called the limbic system, where instincts reside such as food appetite, sexual desire and enthusiasm, all of which are necessary for living. The last to evolve was the outer new cortex, which is for intelligence. The power struggle between the old cortex and the new cortex is the fight between instinct and reason. The harmonious state of the old and new cortexes creates enthusiasm, passion and elegance, which lead to the co-creation of sensibility and intelligence. My understanding of art is this: Art is the synthesis of these two elements - sensibility and intelligence - and art may be analogous to a world in which these two elements sparklingly rise upward, combine and melt at a high temperature, gently falling all over us. The arts could generate strong emotion and passion toward the truth leading to world peace as well as various kind of individual happiness.
Brain-science views art as the co-creation of sensibility and intelligence and such activities that diligently create artistic subjects on which we can share inspiration. The essential difference between homo sapiens as a biological species and a human being is this harmonious interaction of sensibility and intelligence. Art is conducive to the acceptance of diversity, which is the underlying basis of peace. Art delivers human dignity and elegance beyond locality, race and age. The in-depth pursuit of art and the exploration of an untapped field such as “Brain-Science & the Arts” to bridge and fuse science and art is, of course, laborious, just like shoveling a path through the snow. I believe, however, the arts could be an invaluable tool to bridge and fuse the mind of people nurtured under different languages, nationalities, and histories.