Fifth International School On Mind, Brain And Education

2010, August 1-6

Learning, Arts,
and the Brain

Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Soraya Umewaka
Princeton University. USA

Brain education art
Recent research in neuroscience has demonstrated that we cannot take for granted the way our brains interpret the environment. It is a marvel that we can distinguish colours, textures of trees, and discern frequencies that we recognize as words to communicate with each other.
How different our world would be if we could see the particle movements of stones and atomic activities of stars. How different our world would be if we could analyze all the high and low pitches of sounds but could not hear the music or the words that fall within the normal range of human hearing.
In our daily lives, exposed as it is to a plethora of sound and visual stimuli, we selectively choose what we hear, see and smell. Only when I sat on the grass in a park the other day could I pay attention to the twittering of birds jumping from tree to tree whilst editing out the hum of traffic beyond. The Zulu of South African greet each other by saying “Sawubon”, which means, “I see you.” Globally, as we live an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle, perhaps the ability to ‘see’ with clarity what is close to us as well as what is far will become more of a challenge.
As a documentary filmmaker, I constantly try to transcend certain social and cultural myopia that we perhaps develop to protect ourselves or protect or maintain the way in which we process information. Through stories told from different individuals, and different angles, I often seek to highlight the multiple dimensions of any story, situation or person. Documentaries, like the sciences, and unlike news reports that are compacted to suit short attention spans in a 24 hour media, have the liberty to take a little more time to examine in depth “why” and “how” of a given situation.
We have so much to learn from the crossroads between the sciences and the arts, which could enrich each field, and form positive dialogues with each other. The arts could perhaps add imaginative fuel to the field of science, making the sciences taught at school a little less dry and steeped in “correct” “or incorrect” answers. Science can teach art principles of solutions, parameters and where those parameters fit. Perhaps we underestimate the abilities of a child to think of science through the lens of filmmaking, architecture, music, painting or design. If there were more individuals, parents, teachers who could bridge the gap between the sciences and the arts, perhaps we wouldn’t be forced to choose from such a young age, either or. Imagine youths imaginatively drawing synapses firing and molecular activities when frozen and heated. Imagine encouraging students to think of the science of movement when filming a horse gallop. Imagine exploring the psychological nature of prejudice and its effect on the history of our art. Imagine a child with a love for drawing hexagons, a curious child who makes no distinction between art and science. That child, also known as Harold Kroto, went our for a walk one day when, suddenly, he walked across a football in the path and, from the hexagonal shapes on the ball, he was inspired to explore of a new form of carbon, the C60 Buckminsterfullerene, which won him and his colleagues the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. I would have liked to learn when I was a child that there is no blueprint of the mind but infinite possibilities of ways to shape the wirings of our brain. The more we challenge our minds the richer the connection between synapses, and the less restrictions we will place on ourselves as well as others. I would also like to see schools dedicate more time for the minds of youths to wander, to promote free association, encourage playful thoughts. The most creative individuals constantly push the boundaries and place themselves in a dissociative state, a hiding place free from all rigid structures that teach us to walk a straight line, as opposed to letting us determine how the lines can play out on a canvass. I can imagine rich innovative ideas in the sciences and the arts if we could value more imaginative and creative ways to bridge the sciences and the arts without fearing a little chaos in the mind.