The fine art of neuroscience

This week’s issue of the science journal Nature has a number of articles on science and art. Sadly most are closed-access, although one gem is freely available.

An article by psychologist Patrick Cavanagh discusses the techniques of visual art and how they can inform neuroscience, particularly in understanding the construction of the visual system.

Artists use this alternative physics because these particular deviations from true physics do not matter to the viewer: the artist can take shortcuts, presenting cues more economically, and arranging surfaces and lights to suit the message of the piece rather than the requirements of the physical world.

In discovering these shortcuts artists act as research neuroscientists, and there is a great deal to be learned from tracking down their discoveries. The goal is not to expose the ‘slip-ups’ of the masters, entertaining as that might be, but to understand the human brain. Art in this sense is a type of found science – science we can do simply by looking.

If this is a topic that interests you, you could do a lot worse than tracking down the 17th March edition of Nature at your local library. The other articles in this series tackle links between science, poetry and music, to name but a few.

Link to Kavanagh’s article The Artist as Neuroscientist from

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