Your Brain On Fiction

NEW YORK TIMES March 17, 2012 Your Brain on Fiction By ANNIE MURPHY PAUL AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience. Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells. In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark. The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. Last month, however, a team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not. Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg. The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain...

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Musical Gloves

TED GLOBAL:  IMOGEN HEAP MANIPULATES SOUND WITH HAND GESTURES By Kyana Gordon on July 12, 2011 via PSFK: Today, during her performance at the TEDGlobal Conference in Edinburgh, the singer/songwriter, Imogen Heap demonstrated a pair of magical, musical gloves that had audience members literally eating out of the palm of her hands. The high tech gloves connect an interface to a live musical production system controlled entirely with hand gestures. Developed by Dr. Thomas Mitchell, a lecturer and researcher at the University of the West of England, the gloves are like something out of the movie, Minority Report, since sounds can be recorded, synthesized and manipulated live on stage by Heap using intuitive hand movements. Dr. Mitchell explains: It is really exciting to launch the gestural music system at TED this summer. It takes improvisation to a new level and frees the artist from interactions with electronic equipment on stage. Imogen’s performance will not make use of any pre-recorded material – the gestures she makes will control the sounds that the TED attendees will hear. For example by making a grasping motion she can ‘catch’ the sound of her voice or any other instrument, she can then filter these sounds by clasping her hands together and then ‘release’ the sound again by opening her hands. She can build layers of music, point and play invisible synthesisers and drums. The creative possibilities are huge and it’s really engaging to watch. The gloves, comprised of sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes can detect the movements of the performer’s finger joints and the orientation of the hands in space, with microphones attaching to the wrist to capture sound. With the help of a laptop and advanced software, all sound is analyzed for audio processing. Heap is no stranger to technology and has collaborated with Dr. Mitchell over the last few years.  She described her first experiences using the gloves: I walked onto the rehearsal stage, gloved up, without any other equipment and began to sample, loop and apply effects to my voice, acoustic and virtual instruments. I was completely mobile and free from wires. With radio microphones attached to my wrist I can record anything that I can point my hands at. This is what I’d been dreaming of! Still much an ongoing research project, it will take years before it reaches store shelves, if ever. Regardless, we can’t wait to watch the TED video in a few days. Images by James Duncan Davidson / TED. TED Global 2011 Imogen Heap...

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Fulldome 101

Domes are becoming more and more popular as a media format.  If you are an artist interested in getting involved with creating fulldome content this is a good introduction to the technical specifications needed to create content: http://artslab.unm.edu/78/hues-beginners-guide-to-fulldome-production...

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c3: VisionLAB 2011 STATE OF THE ARTS

c3: Center for Conscious Creativity produced the annual STATE OF THE ARTS: PRODUCING CHANGE event in September 2011 in partnership with the PGA: Producers Guild of America.  The event was held at LA Center Studios and featured a panel of producers utilizing new media technologies for socially benefical causes.  The first FUTUREVISION award was given to Writer/Creator Tim Kring for creating CONSPIRACY FOR GOOD on online ARG game created to raise funds for libraries in Africa www.conspiracyforgood.org.   The event was preceded by a think tank session held in the Vortex Dome with Futurist Jerome Glenn, Executive Director of The Millennium Project....

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Fourth Wall Studios

Fourth Wall does the ‘Dirty Work’ of innovation The studio is using new technology to create interactive programming it hopes will ‘pick up where Hollywood is dropping the ball.’ http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-fourth-wall-20120415,0,1360215.story...

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