The Frontal Cortex

Mind Hacks

Over at Mind Hacks, Vaughan has generously allowed me to answer a few of his excellent questions. Check it out.

Q: You seem to mostly focus on past artists but jokingly mentioned in a recent interview that maybe your next book will be called ‘Kanye West was a neuroscientist’. Are there contemporary artists that you value as potentially inspiring progress in the brain sciences?

A: There are some obvious candidates, like Richard Powers and Ian McEwan, who have written wonderful novels about modern neuroscience. (See, for example, Galatea 2.2 or Saturday or The Echo Maker.) But I don’t think it’s necessary to write on a scientific theme in order to contribute to science. The reason we are still reading Homer and Shakespeare and Joyce is that the art feels true. The work endures because it seems to capture something essential about human nature.

The question for science is what that is. Why is Hamlet such a potent character? Why do we stare at Jackson Pollack paintings? Why are Kanye West’s samples so captivating to the acoustic cortex? Artists are constantly being forced to reverse-engineer the brain. By reverse-engineering the art – by trying to understand why, exactly, it resonates with us – we can learn about the mind.

In other news, Seed has put my profile of Oliver Sacks online.


  1. #1 truth machine
    November 6, 2007

    Perhaps your source of information about the brain explains why you used a misnomer as the title of your blog.

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