Saturday, July 16, 2016

Week 4: Neuroscience + Art

               The brain is associated with everything related to art and science. Looking back at previous topics, it is really the brain that creates unconscious stereotypes of others or acts as the model for artificial intelligence. Unlocking the many mysteries of the brain pushes the realm of art and science beyond one's wildest dreams.

Salvador Dali, Park West Gallery
Salvador Dali's Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944) is one of many works that has ties to Freudian theory[1].

               Speaking of dreams, the influence of Freud’s psychoanalysis does play a pivotal role in the study of the mind in art and culture. His methods are archaic by today’s standards. Jung is even right to say that Freud focused too much on sexuality with ideas such as the Oedipus complex[1][2]. However, Freud is the one who really popularized the dream and the mind in society. He has brought many scientists to look inward instead of outward, and he has inspired the works for many Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali[3]. Even nowadays, his presence can be found in the critically acclaimed movie Inception by Christopher Nolan. This movie largely plays around with the ideas of unconscious desires and symbolism in dreams. Despite his influence, Freud's ideas of dreams are merely interpretations of thoughts, which do not say much about the brain itself.  

The movie Inception was hugely based on Freudian ideas about the unconscious[2].

               Instead of dreams, there are some who believe that certain drugs are the key to liberating the mind. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) created by Albert Hofmann is a popular choice for its hallucinogenic effects[4]. Based on a 1950’s government experiment, one artist known as whatafinethrowaway took 0.2 milligrams of LSD to create beautiful, yet haunting self-portraits[5]. These results show how the drug can breed a new type of creativity in a person by altering the mind. While this might be considered a positive for the drug’s use, it is overall highly dangerous from the government level to the public one. The government’s MK Ultra Project attempted to experiment with mind control using LSD, which resulted in many suicides[4]. On the other hand, the 2012 horror of Rudy Eugene eating off another man’s face was also caused by LSD ingestion[6]. As these instances show, drugs like LSD are not the ideal ways to discover more about the brain due to their serious consequences.

A video of the women's self-portraits after taking LSD[3]. 

               If dreams and drugs are not the answers to unlocking the secrets of the brain, what is? The answer really lies in neuroscience. Neuroscience is leading the charge to create new mind-blowing projects for artists and scientist alike. A great example can be found in Brainbow, a project in which neurons are colored with various fluorescent proteins[7]. The images look breathtaking, and they are colorful forms of artistry. At the same time, they show the many inner-workings of the brain that cannot be seen through dreams or LSD. In the end, it is truly neuroscience that has the ability to benefit both art and science. 

A picture of the hippocampus and cortex using Brainbow technology[4]


1. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience and Art Part 2: Unconscious Mind/Dreams." YouTube. uconlineprogram, 17 May 2012. Web. 15 July 2016. <>.

2. Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Oedipus Complex." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., n.d. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

3. "Freud’s Influence on Dali’s Surreal “Dream” Painting." Park West Gallery. Park West Gallery, n.d. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

4. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience and Art Part 3: NeuroChemicals." YouTube. uconlineprogram, 16 May 2012. Web. 15 July 2016. <>.

5. James, Emily. "Art on Acid: Illustrator Takes LSD before Spending NINE HOURS Drawing a Series of Increasingly-abstract Self-portraits to Demonstrate the Drug's Effect on Her Brain." Associated Newspapers Ltd, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

6. Show, Cristine, and Louise Boyle. "First Picture: The Naked Man Who Ate the Face off Victim in Horror Attack While High on LSD before Being Shot Dead by Police." Associated Newspapers Ltd, 28 May 2012. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

7. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience and Art Part 1: Consciousness/Memory." YouTube. uconlineprogram, 17 May 2012. Web. 15 July 2016. <>.


1. Dali, Salvador. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. 1944. Park West Gallery, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. Park West Gallery. Park West Gallery. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

2. 7 Layers of Inception. Digital image. THiNC. THiNC, 10 July 2010. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

3. A Woman's Self Portrait before and after LSD. Perf. Whatafinethrowaway. YouTube. Troplr, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.

4. Lichtman, Jeff. Hippocampus and Cortex. 2007. Center for Brain Science. Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. Web. 16 July 2016. <>.


  1. I appreciate your concrete examples against using LSD to discover more about the brain and neuroscience. Often times, giant pharmaceutical companies get so carried away with creating the next lucrative drug that they develop and test their products without proper consideration of the consequences.

  2. Eric,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I like how you highlight two major areas that have been used to try and analyze the brain's functions (dreams and LSD), yet ultimately reach the conclusion that both are inferior as opposed to neuroscience. Drugs can often overcome our cognitive abilities and lead us to committing obscene acts as you have correctly pointed out in your article. It will be interesting to see where this takes us in the future!