The Being Human Conference, which looks at the science behind the human experience, presents this session on "Perception and Sensations.""
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2006. His research focuses on correlating emotional states with the brain activity underlying them. Davidson has reached the conclusion that our brain circuitry isn't set in stone: though our emotions are evolved responses, they are remarkably plastic and can be shaped over time. As he says, "I think that what modern neuroscience is teaching us is that, in fact, there is a lot of plasticity, that change is indeed possible, and the evidence is more and more strongly in favor of the importance of environmental influences in shaping brain function and structure and even shaping the expression of our genes." At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Davidson and other researchers investigate qualities of mind such as compassion and mindfulness in order to understand how healthy minds might be cultivated. He is perhaps most famous for his investigations into the neurological effects of meditation, showing how this practice can functionally rewire the brain. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
R. Beau Lotto
Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab. With glowing, interactive sculpture - and good, old-fashioned peer-reviewed research - he's illuminating the mysteries of the brain's visual system.
Beau Lotto's color games puzzle your vision, but they also spotlight what you can't normally see: how your brain works. This first-hand look at your own versatile sense of sight reveals how evolution tints your perception of what's really out there.
"Let there be perception," was evolution's proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place - where what an organism's brain sees diverges from what is actually out there -is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallery goers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers.
The studio’s work, the brain-like (that is, multidisciplinary) organization includes large-scale public engagement works. It's holding regular "synesthetic workshops" where kids and adults make "color scores" - abstract paintings that computers interpret into music, as with scrolls fed to a player piano. These and Lotto's other conjurings are slowly, charmingly bending the science of perception and our perceptions of what science is. "All his work attempts to understand human perception as a system defined, not by its essential properties, but by its past ecological interactions with the world. In this view, the brain evolved to see what proved useful to see, to continually redefine normality."
Beau Lotto’s research and installations have been featured on, not one but two BBC Horizon programmes. The first was aired in 2010 and was reported to be the most popular Horizon for over a decade. The promo spot on BBC’s homepage received the most hits of any item on the BBC page for many ears – 1,000,000 after only 3 hours. The second programme will air in Autumn 2011. Beau has also been a TED speaker. Speakers in his session included Gordon Brown and Stephen Fry. Lotto teaches at University College London.
He received a Ph.D. from Edinbergh's Medical School in cellular and molecular developmental neurobiology, and was a research fellow at Duke University.
V.S. Ramachandran is a neurologist best known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and psychophysics. He is currently the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the author of several books including Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (1998) and The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientists Quest for What Makes Us Human (2010).
Ramachandran initially obtained an M.D. at Stanley Medical College in Madras, India, and subsequently obtained a Ph.D. from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He has since been called "The Marco Polo of neuroscience" by Richard Dawkins and "the modern Paul Broca" by Eric Kandel. Newsweek Magazine named him a member of "The Century Club," one of the "hundred most prominent people to watch" in the 21st century.