Keynote (from twitter account @aivoAALTO): Can art flex rigid brains?

Hari, R. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesKeynote or plenary lecture


In this keynote, I propose a fresh view to the relationship between (visual) art and human brain function. To the title question “Can art flex rigid brains?” I will answer with a definitive “yes”, suggesting that art can make visible what remains invisible to people who are blinded by their perceptual and behavioral routines. Our brains are highly plastic, especially in youth, which means that they easily transform according to external demands via the omnipresent action–perception loop (comprising brain, body, and environment). This malleability and learning—paradoxically—also makes the brains rigid by molding the humans to “bundles of habits”. Habits, automatized behavioral sequences, are highly efficient as they can be triggered in accurate temporal order with minimum external input. Such routines allow action sequences, such as dressing in the morning, to be smoothly performed without too much attention wasted to the details of the behavior. Routines and new skills also affect how we perceive the world: as adults we live in our individual “caricature worlds” where salient features are emphasized and the violations of expectations serve as the most important behavioral triggers. The effective routines facilitate and simplify life but they also have their dark side: they cannot be easily modified. Reading, for example, cannot be shut off and people automatically read whatever text they happen to see. The very beneficial automatic labeling of various objects (chairs, tables, tools, etc.) by naming them, on the other hand, apparently impairs drawing of the objects: the drawing goes better if one does not focus on the objects themselves but rather on the non-nameable “negative (empty) spaces” around them. Accordingly, experienced painters advise their pupils to turn attention away from objects, focusing instead on e.g. shapes and colors. Art, from representational to abstract and conceptual—be it beautiful or ugly—can therefore uncover aspects of the world that laypersons miss because they are tunnel-visioned by their habits. I would like to propose that art can give us “out-of-the-tunnel” and “off-the- blinders” experiences, thereby flexing our rigid brains and minds. Reference: Hari R: From brain–environment connections to temporal dynamics and social interaction: Principles of human brain function. Perspective article. Neuron 2017, 94: 1033–1039.
Period20 Apr 2017
Event titleBrain Twitter Conference: Neuroscience making an impact
Event typeConference
Conference number1
Degree of RecognitionInternational