The Brainstorms teamed up with artists to present their projects at The Brainstorms Festival. Check out a short introduction about the first three! You will be able to visit all the mindblowing pieces on spot! See you there!
Philipp Lammer- “EigenSkulptur”
The work “EigenSkulptur” investigates the aesthetic mechanisms of a cybernetic sculpture, which reconfigures itself and thereby changes not only its appearance but also the process of further reconfigurations.
Inspired by biological systems, identical tesselated parts inform the operating principle of the whole through their composition. With the help of an electromagnetic mechanism, each of these elements has the ability to rotate on two axes and thereby assume four different states. The sculpture is generated with modern DIY techniques.
Andreas Fraunberger- “Escape Velocity”
Escape Velocity is a VR experience that puts the audience into the minds of four refugees that were forced to leave their respective home countries. The audience gets to experience their very personal stories from the viewpoint of the main protagonist - filmed in stereoscopic 360 ° video and presented in VR.
Virtual Reality has often been called an empathy machine - and rightly so. We strongly believe VR is the perfect medium for what we are trying to achieve. VR headsets literally wrap the story all around you and let you see the world through someone else’s eyes - until you get fully absorbed and you forget they are someone else’s. You become them. And this moment is the perfect opportunity for storytellers to create maximum impact.
Aleksandra Pawloff- “I came as a stranger”
Aleksandra was born in Vienna from a mother and a father who both had to flee their respective home countries. She grew up in France and in Austria and was an assistant to the photographer Elfie Semotan before becoming a freelance photographer herself. Her focus of interest lies in the person and their story, not in their appearance. She loves her work and finds people fascinating.
“I came as a stranger” is about people coming and people leaving, in this case scientist enriching Vienna.
Do you want to learn more about the pieces? Are you curious about how technology and art influences each other? Buy your ticket now to The Brainstorms Festival!
Table of contents:
Art isn't always beautiful nor is aesthetics: a contradiction?
The year is 1917: The society of independent artists (SIA) has just been founded in New York City and is preparing for its first exhibition. Their credo is to accept any artwork of their members without restricting or grading them. Despite of this, one submitted piece isn’t displayed as it lacks the characteristics of “real art”. This piece ended up radically changing the way people see art, aesthetics, and beauty today and was voted the most influential modern artwork of all time in 2004. What happened and how did one piece of art cause such severe change even though it was declined to be shown publicly?
Marcel Duchamp, participant and member of the SIA board, supposedly submitted the said art piece: a urinal from a sanitary house, turned upside down and signed with the words “R. Mutt 1917”, labelled later: “Fountain”. Using a fake name to disguise his identity, he was fully aware that his work would challenge the society’s own rules. Something like that had never been done before, the significance of art had always been attached to the artist’s role of making it – Duchamp shook that image. As a photo of the urinal was published it caused a public outrage. For the first time in history, art and aesthetics (the study of beauty) were separated. It questioned the old structures of art, ridiculed the meaninglessness of the modern world and started a new era of postmodern art by introducing “ready-mades” (common objects declared to be art even though they don’t appear interesting at all), which laid the groundwork for movements like Dadaism or the work of Andy Warhol.
Aesthetics, Art and Beauty – a separation
Today, art can be ugly, provocative, and even boring – it is very versatile. Similar to the strict definitions of art, aesthetics was only seen as the study of beauty, though our perception of aesthetics affects way more than that: if an unknown place looks scary to you, you categorize this place in a certain way – judging by its appearance. Aesthetic perception is present in our everyday life and it is localized in our brain, influenced by multiple factors like genes, emotions, education and cultural environment [1,2]. This is why we are not only able to identify the Mona Lisa as a painting of a woman with a puzzling facial expression, but also admire it as a piece of art by Leonardo da Vinci.
Already heard of our Brainstorms Festival? Two days on business, science and cutting-edge human oriented technology from the top experts of the world. Learn more here.
Our taste, basically a translation from aesthetic perception into daily life, also helps you pick washing powder for instance, when you choose the prettier one between identical-seeming products . Your brain does this all the time: whom you are going to ask for directions on the street depends on who appears friendly. First impressions rely on your aesthetic perception, which is not the same as finding the person attractive. For this reason, separating aesthetics from beauty is helpful when investigating how these concepts are linked in our brains. Which brain area is responsible for liking a song so much you immediately turn up the radio when you hear it? And is looking at an incredible artwork comparable to eating your favourite meal? Neuroaesthetics, a fairly new scientific study introduced about a decade ago, wants to get to the root of these questions.
What Neuroaesthetics can do
Art is a universal phenomenon, regardless of age or ethnic group, everywhere in the world, ever since the first sign of social life, humans have been producing and admiring art. Humanists believe that art and aesthetics are cultural phenomena, providing an “interest-free pleasure”, a condition Immanuel Kant associated with aesthetic experiences. The question whether it has a biological origin and how to define aesthetics are still ongoing debates.
It is not just our emotions that are influenced while we are focusing on a piece of art, but our whole body is affected by this experience, as it was shown while examining people’s neurological responses to looking at a painting by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel in Rome . The fresco depicts Adam getting expelled from paradise by a sword-holding angel. Interestingly enough, viewing Michelangelo’s piece increased the activity of neural pathways involved in the control of wrist movement, indicating that the participants felt an urge to bend their own wrists in defence as if they were fighting off the angel themselves, just like Adam does in the painting. Another explanation for the bodily wrist-bending reaction could be that viewing the portrayed action in the fresco activated the so called mirror neurons. These brain cells are activated both while an individual is performing an action and while observing someone else performing the same action, “mirroring” the behaviour .
Scientists even managed to locate a few brain areas, which responds to a visual or auditory experience of beauty. Listening to a good song and viewing an amazing painting both activate the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain which appears to play a role in all value judgments [6, 7]. When it comes to evaluating art, there are two different regions in our brain: one for responding to beautiful and rewarding stimuli – the other to negative and rather ugly things. Furthermore, experiencing beautiful things like art is linked to the activation of reward circuitry of the brain . But it doesn’t stop there: even the artistic status of an image is enough to activate this reward centre - yet another reason to believe, that there is an evolutionary benefit of producing and admiring art .
Investigation of that kind and multiple other processes of our aesthetic perception is the substance of neuroaesthetic research: getting to the neuroscientific bases of aesthetic experiences with the help and support of other disciplines like philosophy, psychology or history. But not everyone is convinced, some people have criticized the interdisciplinary approach. Do many cooks spoil the broth or does teamwork rather unlock the next level? Biggest object of criticism is the mainly subjective nature of an aesthetic experience with many outside factors taking part. This calls for a careful handling of any statements – and this may interfere with the very idea of scientific research, as critics predict, or it may deliver a fresh perspective into the debate.
A hot topic – not just for scientists
In the year of 2019, questions like “What defines art?” or “What is beautiful?” are still discussed today, even though we are constantly telling ourselves not to. Philosophy didn’t bring the overall answer, nor did biology (yet). I don’t say, that we need another “Fountain” to open up the discussion for new perspectives, but a new outside approach towards these topics, when copy and paste, photoshop, and the art of reposting blur the defined lines of beauty and authenticity, is definitely exciting. Neuroaesthetics wants to provide this by combining the knowledge of multiple disciplines with the tools of neuroscience.
We have already learned, that there is no shame in admitting what you like – you can blame it on neuroscience. Which also means that you can listen to Justin Bieber’s ‘Despacito’ without being judged. Well, sort of.
The Brainstorms Festival
Come and join us! Two days on business, neuroscience, cutting-edge human oriented technologies. Professionals from all around the world come to Vienna to the first edition of The Brainstorms Festival. The festival’s focus is to give a platform for the key stakeholders of innovation (scientists, start-ups, techmakers, corporates and investors) to meet, share their knowledge and their network.
From the Brainstorms Blog
As children we are taught the sounds of animals - the chatter of a monkey, the squeak of a mouse, the bark of a dog, and many others. Often, we try to communicate with our nonverbal companions - be it a friendly cat or an annoying mosquito. At times these animals seem to understand us, and other times it feels as though we understand them. But do these animals have language? Do they truly communicate, or do they only make a few meaningful sounds?
Table of contents
Language is a system of communication using sounds and/or signs to convey meaning. Human language possesses certain characteristics, including arbitrariness, productivity, and semanticity. Arbitrariness refers to the random assigning of words to meanings. If you repeat the word "song" many times (as you probably did as a child), you may begin to wonder if it is a word at all. You experience this phenomenon because there is nothing meaningful in the sounds "s-o-n-g". Language is considered productive when it can be used to express infinitely many ideas which are understandable to others. This is aided by its semanticity - each word carries a specific meaning, although it may be context-specific, such as the phrase "hot dog". Additionally, human language is versatile in that it can be used to describe events in times and places other than the present.
Humans learn language through exposure. Babies imitate their parents, beginning with meaningless babble and eventually learning to vocalize syllables and then words. Without any example, a human child would not learn to speak, and would eventually lose the capability of learning . Fortunately, with relatively little assistance, children learn and develop full speech as long as they are exposed to language in their environment.
Animals, by comparison, have less complex linguistic systems. Most have only a limited number of sounds which correspond to important events and experiences and which are memorized from a young age. Monkeys may be social creatures, but studies of their language have revealed little more than a system of calls to name different predators . Their vocal tracts are capable of human speech, but they likely lack the mental ability or interest to produce language .
Hunger: the great motivator
Domestic creatures, such as dogs and cats, tend to communicate verbally more than wild animals. Research suggests that this behavior is the result of centuries of breeding and their desire to communicate with humans, often in exchange for food. Dogs can distinguish between different types of barks and growls, whether they indicate play, feeding, or danger. But the wolves from which they were bred use smells and signals more than howls . Similarly, cats meow at humans, especially around lunchtime, but not at other cats. Some animals, such as chimpanzees and dogs, can be taught to respond to human vocabulary, but it is a slow process that yields some understanding but no speech.
Like with all language rules, there is always an exception. Parrots are able to imitate human speech and have demonstrated the ability to learn as many as 100 words . More than just mimicry, they use the words in context and are able to create unique words for new objects and recognize words they cannot pronounce. They also have the capacity to remember unused words for a year or longer, such as for seasonal fruits.
Recent findings suggest that birds' vocal abilities may be important for more than just food appreciation. Like human children, some species of birds have demonstrated the ability to learn by listening and repeating. Additionally, birdsong has syntactic structure comparable to that of human language, and the neural patterns involved in learning and producing birdsong are similar to how babies learn to speak.
In general, birdsong consists of several notes which can be combined into syllables, syllables into motifs, and motifs into songs, a hierarchical organization similar to human language. Some birds are limited to a few fixed sequences, while others have more varied songs. For example, the Japanese tit knows eleven notes which can be combined much as letters are to form various predator alarm calls . The combinations are highly varied even in limited contexts, suggesting a greater level of complexity than the warning cries of other animals. Different combinations of calls result in differing behavioral reactions from the birds. One call elicits watchfulness while another causes the birds to approach the caller. Combining these calls in a specific order prompts both behaviors, while the reverse ordered call is ignored. This might be the equivalent of hearing your mother call dinnertime before she tells you to stop having fun, as opposed to the reverse. However, it could also be an indication of meaningful syntax, where the information of the call depends on the order of the notes. It may also be a purely phonetic difference.
As with any potential scientific finding, there is an opposing camp to the theory that birdsong could hold the key to understand language and the neuronal basis of language learning. While birdsong demonstrates neural and linguistic similarities to human speech, it lacks words and semantics, and some question whether it should be considered true language . The phonology of both may be similar, but human language is more complex in that it is able to produce new behavioral contexts, unbounded by length and structure restrictions. Moreover, birdsong is context-dependent rather than word-dependent. The meaning of each song depends on the situation, such as mating or fleeing, and the birds have not demonstrated a natural ability to create new meanings. But whether it compares to human language or not, neural controls of birdsong may still provide research material regarding a very important area of the brain: the basal ganglia, which is a key component for spoken language .
Birds of a feather..
The stages birds go through while learning to sing are surprisingly similar how infants learn to speak. The first step is copying older birds - just as babies copy caretakers -, modifying the song until the auditory feedback matches the model. Young birds begin by singing in their sleep, a sound that is similar to when humans try to sing a song they don't know the words to. During this sub-song phase, which corresponds to a babbling phase in human infants, the chicks train the muscles necessary for sound production, while the auditory feedback of hearing oneself helps adjusting the song to the memorized sounds. Overtime this improves into a recognizable imitation and the song becomes a habit, stable and unchanging.
Parallels are also found in the nervous system of humans and songbirds. Both have evolved brain areas necessary for meaningful vocalizations and similar neural mechanisms might be involved in these functions. The motor pathway, allowing for the acquisition and production of songs and a cortical pathway required for learning new songs . If the basal ganglia are damaged, young birds will fail to develop mature songs while adults will lose the ability to creatively alter their songs. Similarly, when the human basal ganglia are damaged, it leads to dysfunctions in speech. As the bird learns to sing, the related neural cells, located in both hemispheres, not only grow and form new connections, they also increase in number. While some birds show right or left dominance, as do most humans, many are able to use both sides for birdsong, sometimes independently. When a bird sings, it uses either its motor memory of learned songs or its basal ganglia to create new songs. Just as humans learn new pick-up lines, adult songbirds develop new songs each season to attract mates. During this process, they generate new neurons, challenging the view that brain cells once lost can never be replaced and the classic insult "birdbrain" .
But what does the fox say?
There is currently no research into the science of fox communication, as these adorably furry creatures have even less to say than dogs. But the functional and neurological mechanisms behind birdsong is gaining deserved attention with its similarities to human. Vocal learning and the possible applications that it may have for treatment against autism, stuttering and genetic disorders of speech. Future research into birdsong may uncover ways to generate new brain cells and find treatments to such conditions . While the fox may not have much to say, as far as we know, the songbird has a lot to sing to neuroscientists in the coming years.
Have you already seen our infographic about learning languages?
The Brainstorms Festival
Join us during two days on business, science & cutting-edge human oriented technology.
The Day 1 will be about Business & The Brain.
The topic of the Day 2 will be The Augmented Human.
Have a look at the website for more information.
From the Brainstorms Blog
1. Lapointe, L. (2005). Feral children. Journal of medical speech-language pathology 13(1): VII-IX.
2. Schlenker, P., Chemla, E., Zuberbuhler, K. (2016). What do monkey calls mean? Trends in Cognitive Science 20(12): 894-904. Doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.10.004
3. Fitch, W., de Boer, B., Mathur, N., Ghazanfar, A. (2016). Monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready. Science Advances 2(12). Doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600723
4. Siniscalchi, M. et al. (2018). Communication in dogs. Animals (Basel) 8(8): 131. Doi: 10.3390/ani8080131
5. Pepperberg, I. (1994). Vocal learning in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus): Effects of social interaction, reference, and context. The Auk 111(2): 300-313
6. Suzuki, T. (2018). Call combinations in birds and the evolution of compositional syntax. PLoS Biol. 16(8): e2006532. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2006532
7. Berwick, R. et al. (2011). Songs to syntax: the linguistics of birdsong. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15(3): 113-121. Doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.01.002
8. Lanciego, J., Luguin, N., Obeso, J. (2012). Functional neuroanatomy of the basal ganglia. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine 2(12). Doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a009621
9. Doupe, AJ., Kuhl PK. (1999). BIRDSONG AND HUMAN SPEECH: Common Themes and Mechanisms. Annual Review of Neuroscience 22(1): 567-631. Doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.22.1.567
10. Nottebohm, F. (2005). The neural basis of birdsong. PLoS Biol 3(5): e164.
11. Brainard, M., Doupe, A. (2013). Translating birdsong: songbirds as a model for basic and applied medical research. Annu Rev Neurosci 36: 489-517. Doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-060909-152826
Over thousands of years, our language evolved from simple natural sounds to a complex system of communication, enabling us to express imaginative, conceptual ideas and creating artistic masterpieces of literature. It’s a phenomenon that only our recent technological advancements enabled us to find long-sought answers to questions such as how we process, store, and re-use sensory inputs in the brain to communicate with each other. In fact, not only with each other, but also with computers since the informational revolution. Have you ever wondered how Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant can understand you and carry out your commands?
To know more about these seemingly similar processes, the biology of learning and using language versus communication with computers using human languages, we invited Elisabeth Dokalik-Jonak and Tristan Miller. Elisabeth is a linguist with neuroscience background, who developed a tool for stroke patients to help language rehabilitation. Tristan is a computer scientist, specialised in natural language processing and computational linguistics, working at the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Finally, Ursula Lavrenčič, co-founder of KOBI gave a pitch about their iOS/Android app that helps children who struggle with learning to read.
We would like to thank to both speakers and also to all participants who came and created the nice atmosphere. We had a great time with all of you and we hope we will see you again at some of our next events.
Previous editions of the Brainstorms events
Brainstorms #10: The LGBT + Brain
Brainstorms #9: Sleep
Brainstorms #8: Mental health - Brain vs Modernity
From the Brainstorms Blog
Bilinguals who acquire both langauges by the age of six use both hemispheres in both languages.
As you reading this post in English, there’s a very good chance that you belong to that half of the population who are considered multilinguals. Have you ever wondered how speaking more than one language changed your brain? We collected a few interesting facts in this infographic for your consumption.
Click on the picture to see it full size.
Come visit our monthly meetups in Vienna. Two amazing speakers and topics interesting also for non-scientific audience. The last one was about Language: Machines versus Biology. We will announce soon the upcoming event in Vienna. Stay tuned!
Have you already seen our European neurotech landscape? About 300 listed companies on one clickable map involved in neuroscience. Have a look and let us know if someone is missing. We update and post it regularly.
The Brainstorms Festival
Eager to know more? We are organizing The Brainstorms Festival taking place in September in Vienna. Two days on business, science and cutting-edge human oriented technology from the top experts of the world.
Day 1 will be about Business & The Brain with amazing talks like "The neuroscience of buying", "Decision making under stress".
The theme of the Day 2 will be The augmented human with talks about "Brain research on the international space station". Come and join us!
This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which changed the course of history for the LGBT community. The protests were led by possibly the most marginalised citizens of their time - trans women of colour. To honour their long struggles for equality, our next event will be about the neuroscience of gender, sex and sexual orientation.
Brain research on gender, sexual differences and sexual orientation is considered a sensitive topic, although science has an ever clearer picture and a lot to explain. Szabolcs Bíró, our co-founder talked about the difference between the female and the male brain, the controversy around the topic, why some are afraid of the results and why it is important for researcher to acknowledge sex as a crucial factor in their results. The second speaker was Dr. René Seiger, whose lab was the first in the world to show that gender identity is reflected in the brain microstructure and he will share their research on to what extent sexual orientation and gender represented in the brain.
Have a look at our previous editions
Since tribal times, sleeping and dreaming have been core parts of myths, transcending humans beyond reality, connecting heaven and earth. Since then, science has revealed a great deal about why we sleep: probably not to foresee the future, but to form new memories, to process emotions, and even to boost our immune system. Despite the centuries of research on the function of sleep, it still remains as it has been for most part of history, a mystery.
Two of the leading sleep and dream scientists of Vienna explained why we sleep and dream according to our current understanding. Gerhard Klösch showcased his research on sleeping and how we use technology to measure it, while Dr. Brigitte Holzinger talked about her fascinating research on lucid dreaming, an altered state of consciousness, where the dreamer has complete influence over their dream. In our startup spotlight, we introduced Pocket Sky, which uses the power of light for a quick boost of energy to raise your mood and managing your sleep-wake cycle.
Today, we have 300-500 virtual friends, but we have to think whom to ask to feed the cat while we’re on a holiday. We can work 12 hours straight, without even leaving our home. We judge people based on their online presence and at the same time, constantly judge ourselves. The internet and the abundance of the 21st century changed the way we think of work, relationships, money, and ourselves. However, we still try to live by guidelines which were created long before these conceptual shifts occurred. Did our brain adjust to these changes? How does this influence our mental well-being?
To be able to see the matter from various point of view, we had a panel discussion with a philosopher (Jessica D. Bicking), a psychotherapist (Dr. Herbert Gröger), and a psychiatrist to share their thoughts and answer to your questions about the anxieties of modern times.
An average person is exposed to approximately 3000 ads a day. In such a competitive environment, targeted advertising algorithms are just simply not enough to stand out from the crowd. Neuroscientists have long known that we make decisions unconsciously in thousandth of a second, only to justify our choice consciously seconds later, creating a sense of "I am in control". Do you have a free will when it comes to buying or is it possible to influence subconscious decision making processes to make you spend (more) money? Does the brain have a buy button?
In this edition, Dr. Peter Walla showed the techniques to better measure decision making, with a particular focus on how to get access to the non-conscious emotion-mind. As a second talk, Jelena Veinovic Stevanovic, who is interested in digital behaviour, talked about how applied neuromarketing can be used to create a successful brand.
At The Brainstorms, our aim is to bring the key stakeholders of neuroscience together: scientists, techmakers and investors for innovation. We also grow our community locally through the monthly meetups, and globally through the Brainstorms Festival.
We put together the European Neurotech Landscape for you to facilitate collaboration within the field. This is a clickable map - simply click on the picture below to see the PDF Document. Every logo redirects to a website. If we forgot anyone, please let us know. We will regularly update the landscape and repost it.
Explore also our infographics on gender and sex. Did you know that one person our of 50 was born intersex?