#otlip15 – keynotes

18 March 2016

Off the Lip 2015 – Keynotes

Transdisciplinary Approaches to Cognitive Innovation: Conference from 9…11 Sep 2015

The following keynotes were held at the #OTLip15 conference on 9/9/15 (Roger Malina), 10/9/15 (Sundar Sarukkai), and 11/9/15 (Amy Ione). Read more about the conference and the workshop. You can also access the proceedings of the conference at hdl.handle.net/10026.1/4271. Also watch out for this years #OTLip16.

Roger Malina, New Forms of Art-Science Collaboration: Case Studies

Roger Malina, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Technology, Professor of Physics, University of Texas at Dallas, USA

In recent years art-science collaboration has been identified as an emerging frontier of science.The upcoming US conference "Art and Science, Engineering and Medicine Frontier Collaborations: Ideation, Translation and Realisation" is notably sponsored by the US National Academies of Science, of Engineering and of Medicine. Two recent studies, the European Commission ICT-Art Connect Sutdy and the US National Science Foundation SEAD Study provide abundant examples of projects which have led to new discoveries and compelling forms of art. In this talk I will give an overview of the various rationales, and demonstrated methodologies in art-science collaboration as well as a number of case studies. I will also present the work in our ArtSciLab at the University of Texas at Dallas; in this case we are developing data exploration tools, which we call 'data stethoscopes', which are being applied in neurobiology to resting state fMRI data of age cohorts of individuals, as well as performing the data in public settings.

Sundar Sarukkai, Cognitive Innovation in Mathematics

Sundar Sarukkai, Professor of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal, India

What is the nature of cognitive innovation in mathematics? To answer this, it is important to understand the nature of mathematics, its domain and scope, and the structure of its discourse. Mathematics, right from early times, has been one of the most important disciplines and has served as a model for other subjects like philosophy and the sciences. At the same time, it is also perhaps most closely related to certain themes in art. In this talk, I will argue that this ambiguous position of mathematics as a discipline influences not only the cognition of mathematical entities and structure, but also its performative modes of creativity. In particular, I will focus on the role of pictorial cognition and visual metaphors in the creative processes of mathematical thinking since it also allows us to understand what is special to the creative processes of manipulating and playing with symbols.

Amy Ione, Art and the Brain: Plasticity, Embodiment, and the Unclosed Circle

Amy Ione, Director of the Diatrope Institute, Berkeley, California, USA

Listening to a train in 1854 Thoreau wrote: “I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke with his nostrils. (What kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I do not know.)” (Thoreau 2004: 113). As rail power was married to industry and to society more broadly, artifacts started to build the new mythology. By 1874 Charles Dickens described Coketown (in Hard Times) as:

"[A] town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye . . ." (Dickens 1854: 22).

Yet, in 1877 Claude Monet (1840–1926) thought the smoke and the steam presented an artistic challenge. He wanted to reveal that even a black machine and a mass of black panes could be depicted with blue paint, that the dirty gray of the ground could be seen as green, and that the smoke itself could become light. He explained his project to his colleague Renoir, telling his friend that he would have the rail people increase train emissions to aid him in achieving the desired effect: “I’ll show [the Gare Saint-Lazare] just as the trains are starting, with the smoke from the engines so thick you can hardly see a thing. It’s a fascinating sight, a regular dream world.” Monet’s tantalizing results led the French writer Émile Zola (1840–1902) to praise the resulting state-of-the-art plein-air paintings, and in a way that no doubt gives a new meaning how we think of the term “plein-air”: “You can hear the trains rumbling in, see the smoke billow up under the huge roofs . . . That is where painting is today . . . Our artists have to find the poetry in train stations, the way their fathers found the poetry in forests and rivers” (in Wilson-Bareau 1998: 105-106).

Brain research has similarly yielded prescient and incongruent examples. After Luigi Galvani's pioneering work in the late 18th century led to an understanding of the electrical basis of nerve impulses some scientists tried to animate corpses, which led to a scientific debate that is critiqued in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. By the 19th century a range of ideas about localized function, human psychology, human physiology, and environmental impacts are similarly evident in both art and the neurosciences. William James introduced the word plasticity in 1890 to speak about hypothetical changes in nervous activity that underlies the formation of habits, a more limited concept than how use the term today. Over the course of the 20th century, plasticity and hardwiring were discussed, with the computer revolution beginning to add texture to the ideas by the end of the century. The current understanding is that brain development itself begins before birth and continues over the course of our lives. Starting out as a tiny strip of cells, complex biological processes form the brain. Then, as we grow over time, connections within the brain are constantly being removed or recreated, largely dependent upon how they are used.

Using an array of examples that encourage thinking about art, the brain, plasticity, embodiment, and the environment relationally, this talk will emphasize four themes that integrate commonalities and incongruities within the art and brain discussions: First, I will explain that many elements related to art and our brains are difficult to precisely characterize and exist within a larger context. Thus, the “unclosed” circle phrase in the title. Second, I will argue that rather than creating a defining model for art and cognition, we should approach the topic developmentally. Third, insofar as we know, creativity is not located in a discrete region of the brain; it is a complex, dispersed, and flexible function that includes the brain and the nervous system. For this reason, I will urge we think about art and the brain in terms that encompass our changing biological nature, natural environmental factors and culture. Finally, I will consider how all of the above frames our individuality. Gerald Edelman (1929–2014), the American biologist who shared a 1972 Nobel Prize and trained as a concert violinist before turning to science, put it well when he said that if we are going to see human psychology on a biological basis “we must account for how embodiment occurs in each individual” (Edelman 1992: 33).


  • Dickens, Charles. 1854. Hard Times. For These Times. London: Bradbury & Evans.
  • Edelman, Gerald M. 1992. Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind. New York, N.Y.: BasicBooks.
  • James, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York,: H. Holt and company.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. 2004. Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition: Yale University Press.
  • Wilson-Bareau, Juliet. 1998. Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art.