Portraits of the Mind
Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century
Carl Schoonover became a neuroscientist because, simply put, he is fascinated by how the brain works. And he wants to share that enthusiasm (and his findings) with as large of an audience as possible. A TED Fellow mapping the line between art and science, he’s also the co-founder of NeuWrite, a collaboration between writers and neuroscientists
“The collection of images in the new book Portraits of the Mind is truly impressive ... The mix of history, science and art is terrific.”— Wired
Carl Schoonover is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University, where he investigates the neural mechanisms that underlie olfactory learning. He is the author of Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century and has written for The New York Times, Le Figaro, and Scientific American. He is the co-founder of NeuWrite, a collaborative working group for scientists, writers, and those in between.
After studying analytic philosophy at Harvard College, Schoonover transitioned to neuroscience for his doctoral work at Columbia where he studied the sense of touch with the goal of elucidating basic principles of neural circuit function in the mammalian cortex. He lives in New York City and hosts a radio show on WKCR, which focuses on opera, classical music, and occasionally their relationship to the brain.
There have been extraordinary advances in understanding the brain, but how do we actually study the neurons inside it? This nervous system presents a fundamental challenge: it remains the most elusive, mysterious, and maddeningly complex object in the universe. Neuroscientist and TED Fellow Carl Schoonover explains the ingenious tools that let us see inside our brains--and shares the gorgeous imagery they reveal. The spectacular data range from medieval sketches and intricate drawings by groundbreaking scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Santiago Ramón y Cajal, to the exquisite architectures revealed through the use of cutting edge biotechnology and imaging. These exquisite images, which emerged from microscopes, electrophysiological instruments, and MRI machines, are the fuel of daily neuroscience research yet most have not been seen by people outside of the neuroscience community.
In the era of big data, the brain is the most complex dataset we have to contend with. Just as the design of an algorithm determines the quality of a web search, our understanding of the brain depends on the tools we invent to look at it. These tools have provided us with radically new ways of seeing and interpreting our brains—and by extension ourselves. The future is bright thanks in part to the “Brain Initiative” recently announced by the White House, which will promote the development of novel, disruptive technologies to study the nervous system (Schoonover will touch on this briefly, in this talk).