Neurology and a Passion for Arts

Tamil Heritage Group - Chennai
You and your friends are cordially invited to 
the programme for the month of November
which features a talk, titled
“Neurology and a Passion for Arts”
Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran
on 7th November (Saturday) 2009 at 05.30 pm
at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya Campus,
58 Venkatanarayana Road,
T.Nagar, Chennai 600 017

Kindly note the change in time:
The programme starts at 5-30 PM instead of 5-00 PM


About the speaker
Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, neurologist has a Ph.D from Trinity College, Cambridge. A grandson of the brilliant lawyer Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer, he is currently Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at UCSD, California. Well known for his research on ‘phantom limbs’ and ‘synaesthesia,’ he is a man with a wide range of interests, and is trustee of the San Diego Museum of Art.
Dr. Ramachandran and his colleagues at UCSD have also studied the connection between mirror neurons and autism. Mirror neurons were first discovered by Iaccomo Rizzolati, and Dr. Ramachandran feels that this discovery is as important for psychology as the discovery of DNA for biology.
What exactly are mirror neurons? “It is the mirror neurons that make us feel empathy when we see someone being hurt. I call them the ‘Gandhi’ neurons. The loss of mirror neurons in autistic children may explain why they can’t empathise. Even monkeys have mirror neurons. A mirror neuron fires in the brain of a monkey when it sees another monkey reach for a peanut,” says Dr. Ramachandran.
Dr. Ramachandran proposes ten universal laws that explain the neural basis for the appreciation of art. One of the laws is the peak shift principle. Dr. Ramachandran explains: “Why do we like a Chola bronze of a woman? Take the typical female form. Subtract from it the typical male form. What is left? Big breasts, narrow waist and flared hips. Exaggerate these, and the result is the Chola bronze. When you see it, you don’t protest that it is anatomically impossible for a woman to look like this. You only say, “It is beautiful.” I call this exaggeration the peak shift principle. From the typical female posture, the typical male posture is subtracted, and the difference amplified, to get the Tribhanga posture of the female bronze. Or take a caricature, where some features are exaggerated, and yet you like the caricature. Again peak shift principle.” Bacon’s words
“I think Indian art is a very evolved form of art. Long before Picasso and the Cubists, our Indian sculptors knew intuitively, what is pleasing in art,” says Dr. Ramachandran.
Can his laws of art be tested? “Sure,” says he.
Dr. Ramachandran loves Indian art and Carnatic music. He even likes old Tamil film songs. Any favourites? “All the songs in Maya Bazaar. My sons love ‘Kalyana samayal saadam’ song and I do too!” he chuckles.
[This is an edited version of a profile of VS Ramachandran written by Suganthy Krishnamachari in The Hindu dated 18-7-2008, and for the full article the link is]

Summary of talk:
VS Ramachandran's contention is that a great art is not just replication of reality. Pictures taken with camera cannot equal a work of art. Otherwise, an artist has no place in our society.
Ramachandran will talk about
  • How eyes and brain perceives an image?
  • How an artist creates an exaggeration of the image which triggers our neural circuits so much that we perceive more from that art than from observing reality
Ramachandran will present some rules of thumb, on what 'titillates' the brain, whereby our brains derive pleasure while watching art.

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