Sunday, January 18, 2015

sine scientia ars nihil est

"Without knowledge, art is nothing"
In addition to the myth that we only use 10% of our brains, neuroscience has long neglected the idea that "left-brain thinkers" are more analytical and logical (scientists), while "right-brained thinkers" are more imaginative and creative (artists). I always struggled with this broad characterization growing up, since I'm an analytical thinker, but mostly express myself through creative methods. There is no scientific support for this idea; in fact, studies have shown that the brains of both artists and scientists share similar neurological activity when in the process of thinking creatively. In other words, there is no difference in brain function when thinking about science or art. Being able to solve complex scientific problems requires creativity and imagination. Likewise, being able to paint a landscape requires logical understanding of composition and color theory. To be human is to be a creative.

Image via Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience
"Patterns of activation during an fMR word association task performed by artists (Figure 1a) and scientists (Figure 1b) show strikingly similar patterns of activation in multiple regions of association cortex and areas involved in socioaffective processing. fMR, functional magnetic resonance."
We are constantly exploring the intersection of art and science—you just have to know where to look.

Nerve fibers in a human brain mapped by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):

Image via Wellcome Image Awards

Animated chart of 42 North American butterflies by science illustrator, Eleanor Lutz:

Image via TabletopWhale

The "Pillars of Creation" - a region of M16, or the Eagle Nebula:

Image via NASA/APOD

Sculptures by inventor/artist John Edmark:

Fibonacci Zoetrope Sculptures from Pier 9 on Vimeo
"These are 3-D printed sculptures designed to animate when spun under a strobe light. The placement of the appendages is determined by the same method nature uses in pinecones and sunflowers. The rotation speed is synchronized to the strobe so that one flash occurs every time the sculpture turns 137.5ยบ—the golden angle. If you count the number of spirals on any of these sculptures you will find that they are always Fibonacci numbers."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Underrated Retro Videogame Love

Like many children of the 80's, my first exposure to video games was the ingenious 2-in-1 cartridge of Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt on the NES. However, we didn't own our own console (we played at our cousins' house), so most of my early video game play was on the PC. While I enjoyed classics like The Oregon Trail and SimCity, there are several DOS-based games that I absolutely loved which I consider quite unknown or underrated.

Digger (1983)
With similar gameplay to Dig Dug, the player controls a little digging car and dig tunnels to collect jewels and gold to score points. My favorite thing about this game was always the music. For main gameplay, the background theme is a version of "Popcorn" (1969) by Gershon Kingsley (which I didn't know was a real song until I was well into my 20s. It completely blew my mind when I heard it in another context!) If you are lucky enough to make it to a bonus mode, Rossini's William Tell Overture plays, but if you lose the game, you are serenaded by Chopin's B-flat minor Piano Sonata aka "The Funeral March."

Sopwith (1984)
I think this was the first game that we got for our old IBM PC. It is a side scrolling flying game in which the player controls a WWI-era Sopwith biplane. The goal is to fly from your base and destroy all enemy buildings and aircraft. This game was particularly challenging because it required the skill to balance appropriate speed and lift to get the plane airborne and anticipate missile drops—failure to do so resulted in crashing. Despite its difficulty, the few rare instances of victory were extremely satisfying as the plane would fly off into the sunset.

Skunny Kart (1993)
This game followed the footsteps of the father of go-kart games, Super Mario Kart. However, this game was born out of a controversy. The demo was rejected when first pitched to the software company, Copysoft, and then rights went to Apogee Software, who went on to create the game Wacky Wheels. However, Copysoft (who still had a copy of the game source code) went forward and released the nearly-identical Skunny Kart just prior to Apogee's release. This is another game that is extremely nostalgic for me because of the music. Something about that particular rhythm just made racing feel so epic. We even made up "lyrics" to the rhythm of the melody: "Get out of my face, get out of my face, get out of my face, I'm awesome!" And thus began my history of trash talking while gaming. How could I NOT trash talk while playing my favorite character, a crocodile named Handbag?!

Commander Keen (1990-1991)
This game is not really underrated nor unknown, but I had to include it because of the nostalgia associated with it. I think Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy! was the first video game that I actually completed in it's entirety. How could I not love this game series, as Billy the boy genius transforms into Commander Keen by equipping a Green Bay Packers helmet?  And of course the Dopefish, who became a video game in-joke/meme, is one of my favorite video game enemies.