When Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel wanted to understand the complexities of the human brain, he looked to the California sea slug. The slug’s relatively basic nervous system—consisting of just 20,000 neurons—turned out to be a great model for what happens in the human brain during learning and memory.
But it’s not the only model. In his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, Kandel argues that there’s a lot to learn about the brain by looking at the work of Abstract Expressionists. These early 20th-century painters boiled visual art down to a few fundamental components—line, color, form, light, and texture. Our neural circuitry is hardwired to prefer images we can identify, which makes abstract forms more difficult to process. At the same time, abstract forms leave the door open to interpretation, stimulating the higher-level areas of the brain responsible for creativity and imagination.
Produced by Katie Hiler.