My brain on China

Lightning, looking south from our apartment

In another life, I take brain scans and convert them to sound-and-light shows. It’s a hobby, and a research interest too ( ). It’s also a metaphor … for many things. The world may be a lumpy sluggish thing, but the experience of the world is the dance of a water drop on a hot skillet. I regard the stream of consciousness to be flowing like music. You could put that hypothesis in two bins: science, or art. As art, I make the case by converting the cavorts of the brain into music.

The basic method is to treat the brain like a pipe organ, with parts of the brain as keys. So, for example, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is middle C. When that part is very active (lots of neurons spiking, which is indirectly read by fMRI), middle C is very loud. Meanwhile, another region is another note, also getting louder and softer according to the activity of that region of the brain. And so on.

But Middle C is simple compared to the incredible complexity of activity in any region of the brain. Middle C is also simplistic in comparison to the cacophonous symphony of consciousness. Instead of Middle C, maybe for each region of the brain I could put in a more complex sound, a loop that gets louder and softer when its brain area gets more or less active.

Now, where can I find sounds that capture that raucous tumble of conscious experience? I know… CHINA. Over the last year I’ve been recording sounds all over, and in this video they are the imagined pulse of the brain. Listening to the mix, I hear again the extraordinary cauldron of this country, where I have been so lucky to live.

Here’s the video:


About lloyddan

Professor, Trinity College, Connecticut, but living in Tianjin, China, until July 2011
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1 Response to My brain on China

  1. usguhguh says:

    My brain in China sounded/felt exactly like the video! Unmanageable, unimaginable and unforgetable.

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