Thursday, September 14, 2006

Events at the Dana Centre

The Dana Centre on Queens Gate behind the Science Museum has a wonderful programme of events, many of which deal with medical issues. Events are free, but they like you to book in advance. Phone 020 7942 4040 or email

Coming up in the next few weeks:

Lifting the Lid on Radiation Risks, 19 September, 19.00 to 20.30
Art of the Brain, 21 September, 18.30 to 21.30
Criminal Minds?, 27 September, 19.00 to 20.30
Senster, 28 September, 19.00 to 20.30 (billed as 'a spine-tingling perfomance that mingles music, art and artificial life')
'You know it makes sense!', 4 October, 19.00 to 21.00 (Red Rinding Hood is put on the psychiatrist's couch)
Personal Identity, 16 November, 19.00 to 20.30 (Baronness Greenfield explains what's human about identity)

I attended last year's 'Art of the Brain' workshop and can really recommend it. It brought together a biochemist-turned-artist (Lizzie Burns) and various neurologists and brain specialists, including pop-scientist Mark Lythgoe. The audience was eclectic but had in common a sense of apprehensiveness at getting to grips with paintbrush in the services of science. An excellent introductory talk by Lythgoe argued that we must be uninhibited if we are to be creative. He used various examples of how some people had become very artistic as a result of damage to the fronto-temperal lobe. The disinhibited mind doesn’t screen out so-called irrelevant detail but lets through unfiltered stimuli.

So with the message that we had to let our minds be disinhibited (but fortunately without being literally bashed over the head), we were dispatched to various creative workshops. There was a wealth of materials on offer. Downstairs we created neural paintings. Inspired by images of Lizzie’s work (pictured) and colourful micrographs of neurons, we got busy with paints, pastels, crayons and glitter glue to create a picture inspired by the senses. Upstairs, there were workshops which involved articulating ‘hopes and fears’, and making a memory map (drawing a silhouette of your profile and drawing or writing memories in it). There were also drop-in workshops involving palpating gorgeous polymer clay.

Lizzie had never worked with adults before and was somewhat anxious about how the workshop would go, but as far as I could see it was stunningly successful. At the end, Lizzie wanted to know whether we’d learnt something about the brain. I’m not sure whether this should have been the overriding objective. Indeed, some people may have come away with the impression that neurons are found only in the brain – this would have been my impression had I not studied zoology in the dim and distant past. However, I did learn more about myself, and this surely constitutes learning about the brain.

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