Artist designs phoenix sculpture from donated keys of homes destroyed in the Paradise Camp Fire


Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

By Alaa Elassar

A woman from Paradise, California has created a phoenix sculpture from thousands of donated keys to places destroyed in California’s deadliest wildfire last November.

Jessie Mercer, a 34-year-old art therapist and trauma counselor, designed the 800-pound depiction of the mythological bird that rises from ashes. The sculpture holds more than 18,000 keys to homes, churches, schools, businesses and cars, including some that belonged to people who died in the Camp Fire.

The blaze killed 85 people and burned more than 153,000 acres.

When Mercer’s father fled the fire to her apartment in Chico, just 10 minutes outside of Paradise, she saw him pull out the keys to his house.

“In that moment, I kind of realized that he wasn’t alone and thousands of my neighbors were doing that same exact thing,” Mercer told CNN. “Everyone was like, “Wow, I have keys to my shop, my house, my car. And it’s all gone.’ ”

The artist, who was born in Wyoming and moved to Paradise at 15, thought to collect the keys two days after the fire turned Paradise into a pile of ashes.

“I needed to make something to put us back together, and the keys were the only thing we still had in common since we lost everything else.”

Putting the pieces back together

After recovering from severe neurological issues that left her bedridden and suffering from seizures when she was 31, Mercer discovered her love for art. She and her father, a goldsmith, began sharing an art studio, which also burned in the fire.

With her father’s encouragement, Mercer put out a Facebook post asking people to mail her their keys, drop them off at a location, or meet up and give them to her in person.

“I just told people, you don’t have to carry around this totem of sorrow that makes you sad every time you look at it,” Mercer said. “Let me transform it into something comforting.”

And just three days after the fire, she received her first key.

Mercer decided to get on YouTube and teach herself how to weld. After collecting enough metal and keys — and without drawing a sketch or making a plan — Mercer simply “followed her heart” and designed the phoenix.


Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

For a year, Mercer spent hours in a small room in her apartment, building the mythical fire bird to help her community heal.

After driving back and forth for 19,000 miles, picking up metals, meeting other victims of the Camp Fire, and collecting keys dropped off at 13 locations across five towns including Paradise, Mercer’s project was finally complete.

Unveiling the art

Exactly one year after the fire devoured the town in a matter of hours, Mercer unveiled her Phoenix Key Project on Friday during a commemoration ceremony at Paradise’s Butte Resiliency Center to a crowd of thousands.

The resiliency and resource center will be transformed into a place designated for the healing and growth of Paradise and its community. There, residents can “get their home plans checked, their surveys done, and rebuild questions answered,” Mercer said.

The sculpture will be displayed at the center. And in honor of her gift to the city, Mercer was presented a key to the town of Paradise.


Jessie Mercer and her father, Tommie Mercer, pose next to Jessie’s phoenix sculpture after the unveiling ceremony.

“It’s the first ever time they’ve ever given the key to anyone,” Mercer told CNN. “It’s so cool. I don’t care about anything else. I have the key to Paradise.”

While Mercer’s idea was to unite the community through her art, she ended up bringing people together back in Paradise.

“It was powerful to know that I bought people back home, even for a day. I was so proud of them for coming. The streets were full, the parking lots. It was thousands of people and the crowds were roaring.”

A year of ‘indescribable emotions’

Mercer said that taking a year to meet other victims of the fire and build the phoenix helped her process her emotions and sense of loss.

“I lost my town, too,” she said. “It was being a part of something, but also being a vessel that created it. We did this, not just me.”

While channeling her pain through art in hopes of finding a way to “balance the pain and anger” that her community was feeling after the tragic annihilation of their town, Mercer said it wasn’t easy.

She called it the hardest year of her life. A year she will never forget.

“Meeting people meant hearing every story,” Mercer told CNN.

“Getting letters in the mail meant reading their stories. All of them were testaments: ‘Here’s the key to my life. Here’s the key to where I had Thanksgiving for 32 years.’ There’s a gravity to knowing that everything you’re holding is so full of memories and legacies and heartbreak.”


A few of the letters Mercer received from people mailing in their keys.

Mercer became close to many of the donors. She recalls pastors crying while they handed over keys to their churches. One teacher gave her the key to the classroom where she taught for 40 years.

A young girl sent her a key to her diary and told Mercer “to keep her secrets safe.”

“When I got all these keys, when I put them on, I didn’t care about who was who,” Mercer said. “There was no color, there was no age, there was no creed. It was just so transcending to bring people together and take them out of all their stereotypes.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/11/us/camp-fire-phoenix-keys-paradise-trnd/index.html?utm_source=The+Good+Stuff&utm_campaign=2aa589d67e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_14_08_33&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4cbecb3309-2aa589d67e-103653961

Medieval masterpiece found in French kitchen sells for over $26M

A lost 13th-century masterpiece has sold for almost 24.2 million Euros ($26.8 million), just months after it was found hanging in a French kitchen.

“Christ Mocked,” by the Florentine painter Cimabue, sold for more than four times the pre-sale estimate at an auction in Senlis, north of Paris, on Sunday.

An elderly French woman from the town of Compiegne had kept the rare artwork — which she thought was a Greek religious icon — in her kitchen. The unsuspecting owner did not know where the 10-inch by 8-inch painting had come from, according to Jerome Montcouquil of art specialists Cabinet Turquin, which was asked to carry out tests on the painting following its discovery in the summer.

“It didn’t take long for us to see that it was an artwork by Italian painter Cimabue,” he told CNN prior to the sale. “He’s a father of painting so we know his work very well.”

Cimabue is the pseudonym of artist Cenni di Pepo, born in Florence around the year 1240. He is known to have been the discoverer and master of Giotto, widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the pre-Renaissance era.

“There are only 11 of his paintings in the world — they are rare,” Montcouquil said.

Montcouquil said the work is part of a diptych made in 1280, when the artist painted eight scenes centered on the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

The style of painting, its gold background and traces of its old frame helped experts identify the artwork as part of the triptych, according to a press release published by auctioneers Acteon ahead of the sale.

The pictorial layer remains in “excellent condition” despite accumulating dust, continued the release.

The National Gallery in London is home to another scene from the work, “The Virgin and Child with Two Angels,” which the gallery acquired in 2000. It had been lost for centuries, before a British aristocrat found it in his ancestral home in Suffolk, according to AFP.

Another, “The Flagellation of Christ,” can be found at the Frick Collection in New York.

“They are all made with the same technique on the same wood panel so you can follow the grain of the wood through the different scenes,” said Montcouquil. “We also used infrared light to be sure the painting was done by the same hand. You can even see the corrections he made.”

The painting had been hanging above a hot plate used for cooking food, according to AFP. Montcouquil said it was the first ever Cimabue painting to be auctioned.

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/cimabue-masterpiece-discovered-scli-intl/index.html

Why the giant heads of 43 presidents are sitting in a field in Virginia

by MARY JO DILONARDO

They stand in rows in a Virginia field, kind of a White House version of Easter Island. There are 43 concrete busts of most of the U.S. presidents — from George Washington to George W. Bush. Towering at an average of about 20 feet and weighing as much as 22,000 pounds, this is an elementary school student’s history class nightmare.

The presidential heads once were on display at Presidents Park in York County, near Williamsburg. The 10-acre park featured a museum and a sculpture garden where visitors could stroll among the presidential busts while reading about each man’s accomplishments.

The park was open from 2004 to 2010, according to “All the Presidents’ Heads,” a documentary about the giant creations. When the park closed, the heads sat abandoned for several years until new developers bought the property. They were putting in a rental car business and asked Howard Hankins, who owned a local waste management company, to haul the statues away and destroy them.

“Instead of going into the crusher, I brought them up to the farm and there they are in their new home,” Hankins says in the documentary, which you can watch at the bottom of the file.

It took 10 men more than three weeks to lug the statues to Hankins’ farm in Croaker, Virginia, about 10 miles from their original home in Presidents Park. The ordeal cost Hankins about $50,000 and several of the presidents were “injured” in the process.

Since 2013, the heads have sat, relatively undisturbed on the farm. Weeds have grown up between them, and Hankins says frogs and snakes share the field with the former leaders.

“You almost feel they’re looking at you the way the sculptor did the work on them,” Hankins says. “It’s an overwhelming feeling being next to these giants of men who represented our country and built this strong country we live in.”

Although the farm is private property and not open to the public, Hankins hopes to once again share the presidents with the people. He has partnered with photographer and historian John Plashal to provide tours of the busts. There is also a crowdfunding campaign to restore and transport the massive sculptures somewhere for public viewing.

In various media interviews, Hankins has said he needs to raise $1.5 million to preserve the sculptures and have them moved and reset.

“It meant a lot to me to preserve history. I would love to find the means to build an educational park for our kids to come to from all over the country,” Hankins says. “I really want to do something with these guys. If I have to leave them here, this would really disappoint me.”

https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/43-giant-heads-presidents-field-virginia?utm_source=Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=3ddc2ee848-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_FRI0503_2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fcbff2e256-3ddc2ee848-40844241

Exploring Leonardo da Vinci’s knowledge of the brain

Summary: A new study looks at Leonardo da Vinci’s contribution to neuroscience and the advancement of modern sciences.

Source: Profiles, Inc

May 2, 2019, marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. A cultural icon, artist, engineer and experimentalist of the Renaissance period, Leonardo continues to inspire people around the globe. Jonathan Pevsner, PhD, professor and research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, wrote an article featured in the April edition of The Lancet titled, “Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the brain.” In the piece, Pevsner highlights the exquisite drawings and curiosity, dedication and scientific rigor that led Leonardo to make penetrating insights into how the brain functions.

Through his research, Pevsner shares that Leonardo was the first to identify the olfactory nerve as a cranial nerve. He details how Leonardo performed intricate studies on the peripheral nervous system, challenging the findings of earlier authorities and introducing methods centuries earlier than other anatomists and physiologists. Pevsner also delves into Leonardo’s pioneering experiment on the ventricles by replicating his technique of injecting wax to make a cast of the ventricles in the brain to determine their overall shape and size. This further demonstrates Leonardo’s original thinking and advanced intelligence.

“Leonardo’s work reflects the emergence of the modern scientific era and forms a key part of his integrative approach to art and science,” said Pevsner.

“He asked questions about how the brain works in health and in disease. He sought to understand changes in the brain that occur in epilepsy, or why the mental state of a pregnant mother can directly affect the physical well-being of her child. At the Kennedy Krieger Institute, many of us struggle to answer the same questions. While science and technology have advanced at a breathtaking pace, we still need Leonardo’s qualities of passion, curiosity, the ability to visualize knowledge, and clear thinking to guide us forward.”

While Pevsner is viewed as an expert in Leonardo da Vinci, his main profession and passion is research into the molecular basis of childhood and adult brain disorders in his lab at Kennedy Krieger Institute. His lab reported the mutation that causes Sturge-Weber syndrome, and ongoing studies include bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. He is the author of the textbook, Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics.

Exploring Leonardo da Vinci’s knowledge of the brain

Africa by Toto to play on eternal loop ‘down in Africa’

The world’s oldest desert is to be blessed with one of the most listened-to songs – Africa by Toto. Namibian artist Max Siedentopf has set up a sound installation in the coastal Namib Desert to play on loop, in tribute to the soft rock classic. The 1982 track is quadruple platinum, and was the most streamed song in 2017, with over 440m views on YouTube.

Mr Siedentopf tells the BBC it is set to play forever, with solar batteries “to keep Toto going for all eternity”.

The almost five-minute song has remained popular in today’s pop culture, and has been subject to memes and even entire Reddit pages.

“[I] wanted to pay the song the ultimate homage and physically exhibit ‘Africa’ in Africa,” explains the 27-year-old artist. “Some [Namibians] love it and some say it’s probably the worst sound installation ever. I think that’s a great compliment.”

He has chosen an undisclosed spot in the 55-million-year-old Namib desert to set up six speakers attached to an MP3 player with the single track on it. Mr Siedentopf says he hopes the song will play for another 55 million years. “Most parts of the installation were chosen to be as durable as possible, but I’m sure the harsh environment of the desert will devour the installation eventually.”

Until then, only the most loyal Toto fans will be able to find this “treasure” among the sands, Mr Siedentopf says.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-46861137

Juan Valverde de Amusco’s anatomical drawings in 1556 corrected some earlier errors while making anatomy more accessible.

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by SUKANYA CHARUCHANDRA

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 13th century that human dissections became acceptable in Italy. Previously, both the Roman Empire and Islamic law had prevented the dissection of humans and its depiction. While the Greek surgeon Galen’s anatomical drawings from the second century had been preserved and studied until the Renaissance, they were largely based on dissections of animals, such as apes.

In the mid-16th century, however, famed Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius dissected the bodies of executed criminals—not an uncommon practice in that period—while studying in Paris. He realized that Galen had been “misled” by apes, whose anatomy was not exactly like that of humans.

“The challenge of anatomy is rendering the 3-D experience of opening bodies onto a 2-D page,” writes Hannah Marcus, a science historian at Harvard University, in an email to The Scientist. Lack of refrigeration also presented a challenge. In overcoming those hurdles to produce the first realistic depictions of internal human biology, Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, published in Basel, Switzerland, in 1543, galvanized the study of anatomy.

Meanwhile, Spanish-born Juan Valverde de Amusco was learning anatomy under the guidance of Roman surgeon Realdo Colombo, and possibly of Vesalius himself, at the University of Padua in Italy. Valverde observed and participated in many dissections under Colombo’s guidance, and pored over old books on the subject. He later moved to Rome and was welcomed into the home of Spanish Cardinal Juan Álvarez de Toledo.

In 1555, Valverde served as a doctor at the foremost contemporaneous Roman hospital, Santo Spirito, where many luminaries of anatomy worked during that period, including Bartolomeo Eustachi, under whom Valverde studied for a time. The following year, Valverde crafted the Spanish-language anatomical text Historia de la Composicion del Cuerpo Humano, or Account of the Composition of the Human Body. In seven parts, the book covered topics such as “bone and cartilage,” “ligaments and bandaging,” and “instruments of sensation and external motion.” Largely copied from the 1543 and 1555 editions of Vesalius’s tome, it included 15 new illustrations in four copper plates. Valverde’s book also included more than 60 corrections to Vesalius’s text, which enhanced the contemporary understanding of the intracranial passage of carotid arteries, the extraocular muscles, the stapes bone of the middle ear, and how blood moves through the septum. Historians attribute the few original illustrations to Spanish-born Gaspar Becerra.

“Vesalius was angry about Amusco’s work and accused him of plagiarism,” Marcus writes. In 1564, Vesalius wrote in his book Anatomicarum Gabrielis Fallopii Observationum Examen that “Valverde who never put his hand to a dissection and is ignorant of medicine as well as of the primary disciplines, undertook to expound our art in the Spanish language only for the sake of shameful profit.” Valverde conceded his borrowing, explaining that Vesalius’s drawings were so thorough that “it would look like envy or malignity not to take advantage of them.”

Valverde simplified Vesalius’s Latin text considerably, however, as he considered it difficult to understand. His more concise (and thus cheaper) text had more than a dozen editions published in Italian, Latin, Dutch, and Greek, in addition to Spanish, and facilitated the spread of scientific ideas and Vesalius’s modern anatomy throughout Europe and the Spanish Americas.

https://www.the-scientist.com/foundations/homo-sapiens-exposed–1556-64679

Oldest known drawing’ found on tiny rock in South Africa

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Scientists say they have discovered humanity’s oldest known drawing on a small fragment of rock in South Africa.

The drawing is about 73,000 years old, and shows cross-hatch lines sketched onto stone with red ochre pigment.

Scientists discovered the small fragment of the drawing – which some say looks a bit like a hashtag – in Blombos Cave on the southern coast.

The find is “a prime indicator of modern cognition” in our species, the report says.

While scientists have found older engravings around the world, research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature says the lines on this stone mark the first abstract drawing.

The article says the ancient artist used an “ochre crayon” to etch it onto the stone.

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Scientists found the stone fragment in Blombos Cave, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of Cape Town.

Humanity has used ochre, a clay earth pigment, for at least 285,000 years.

The drawing was “probably more complex” in its entirety, archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood told Reuters.

“The abrupt termination of all lines on the fragment edges indicates that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface,” he said.

Mr Henshilwood works at Norway’s University of Bergen and South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and led the research into the drawing.

He told Reuters that while the team would be “hesitant to call it art”, it almost definitely had “some meaning to the maker”.

There have been numerous other artefacts found in Blombos Cave, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of Cape Town, including beads covered in red ochre, engraved ochre fragments, and a paint-making kit dating back around 100,000 years.

Modern man, known as homo sapiens, is first known to have appeared more than 315,000 years ago in what is now Africa.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45501205

Dutch art dealer discovers first ‘new’ Rembrandt in 44 years

Dutch art dealer Jan Six made the discovery of a lifetime at an auction house in 2016, when he saw the hand of Rembrandt in an unknown painting that had gone unnoticed for four centuries.

The portrait of a well-dressed young man with red hair was presented on Wednesday as the first “new” Rembrandt to surface since 1974. It will be on display at the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam for a month.

With the help of an unnamed investor, Six snapped up “Portrait of a Young Gentleman”, painted around 1634, for a bargain at 137,000 pounds ($185,000) at the London auction. Given past sales, it will likely now be worth very much more.

“Finding a Rembrandt is a tremendous feeling”, Six told Reuters.

Six has a special relationship with Rembrandt, having grown up in a house filled with classic Dutch artwork, including a Rembrandt portrait of one of his ancestors, a former Amsterdam mayor, also called Jan Six, as the centerpiece.

With his knowledge of the artist and the period, Six noticed a particular type of collar the subject of the painting wears, which was only in fashion for a short time around 1633 and was painted in a style that only Rembrandt used in those days.

The specialist on Dutch and Flemish old masters then spent 18 months using X-ray techniques and analysis of paint samples to prove he had in fact bought a real Rembrandt.

The 39-year-old art dealer eventually won the backing of more than a dozen Rembrandt experts, including the former leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, who spent a year verifying its authenticity.

“Seeing all these experts agreeing to what you’ve found is truly special. With the support of this vast body of knowledge, anybody contesting the painting would clearly represent a minority,” Six said.

Until now, the existence of the painting had been completely unknown, as there was no previous literary reference to it. This makes the discovery different from other paintings attributed to Rembrandt over the years, as they were already known to exist.’

But Six says he knew exactly what he saw when he laid eyes on the painting at Christie’s.

“I saw so many details pointing in Rembrandt’s direction, that I was totally convinced,” he said.

The newly discovered Rembrandt, measuring just under a meter high, is thought to have been painted when the artist was 28. It was almost certainly cut out of a larger painting, experts say, probably also depicting the young man’s wife.

Six said he will now try to find a buyer for his discovery, but he did not want to speculate on how much it might be worth.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-rembrandt/dutch-art-dealer-discovers-first-new-rembrandt-in-44-years-idUSKCN1IH14V

What is synesthesia and what’s it like to have it?


Synesthetes can taste sounds, smell colors or see scents, and research proves these people experience reality differently.

By Laura Moss

I know that the number four is yellow, but I have a friend who insists four is red.

She also says four has a motherly personality, but my four has no personality — none of my numbers do. But all of my numbers have colors, and so do my letters, days and months.

My friend and I both have synesthesia, a perceptual condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers an automatic, involuntary experience in another sense.

Synesthesia can occur between just about any combination of senses or cognitive pathways.

Synesthetes — or people who have synesthesia — may see sounds, taste words or feel a sensation on their skin when they smell certain scents. They may also see abstract concepts like time projected in the space around them, like the image on the right.

Many synesthetes experience more than one form of the condition. For example, my friend and I both have grapheme-color synesthesia — numbers and letters trigger a color experience, even though my experience differs from hers.

Because her numbers have personalities, she also has a form of synesthesia known as ordinal-linguistic personification.

Scientists used to think synesthesia was quite rare, but they now think up to 4 percent of the population has some form of the condition.

What’s it like?

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, isn’t a synesthete, but he often uses this analogy to explain the phenomenon.

When you see this photo, you likely think “President Barack Obama” even though those words aren’t written anywhere on the picture. Your brain automatically and involuntarily makes that connection, much like my brain makes a connection between the number four and the color yellow.

“It’s not the same as a hallucination,” Eagleman explains in the documentary “Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapenos.” “It’s not actually interfering with their ability to see, so in that same way, you could picture a giant orange pumpkin sitting in front of you, but that doesn’t prevent you from seeing through that and past that.”

Synesthesia is a sensory phenomenon that’s unrelated to memory, so if you’re not a synesthete, you could teach yourself to associate a color with a certain number for example, but your brain wouldn’t respond the same way a synesthete’s would.

For instance, someone without grapheme-color synesthesia would have a more difficult time picking out the black twos from the black fives in the image on the left.

However, if your numbers have colors, you’ll see the triangle of twos almost instantly.

But this task may be even easier for some grapheme-color synesthetes.

Daniel Smilek, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo, has identified two groups of synesthetes among those who associate colors with letters and numbers. There are projectors, those whose colors fill the printed letter in front of them, and associators who see the colors in their mind’s eye, like I do.

What about people who can hear silent videos?

Synesthesia doesn’t just apply to people who associate certain colors with images. Some people have the ability to hear sounds in videos when there is actually no sound being played.

Psychologist Chris Fassnidge calls this phenomenon “visually evoked auditory response” (vEAR). While it’s technically not synesthesia, Fassnidge believes it’s a new form that warrants further study. “Some people describe it as a buzzing sound in their head,” Fassnidge told Vox. “For other people, it’s kind of like a white noise. And then other people say it varies depending on what it is they are looking at.”

A 2008 study suggests that vEAR is fairly common — affecting 20 to 30 percent of people — and many people may not realize they are associating faint sounds with imagery.

“A lot of people don’t realize they have this thing until you start testing for it in the laboratory,” Fassnidge said. “Maybe because they co-occur so frequently you either aren’t aware of the mental sound until you strip away everything else.”

What causes it?

About 40 percent of synesthetes have a first-degree relative with synesthesia, and many synesthetes recall having synesthesia as long as they can remember.

“I was definitely playing with it when I was 5 or 6 years old because I remember raiding my parents’ record cabinet, searching for records that I liked to listen to for colors,” said Sean Day, a synesthete who associates colors with both sounds and tastes.

A 2018 study conducted by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the University of Cambridge analyzed DNA samples from several families who have multiple generations of synesthetes. They concluded that while the families differed in DNA variations, there was one commonality. There was an enhancement of genes involved in cell migration and axonogenesis – a process that enables brain cells to wire up to their correct partners.

“This research is revealing how genetic variation can modify our sensory experiences, potentially via altered connectivity in the brain,” Professor Simon Baron-Cohen stated in the study. “Synesthesia is a clear example of neurodiversity which we should respect and celebrate.”

Other experts believe that everyone may be born with the ability to experience synesthesia.

Daphne Maurer, a psychologist at McMaster University, has speculated that all of us may be born with the neural connections that allow synesthesia, but that most of us lose those connections as we grow.

Eagleman acknowledges there may be synesthetic correspondences in the brains of non-synesthetes, but that people are unaware of them until they’re teased out.

He points to something called the bouba/kiki effect as an example. When asked to choose which of two shapes on the right is named “bouba” and which is “kiki,” most people choose kiki for the angular shape and bouba for the rounded one.

Research also shows that people are likely to say that louder tones are brighter than soft ones and that darker liquids smell stronger than lighter ones.

In his book, “Wednesday Is Indigo Blue,” Eagleman says these examples prove that these analogies are actually “pre-existing relationships.”

“In this way, synesthetic associations our ancestors established long ago grew into the more abstract expressions we know today — and this is why metaphors make sense,” he writes.

However, synesthesia differs from these examples in that the sensory experience triggered is automatic and unlearned, making it different from metaphorical thinking.

“It’s a genuine phenomenon, and people who have it are actually experiencing the world differently,” Eagleman said.

How is it tested?

Consistency is one of the best ways to test for synesthesia.

“If you tell me that your letter ‘J’ is a very particular shade of powder blue … I can test you on that and have you identify exactly the shade that best matches,” Eagleman said. “If you’re just being poetic or metaphorical or making something up, then you can’t capture those colors again. But if you’re really synesthetic, then you’ll be able to pick exactly those colors out years later.”

Researchers also look at synesthetes’ brains. Using positron-emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging, they’ve found that people who report seeing colors in music, for example, have increased activation in the visual areas of the brain in response to sound.

Pictured right are the regions of the brain that are thought to be cross-activated in grapheme-color synesthesia.

The pros and cons

Some synesthetes say their condition can be uncomfortable at times. For example, seeing words printed in the wrong color can be strange, or certain names may taste bad to a synesthete. Others report suffering sensory overload or feeling embarrassed at a young age when they describe experiences they didn’t know were atypical.

However, most synesthetes think of their abilities as a gift and wouldn’t want to lose them.

“You’ve experienced extremely unpleasant odors,” Day points out. “Do you want to permanently lose your sense of smell?”

There may also be some benefits to being a synesthete, such as an ability to discern similar colors and easily memorize information. For example, I might not remember a digit in a phone number, but I’ll have an impression of green and therefore know the mystery number is six. (Some of my numbers are pictured above, as depicted by the Synesthesia Battery.)

In 2005, Daniel Tammet set the European record for pi memorization by memorizing 22,514 digits in five hours. He attributed the feat to his ability to see numbers with color, texture and sound.

There’s also evidence that synesthesia may enhance creativity. A 2004 study at the University of California had a group of students take the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. The synesthetes who took the test scored more than twice as high in every category.

In some instances, the neurological condition has even led to unique job opportunities. Some car manufacturers, for example, are hiring synesthetes to help designers create cars that are more pleasing to potential drivers.

And synesthetes keep good company. The list of known synesthetes is long and includes Vladimir Nabokov, Vincent Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Billy Joel and Mary J. Blige.

Musician Pharrell Williams associates music with colors and says he can’t imagine life without this “gift.”

“If it was taken from me suddenly I’m not sure that I could make music,” he told Psychology Today. “I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it. I wouldn’t have a measure to understand.”

If you think you may be a synesthete, you can take the Synesthesia Battery created by David Eagleman’s lab: https://www.synesthete.org/pretest_start.php?action=register&remail=&semail=&ch=

Learn more about synesthesia and Eagleman’s research in the video below.

https://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/what-is-synesthesia-and-whats-it-like-to-have-it

Artificial Intelligence Invents New Styles of Art That People Like

By Chris Baraniuk

Now and then, a painter like Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso comes along and turns the art world on its head. They invent new aesthetic styles, forging movements such as impressionism or abstract expressionism. But could the next big shake-up be the work of a machine?

An artificial intelligence has been developed that produces images in unconventional styles – and much of its output has already been given the thumbs up by members of the public.

The idea is to make art that is “novel, but not too novel”, says Marian Mazzone, an art historian at the College of Charleston in South Carolina who worked on the system.

The team – which also included researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Facebook’s AI lab in California – modified a type of algorithm known as a generative adversarial network (GAN), in which two neural nets play off against each other to get better and better results. One creates a solution, the other judges it – and the algorithm loops back and forth until the desired result is reached.

In the art AI, one of these roles is played by a generator network, which creates images. The other is played by a discriminator network, which was trained on 81,500 paintings to tell the difference between images we would class as artworks and those we wouldn’t – such as a photo or diagram, say.

The discriminator was also trained to distinguish different styles of art, such as rococo or cubism.

Art with a twist

The clever twist is that the generator is primed to produce an image that the discriminator recognises as art, but which does not fall into any of the existing styles.

“You want to have something really creative and striking – but at the same time not go too far and make something that isn’t aesthetically pleasing,” says team member Ahmed Elgammal at Rutgers University.

Once the AI had produced a series of images, members of the public were asked to judge them alongside paintings by people in an online survey, without knowing which were the AI’s work. Participants answered questions about how complex or novel they felt each image was, and whether it inspired them or elevated their mood. To the researchers’ surprise, images produced by their AI scored slightly higher in many cases than those by humans.

AIs that can tweak photos to mimic the style of famous painters such as Monet are already widely available. There are even apps that do this, such as DeepArt. But the new system is designed to produce original works from scratch.

Outside the comfort zone

“I like the idea that people are starting to push GANs out of their comfort zone – this is the first paper I’ve seen that does that,” says Mark Riedl at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

The results of the survey are interesting, says Kevin Walker at the Royal College of Art in London. “The top-ranked images contain an aesthetic combination of colours and patterns in composition, whereas the lowest-ranked ones are maybe more uniform,” he says (see image above).

Walker also notes that creative machines are already producing work for galleries. For example, two of his students are experimenting with AI that can learn from their drawing style to produce its own images. One, Anna Ridler, has used this technique to develop frames for a 12-minute animated film.

Art such as Ridler’s still relies heavily on human guidance, however. So will we ever value paintings generated spontaneously by a computer?

Riedl points out that the human story behind an artwork is often an important part of what endears us to it.

But Walker thinks the lines will soon get blurry. “Imagine having people over for a dinner party and they ask, ‘Who is that by?’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s a machine actually’. That would be an interesting conversation starter.”

Reference: arxiv.org/abs/1706.07068

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2139184-artificially-intelligent-painters-invent-new-styles-of-art/