February 29, 2024

Beauty and the brain scan

Wellcome Trust bankrolls neuroaesthetics

There is an intriguing job vacancy at University
College London for a PhD interested in neuroaesthetics. The successful
candidate will be investigating “the neural bases of creativity and
affective mental states such as the experience of beauty”. Is this another
sign of a growing conviction that neuroscience will explain everything?

Could be. A bit of Googling reveals that this job
is part of a £1 million grant from the Wellcome Foundation to Professor
Semir Zeki. According to last
year’s press release
, his mission is to search for “the neural and
biological basis for creativity, beauty and love”. The Wellcome Trust, which disburses over £600
million every year for medical research, is the largest non-government
medical research donor. 

"The new field of
neuroaesthetics will teach biologists to use the products of the brain in art,
music, literature and mathematics to better understand how the brain
functions," says Professor Zeki. "Success will encourage an
interdisciplinary approach to other fields, such as the study of economics or
jurisprudence in terms of brain activity. This will have a deep impact on
social issues."

And the Wellcome Trust seems
convinced that this is not phrenology for modern man. It praised Professor Zeki
as "a Renaissance man for the 21st century," whose "research sees
no boundaries between science and the arts and humanities, and will provide an
exciting insight into issues that strike at the heart of what it is to be