Art and the Mind Brain at the Kemper

March 2012


In 1989, following the publication of his monumental book, The Emperor's New Mind, British mathematical physicist Roger Penrose concluded a promotional lecture at Oxford with an announcement that caused quite a stir in the audience. He had recently met an American scientist, anesthesiologist Dr. Stuart Hameroff, who had explained to him that microtubules (a cytoskeleton that supports the structure of cells) could be the biological structure he was looking for to develop a quantum theory of consciousness.

In The Emperor's New Mind, Penrose had noted two experiments as direct examples of a physical interaction between the micro- and macro- scales. (One, conducted in 1941, demonstrated that the human retina can react to a single photon.) Meanwhile, in his 1987 Ultimate Computing: Biomolecular Consciousness and Nanotechnology, Stuart Hammeroff had talked about perfect forms (Plato) being embedded as a fundamental property of the universe and the ramification of this microtubule-driven, quantum-level biological reality for artificial intelligence. Was the wall between the microworld and the macroworld beginning to crumble?

Early in 2010, the micro-scale of the quantum began to interact with the macroworld far more than we suspected. Experimenters at Oxford University were reporting that quantum particles in a resonant state adopted vibrational patterns which relationships measured as the golden ratio. Artists, architects, and musicians have long known about the ratio, a precise mathematical formulation that holds mysterious aesthetic appeal. The Mona Lisa's proportions evoke the golden ratio, 1.6180339887 — which can be expressed in a variety of forms, including a mathematical figure. The 2010 Oxford experiment's lead investigator, Rado Coldea, asserted that the ratio was too precise for its appearance in quantum physics (and art) to be a coincidence. "It reflects a beautiful property of the quantum system, a hidden symmetry. Actually quite a special one called E8 by mathematicians, and this is its first observation in a material," Rado Coldea explained. See article in Science Daily». See also the article at»

Is there, in fact, a definitive intimate relationship between the macro- and micro-scales? The new findings did not make the Penrose-Hameroff model (Orch-OR) likely, but they did render the idea that quantum effects play a significant role in consciousness more plausible. With this in mind, I invite you to visit the Art and the Mind Brain exhibit currently on view at the Kemper Art Museum. Information about the exhibit follows.

— Math news, stories, videos, interview by Marie C. Taris,»  

Enjoyed this story? See also January 2013 News story Seeking Insights_On Mathematics, RH, and Braque⇨

The past decade has seen an explosion of interest in the bearing of cognitive science on the arts. New brain imaging technologies and sophisticated psychological measures have provided insights into the artist’s creative process and the perceiver’s response to art. What goes on in the minds of artists and audiences depends on perception, memory, and thought generally—capacities we ascribe to the brain. This investigation of art elucidates the mind and its relation to the brain; the mind-brain, as it might be called. This research has also led to the development of neuroaesthetics, a new field which addresses questions about beauty, artistic expression, and style in neurological terms.

This Teaching Gallery exhibition is curated by Mark Rollins, professor of philosophy, in conjunction with his course “Art and the Mind-Brain,” offered by Washington University’s School of Arts & Sciences in spring 2012, and will remain on view from January 27 through April 16, 2012.

Link to the exhibit: