Plan to attend the Department of Cognitive Science Colloquium, which will feature Francesca Brittan, associate professor in the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University. Her presentation is titled: “The Neural Orchestra: Instruments of Mind” and the event will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 11, in Room 618 at Crawford Hall.
In the last several decades, research (both professional and public-facing) across the cognitive neurosciences has drawn increasingly frequently on the figure of the “neural orchestra,” a metaphor mapping the activities of localized cortical areas onto sections of a musical ensemble.
Although the model was embraced as a novelty in the mid-1990s (a substitute for computational models of cognition), it has much older roots. This talk traces the brain-orchestra to its origins in the early nineteenth century, when phrenologists first introduced the “multi-instrument” mind, linking ideals of symphonic unanimity and centralized control to higher-order human cognition.
Orchestral rhetorics, especially the authoritarian discourses associated with conductors, shaped early neuroscientific theory, as well as vice versa: the orchestra in the brain was also a brain in the orchestra. Today, the historical neuropolitics that generated the mind-orchestra have been largely forgotten, but they continue to exert a spectral influence, hovering behind descriptions of “orchestrated” attention, references to neuronal harmony, and conceptions of the “well-conducted” mind.