“The Neural Orchestra: Instruments of Mind”

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.

Find out more about the event.