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Marlene Oscar Berman

Marlene heads up the Phd. program in neuroscience at Boston University and, for over 30 years, has conducted research in neuroscience at Boston Mass General, the home of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology, the fundamental tool used today in neuroscience research. She primarily studies the area of the brain that controls emotions. Marlene invited me to attend classes in the Phd. program as a guest and to participate in her research as a control subject.


In one experiment, for instance, Marlene’s lab assistants placed a box on my tummy and rolled me into the MRI chamber. The box had a left and right button and I was to press one or the other after being shown an image. With the loud sounds of the MRI machine blasting around me, I saw images above me that were intensely disturbing, or positive and pleasant, or neutral and innocuous. For each series of images, I was to answer a question by pressing one of the buttons—for instance, did the image have color? Did I think the people in the image were intelligent? Each question elicited different functioning areas of my brain, which later I could see as colors flitting across a three-dimensional model of my brain in kaleideoscopic patterns.


These experiences, and the discussions surrounding them, gave me a keen insight into the front lines of neuroscience—the issues, tools, techniques, premises, and extrapolations that are possible. Over the years, over many conversations with Marlene, I’ve been lucky to follow the evolution of knowledge in neuroscience, which has increased dramatically on new techniques and software synthesis, as well as on the sheer number of exploratory topics scientists all over the world have conducted. While neuroscience is a long way from defining what a “thought” is, more and more clues emerge almost daily. These clues paint a picture that demands fundamental shifts in our understanding of how we perceive the world and how we represent ourselves in it. Many of these shifts have become foundations in zeriosantalios, a philosophy of grace, beauty, meaning, and communication that lies at the heart of The Celumbra Project.