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Theo+Theo – Artist in Residence at TEDx Sydney 2017

Given the theme ‘unconventional’ by event organisers, Theo+Theo in partnership with Mammal got to work. We created an installation driven by brainwaves, and were appointed Artists in Residence for TEDxSydney 2017 in the process.

How your brain lights up in response to a TEDx talk.
The ‘Theory of Mind’ installation uses real volunteers from TEDxSydney 2017 to demonstrate how stories and ideas put your whole brain to work. It combines brain sensors with machine learning and computational fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) modelling, to visualise the regions of the brain that activate and encode information when engaging with a TED Talk.

What a TEDx talk does to our brains
Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions – like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area – are involved in how the brain interprets language. What science has revealed in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well.

A good story gets your whole brain involved
In fact, the brain does not make much of a distinction between hearing about an experience and encountering it in real life. So when we’re told a story, we relate it to our existing experiences.

For example:
• When you hear a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex responsible for touch becomes active
• Words describing motion activate our motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements
• Descriptions of food stimulate our gustatory cortex, the same part of the brain triggered by taste

This is why we feel what others feel, cringe when others cringe and live another’s pain, joy, heartache, fear, love, etc. Theory of Mind Mammal/Theo+Theo TEDxSydney Artists in Residence

Mammal and Theo+Theo would especially like to thank their many partners and collaborators for their help and support:

Dr Louise Cole – Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney; Associate Professor David McKenzie, Associate Professor Ernest Somerville and Roxanne Fielding – Prince of Wales Hospital; Cameron Charles – Compumedics Ltd; Chris Panzetta, Joel Flanagan, Naimul Khaled and team – S1T2; Camilo Jimenez – University of Sydney; Adam Dionisio, Benjamin Baggay and Joseph Concepcion – Redscope Films; Phil McNaughton – Greg Murphy Scenery

Inspired by the research of:

• Associate Professor Uri Hasson – Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University
• Keith Oatley – Dept Applied Psychology & Human Development, University of Toronto
• Véronique Boulenger – Laboratory of Language Dynamics, CNRS / Université Lumière Lyon
• Associate Professor Raymond A. Mar – The Mar Lab, York University
• Professor Tom Mitchell & Leila Wehbe – Machine Learning Department, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
• Alexander G. Huth, Thomas L. Griffiths, Frédéric E. Theunissen & Jack L. Gallant – The Gallant Lab, University of California, Berkeley


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