Back to Reading

I was like a kid in a candy store yesterday. However in this case my candy store was a book store. Instead of just browsing, I actually bought a stack of really interesting books, thanks to the thoughtful birthday gifts from my friends and family. I bought a lot of books about the brain.

Fascination with the brain

The reason for my fascination with the workings of the brain is my personal experience with autism. My older brother is autistic, also very low functioning and has never spoken. I don’t know if I specifically thought of my brother in terms of brain function when I was a kid, although my parents explained that he couldn’t help himself. I was more than a little frustrated by my inability to make meaningful contact with him. Perhaps the failure to connect with him drove me to the intellectual pursuit of reasons to explain Mike’s condition.

I have been very fortunate to work with Dr. Andrew Lautin, author of The Limbic Brain, as co-author and editor of a forthcoming introductory neuroanatomy text. I have learned quite a bit about the development and organization of the central nervous system from embryonic stages to maturity.

History of brain study

One of the unique features of our book is its devotion to historical context of the brain anatomy. The brain has been studied since the time of Aristotle. With the passage of time and improvement in technology (such as the advent of the microscope, brain tissue preservation techniques, etc.), a clearer picture of brain organization and function has emerged and is continuing to develop.

Mirror neurons

One of the books I bought is called Mirroring People by Marco Iacoboni. ‘Mirror neurons’ were discovered in the 1980s. These neurons, in the premotor cortex fire in response to a sensory input. As explained by Iacoboni, the act of observing someone throwing a ball, for example would cause the mirror neurons to fire.  This seems odd in light of all the historical evidence that separates sensory and motor functions of the central nervous system.

Mirroring People promises to be an interesting read. The synopsis of this book notes that mirror neurons are important factors in empathy, and might be involved on one’s sense of morality.  Food for thought, indeed. I look forward to sharing more about mirror neurons as I make progress through the book.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

It has been very hot out here in California lately. I took advantage of the relative coolness in the morning to sketch a scene in our cousin’s back yard. My wife has been visiting her cousin at the house where we are staying presently, for more than 50 years. The bloom has left the Japanese garden that her uncle built, however, the basic structure remains. Joy remembers it as it was.

The watercolor sketch below is a different vantage point from yesterday’s backyard portrait:

Watercolor Sketch - Rock Garden and Pool in Back Yard

Rock Garden and Pool
12″x9″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

I sketched the scene with one of those jumbo pencils (HB hardness). I like the thickness of this kind of wooden pencil and the graphite encased within. I must admit that I shaded the darker areas with pencil before I painted. I did not erase any pencil lines prior to painting.

As in yesterday’s sketch, the primary palette consisted of earth tones: burnt umber, yellow ochre, quinacridone gold and warm sienna. The rocks were painted with a combination of ivory black for the shadows and washed with Payne’s gray. I tinted the white of the bridge with a little blue that was on my palette and used Prussian blue for the inside of the empty pool.  I filled in some details and edges with pen and ink.

I don’t know for certain if my mirror neurons are at work when I paint. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. I hope a read through my new book will answer that question.

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