June 2010

Almost Science, Always Art


Alan Rorie is a neuroscientist by training. These days, however, you’re more likely to find him using an MIG (metal-inert gas) welder to send sparks skimming over a cool slab of metal than peering at glowing monkey neurons through a microscope.

The Dihemispheric Chronaether Agitator from Almost Scientific on Vimeo.

From Neurons to the Neuron Chamber

Not too many years ago, Rorie was a graduate student at Stanford University, investigating the amalgamation of different types of information in the cortexes of macaques during the decision-making process.

Now, Rorie amalgamates metals (and sometimes other materials) into works of art in a process that he calls “almost scientific.” This is also the name of the science and art collaborative that Rorie founded, as well as the name of his website, www.almostscientific.com. The goal of Almost Scientific, the collaborative, is to “educate scientists about art and artists about science” through the creation of art pieces that tend to be quite large, with moving parts.

Rorie always has been intrigued by moving parts— as a child, he says he was “really interested in taking stereos and blenders apart and putting them back together.”  He also loved to read and write stories, which eventually led him to study the humanities in college. But, Rorie began to feel that the true source of being able to understand and appreciate the humanities was rooted biologically, in the brain. “What makes a great painting or symphony really has to do with how you perceive it,” says Rorie, “so I became very interested in the neuroscience of perception.”

By the time Rorie discovered that neuroscience wasn’t yet able to explain how the brain experiences art, he had nonetheless become intrigued. “I was already hooked on just understanding the brain and how it works,” he remembers. To this end, Rorie did a stint at the National Institute of Mental Health, then moved to California for graduate school.

Slowly, however, Rorie began to see that his future was not at the bench. It took a while for him to decide that he wanted to focus on, as he puts it, “art and creative pursuits.” Arriving at this conclusion wasn’t easy, particularly because everyone, including himself, thought of Rorie as a scientist.

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