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By Morgan Kelly for Princeton University News

So accustomed are we to metaphors related to taste that when we hear a kind smile described as “sweet,” or a resentful comment as “bitter,” we most likely don’t even think of those words as metaphors. But while it may seem to our ears that “sweet” by any other name means the same thing, new research shows that taste-related words actually engage the emotional centers of the brain more than literal words with the same meaning.

Researchers from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin report in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience the first study to experimentally show that the brain processes these everyday metaphors differently than literal language. In the study, participants read 37 sentences that included common metaphors based on taste while the researchers recorded their brain activity. Each taste-related word was then swapped with a literal counterpart so that, for instance, “She looked at him sweetly” became “She looked at him kindly.”

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Researchers from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin found that taste-related metaphors such as “sweet” actually engage the emotional centers of the brain more than literal words such as “kind” that have the same meaning. If metaphors in general elicit a similar emotional response, that could mean that figurative language presents a “rhetorical advantage” when communicating with others. (Photo illustration by Matilda Luk, Office of Communications)

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When I came across Megan McGlynn’s neuro-inspired wood sculptures, one piece grabbed my attention in particular – “Structure of the Mammalian Retina”. It is not the most visually stunning example of her work. In fact it may be a more understated piece. However the title intrigued me a great deal. My mother had just suffered from retinal tear and vitreous hemorrhage in her left eye during her cataract surgery, when the doctor accidentally punctured her retina with anaesthesia needle.  This necessitated a second, emergency surgery – vitrectomy – to repair the damage. I never knew that the delicate, sacred human eye can withstand such abuses!

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Dealing with this unfortunate accident and preparing my mother for the procedures gave me a crash course on anatomy of the eye, and ophthalmology. McGlynn’s sculpture prompted me to look further into the biological structure of the human retina, its functional connection with the brain and the part it plays in the vision system. Read More

Since the emergence of human consciousness,  mankind has been grappling with two eternal questions:

  • What is life and where did life come from?
  • What is death and what happens after death?

These questions gave rise to religion.  They also endure in works of art.

Paul Gaugain inscribed this on one of his masterpieces:

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous

(Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?)

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“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin

Charlotte's Web_9780064400558

E.B. White asked in “Charlotte’s Web”:

“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.”

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Photo by: Nathan Hunsinger

For fellow humans living in the 21st century, composer Tod Machover asks these existential questions again in a futuristic opera “Death and the Powers“, a production of the MIT Media Lab where he teaches Music and Media. Read More

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

Musings on Memory and Aging

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

Stanford Center on Longevity

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

where neural understanding interacts with the rest of life

The Beautiful Brain

a website about neuroscience and art that peaked in 2009 but is still going