This week’s blog sees a thoroughly creative and conceptual image used to illustrate new patterns of neural activity in the brain generated through learning. Nature’s Art Director Kelly Krause and author Aaron Batista talk us through the selective process and cover design.
In a study of the extent to which new patterns of neural activity can be generated through learning, Aaron Batista and colleagues examine neuronal network reorganization in Rhesus macaques learning to control a computer cursor using different patterns of activity in motor cortex. Some new neural activity patterns were more easily generated than others — corresponding to more easily learned tasks — and these could be predicted mathematically from the network topology at the beginning of the experiment. The authors speculate that the results provide a basis for a neural explanation for the balance between adaptability and persistence in action and thought. Cover: Jasiek Krzysztofiak/Nature
From the Art Desk:
Art Director, Kelly Krause, explains:
“This cover is obviously a highly conceptual, artistic interpretation of the research. As with most creative endeavours, the final image is the result of many stages of ideas and iteration.
“It all started with a fantastic idea from author Aaron Batista, who saw the work of Escher as a good visual metaphor for his work.”
Batista said: “Escher’s art involves covering space (his tessellations) and playing with dimensionality. His themes resonate with our work. We tile a mathematical space with distinct patterns of neural population activity, and we define two spaces of neural activity, which appear identical, yet one is unreachable from the other. Our idea for this illustration would be a tessellation at the bottom of the page. The design elements which tessellate might be a cortical hemisphere and a 3D geometrical space with a 2D plane within it. Then, out of the tessellation would emerge an impossible staircase – that is, one of those that keeps going up but ends up where it started. This conveys the idea of a self-contained manifold. Above it, upside-down, is a second staircase that looks the same as the first, but is clearly not reachable from it. It’s perhaps hard to make out all that in the second attached illustration, but we think the idea might have some promise.”
(See original sketch, below, from Amanda Crossen and Jordan Bush in Carnegie Mellon University’s art department, as a result of a brainstorm with Batista and co-authors Patrick Sadtler and Byron Yu.)
Krause: “I was taken with the idea, and after some conversation around the office we decided to build on the idea of creating an Escher themed world by making an image inspired by the new hit game Monument Valley. We pitched this idea to Batista and team and they embraced that direction, as Batista had actually been playing Monument Valley when the Escher idea occurred to him in the first place!
“We then gave the brief to Jasiek Krzysztofiak in the Nature art team, who created this memorable and transporting cover art. It shows two people on different planes, to convey the idea of ‘neural manifolds beyond reach’. The purple corresponds to the manifold that is visited as the monkey from the study explores neural activity space. (It appears like the others, but it’s the only that that is reachable, thus the stairs). As a finishing touch, Jasiek created some gorgeous breezy neurons to firmly set the scene in the brain.”
For additional behind the scenes commentary each week, check out the Nature Art Team’s Nature Graphics Tumblr and the previous Under the Covers on the Early Jurassic basal mammals, Morganucodon and Kuehneotherium, hunting their prey.