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It Blinks, It Thinks?

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Luminous Brains and a Visual Culture of Electric Display, circa 1930

image of Nuncius

This article traces attempts in the 1930s to create a spatio-temporal model of the active, living brain. Images and models of electric, illuminated displays – derived from electro-technology and engineering – allowed for a changing imaginary of a brain that was immediately accessible. The example of the Luminous Brain Model, a three-dimensional science education model, demonstrates how the visual language of illumination could serve as a flexible rhetorical tool that offered sensations of liveliness to modern viewers and promised to show a transparent view of a dynamic brain. Alternatively, various scientists in the 1930s used the analogy of the brain as an illuminated electric news ticker to conceptualize temporal patterns of changing brain activity, thus drawing the brain into a new metropolitan sphere of material surfaces with real-time mediation. These two historical imaginaries of blinking brains reveal new trajectories of the ‘metaphorical circuits’ through which technology and cerebral biology are mutually articulated.

Affiliations: 1: Universiteit van Amsterdam


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