ART, ME and Medicine
Dr. Michael Miller MA(RCA), D.Phil (Oxon.)
I am an artist and a neurophysiologist and have combined these interests for about twenty years. People assume, when I say this, that I began my career as a neurophysiologist, but it is the other way around.
In fact I began my career as an actor. I joined the National Youth Theatre in Britain when I was sixteen and appeared on stage with Dame Helen Mirren at the Old Vic Theatre in London in a production of Antony and Cleopatra. She was Cleopatra and I carried a spear. But I stopped acting to study English and European Literature as an undergraduate. While largely unemployed as an actor I taught myself to paint and began exhibiting and selling work at about the age of eighteen.
After traveling around a bit and working in Italy and North Africa including two months in the Sahara desert, I joined the Royal College of Art, London, as a postgraduate in the now defunct department of Design Education. While writing a thesis on visualization of functional language structures for Arabic learners I became interested in memory visualization. In particular, I was interested in a book by the great Renaissance scholar, Frances Yates: The Art of Memory. I was also interested, as many artists are, by the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings are not just taken from post mortem specimens: they contain ideas from other artists and scientists. One of his drawings of the human brain, for example, shows the brain ventricles as described by Avicenna, a Persian polymath of the ninth and tenth centuries. However this interest in da Vinci led, by slow steps, to a more general interest in visualization of brain function. And at this point I was lucky to meet the late Edwin Clarke, a neurologist, who had co-written a monumental work on the history of the brain and spinal cord. He agreed to supervise my research, together with the philosopher and mathematician, Rom Harré, and I joined the University Laboratory of Physiology at Oxford. Once at Oxford I realized my research needed experience of brain dissection, and I worked for a while in the Department of Human Anatomy. That is how I became a neurophysiologist.
I became a neurophysiologist because I was an artist, and not the other way around. And my interest remains visualization in neurological medicine. For example, I am now co-writing a paper on the early work of the German neurologist, Korbinian Brodmann, and its current relevance to location of fronto-temporal lobar degeneration.
My talk will last five minutes and include projection of between 5-8 PDF visual files.