Skin – brain – mind?
At the exhibition Anima Mundi in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands, we present an installation about research with brain tissue that has been made in the lab: brain organoids.
As scientists (Eswar and Mark) and an ethicist (Jeantine), we are involved in research into the engineering of tissue and organs through very advanced synthetic biology and genomic methods.
When engineering (human) brain tissue, many questions arise, and it forces us to reflect upon our brain, what it is, and how it functions. More particularly, we need to think about the so-called "emergent properties" of the brain: What is consciousness? How does it arise? What can we know about our mind? Does it make a difference if we look at human brains or animal brains? There are many other new, unanswered questions like these, touching upon deep philosophical and ethical problems.
The Anima Mundi exhibition focuses on these and other existential questions, in a great variety of contexts. "Anima" (Latin) is a very rich notion that stands for air, wind, breeze, for breathing, life, and for soul, spirit, vital principle. The question that the exhibition (curated by Hans van der Ham) raises is concerned with people's thoughts about "ensoulment", and how these thoughts have been expressed in art—over the ages, and across continents and cultures. We are delighted that we have been invited to show another context where these questions arise—neuroscience—when we purposefully engineer human brain tissue.