Why do we search for miracles? Why does my memory of last night’s dinner party differ from yours? Why does opera make me cry but leave you cold?
These are questions whose answers require expertise in both
art and science. And that’s where Indre’s experience,
passion and education meet.
Psychology is the scientific study of how the mind works.
What we do, or how we behave, is a window into our minds.
Neuroscience takes the study of the mind and behavior one
step further, and is geared towards understanding how the
organic matter of the brain supports our thoughts,
memories, emotions, passions and perceptions. As an opera
singer, Indre explores the effects of extreme circumstances
on the minds and souls of the characters she embodies.
Through science, we discover general principles that define
our world. Through art, we discover how individual
experiences illustrate what is universal. Answering life’s
big questions requires both viewpoints. What scientists and
artists have in common is that they are the observers in
our society. Where science ends, art begins.
An experienced observer of human behavior, Dr. Indre
Viskontas has published ground-breaking work on the neural
basis of memory and creativity, and has won numerous
research and teaching awards. Holding a PhD from UCLA in
cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Viskontas studies how memories,
creativity and other cognitive processes are supported by
neural networks, using cutting-edge techniques, including
direct recordings from neurons in the human brain,
high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging and
Dr. Viskontas’s work is characterized by innovation and a
focus on the ‘big’ questions in neuroscience: how do brain
cells code memory? What memory processes enable creative
thinking? How can the paradoxical facilitation of
creativity emerge from a degenerating brain?
Since completing her PhD in 2006, she has published more
than 30 articles and chapters, including several seminal
articles in top scientific journals such as the
the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of
Neuroscience, Current Opinion in
Neurology and Nature: Clinical
Practice. Her dissertation was
recognized as the best of her class, and she was a finalist
for the New York Academy of Sciences dissertation prize.
Dr. Viskontas has also been the recipient of numerous
fellowships, including a 4-year Julie-Payette Research
Fellowship awarded to the top 10 Canadian graduate students
in the Life Sciences, the Ursula Mandel Fellowship, a UCLA
dissertation fellowship, a McBean Family Foundation
fellowship, the Charles and Sue Young award for the top
five graduate students at UCLA, and the prestigious Larry
Cermak award at the Memory Disorders Meeting.
In 2012, Dr. Viskontas joined the collegiate faculty of the
San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she teaches
undergraduate and graduate studies how to apply the
principles of neuroscience to develop effective and
efficient practice strategies. She is also currently
affiliated with the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF, under
the direction of Dr. Bruce Miller, where she explores
creative impulses in patients with neurodegenerative
diseases. Her ongoing collaborations include projects with
internationally-acclaimed artist Deborah Aschheim, with
whom she is creating art pieces and scientific research
investigating the interplay between memory, creativity and
the brain, as well as several studies of creativity in
patients with degenerative dementias. She has been invited
to speak at scientific conferences around the world, and is
an Editor of the journal Neurocase.
She represented science as co-star of a television series
called “Miracle Detectives” which aired in 2011 on the
Oprah Winfrey network and hosts the popular science and
critical thinking podcast called Point of Inquiry.