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 voxel-based morphometry.
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 40 articles and chapters, including several seminal articles in top scientific journals such as the Proceedings of 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.
A passionate science communicator, she represented the scientific perspective as co-star of a television series called Miracle Detectives which aired in 2011 on the Oprah Winfrey network and hosted the popular science and critical thinking podcast called Point of Inquiry in 2012. In 2013, along with science journalist Chris Mooney and producer Adam Isaak, she launched Inquiring Minds, a podcast that explores the interface between science and society. Within four months, the podcast was awarded a "Best of iTunes" label, and has since been downloaded more than 7 million times. Her most recent venture is a new podcast called Cadence: what music tells us about the mind. In 2014, The Teaching Company released her 24-lecture series 12 Essential Scientific Concepts as part of The Great Courses. Her new course, Brain Myths Exploded, was released in 2017 and was the #2 best-selling audiobook on Audible.com in January 2018.