InScience Film Festival

InScience 2024 opened with a Brainlanding

In a room filled to the brim, InScience 2024 was opened with a poem by sign language performer Boaz Blume. Watching the expressive performance gave the audience a sense of this visual language. It’s like trying to understand a foreign language. The audience did not receive the literal words in the series of gestures, which seem fairly random, but the manner in which they were used perfectly showed the emotional layers in the poem.

After this it was time for festival director Daisy van der Zande and Nijmegen mayor Hubert Bruls to introduce the festival. Their stories clearly showed how unique InScience, one of the largest science film festivals in Europe, actually is. An optimistic vision of the future was even outlined, in which InScience takes over the entire city and can show films at unique, matching locations. Edition 2024 has not yet started and we are already looking forward to the next years…

But at a film festival about science, science itself must of course also be discussed. That happened in a very spectacular way. Films, and certainly the films shown on InScience, do all kinds of things to the human brain. We all know that, of course, but what exactly happens in that brain? The public could see this live during the Brainlanding of renowned brain scientist Peter Hagoort. Hagoort introduced his story with images of the 1969 moon landing. He wanted to say: the same actually applies to developments in neuroscience. For thousands of years we didn’t know what was happening in the brain. The only way to study this was by looking at the brains of deceased people. With modern techniques such as PET and MRI we can now look inside a living brain. We can measure in detail which brain areas are active and where different types of information are processed. This may not be as spectacular as a moon landing, but scientifically speaking it may be a bigger step forward.

The public was able to see this live during a live connection with the Donders Institute of Radboud University. Test subject Diede was placed in an MRI scanner that made the various brain areas visible. This was followed by a series of seven fragments from films that will be shown at Inscience this year. Diede was also shown these fragments, and while she watched, the audience watched what happened in her brain. The lighting of the areas responsible for processing visual information, as well as auditory information, was very visible. Film is not just an image, areas are also activated that are responsible for integrating different information flows, for example, so that a conscious experience is created. After all, we do not experience a film as a separate image and sound stream: we experience it as a whole, as a film. And here we could see that happening live.

There are some individual differences between people, but roughly speaking, the same brain areas will be activated with the same ‘stimuli’. In other words, what we saw happening in Diede’s brain also happened at the same time in the audience’s brain. The Brainlanding offered a unique insight into what was completely invisible not so long ago.

But brains cannot survive without fuel either. After this live scientific experiment, the festival was officially opened, and everyone rushed to the drinks, looking ahead to the program that will unfold in the coming days.

Text: Lennart Quispel
Photos: Marcel Krijgsman

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