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Last week I was at the Neuro-Art conference hosted by Plymouth University. A fascinating crossover of science, biology, art and technology: using live brain cells to make music, control a robotic drawing machine, and many other incarnations. I was surprised to find just how strong the wish to reduce everything to machinery is in us still, in this case to pull the brain apart in order to reveal the mechanics of the mind. It was a fascinating two days. I am still trying to work out where I stand on all this but one fact I found comforting: the machinery responsible for passing messages from one brain neurone to another, the synapse, is surprisingly unreliable, failing to work half the time (yes, half the time). In amongst all the hard science, predictions that we will become a fusing of biology and technology, that when we have understood how the mind works we will know ourselves, in amongst all this heady stuff this simple fact seemed like a breathing space: a place where something else can come in…which led me to a new word, for me at least, syncretic. The picture is from 1899 and is by Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

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