Assistive Technologies

National Evening of Sci on Screen: Theater of Thought

1hr 47mins
Directed by
Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog,
Rafael Yuste,
Polina Anikeeva

Introduced by neural engineer and professor Polina Anikeeva, who is featured in the film. 

Dr. Anikeeva works at the intersection of materials science, electronics, and neurobiology to improve our understanding of disorders of the nervous system.

About the Film

Legendary filmmaker (and 2018 Coolidge Award honoree) Werner Herzog sets his sights on yet another mysterious landscape — the human brain — for clues as to why a hunk of tissue can produce profound thoughts and feelings while considering the philosophical, ethical, and social implications of fast-advancing neural technology.

Herzog teams with scientist Rafael Yuste who, in the filmmaker’s words, “is at the forefront of research that will change the world as much as the understanding of DNA has changed it.” They go on a road trip to meet an array of people whose cutting-edge research sounds like the stuff of science fiction. There’s the tech billionaire funding brain scanners. The scientist inspired by psychedelic trips to build a brain-to-computer interface. And the human rights lawyer who warns that the international community is totally unprepared for the rapid advances in neural technology.

Herzog delights in dialogues that probe into philosophy, ethics, and the offbeat. He ponders questions such as: How do all our senses of motion, love, hate, pleasure, pain, and more emerge from the tissue inside our skull? How does music affect human existence? Do fish have souls? How does a tightrope walker conquer fear? How stupid is Siri? Are we living in some sort of theatre of thought, an imaginary world that only exists in our brain?

The film is multifaceted, illuminating the technological advances that are helping people overcome brain-related illness, confronting conspiracy theories over implanted chips, and questioning the politics of mind control.

Most of us will never set foot on the forbidding terrain Herzog has traversed. But we all have a brain. This film deepens our understanding of what’s happening inside it.

— Toronto International Film Festival

About the Speaker

Polina Anikeeva received her BS in physics from St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University in 2003 and a PhD in materials science and engineering from MIT in 2009. She completed her postdoctoral training at Stanford University, where she created devices for optical stimulation and recording from brain circuits. She joined the MIT faculty in 2011. She serves as the director of the K. Lisa Yang Brain-Body Center at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and is an associate director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics.

Supported By

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