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Seeds, Brains, and Bridges: Allegory of Venice, Arts, and Science for a Vision of the Future

Seeds, Brains, and Bridges
Allegory of Venice, Arts, and Science
for a Vision of the Future
Maria Mannone
Department of Engineering, University of Palermo, Italy
ECLT and DAIS, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy
What could the Venice of the future look like? A project for an ideal city can take off from an
allegory: arts and sciences inside a seed of Lodoicea maldivica, whose bipartition reminds us of a
human brain. From the seeds left by the past, we derive the vision of the future.
The ideal city certainly needs brains able to conceptualize images and develop ideas, and bridges
to strengthen connections and interactions. A well-working brain needs “bridges” as connections
between ideas and techniques. My vision for a future city contains a livable and stimulating space
enhancing at one time creativity, enthusiasm, and scientific development. To this aim, I use the
image and the metaphor of cerebral hemispheres, specialized in activities of different typologies yet
The image of the brain is one of the symbols of cognition. The right hemisphere deals with artistic
expression, while the left hemisphere refers to logic thinking, mathematics, scientific attitude toward
the world.
Different cerebral areas, which contribute to the complex and rich life of an individual, are a metaphor
for different places in a city, contributing to the completeness of a community life.
Separation between hemispheres, also as a homage to Venice, is seen as a sort of Canal Grande,
and connections are represented by bridges. The whole brain is seen as a giant seed of Lodoicea
maldivica: the city of the future needs to develop from seeds, that is, knowledge inherited from the
past and new ideas from our minds and thoughts. Thoughts that, in turn, are fed upon the Science
of Complexity.
Keywords: bridge, interdisciplinary, STEAM, Venice, brain
THIS IS A PREPRINT of the ARTICLE PUBLISHED by ACM, Creativity and Cognition,
Venice 2022,
1 Motivations
The recent Nobel Prize for Physics Giorgio Parisi addressed public attention to complex systems. Science
of Complexity is a flourishing field of research. Complex systems cannot be described as the simple sums
of their components, and they require a flexible and interdisciplinary approach. The overall working
of human body, the natural or artificial swarm intelligence, the global climate, are a few examples of
complex systems.
An efficient city can in fact also be seen as a complex system. In fact, a city is constituted by a
multiplicity of realizations and of individual behaviors, clustered within communities, centers, buildings,
activities. In this sense, a city can be compared with a human body, with cells clustered and distributed
in organs, with their particular physics and physiology—and pathology.
The human brain is a complex system by itself, where, since longtime, researchers have identified
specific areas specialized in different activities. As a healthy brain presents a balance of its elements,
and a working connecting between its parts, at the same time a healthy city should present a balance
and a connection amongst all its parts. If the city taken as the starting model is, as in this case,
Venice, the problematics increase—depopulation, water issues, problems of maintenance and restoration
of buildings—but creative, aesthetic, and collaborative potential increase as well. They are stimulated
not only by the urgency of solving problems, but also by the unicity of the place.
The development of future cities can profit from an enhanced interconnection between different fields
of human knowledge, and in particular, it can benefit from mutual interchanges between arts and sciences.;
The comparison city–brain–Venice is the motivation behind the drawing Lodoicea maldivica. The
title will be explained later.
Figure 1: Lodoicea Maldivica, hand-drawing by Maria Mannone, 2022.
2 Drawing description
2.1 Links to a visual portfolio of the artwork
Figure 1 shows my drawing titled Lodoicea maldivica. Alternative titles of this work could have been:
Seeds and Bridges, or Brains and Bridges. Each one of these titles is a reference to one of the represented
Why the chosen title? The overall image can be seen as a giant seed, the seed of a coco-de-mer, the
largest seed in nature. The scientific name of its plant is Lodoicea maldivica [1], chosen as the title of the
drawing. Coco’s leaves frame the central drawing. In nature, the similarity with a brain is also recalled
by walnuts. Thus, we can see a brain as a mix of a (much larger) coco seed with the convolutions of a
walnut (much smaller). In fact, as the starting point for a tree is a seed, the starting point for the city of
the future is the brain, the idea, the project, the collaboration between different attitudes and research
fields, and, ultimately, the collaboration amongst individuals.
This drawing is my most recent work in a black and white series inspired by art and science interac-
tions, in the spirit of creativity and cognition interchanges.
A visual portfolio of my works, including images in the same style of the proposed drawing, can be
found in my website.1My most recent drawings have appeared in mathematical art exhibition catalogs.2
One of these drawings, inspired by mathematical Duality category theory and mirroring/opposites in
the visual arts, is contextualized within an artist statement [5]. Sources of visual inspiration for my work
are Bosch paintings, Baroque themes, Surrealism ideas, Gaud´ı mixing of visual forms, mathematics, and
nature. Musically, some of the main inspirations are the counterpoint, with its hidden symmetries, and
Mahlerian symphonies, with continuously-developing cells—as a growing forest.
Another fundamental theme of my inspiration is the city of Venice. My Venice-inspired works include
a drawing of a maze (Venetian aMazing Recursions3), a theoretical study on the glass installation Qwalala
[6], the picture Venetian Distoring Mirrors [7], a musical piece and video derived from the form of a
gondola.4In this piece, music and images are generated simultaneously, as the products of the same
creating gesture [4].
2.2 Narrative description of the piece
2.2.1 Conceptual goals and functional operations
Conceptual goals of the drawing Lodoicea maldivica concern a synthetic view of elements characterizing
the ideal city of the future—the most significant human activities exemplified by excellence in arts and
sciences and their creative connections—joined with specific elements of Venice, re-read as essential
connecting elements.
Functional operations for reading and using the drawing imply different levels of observation. At a
first level, i.e., at a first glance, the observer can catch a glimpse of a human brain.
Upon a closer observation (second level), the observer may notice that the brain contains several
smaller images. On the left, there are symbols of different fields and activities of science; on the right,
there are references to the arts. The two hemispheres, and therefore the exemplified sectors, are connected
by several bridges. Two of them are recognizable Venetian bridges, as a tribute to the city of Venice: on
the upper side of the image we see the Rialto bridge, and, on the lower side, the Ponte dell’Accademia.
In the third level of observation, one can catch the global similarity between the brain image and the
large seed of Lodoicea maldivica (coco-de-mer), a plant the drawing is named after. Then, we focus on
the leaves framing the seed, well-visible on both sides of the main image. Plant kingdom references, and
particular references to a plant from Seychelles, can remind us of the complexities of the countries where
this plant lives in. We can also think of risks for cities such as Venice associated with rising sea level.
Overall, the proposed visual metaphor is meant as a reflection on hidden bridges connecting different
worlds and activities. This drawing is an invitation to consider and connect all the highlighted reading
levels, starting a synthesis process where every brain is a forge, or a seed, able to generate a better future.
2.2.2 Detailed description of the image
Let us now analyze the details of the drawing. Lodoicea maldivica shows a human brain whose lobes are
made upon of different elements and symbols, mainly belonging to arts and sciences. The traditional
distinction between a logic left hemisphere and an artistic right hemisphere [3] is the starting point for
the drawing. According to [8], creativity potential is common to both hemispheres. I would like to stress
the importance of the communication between hemispheres in order to exploit the maximum potential
of individual creativity, and proceeding toward a logic as well as insightful problem-solving. Similarly,
in an efficient and livable city, places, institutions, departments, schools, hospitals, recreation centers,
theaters, should be well-coordinated and synergistically interacting between them.
The drawing contains a visual analogy between vascularization of the brain and water canals of
The blood which takes the brain alive is, in this drawing, the water of canals, that takes the city
alive—but whose excess can damage it. Similarly, the health of a brain is a delicate equilibrium of
different components.
The left hemisphere contains, in detail: a chessboard (intellectual activity and possible outcome
predictions), a 0 1 matrix (computer science), dolphins (biology), an ammonite (paleontology), a DNA
double helix (genetics), and also: a worldsheet with closed strings from string theory (theoretical physics),
2 mathematics-meetings and 2021
a second partial derivative (mathematics), a planetary model of an atom, a sheet with the Schr¨odinger
equation (physics, quantum mechanics) which becomes a sheet of music in the other hemisphere.
The right hemisphere contains: a skewed piano-harpsichord keyboard, a tree, a dancer, a violin
resonance box profile, a violin pegbox, a color palette, a trumpet, a sketch of houses in Venetian style,
some painting brushes, a candle, a light bulb, water canals that become a tree or brain loops.
In both hemispheres, some images morph into other ones, representing connections between concepts
and skills, and the continuous interchange between scientific and artistic worlds.
The separation between the hemispheres reminds one to Canal Grande. The connecting bridges are
represented here by: the Rialto Bridge; a black and white rainbow; the Ponte dell’Accademia; a bridge
constituted of arrows, symbol of the communication between sciences and arts. Arrows are key elements
in mathematical category theory. Science needs intuition and the arts need discipline and thinking: this
is the ultimate meaning of the arrows at the bottom of the image.
The rainbow is included as an example of “bridge topic” between art and science: in addition to
being a topic of poetry and painting, it can be studied in light of physics.
Connections between hemispheres recently inspired a Nature award-winning artwork [9]. In human
anatomy, the bridging function of connection between the hemispheres is accomplished by the corpus
callosum [2]. It is quite a complex connection: The corpus callosum is a large bundle of more than
200 million myelinated nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres, permitting communication
between the right and left sides of the brain [2]. According to [2], violence and abuse suffered at a young
age can determine the deterioration and reduction of this natural bridge. Similarly, in a town, disorders
and violence can negatively affect bridges, damaging them and eventually leading to their destruction.
3 All technical and logistical requirements of the piece
The piece consists of a black and white hand-made pencil drawing, on a 23 ×41 cm paper. To be
displayed, it would only require a stand and a label with the title. A brief description (as the abstract
in this short paper), or a QR code leading to a webpage with an explanation, could facilitate the work
understanding for visitors.
[1] Peter J. Edwards, Johannes Kollmann, and Karl Fleischmann. Life history evolution in Lodoicea
maldivica (Arecaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany, 22(2):227–238, 2002.
[2] Allonna Harker. Chapter 16 - Social Dysfunction: The Effects of Early Trauma and Adversity on
Socialization and Brain Development. 16.5.4 Corpus callosum. In Robbin Gibb and Bryan Kolb,
editors, The Neurobiology of Brain and Behavioral Development. Elsevier, 2018.
[3] Klaus D. Hoppe. Hemispheric Specialization and Creativity. Psychiatric Clinics of North America,
11(9):303–315, 1988.
[4] Maria Mannone. Introduction to gestural similarity in music. An application of category theory to
the orchestra. Journal of Mathematics and Music, 12(2):63–87, 2018.
[5] Maria Mannone. Reversing arrows: Duality. Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, 2021. URL
[6] Maria Mannone. A musical reading of a contemporary installation and back: mathematical in-
vestigations of patterns in Qwalala. Journal of Mathematics and Music, 2021. URL https:
[7] Maria Mannone. Venetian distorting mirrors. In Celestino Soddu and Enrica Colabella, editors,
XXIV Generative Art 2021, Proceedings of the XXIV GA conference, pages 501–502, Roma, 2021.
Domus Argenia. URL
[8] R. S. McCallum and S. M. Glynn. Hemispheric specialization and creative behavior. The Journal of
Creative Behavior, 13(4):263—273, 1979.
[9] Laura Morcom. Building a bridge: how the two hemispheres of the
brain connect during development. Nature Partner Journals: Science of
Learning, 2020. URL
59090-building-a-bridge- how-the-two-hemispheres-of-the-brain-connect-during-development.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
What do you get reversing all arrows? The drawing ‘Duality’ is an homage to mirrors, classical art themes, and abstract mathematics.
Full-text available
Mathematical music theory helps us investigate musical compositions in mathematical terms. Some hints can be extended towards the visual arts. Mathematical approaches can also help formalize a “translation” from the visual domain to the auditory one and vice versa. Thus, a visual artwork can be mathematically investigated, then translated into music. The final, refined musical rendition can be compared to the initial visual idea. Can an artistic idea be preserved through these changes of media? Can a non-trivial pattern be envisaged in an artwork, and then still be identified after the change of medium? Here, we consider a contemporary installation and an ensemble musical piece derived from it. We first mathematically investigate the installation, finding its patterns and structure, and then we compare them with structure and patterns of the musical composition. In particular, we apply two concepts of mathematical music theory, the Quantum GestART and the gestural similarity conjecture, to the analysis of Qwalala, realized for the Venice Biennale by Pae White, comparing it to its musical rendition in the homonymous piece for harp and ensemble composed by Federico Favali. Some sketches of generalizations follow, with the “Souvenir Theorem” and the “Art Conjecture.”
Full-text available
Mathematics, and more generally computational sciences, intervene in several aspects of music. Mathematics describes the acoustics of the sounds giving formal tools to physics, and the matter of music itself in terms of compositional structures and strategies. Mathematics can also be applied to the entire making of music, from the score to the performance, connecting compositional structures to acoustical reality of sounds. Moreover, the precise concept of gesture has a decisive role in understanding musical performance. In this paper we apply some concepts of category theory to compare gestures of the orchestral musicians, and to investigate the relationship between orchestra and conductor, as well between listener and conductor/orchestra. To this scope, we will introduce the concept of gestural similarity. The mathematical tools used can be applied to gesture classification, and to interdisciplinary comparisons between music and visual arts, with a short reference to fuzzy logic. THE PAPER SHARED HERE IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION; YOU CAN FIND IT ON THE JOURNAL OF MATHEMATICS AND MUSIC WEBSITE:
Reviews evidence for hemispheric specialization based on research in the areas of split-brain functioning, dichotic listening, tachistoscopic image presentation, EEG responses, conjugate lateral eye movements, and self-report techniques. Data suggest that the left hemisphere is specialized for analytic and logical processes and should relate to basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The right hemisphere is specialized in holistic, intuitive, and spatial functions and should relate to performance in the arts. Research relating creativity to hemispheric specialization indicates that creative potential is shared by both hemispheres. It is recommended that teachers strive to develop both left and right hemispheric skills in their students. (38 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Lodoicea maldivica, a palm endemic to two small islands in the Seychelles group, has the largest seed in the plant kingdom. We present here an interpretation of the ecological and evolutionary significance of this seed in terms of the island environment where the species grows. We begin by reviewing the available information about the biology and ecology of Lodoicea and present some original data on the growth and development of Lodoicea in its native habitat. A remarkable feature of young plants is the enormous size of their leaves and the great length of their petioles, these being especially elongated when growing beneath the canopy. As a result, juvenile plants can reach a height of 15 m and hold their foliage in the forest canopy. This capacity to produce such an enormous juvenile plant is related in part to the large food reserves in the seed. We suggest that Lodoicea evolved from a more typical borassoid palm (perhaps a plant like Borassus aethiopum which is widespread in the savannas of Africa) and propose two hypotheses to explain why this occurred. According to the ‘shade hypothesis’, increasingly humid conditions on the Seychelles led to strong selection for plants with the tallest seedlings, since these would be the most likely to establish successfully under the low light conditions prevailing on the forest floor of closed forest. The ‘sibling competition hypothesis’ postulates that the island populations of the ancestral palm lost any means for seed dispersal, and their seeds simply fell to the foot of the parent tree. This resulted in a strong selection pressure for reduced fecundity. The two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and together they may help us to understand many of the unusual features of this remarkable species.
The results of an experimental study on commissurotomy (split-brain) patients and normal control subjects illuminate the difference in creativity. The surgical disconnection of transcallosal interhemispheric exchange and of any access or communication between the two hemispheres creates in commissurotomy patients an outstanding lack of creativity which could be demonstrated on a lexical, sentential, global, affective, and EEG-analysis level. In contrast to split-brain or alexithymic people, expressive-creative persons verbalized their presentational symbolization and imagery of the right hemisphere which was transformed via corpus callosum to the left hemisphere, called symbollexia. Thus, creativity can be understood as the opposite of alexithymia. The hypothetical concept of creativity as hemispheric bisociation was supported by EEG findings, suggesting an inhibition and lack of inner speech between the two language centers in alexithymic people versus a higher interhemispheric coherence level in expressive-creative persons. Further on, the difference of expressed feelings of anxiety and hostility suggests a restrictive set of rules and of early superego components in commissurotomy patients in contrast to expressive-creative people who empathically experience and verbalize their anxiety about death and are open to the experience of their being in the world as an act of creation. Finally, the vignette of a creative patient whose left hemisphere was overflooded by affects and imagery, expressed in her pictures, illuminates the importance of a balanced transcallosal symbollexia and hemispheric bi-sociation in psychotherapy.
Venetian Distorting Mirrors
  • Maria Mannone
  • Mannone Maria
Maria Mannone. Venetian distorting mirrors. In Celestino Soddu and Enrica Colabella, editors, XXIV Generative Art 2021, Proceedings of the XXIV GA conference, pages 501-502, Roma, 2021. Domus Argenia. URL
Chapter 16 - Social Dysfunction: The Effects of Early Trauma and Adversity on Socialization and Brain Development. 16.5.4 Corpus callosum
  • Allonna Harker
Allonna Harker. Chapter 16 -Social Dysfunction: The Effects of Early Trauma and Adversity on Socialization and Brain Development. 16.5.4 Corpus callosum. In Robbin Gibb and Bryan Kolb, editors, The Neurobiology of Brain and Behavioral Development. Elsevier, 2018.
Building a bridge: how the two hemispheres of the brain connect during development
  • Laura Morcom
  • Morcom Laura
Laura Morcom. Building a bridge: how the two hemispheres of the brain connect during development. Nature Partner Journals: Science of Learning, 2020. URL 59090-building-a-bridge-how-the-two-hemispheres-of-the-brain-connect-during-development.