Sunday, April 24, 2016

Medicine and Art

When I heard Professor Vesna's introduction on the topic of medicine and art, the first example that came into my mind were Leonardo Da Vinci's works. He was famous for his study on human bodies and his amazingly accurate and precise paintings of human bodies and skeletons. The following picture is one of his most famous paintings, Vitruvian Man, which depicts the correlation between ideal human proportions and geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.

Except for studying human bodies through 2D mediums like paintings and x-ray scans, there are other ways for common people to study the beauty of human body through a 3D version. Body Worlds Exhibition is one the best examples. The primary goal of the exhibition is health education. By illustrating the difference between a healthy organ and a diseased organ, like the lung of a smoker and a healthy lung, the audience will have deeper impression of the harm smoking can do. On the other hand, the well-posed plastinates allow people to have a better understanding of where organs are positioned and how fragile human are.

And of course, except for medical and artistic works used for research and education purposes, the other great example that demonstrates the combination of medicine and art would be plastic surgery. When I think of plastic surgeries, the first thing that comes into mind is cosmetic surgery, in other words, the elective procedures that helps people who do not have disfiguring conditions to enhance their desiring look. However, through Professor Vesna’s introduction, I learned that the original and main purpose of plastic surgery is to help people who suffer from congenital malformations, disfiguring wounds, animal bites, and profound burn injuries. Plastic surgery really started to progress during World War I. The trench warfare caused thousands of WWI soldiers to receive traumatic wounds on their faces and limbs, thus plastic surgery soon became an independent medical practice. Until today, plastic surgery is still evolving, progressing, and helping millions of people regaining self-confidence and normal lives, like cleft lip repair, cleft palate repair, and face transplant. 

Last, I want to conclude with a new idea that I read recently, about how medical schools have gradually started to involve art into their training. Doctor Salvatore Magione has discovered that medical students with more right-brain qualities may have a greater potential in medicine, as we know that words are processed in left brain, but imagery, visual, and drawing skills are processed by the right brain, so people with more right brain qualities may have better innovation and creation abilities. 


 Vesna, Victoria. "Medicine Pt3." YouTube. Uconlineprogram, 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

"Mission of the Exhibitions." Body Worlds. Institute for Plastination. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Salcido, Jannelle. "The History of Plastic Surgery." 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

 Donohoe, Martin. "Medscape Log In." Medscape. Medscape Ob/Gyn, 2 Nov. 2006. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
 Glatter, Robert. "Can Studying Art Help Medical Students Become Better Doctors?" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016


This week, Professor Vesna introduced the topic of robotics starting from the industrialization period. When printing press were introduced in the west, and machines and assembly lines were invented in the industrialization age, mass production began. It undoubtedly brought a lot of benefits to people's lives, like reduction in production costs, thus cheaper and more affordable goods. However, it also brought the critique of mechanization of workers, in other words, workers were treated as part of the
machines or even replaced by machines.

Karel Capek was the first person introducing the word "robot". As he mentioned in his book, the word "robots" first came another word "robota", which means "work" in Czech and a lot of Slavic languages. He addressed his concern of robotic life in his famous play R.U.R., where a group of robots first happily works for human, but eventually a hostile robot rebellion leads to the extinction of human race. The robots in Karel Capek's play were actually more like what we call as androids today.

And his concern is still shared today by many people. A lot of movies today still address the fear of developed artificial intelligence taking over human world. Ex Machina is one of them. It described how a humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence successfully relates to a programmer emotionally, and used him to escape the lab, yet ruthlessly killed her creator in the escaping process, and abandoned the programmer in the lab.
Except for this film, there are many other films expressing the danger of over development of artificial intelligence. Transcendence is a special one, since the main character used to be a human scientist, after knowing he has less than a month to live, he uploaded his minds to a quantum computer, and developed many advanced technologies, one of which is to manipulate human minds.

Transcendence played by Johnny Depp

Other than these scientific fiction films concentrating on the topic of artificial intelligence, in real life, we also have breakthroughs in AI. Recently, AlphaGo, a computer program developed by Google, has beaten Lee Sedol, a 9-dan professional and world champion, in the board game Go. This victory marked the milestone in artificial intelligence research, but also raised some concern in the AI community. Some scholars warned that even though AlphaGo does not possess general intelligence, but some future self-improving AI may be able to acquire general intelligence and lead to a human takeover. Some other scholars believe that it's impossible for AIs to develop things like "common sense", so there is no reason to fear.

Treating or not, the field of artificial intelligence still remains largely unexplored. I don't think people need to start feeling scared or threatened, however, it is time for people to start paying attention.


Vesna, Victoria. "Robotics Pt2." YouTube. Uconlineprogram, 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Capek, Karel. "R.U.R." EBooks@Adelaide, 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Borowiec, Steven, and Tracey Lien. "AlphaGo Beats Human Go Champ in Milestone for Artificial Intelligence." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 12 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Seitz, Matt Zoller. "Transcendence Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert." 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Seitz, Matt Zoller. "Ex Machina Movie Review & Film Summary (2015) | Roger Ebert." 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mathematics in Art

In this week's lecture, Professor Vesna talked about different mathematical concepts used in art, mostly paintings, like the linear perspective, vanishing points, and golden ratio. When the painters started to using these mathematical techniques in their works, the paintings became more realistic. In linear perspectives, parallel lines that receded into the distance appear to be converging together. And when artists want to recreate a three dimensional object, like a building for example, onto a two dimensional surface, they can use the linear perspective to give the audience a more realistic view of the scene. A lot of the Western paintings of buildings, space, and human body utilized linear perspectives.

Perspective diagram of Masaccio's Holy Trinity

And mathematics were not just used in art paintings, but also in architecture as well. Some people say that the Egyptian pyramids were built according to the golden ratio. If you use half of the baseline length of the pyramid divided by the slope length, you will get 1.168, which is the perfect golden ratio. However, whether the relation to golden ratio is by design or by accidents still remains a question

Ancient Greeks used the golden ratio when building the Parthenon.

Modern application of mathematics in architecture

I would like to introduce something different from most examples of math in art, which are mostly Western art. In fact, Chinese paintings often used complex mathematical techniques as well. The most famous one would be Along the River During the Qingming Festival, a long scroll painting that captured the daily life of the people and the landscape in the Capital from the Northern Song period.

Displayed in the painting is a water mill. This is only a very very tiny portion of the long scroll painting, because the whole painting is impossible to be embedded here.

Different from Western paintings where the painters usually use only one viewpoint and one vanishing point, Chinese paintings usually use several vanishing points. This is called scattered perspective. The painters' perspectives are moving when they observe the objects, so they can better exhibit all aspects of objects has large span in space.

I think the application of mathematics in paintings allowed the artists to create more accurate, realistic, aesthetic dictions of scenes. It has always been a great component of art.


 "Architectural Icons Inspired by Mathematics." Whitesp Ce. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <>.

Mize, Dianne. "A Guide to the Golden Ratio (AKA Golden Section or Golden Mean) for Artists." A Guide to the Golden Ratio (AKA Golden Section or Golden Mean) for Artists. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

 Dauben, Joseph. "Khan Academy." Khan Academy. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. 

 "Techniques of Chinese Brush Painting." Techniques of Chinese Brush Painting. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.
 Vesna, Victoria. "" YouTube. Uconlineprogram, 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Two Cultures

Before taking this class, I have never thought about, let alone questioning, the separation of two cultures, art and science. This separation is embedded in and enhanced by our education system. When we're in college, most of us will choose one major that can be classified into either art or science. We rarely see people taking two "polarized" majors together. And our school makes this distinction even more clearly by separating the campus into north and south campus. 

UCLA Science Court

UCLA Sculpture Garden

I am a student majoring in Applied Mathematics, which would be considered very "scientific". Same as most other students in my major, I hardly visit the north campus. Professor Vesna mentioned the word “stereotype” in the lecture video, and I think this word is key to the separation between two cultures. When our education system pushes us to identify ourselves with one of the stereotypes, we will more or less stop interacting with the other culture that we don’t identify with. However, as the video “Changing Education Paradigm” points out, this model may not be the most optimized, because “Collaboration is the stuff of growth”. And I have two examples that I think best illustrates the idea that collaboration between these two cultures may create better results.

The first one would be Leonardo Da Vinci, who is most well known for the diverse fields of arts and sciences. He is no doubt one of the greatest painter in history, but different from most artists, a lot of his works encompass amazing accuracy and precision of body structures. His paintings exemplify not just aesthetic gifts, but also scientific anatomy of human bodies.
One of Da Vinci's Skeleton Sketch

 The second one is financial engineering, a field that I plan to study in graduate school. It is a newly emerging field that is created a few years ago. It’s about applying mathematical and programming techniques to financial theories. While finance could be considered more theoretical and literal, we can now complement it with a more scientific approach. It helps to better measure market risks and predict the pattern of growth of financial products.

I believe that as our society progresses, we will begin to see more and more collaborations and interactions between two cultures, just like what Brockton indicates in his book. The conflict will be resolved in the Third Culture. 

Changing Education Paradigms. Perf. Sir Ken Robinson. YouTube. Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, 14 Oct. 2010. Web. <>.

Snow, C. P. “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Reading. 1959. New York: Cambridge UP, 1961. Print.

Brockman, John. The Third Culture. N.p.: n.p., 1995. Print.

N, N. (n.d.). Northlands. Retrieved April 04, 2016, from