Building the Brain Out of Paper with Jeff Nishinaka
The human brain is the most complex piece of equipment that humans have discovered so far. We know less about how the brain works than we know about the moon, but not for lack of effort. In fact, the brain is an area of intense study by neurologists all over the world and incredibly advances are made every year. One company that is a leader in cognitive technologies is Qualcomm with their brain implants that restore motor functions for those who have lost them. To help spread their message, Qualcomm teamed up with Jeff Nishinaka for the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly.
Jeff is best known for his mastery of paper craft; cutting and folding paper stock into intricate imagery that is compelling as it is awe-inspiring. For Jeff, a project can be as simple as replicating an image but he wanted to go deeper with this one, and to do that he had to really understand the technologies Qualcomm was working on. “I can make a sculpture of basically anything. I see an image and I copy it and that’s it, it’s a done deal. But this was a hard one because we were trying to get the concept just right,” says Jeff. “Instead of being as obvious as using a human brain, we used this scanned image of a brain where you see the paths that the neurons take inside the brain. So it’s like fibers.” By using the neural pathways of the brain for visual inspiration rather than the grey matter, the image becomes more about the action of the brain than the physical reality of it. It reminds us that the brain is an active and living part of us, and when shown in brilliant color is arrestingly beautiful.
Projects come in for Jeff from all over the world in a myriad of different industries, but this one was particularly special for Jeff because of what he had the opportunity to learn. The technology is complex, but Qualcomm worked with Jeff to make sure he understood as much as he was curious about. “I’m still a novice at this stuff and it’s still all very new to me and there’s so much about it that I don’t even know what I don’t know, but what I really enjoyed was that I learned something completely new,” says Jeff. Not only did he learn about these new technologies, like the chips that restore motor functions, Qualcomm has created a convert. Jeff explains: “If I were paralyzed from the neck down and this was the only way for me to have a proactive life, more power to it. I think it’s actually very cool.” It is very cool.