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{from a panel on which I was asked to speak, on identity and the arts}

I’m a scientist. I’m premed, I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was little – I’m Indian, that’s pretty normal. I also love getting to know people. If we’re going to be friends, I want to know who you are, who you want to be, where you come from, what keeps you awake at night, what you love and what you hate, who you love and who you hate and why you love or hate them.

So, it makes sense, really, that I’m a neuroscience major – I like knowing how people work, and there’s really no better place to study that biologically than the brain.

That said – from my science-y premed self – I honestly, truly, and completely believe that science is nothing without art.

I’ve been playing music for about fifteen years now, and I’ve met and gotten to know my closest friends through music. I’ve learned about emotion through music – my highest highs have been playing orchestra concerts with thrilling, glorious brass chorales, my lowest lows have been comforted by the emotional and musical presence of my favorite pieces. I’ve learned empathy through music – there’s nothing quite like playing a piece that communicates someone else’s story, and sharing that passion and that story with a new audience. Playing requires an understanding of a composer’s thoughts, the conductor’s thoughts, the orchestra’s thoughts, the audience’s thoughts – empathy, I’m fairly sure, is ingrained in instruments and concert halls and musicians all over the world. From my experience, we use creative expression to understand our emotional world and the feelings of those around us, and so it follows that the arts are fundamentally grounded in emotion.

Emotion is a scary thing for a lot of scientists. Emotion can’t be quantified, can’t be bottled and studied and picked apart and measured quite as easily as blood pressure or body temperature. But science is about understanding our world, and our world includes a vast and complex spectrum of emotion. Science is a limited tool to understanding this spectrum – and this, this is where the arts are absolutely essential.

I am a neuroscience and music double major. I study the intersection of brain science and music – how emotion is communicated and understood through sound, how our emotions are changed and manipulated by sound, how our intelligence and physical and mental health are enriched by the beauty and creativity of music. My appreciation and understanding of the human condition – of who I am, of who you are, of the world we share – would be absolutely nothing without either science or art.

I am a scientist, yes. But I am also an artist, and those two identities have come together rather harmoniously, if you’ll excuse the pun, to inform these last few years at school and, hopefully, wherever life takes me next.

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