Renowned Neurobiologist Semir Zeki Lectures at Webster Vienna about Neuroaesthetics
March 04, 2023
Webster Vienna Private University (WVPU) was honored to host Professor Semir Zeki this week for a sold-out seminar set to be his last public appearance before retirement. An eminent neurobiologist and full professor of neuroaesthetics at University College London, Zeki was welcomed to the Palais Wenkheim through the Dr. Elizabeth Chopin Endowed Visiting Professorship. The event was made possible thanks to a collaboration between the Webster Vienna Alumni Association and the American Chamber of Commerce.
Zeki spoke to a full house of more than 100 students, alumni, academics, and members of the public about the experience of romantic love and its effects on the brain. Linking the concept of love as expressed by philosophers, authors, and musicians together with neuroscience, Zeki referenced the lines of Rumi, the celebrated 13th century poet: “A lover can only be admitted to the house of the beloved if he is annihilated and becomes one with the beloved; there is no room for two in this narrow house.”
Zeki expressed that this idea of loss of self in love has not just been echoed in literature (Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”), but also has implications for neuroscience. He went on to explain that when a human is in love, there are deactivations in parts of the brain that result in a decreased ability to distinguish yourself from the other, creating a unity in love.
Ultimately, Zeki’s lecture delivered the message that any artificial restriction of love to particular classes, genders or other categories will eventually fail, as neurobiology trumps morality, justification, and reason.
As Zeki put it, in love there are neurological forces at play that eclipse and impair judgement.
Originally specializing in studying the primate visual brain, Zeki’s interests in art and vision led him to explore the brain mechanisms underlying human responses to beauty, a new field for which he coined the term ‘neuroaesthetics.’ His current research is directed towards the neuroscience of affective states, such as the experience of love, desire, and beauty.
Webster Vienna Private University continues to convene the academic community of Austria through its events series which features thought-leaders from across various scholastic disciplines.
The Dr. Elizabeth Chopin Endowed Visiting Professorship was donated by Reinhard Ortner and was created in honor of Chopin's history of service to the University and the community. Chopin was the director of the Vienna Campus from 1988-1999. The endowment has enabled WVPU to draw world-renowned professors to Vienna, including Sean McFate from Georgetown University, Iver Neumann from Oslo University, David Shambaugh from George Washington University, Marwan Kraidy from University of Pennsylvania and Philip G. Zimbardo from Stanford University, amongst others.