Thursday, February 19, 2009

The idea of reading what’s on other people’s minds

has always held some allure, particularly for the sci-fi set. But a feat even more challenging than telepathy is reading your own mind — in essence figuring out how it works. The Rubin Museum of Art has volunteered to act as tour guide for our unknowable inner world by organizing Brainwave, a festival devoted to the way we think.

“It comes about quite naturally because we’re a museum with a lot of Buddhist art in it, and Buddhism is about controlling your mind in order to focus it for meditation,” said the museum’s producer, Tim McHenry, who conceived of the festival.

This two-month event, in its second year, is no sleepy academic and spiritual retreat. Its programming includes talks in which the persistently belligerent comedian Lewis Black, above, encounters an anger-management psychologist, Robert Allan (March 9); Paul Simon brings his guitar in for an exchange with the neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin about how our minds process music (March 4); and the opera director Peter Sellars explores visual perception with the neuroscientist Semir Zeki (March 21).

There are countless other draws: the documentary “Dalai Lama Renaissance,” narrated by Harrison Ford, follows thinkers who visit the Dalai Lama to discuss how to change the world (Saturday, Sunday, Feb. 28 and March 1), and the premiere of a work by John Tavener will ring out on multiple levels in the museum’s galleries (April 23). But the feature that holds the broadest appeal is the improbable pairings of celebrities with scientists.

“Scientists have done their research,” Mr. McHenry explained. “Putting them together with a musician or an artist who has done the practicing means that they are coming together by talking about the same topic in a common language.” It may not be telepathy, but a true meeting of minds that enables us to better understand our own is a good start. (Saturday through April 23, 150 West 17th Street, Chelsea. Information, including a full schedule and prices: 212-620-5000, MONICA DRAKE

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