Werner Herzog sets his sights on yet another mysterious landscape — the human brain — for clues as to why a hunk of tissue can produce profound thoughts and feelings while considering the philosophical, ethical, and social implications of fast-advancing neural technology.
Theatre of Thought
Werner Herzog turned 80 this year. He’s travelled on every continent including Antarctica. In recent films, he’s reached back in time to study ancient paintings, stared down into volcanoes, and cast our eyes heavenwards to contemplate meteorites. Now he ventures into the inner landscape of our brains.
He teams with scientist Rafael Yuste who, in Herzog’s words, “is at the forefront of research that will change the world as much as the understanding of DNA has changed it.” They go on a road trip to meet an array of people whose cutting-edge research sounds like the stuff of science fiction. There’s the tech billionaire funding brain scanners. The scientist inspired by psychedelic trips to build a brain-to-computer interface. And the human rights lawyer who warns that the international community is totally unprepared for the rapid advances in neural technology.
Herzog delights in dialogues that probe into philosophy, ethics, and the offbeat. He ponders questions such as: How do all our senses of motion, love, hate, pleasure, pain, and more emerge from the tissue inside our skull? How does music affect human existence? Do fish have souls? How does a tightrope walker conquer fear? How stupid is Siri? Are we living in some sort of theatre of thought, an imaginary world that only exists in our brain?
The film is multifaceted, illuminating the technological advances that are helping people overcome brain-related illness, confronting conspiracy theories over implanted chips, and questioning the politics of mind control.
Most of us will never set foot on the forbidding terrain Herzog has traversed. But we all have a brain. This film deepens our understanding of what’s happening inside it.