Professor Rafael Yuste and Werner Herzog's New Film Collaboration Premieres in Toronto’s Film Festival

The movie, “Theater of Thought,” examines the mystery of the brain and the potential uses and misuses of neurotechnologies that bridge the divide between humans and computers.

By
Christopher D. Shea
September 09, 2022

“Theater of Thought,” a new documentary that explores the enigmatic function of the human brain and the potential medical benefits and ethical risks of neurotechnology, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival today. 

Rafael Yuste, professor of biological sciences and director of Columbia’s Neurotechnology Center, served as the movie's chief scientific adviser, and the impetus for its creation: Yuste contacted the renowned German film director Werner Herzog in December 2020 with the idea of filming a new movie examining the benefits and potential risks of emerging neurotechnologies. Neurotechnology refers to any technology that records and alters the activity of the nervous system, like deep brain stimulation, retinal implants, and chips that embed in the brain to help tackle blindness, and pernicious neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's Disease.
 
The movie provides a broad survey of modern neuroscience, dwelling on the mystery of how the brain generates thought, and explores the therapeutic possibilities of neurotechnologies along with the potential pitfalls and ethical dilemmas that they raise, including the possibility of their being used to survey peoples' innermost thoughts. It centers on a road trip in which Yuste and Herzog traveled around the United States interviewing leaders in the field, such as a scientist whose experiences with psychedelics inspired his research and an ex-Mormon billionaire investing in brain scans. It ends with footage of Chile’s presidential palace, as this country recently approved a constitutional amendment that protects brain data privacy as a basic human right.

The movie was shown privately earlier this month at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, in a surprise celebration of Herzog’s 80th birthday. 

Read the Hollywood Reporter's review of the movie.
 
Read a recent Los Angeles Review of Books interview about neurorights with Professor Yuste.
 
Learn more about the film on Professor Yuste’s NeuroRights Foundation website.