The exciting discoveries continued to come. Fruit flies update an internal compass as they turn, enabling them to know in which direction they’re heading, even in the dark, for example. And in anticipation of a turn, their motor centers send predictive signals to their visual systems – indicating how the image of the world will move in their retina. “We probably won’t understand how Shakespeare wrote his plays” by studying flies, says Maimon. “But a sense of place, a sense of time, and predictions about the future – these are processes that we think we can understand at a level of detail that’s unprecedented in Drosophila.”
Growing up shuttling between Israel and Syracuse, New York, Maimon hardly imagined he’d become a scientist. He figured he might become an artist of some sort, and, indeed, he played guitar in several bands and made a black-and-white silent film called Monkeys as a grad student. He was initially drawn toward psychology as a way to understand the “colorful personalities in my family,” as he puts it. And he found himself inspired to study the biological basis of the mind as an undergraduate at Cornell University by his mentor there, neuroscientist Barbara Finlay, PhD. Now, he finds an affinity between art and science in the act of creation – in his case, by opening whole new windows into the workings of the mind.