Where do Emotions Begin?

Dr. Jaak Panksepp (click to play audio)In his new book The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions Jaak Panksepp set out to make his life's work more accessible to a general audience. To be honest, reading this book requires a significant commitment, but I think he does a wonderful job of updating his classic textbook Affective Neuroscience. Anyone who is interested in this field will definitely want this book as a reference. The other strength of Archeology of Mind is its evolutionary approach. The primary emotional processes that Panksepp has spent his career studying have their origins in the ancient parts of the brain that are shared by all mammals. This contradicts longstanding assumptions in neuroscience, but it has important implications for both humans and other animals.

In Episode 91 of the Brain Science Podcast Dr. Panksepp and I talked about some of the new information contained in Archeology of Mind with a particular focus on FEAR, which contrary to what many researchers claim, does NOT begin in the amygdala, but begins much lower. We do talk briefly about the experimental evidence, but this was covered in more detail during Dr. Panksepp's previous appearance on the Brain Science Podcast in BSP 65.

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CEUs for Psychologists

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How does the Brain become Conscious? (BSP 90)

Episode 90 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of Self Comes To Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio. Damasio's book focuses on the answer to two key questions: How does the brain generate the Mind? and How does the Brain generate Consciousness? His approach is unusual because many scientists and writers treat the Mind and Consciousness as identical. In contrast, Damasio argues that Mind proceeds Consciousness. Listen to this podcast to learn how the Mind becomes Conscious.

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Brain Science Podcast with Evan Thompson (BSP 89)

Evan Thompson, PhDEmbodied Cognition is a movement within cognitive science that argues that the mind is inseparable from the fact that the brain is embedded in a physical body. This means that everything that the brain does, from the simplest perception to complex decision-making, relies on the interaction of the body with its environment.  Evan Thompson's book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind is an in depth look at what he calls the "enactive" approach to embodied cognition. The enactive approach was pioneered by Thompson's mentor Francisco Varela and it emphasizes the importance of the body's active engagement with its environment.

In a recent interview (BSP 89) I talked with Thompson about some of the key ideas in Mind in Life. Unlike most episodes of the Brain Science Podcast, this is not really a stand-alone episode. It is part of my ongoing exploration of both embodied cognition and the controverial topic of emergence. It is also intended as a follow-up to my recent interview with Terrence Deacon.

Listen to Episode 89

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Bruce Hood Returns (BSP 88)

Bruce Hood, PhD

The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood is a fascinating look at how our brains create both our experience of the world and our sense of being a single, coherent self. As the word "illusion" in the title indicates, neither is exactly what it seems. When I interviewed Dr. Hood (for BSP 88) he explained that The Self Illusion is a broad introduction to this somewhat surprising idea. The  Self Illusion was written with a general audience in mind. For those already familiar with the topic he also puts a new emphasis on the role of development. All readers should come away with a new appreciation for the critical role social interactions play through out human life.

It was fun to talk with Dr. Hood again. I first interviewed him for Books and Ideas #34. At that time we discussed his first book, SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.

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How Storytelling Makes Us Human (podcast)

Jonathan GottschallWhat do fiction, dreams, and children's make believe have in common? Why is storytelling found in every human culture? These are among the fascinating questions explored in The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Makes Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.

I have just posted an interview with Jonathan Gottschall (Books and Ideas #48) in which we talk about some of the key ideas in his new book. Gottschall's goal is to look for clues about why storytelling is such an universal behavior. He also argues that it should be possible to form testable theories about the purpose of storytelling.

 

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Brain Aging Update (BSP 87)

Pamela Greenwood, PhDNuturing the Older Brain and Mind by Pamela M. Greenwood and Raja Parasuaman provides a comprehensive review of the current research in cognitive aging.  In the latest Brain Science Podcast  Dr. Greenwood explains that brain aging and cognitive aging are not the same thing; the typical brain changes that are associated with normal brain aging (such as shrinkage) are not reliable predictors of cognitive declince. Fortunately, even though normal brain aging is still not well understood, the discovery of brain plasiticity is shifting the focus of research. Not only does brain plasticity offer new hope for people who suffer strokes and other brain injuries, it also suggests that life style choices influence cognitive function at all ages.

Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind is intended for an academic audience but it is accessible to everyone. This month's interview with Dr. Greenwood (BSP 87) focuses is on dispelling the most stuborn myths about brain aging. We also talk about the practical steps we can all take to help maintain our cognitive performance.

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"Incomplete Nature" with Terrence Deacon (podcast interview)

Terrence Deacon, PhDIn his new book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter Terrence Deacon writes that his goal is “demonstrate how a form of causality depending specifically on absent features and unrealized potential can be compatible with our best science.” (page 16). But in a recent interview (Books and Ideas #47) he also contends that his book "grew out of a dissatisfaction with the systems theory approach." He feels strongly that "to understand the origin of end-directed phenomena, representational phenomena, or mental phenomena, you need to take one further step; you need to figure out what’s beyond self-organization that needs to be explained to account for these things." Thus, his ambitious goal is to find a place for meaning within in science.

Incomplete Nature is a dense but compelling book, and the goal of this interview is to introduce listeners to the idea that life and meaning are compatible with a scientific world view. 

Listen to Books and Ideas #47

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Disgust with Rachel Herz (BSP 86)

Disgust is an universal emotion, but unlike emotions like fear and anger, disgust must be learned. This is the main conclusion of Dr. Rachel Herz's latest book That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion. In a recent interview (BSP 86) Dr. Herz told me why she spent the last several years studying this rather unusual subject. We also discussed what the study of disgust can tell us about how our brains process emotion.

This is Dr. Herz's second visit to the Brain Science Podcast. Back in BSP 34 we talked about her first book The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell.

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Annoucements:

 

Sebastian Seung, author of "Connectome" (BSP 85)

Dr. Sebastian SeungDr. Sebastian Seung (MIT) is an ambitious young scientist; his goal is to unravel the entire wiring diagram of the human brain. Considering that it took over a decade to determine the wiring diagram for the roundworm C elegans, which has a mere 302 neurons, it is clear that scientists can't leap directly to the 80 billion neuron human brain. Even so, in his new book Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, Seung makes a very good argument for the value of this long term project. In Episode 85 of the Brain Science Podcast I talked with Dr. Seung both about the challenges and potential benefits of this work.

 

Listen to Episode 85

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Christof Koch returns to the Brain Science Podcast

Christof Koch, PhDThe scientific study of consciousness was once viewed with skepticism, but this has changed dramatically in recent years. According to pioneering neuroscientist Christof Koch, "the great thing is we’re not condemned to just sort of philosophical speculation, but we can make some predictions, and then go out and measure them.  And those are the things I talk about in this book, Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist." In Brain Science Podcast #84 Koch reflects on the progress that has been made since I interviewed him back in 2007 (BSP 22), and he also talks about the latest initiatives at the Allen Institute for Brain Research, where he as recently become the chief science officer. 

 Listen to Episode 84

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William Uttal on "Mind and Brain" (BSP 83)

William Uttal, PhD"There is nothing more exciting than the mind/brain problem" according to Dr. William Uttal, author of Mind and Brain: A Critical Appraisal of Cognitive Neuroscience. In the latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 83) I talked with Dr. Uttal about why he feels that brain imaging can not solve this mystery. First, there is the problem that brain imaging represents the wrong level of analysis because every spot you see on a brain scan actaully represents thousands of neurons. This means that the activity and interaction between individual neurons has been lost. Then there is the problem of reproducibility, with divergent results between studies. The evidence is accumulating that "much of the brain responds to any stimulus, and every area of the brain participates in multiple functions." This means that asking where a given function occurs may be the wrong question.

BSP 83 represents an on-going discussion of these issues, so I have included links to related episodes in the show notes. 

 Listen to Episode 83

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Free Will and Brain Science (BSP 82)

In his latest book Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain respected neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga explores how the discoveries of neuroscience impact how we see ourselves as human beings. After providing a brief review of 20th century neuroscience, and even some of the work from the past decade, Dr. Gazzaniga concludes that nothing neuroscience has discovered changes the fact that "we are personally responsible agents and are to be held accountable for our actions."

Gazzaniga's position contrasts with those who think that recent discoveries show that the brain creates the mind in solely "upwardly causal" way, and who argue that since much of what our brain does is outside our conscious awareness or control, we should not be held responsible for our actions. Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain presents what I think is a convincing argument against this common position.

In the latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 82) I present a detailed discussion of Dr. Gazzaniga's book.

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Philosopher Patricia Churchland returns to the Brain Science Podcast

Patricia Churchland (photo by Nines Minequez)BSP 81 marks the return of philosopher Patricia Churchland, who I first interviewed back in Episode 55. Our recent conversation focuses on her latest book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. We discuss the historical background and contrast Churchland's approach to that of Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape. Then Professor Churchland discusses how recent discoveries in neuroscience are shedding light on the evolutionary origins of morality.

 

It's a fascinating conversation that you won't want to miss. 


Listen to BSP 81 (Free mp3)

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Exploring Alabama with Roger Reid (BI 46)

Roger ReidRoger Reid has a job that every kid and most adults would find fascinating. He works for the Alabama Museum of Natural History and travels all over Alabama as a writer and producer for the Emmy Award winning TV show, Discovering Alabama with Dr. Doug Phillips . He also shares his passion for natural history in a series of novels written for middle school age readers. I decided to interview him for Books and Ideas because I wanted to share these novels with my listeners. They combine mystery and science in an original way, but they also contain compelling characters that readers will care about.

Episode 46 of Books and Ideas is an unusual episode because we don't just talk about Reid's novels. We also explore some of the little known treasures of Alabama's natural history. I guarantee surprises, even for those of you who call Alabama home. But I also hope that listeners around the world will gain a new appreciation for the natural resources of Alabama.

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Books by Roger Reid:

  • Longleaf (2006): set in the Conecuh National Forest
  • Space (2008): set at the Swanson Observatory on Monte Sano in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Time (2011): set at the Stephen C Menkin Paleozoic Footprint Site, near Jasper, Alabama

References and Links:

Tell Me What You Think!

Brain Science Podcast: 5th Annual Review Episode

Original Logo from 2006I launched the Brain Science Podcast in December 2006, so to celebrate I am posting my Fifth Annual Review Episode (BSP 80). This podcast includes a review of the highlights from this year's episodes along with my reflections on what we have learned about brain health over the last few years. I also take a look ahead to 2012 when I hope to continue to produce a Brain Science Podcast every month.

 

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Ginger Campbell Celebrates Five Years of Podcasting (BI 45)

Ginger Campbell and GretaIn December 2006 I launched 2 podcasts: Books and Ideas and the Brain Science Podcast. In Episode 45 of Books and Ideas I take a few minutes to look back on my five years in podcasting and to thank some of my many guests.

 

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Show Notes:

The focus of this episode was to thank each of the 33 people who have been featured on Books and Ideas so far. 

  • Historians: Matthew Cobb, Holly Tucker, and Jennifer Michael Hecht
  • Scientists: Lee Silver, Pamela Gay, Robert Schleip, Eugenie Scott, Les Johnson, Daniel George, Sheril Kirshenbaum, and Frank Wilczek
  • Philosophers: Massimo Pigliucci and Tom Clark
  • Physicians: Paul Offit, Robert Martenson, Neel Varshney, and Steven Novella
  • Fiction Writers: Mur Lafferty, Christiana Ellis, Scott Sigler, Tabitha Grace Smith, Skyler White, and Karen Traviss
  • Psychologists: Delany Dean, Eric Maisel, Bruce Hood and Carol Tavris
  • Other Writers: Dan Ariely, Sue Bailey, and Carmen Flowers 
  • Special Guests: Patrick Pricken, Kirk McElhearn and Kyla Duffy

Click here for a complete list of guests (in alphabetical order).

Click here for a complete list of episodes.

Announcements:

 

Miguel Nicolelis on Brain-Machine Interfaces (BSP 79)

Dr. Miguel NicolelisMiguel Nicolelis at Duke University is pioneering brain-machine interfaces. In his book Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines---and How It Will Change Our Lives he puts his groundbreaking work into an historical context. I discussed his book briefly in BSP 78, but I have now posted an in depth interview. The focus of our conversation is on why his work challenges longstanding assumptions about the primacy of the single neuron in brain function.

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Karen Traviss on Writing for Gears of War (BI 44)

Karen TravissThe thing that draws me to novels by Karen Traviss is her characters and her recent series of novels based on the popular Gears of Wars videogame delivers a character-driven story of surprising depth. In fact, even though the recently released game Gears of War 3 (also written by Traviss) brings the games to an end, Traviss is still working on the 5th and final Gears of War novel, which is scheduled for release next spring.

I was fortunate to interview Traviss last month, shortly after the release of Gears of War 3. The interview is spoiler free, but even if you don't play video games this interview will give you a new insight the role of writing in this emerging genre. 

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References and Links:

  • KarenTraviss.com
  • Aspho Fields by Karen Traviss
  • Dr. Campbell's mini-review of Hard Contact (Star Wars: Republic Commando, Book 1) by Karen Traviss
  • "Mad World" video from YouTube (embedded below)

 

 More Fiction Authors: 

  • BI 17: Mur Lafferty, podcasting pioneer and author of Playing for Keeps
  • BI 18: Tabitha Grace Smith lead writer of Buffy Between the Lines
  • BI 35: Scott Sigler, best-selling author of Contagious and Galactic Football League series
  • BI 38: Christiana Ellis (Nina Kimberly the Merciless) and Skyler White (and Falling, Fly)

Announcements:

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Latest Brain Science Podcast looks at Brain-Machine Interfaces

In his book Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines---and How It Will Change Our Lives neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis puts his recent work with brain machine interfaces into historical context and explains why this work should change the way we understand how brains work. Nicolelis challenges several long-standing assumptions including the primacy of the single neuron and strict localization, which is the idea that each area of the brain has a relatively fixed function.

Episode 78 of the Brain Science Podcast is a brief discussion of the key ideas presented in Beyond Boundaries, including a look at the implications of experiments such as the wide publicized work that culminated in demonstrating that a monkey in Nicolelis' lab at Duke (North Carolina, USA) could control a robot arm in Japan using only its brain. 

 

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Neurobiology of Placebos with Fabrizio Benedetti (BSP 77)

Fabrizio Benedetti, MD (click for audio)Dr. Fabrizio Benedetti is one of the world's leading researchers of the neurobiology of placebos. In a recent interview (BSP 77) he explained to me that he believes that "today we are in a very good position to describe, from a biological and from an evolutionary approach, the doctor-patient relationship, and the placebo effect, itself."

To appreciate Dr. Benedetti's work one must first realize that his approach differs from that of the typical clinical trial. As he observed, "To the clinical trialist, a placebo effect means any improvement which may take place after placebo administration.  To the neurobiologist, a placebo response, or placebo effect means only something active in the brain happening after placebo administration: learning, anxiety reduction, activation of reward mechanisms."

In contrast, he explains "The real placebo response, the real placebo effect is a psychobiological phenomenon.  It is something active happening in the brain after placebo administration: like learning, like anxiety reduction, and such like." Brain Science Podcast 77 provides an introduction to this complex, but fascinating topic.

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