Robert Burton Returns to the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 96)

The latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 96) marks the return of one of my favorite guests: retired neurologist and author Dr. Robert Burton. We discussed his new book A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves. In this book Dr. Burton expands on the ideas he first presented in On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. He also argues that because mental sensations like certainty, agency, and causation originate outside of conscious awareness there are inherent limits in our ability to use neuroscience to understand the Mind. This is a somewhat controversial and definitely thought-provoking position, which I invite you to explore further by listening to this interview.

Listen to BSP 96

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Brain Science Podcast Update

Last month we launched a completely redesigned website for the Brain Science Podcast. It is intended to be more accessible to people on mobile devices, but it also makes it easier for visitors to submit feedback directly from the site.

 

 Here is a brief summary of our most recent episodes:

Pain Part 2 (BSP 95):

Click image to listenBSP 95 is the second part of our discussion of Understanding Pain: Exploring the Perception of Pain by Fernando Cervero, who is the current president of the International Society for the Study of Pain. Dr. Cervero was interviewed in BSP 93 and in this episode I discuss additional key ideas from his book. (BSP 93 and 95 can be enjoyed in any order.

Listen to BSP 95 

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How the Brain Understands Language (BSP 94):

Dr. Benjamin BergenBSP 94 was an interview with linguist Benjamin Bergen author of Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning.

Listen to BSP 94

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Why Animal Emotions Matter (podcast)

Dr. Jaak Panksepp (click for audio)Episode 51 of Books and Ideas is actually a followup of Dr. Jaak Panksepp's recent interview on the Brain Science Podcast. There we talked in depth about the scientific evidence that humans share basic emotional circuitry with other mammals. In this interview we talk about the implications of this discovery,  focusing on how it should impact the treatment of laboratory animals. We also consider our relationships with pets and other domestic species.

Listen to Episode 51 of Books and Ideas

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    • Books and Ideas has its own Facebook Fan Page.
    • You can also post your feedback about Books and Ideas within the BSP Group on Goodreads.
    • A new version of the Books and Ideas website will be launching soon. The URL will not change.

    Meet Dr. Campbell:

    • Atlanta, Georgia: February 19-21, 2013
    • South by SouthWest in Austin, Texas: March 7-10, 2013
    • Johannesburg, South Africa: April 8-10, 2013
    • I love to meet listeners when I travel so if you will be at any of these places just drop me an email at gincampbell at mac dot com.

     

  • Neuroscience of Pain (BSP 93)

    Click Logo to ListenDr. Fernando Cervero of McGill University has been studying pain since the beginning of his career back in the 1960's. These decades have seen tremendous advances in our neuroscientific understanding of what causes different types of pain as well as changing attitudes. Pain was once regarded as something that most people had to endure, but now most of us demand adequate pain relief, sometimes even to the point of not tolerating minor pain. Dr. Cevero's new book Understanding Pain provides an accessible account of both the history of pain research and a thoughtful consideration of the challenges facing the field.

    The latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 93) is an interview with Dr. Cervero. This is Part 1 of a planned two part series.

    listen-to-audio Listen to Episode 93

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    Brain Science Podcast is 6 years old

    Ginger Campbell, MDThe Brain Science Podcast recently passed 4 million downloads and it remains entrenched at or near the top of the iTunes rankings for Science and Medicine. So now it's time for our 6th Annual Review Episode. The purpose of this year-ending podcast is to review some of the year's highlights and key ideas. As I reviewed the transcripts of this year's episodes I was struck by the fact that although each episode stands alone, they also inform one another. One unifying theme was the importance of taking an evolutionary approach to understanding how the human brain generates complex features like mind and consciousness.

     

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    Ted Meisner: Secular Buddhism (podcast)

    Ted Meisner (click to listen)I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on The Secular Buddhist podcast, which is hosted by Ted Meisner. We talked about neuroscience and my new eBook Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty. I enjoyed learning about the Secular Buddhist Association, which is an outgrowth of the podcast, but I was surprised that listener feedback indicated that many listeners have a poor understanding of Buddhism and how it relates to Secularism. That is why I invited Meisner to come on my Books and Ideas podcast.

    I have just posted this interview as Episode 50:

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    NMX - I'll Be There

    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.

    listen-to-audio Listen to Episode 91

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    CEUs for Psychologists

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    Video Game Music with Emily Reese (Books and Ideas podcast)

    Emily Reese (Photo by Nate Ryan)Episode 49 of Books and Ideas is an interview with Emily Reese from Minnesota Public Radio. Reese is the host of two podcasts that I enjoy: Top Score and Learning to Listen. In this interview we focus on Top Score, which is a podcast about video game music. Reese interviews the composers and gives listeners an inside look at the challenges that face composers in this new, but growing field. You don't need to be a muscian or a gamer to enjoy Emily's podcasts. 

    Listen to Episode 49 of Books and Ideas

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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.

     

    listen-to-audio-20 Listen to Episode 48 of Books and Ideas

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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.

    listen-to-audio Listen to Episode 87

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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.

    Listen to Episode 86

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    "Are You Sure?" now out for Kindle

    I have just published my first eBook: Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty. It is available for the Kindle now, and will be out for iBooks and Nook shortly. This is based on two of my favorite episodoes of the Brain Science Podcast.

    A free PDF version is available to anyone who sends me a copy of their Amazon receipt.

    This is Volume 1 of a new series called Brain Talk: Conversations with Neuroscientists, which I hope will bring the content of the Brain Science Podcast to a broader audience.

    I have also started a newsletter for people who only want news about my writing, but who don't want to get podcast announcements.

    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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