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

Click here for full show notes and free episode transcript.

 

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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)

Click here for details show notes and free episode transcript.

 

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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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Episode Transcript (Free PDF)

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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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Cognitive Dissonance with Carol Tavris, PhD (Books and Ideas #43)

Carol Tavris, PhD Click for audioThe theory of cognitive dissonance is not new but Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson makes cognitive dissonance accessible to everyone, and, more importantly, Tavris and Aronson make it clear why we should care. As Dr. Tavris explained in a recent interview (Books and Ideas #43), "cognitive dissonance is a theory of blind spots." Appreciating how our brains automatically strive to decrease the discomfort we feel when faced with conflicting beliefs, can help us become aware of how these blind spots effect our behavior and attitudes.

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Cognitive dissonance is also revelevant to anyone with an interest in science because as Dr. Tavris noted: "the scientific method is designed to create dissonance—in a way, we could say this.  This is one of the reasons science is so unpopular—I should say is so difficult—because scientists are humans, and scientists don’t like it when their predictions are disconfirmed.  But, you see, as we now understand, the mind is designed for consistency, for consonance; it’s designed to notice, and remember, and confirm evidence that supports our beliefs, and to forget and ignore information that is dissonant with our beliefs.

It’s such an interesting thing for those of us interested in skepticism and science, because the scientific method is designed to create dissonance—in a way, we could say this.  This is one of the reasons science is so unpopular—I should say is so difficult—because scientists are humans, and scientists don’t like it when their predictions are disconfirmed.  But, you see, as we now understand, the mind is designed for consistency, for consonance; it’s designed to notice, and remember, and confirm evidence that supports our beliefs, and to forget and ignore information that is dissonant with our beliefs."

Links and References

Listener donations help make Dr. Campbell's podcasts possible. 

Announcements

 

 

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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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How to Avoid Choking with Sian Beilock (BSP 76)

Sian Beilock, PhDIn her book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock explores the dreaded phenomena of choking (ie. the failure to perform as expected under pressure). More importantly she provides practical suggestions for preventing poor performance.

In the latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 76) I talk with her about the different types of choking; it turns out that the failure mechanisms between blowing the big test and missing the key shot in sports are significantly different. Understanding both how they differ and what they have in common is the key to better performance.

Learn more by listening to BSP 76 (right click to download)

Click here for full show notes and episode transcript

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David Eagleman talks about "the secret lives of the brain" (BSP 75)

In his new book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain neuroscientist David Eagleman describes consciousness as "the smallest player in the operations of the brain" (page 5) because most of what the brain does is outside conscious awareness (and control). In a recent interview (BSP 75) Dr. Eagleman reviews some of the evidence for this startling position as well as the implications both for the average person and for social policy.

 

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Why Neuroscience Matters (Books and Ideas #42)

On May 11, 2011 Ginger Campbell, MD gave a talk entitled "Why Neuroscience Matters" at the London Skeptics in the Pub. Episode 42 of Books and Ideas is an edited version of that talk, including the lively Q and A with the audience.

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References 

From the Brain Science Podcast

Announcements:

 

  • Dr. Campbell will be a speaker at The Amazing Meeting 9, which is coming up in Las Vegas, Nevada July 14-17.

 

Please send your feedback to Dr. Campbell at gincampbel at mac dot com, or post a comment on the Facebook Fan Page.

Don't forget to sign up for Ginger Campbell's Newsletter so you can get show notes for every podcast.

Brain Networks with Olaf Sporns (BSP 74)

Olaf Sporns, PhDNetworks of the Brain by Olaf Sporns is an excellent comprehensive introduction to the use of Network Theory to study both the brain and the nervous systems of invertebrates. In Episode 74 of the Brain Science Podcast I interviewed Dr. Sporns (Indiana University) about some of the key ideas in his book. Network Theory is becoming increasingly important as a tool for dealing with the massive amaounts of data being generated by current techniques, such as brain imaging. It is also a valuable tool with dealing with the fact that nervous systems consist of multiple scales (from the molecular level up to billions of neurons), which can not be reduced to a single scale.

While Networks of the Brain will be of greatest interest to those working in neuroscience and to those with a background in fields like engineering, mathematics, and computer science, this interview provides an introduction for listeners of all backgrounds.

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"Why Neuroscience Matters" (London, May 11, 2011)

I had a wonderful visit to London May 10-14, 2011, which included giving a talk entitled "Why Neuroscience Matters" for the London Skeptics in the Pub. I especially enjoyed meeting fans of the Brain Science Podcast.

If you would like to hear the unedited version of my talk. It appears as part of Episode 84 of the Pod Delusion podcast. I hope to post an edited version in my Books and Ideas feed sometime in June.

Special thanks to Sid Rodrigues, Adrian Starkey,  and Reza Zamani.

Exploring 17th Century Medicine with Holly Tucker

This month’s Books and Ideas podcast (#41) is an interview with Holly Tucker, author of Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution.  Dr. Tucker’s book is about the first blood transfusions—which, surprisingly, occurred way back in the 1660’s; 150 years before the first successful human-to-human transfusions.

The thing that makes Blood Work compelling is that Dr. Tucker puts these early efforts into the context of their time, and she helps us to consider how these events could be relevant to the medical controversies of our own time.  And, as we will allude to during our conversation, the story includes a fascinating murder mystery.

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 Links of Interest:

References:

Announcements:

 

Send feedback to Dr. Campbell at gincampbell at mac dot com or leave voice mail at 205-202-0663. 

 

Training a Rescue Dog: the rewards of patience

In January 2009, my husband and I adopted a rescued German Shepherd named Jake. I have been taking him to Manners in Motion for Obedience training once or twice a week for over 2 years and he has come a long way. Last weekend he competed in his first Rally competition, which is an obedience competition where the dog and handler have to follow a set course. We had a great time and he got qualifying scores on both days. This is an unedited video of Jake's first run on Saturday, April 9, 2011. 

 

To see Jake's second run go to my Flickr Photostream.

You can also read Jake's story in Lost Souls: Found! Inspiring Stories About German Shepherd Dogs by Kyla Duffy and Lowrey Mumford. (I interviewed Kyla in Episode 34 of Books and Ideas.) His story also appears in Best of Lost Souls: Found! Audio Book, Vol. I.



BSP 73: Lawrence Shapiro on Embodied Cognition

In his new book Embodied Cognition, Dr. Lawrence Shapiro provides a balanced introduction to an approach which attempts to challenge standard cognitive science. His interview in Episode 73 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of a few of his book's key ideas. It also continues our ongoing exploration of the role of embodiment.


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How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All



Paul Offit, MDIn his new book Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All pediatrican Dr Paul A. Offit traces the history of the anti-vaccine movement from opposition to the small pox vaccine in the 19th century up through recent events. Unfortunately, the results are predictable. Reducing vaccination rates lead to reemergence of dangerous preventable infectious diseases. That is why the decision not to vaccinate is not a personal decision. It is one that involves the whole community.

This is the focus of the conversation I had with Dr. Offit in Episode 40 of Books and Ideas. This is a follow-up to Dr. Offit's first interview here in Episode 25.

Because I think this issue is literally a matter of life and death, I encourage you to share this podcast with others.

Listen to Dr. Offit's interview (Books and Ideas #40)

Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

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Links and References

  • Paul Offit, MD: Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Books and Ideas Episode 25: In this 2008 interview we talked about Offit's book Autism's False Prophets and our shared fears about the consequences of falling vaccination rates.
  • van den Hof S, Conyn-van Spaendonck MA, van Steenbergen JE. Measles epidemic in the Netherlands, 1999-2000.  J Infect Dis. 2002 Nov 15;186(10):1483-6. Epub 2002 Oct 29. During a measles outbreak that occurred in the Netherlands between 1990 and 2000 researchers found that fully vaccinated children living in communities with low rates of vaccination were at greater risk than unvaccinated children living in highly vaccinated communities.
  • Brian Deer on Andrew Wakefield's conflicts of interest: "MMR:The Truth Behind the Crisis," Sunday Times (London), February 24, 2004.
  • I mentioned two important court decisions made in 2009 and 2010 by the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. In 2009 the court ruled that there is no evidence that thimrosal-containing vaccines cause autism and in 2010 it ruled that there is no evidence that thimirosal alone causes autism. The complete docket of the Omnibus Autism Proceedings are available at http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/node/2718.
  • All of Dr. Offits books (listed above) contain extensive references for those wishing to do more research.
  • Jenny McCarthy Body Count: there were at least 662 deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases between June 3, 2007 and February 19, 2011.

Announcements

  • Please feel free to share this podcast with others. Please contact me if you would like to use the interview-only in another podcast or for patient education.
  • I have moved the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum to Goodreads.com and I have started a thread for discussing Deadly Decisions and Episode 40.
  • I will be speaking to the London Skepticis in the Pub on May 11, 2010. Visit http://london.skepticsinthepub.org/ to learn more.
  • Don't forget to join the Books and Ideas Facebook Fan Page.
  • Leave reviews of Books and Ideas on iTunes® or wherever you get the podcast.
  • Join me next month for a new episode of the Brain Science Podcast. The next episode of Books and Ideas will be posted in April, 2011.

Send email feedback to Dr. Campbell at gincampbell at mac dot com or leave voicemail at 205-202-0663.