In August 2019 I started a 4 part series about the Neuroscience of Consciousness. Episode 160 of Brain Science starts by taking a deep dive into several recent books on the topic. The authors include Stanislas Dehaene, Sean Carroll, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Dennett, Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt. The next three episodes will feature interviews with Joseph Ledoux, Michael Graziano, and Christof Koch. Learn more at http://brainsciencepodcast.com.Read More
Episode 59 of Books and Ideas is an interview with philosopher Anthony Chemero about his book Phenomenology: An Introduction. We put phenomenology into historical perspective and explore how it is making contributions to contemporary cognitive science. This episode doesn't require any prior knowledge.Read More
Last month in BSP 98 I reviewed Temple Grandin's latest book The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. That podcast focused on the current science, but this month's follow up interview (BSP 99) is a little different. It focuses on Dr. Grandin's practical advice for living with autism. Besides emphasizing the need for more research into the sensory problems that are common in autism and applying the recent discoveries about brain plasticity. Dr. Grandin believes very strongly in nurturing strengths while accommodating weaknesses. She said that it is very important that "we accommadate weaknesses in a way that is enabling." She is particularly worried that many young people are not being taught the social skills they need to succeed in a work environment, even thought they have valuable talents to contribute.
In my opinion, Dr. Grandin's advice carries extra weight because her personal example shows how an autistic person can make a unique contribution if given extensive training and support.
Visit Brain Science Podcast website for full show notes and a free episode Transcript.
I hope to post a new episode of Books and Ideas before the end of the summer. Meanwhile the Brain Science Podcast is heading toward episode 100! Last month's episode (BSP 98) was a discussion of The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin. This book is a tremendous gift, not just to patients and their families, but also to teachers, mentors, friends, and everyone who is interested in understanding how our brains make us who we are.
I think that this is a book everyone should read because as we come to appreciate the fact that the strengths and challenges of autism occur across a broad spectrum, we may also realize that some of these issues actually affect people who aren't considered autistic. It is not the label that matters. What does matter is recognizing that each of us has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, but thanks to brain plasticity, we all have the potential to nurture our strengths and, when necessary, accommodate our weaknesses.
Please visit the Brain Science Podcast website for full show notes and free episode transcripts.
The latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 97) is a conversation with Daniel Lende and Greg Downey, editors of The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology. We explore how neuroscience and anthropology can work together to unravel the mystery of how our brains make us who we are.
Listen to BSP 97 (or download mp3)
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.
Go to Brain Science Podcast website for complete show notes and free episode transcripts.
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):
BSP 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.
How the Brain Understands Language (BSP 94):
BSP 94 was an interview with linguist Benjamin Bergen author of Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning.
Dr. 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.
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.
Click here for detailed shownotes and free transcript.
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.
Embodied 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.
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.
Nuturing 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.
In 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.
Free Episode Transcript (Download PDF)
- Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter by Terrence W. Deacon (2011)
- The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence W. Deacon (1991)
- The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience by Francisco J. Varela, Evan T. Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch (1992)
- Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System by Alicia Juarrero (2002)
- Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind by Evan Thompson (2009)
- Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life by Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan (2006)
- Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown (BSP 53 and BSP 62)
- For more links and a discussion over the reception controversy about relationship between Deacon's work and that of Alicia Juarrero please see the free episode transcript.
- My first eBook Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty is now available for only $2.99. Just send me your receipt if you need the PDF version. Don't forget to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
- I was recently interviewed on The Secular Buddhist Podcast (#124). This is a podcast that may interest listeners who are interested in the scientific study of meditation.
- Post your feedback on the Books and Ideas Fan Page on Facebook or within the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum at Goodreads.com.
- Follow me on Twitter or Google +.
- Send me email at gincampbell at mac dot com.
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.
Episode Transcript (Free PDF)
- The FREE episode transcript contains additional links and references.
- My new eBook Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty is now available at Amazon.com. If you want the PDF version just send me a copy of your Amazon receipt and I will send you the PDF for no additional cost.
- Please post reviews of Are You Sure? on Amazon, Goodreads, or on your blog.
The 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.
Episode Transcript (Free PDF)
"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.
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)
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.
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.