Robert Burton's "Skeptic's Guide to the Mind" (BSP 96)

 Robert Burton, MD

Robert Burton, MD

In On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, Robert Burton showed that the feeling of certainty, which is something we all experience, has its origin in brain processes that are both unconscious and inaccessible to consciousness . Now in his new book, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, he extends these ideas to other mental sensations such as our feeling of agency and our sense of causation.  The idea that much of what our brain does is not accessible to our conscious awareness is NOT new, but Dr. Burton considers the implications for our understanding of the MIND.

When we talked recently (BSP 96), Dr. Burton explained that his new book has two main parts.  In the early chapters, he extends the principles he developed in On Being Certain to other mental sensations. We tend to take things like our feeling of certainty, agency, and causation for granted, but he points out that these are generated in parts of the brain that we can neither access or control.  What makes A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind stand out is that Burton then explores the implications of this reality. He argues that while we can become ever more knowledgeable about how our brain works, the MIND, which is something that we each experience subjectively, is much more elusive.

The fact that we are trying to study the MIND with the MIND has inherent limitations and I think that Dr. Burton is right when he says our response should be HUMILITY.

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References:

Related Episodes:

  • BSP 42: A discussion of On Being Certain
  • BSP 43: Interview with Robert Burton about On Being Certain
  • BSP 67: Interview with Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel  
  • BSP 85: Interview with Sebastian Seung, author of Connectome.

Send me feedback at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

David Eagleman on The Secret Lives of the Brain (BSP 75)

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David Eagleman, PhD

In his new book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brainneuroscientist, 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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References:

Related Episodes of BSP:

  • BSP 13: Our first discussion of unconscious decisions.
  • BSP 15: Interview with Read Montague, PhD, author of Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions.
  • BSP 19: Review of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer.
  • BSP 42: Review of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, by Robert Burton.
  • BSP 43: Interview with Robert Burton, MD.

Send me feedback at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

"On Being Certain": Interview with Robert Burton, MD (BSP 43)

BSP 43 is an interview with Robert A Burton, MD, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're NotThis is a follow up to BSP 42.

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Other scientists/writers mentioned in this episode:

Other terms mentioned in the interview:

  • Cotard's Syndrome: when the patient believes they do not exist or that they are dead
  • Cognitive dissonance: a mismatch between what one believes and what the evidence supports

Previous Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

  • Episode 42: Part 1 of our discussion of On Being Certain.
  • Episode 13: Unconscious Decisions-featuring Blink, by Malcom Gladwel.l
  • Episode 15: Interview with Read Montague about unconscious decisions.

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Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

Review: "On Being Certain" (BSP 42)

Episode 42 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, by Robert Burton, MD.  This Part 1 of a two-part discussion of the unconscious origins of what Dr. Burton calls "the feeling of knowing."  In Episode 43 I will interview Dr. Burton. Today's episode provides an overview of Dr. Burton's key ideas.

In past episodes I have discussed the role of unconscious decision-making.  On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not ,by Robert Burton, MD, takes this topic to a new level.  First, Dr. Burton discusses the evidence that the "feeling of knowing" arises from parts of our brain that we can neither access or control.  Then he discusses the implications of this finding, including the fact that it challenges long-held assumptions about the possibility of purely rational thought.

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References and Links:

Other scientists mentioned in this episode:

  • Leon Festinger-proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957.
  • Joseph Ledoux-research with rats and the role of the amygdala in the fear response.
  • Michael Merzenich-showed how the auditory cortex in young rats is affected by experience.

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Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

"Predictably Irrational" with Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics at MIT and author of the bestseller, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.  He was my guest for Episode 19 of Books and Ideas.

During the interview, he explains how his came to study human behavior.  He uses examples from his book to explore the question, "What makes a good experiment?"  He also discusses how he hope that his findings can help strengthen our society, despite our human tendency to make "irrational" choices.

Review of "Gut Feelings" (BSP 19)

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Show Notes forBrain Science Podcast #19: Gut Feelings

This episode is a discussion of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (2007), by Gerd Gigerenzer.

Dr. Gigerenzer argues that unconscious decision-making or intuition is actually based on the use of heuristics(rules of thumb) that can be explored, and even brought into awareness.  In this episode, I discuss his basic arguments with an emphasis on the differences between intuitive reasoning and formal logic.  Then we explore some examples including the application of these ideas to more controversial areas like morality and social instincts.

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References

Links of Interest:

A review of "The Executive Brain" (BSP 16)

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Brain Science Podcast #16 is a discussion of The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind (2002), by Elkhonon Goldberg.

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Show Notes

This episode is an introduction to the role of the pre-frontal lobes in decision-making, and the other "executive" functions of our brain.  The functions of the pre-frontal lobes are not only the keys to what makes us human, but also the keys to our individual personality.

In this episode, using Dr. Goldberg's book, we discuss how the frontal lobes relate to the other structures of the brain.  We also, discuss some ideas about why the left and right sides of the brain differ, as well as several important ways in which the cortex, and especially the pre-frontal lobes differ from some of the older parts of the brain.

We discuss briefly the vulnerability of the frontal lobes to damage and disease, and we consider the implications of frontal lobe dysfunction.  Questions are introduced that will be considered in more detail in future podcasts.

Links:

"Why Choose this Book?" with Read Montague (BSP 15)

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Show Notes

Episode #15 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Read Montague of the Baylor School of Medicine.  We discuss his recent book, Why Choose this Book? How we Make Decisions (2006).

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • What is computational neuroscience?
  • What is the computational theory of the mind (CTOM)?
  • How isthe objection that the CTOM doesn't account for meaning answered ?
  • What about choice and responsibility?
  • Is there room for free will in this model?

Unconscious Decisions! (BSP 13)

Show Notes

The Brain Science Podcast usually focuses on a single book devoted to neuroscience, but Episode 13 begins with a discussion of Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and then explores the ideas from several other sources. The key idea is that we do make some decisions without conscious thought and that neuroscience is discovering how this works.

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  • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

References:

Consciousness: An Introduction (2003)by Susan Blackmore:  Experiments from pages 38-43, 57-63, and 127-132.
Consciousness Explained  (1992), by Daniel C. Dennett
Freedom Evolves (2003) by Daniel C. Dennett: Quote in episode is from page 223
On Intelligence (2005) by Jeff Hawkins

Other Links for this episode:

Vic Braden
Antonio Damasio

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