Neuroscience Highlights for 2012 (BSP 92)

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The 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.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • The most recent 25 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are still FREE. See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

 

Interviews have become an outstanding feature of the Brain Science Podcast. This year I interviewed 10 scientist, including five who have appeared in past podcasts.

Scientists Interviewed in 2012:

#Indicates returning guest. See Guest List for previous episode.

*See the Bibliography page for books featured on the Brain Science Podcast.

In addition to discussing the books by these guests, I also reviewed Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brainby Michael S. Gazzaniga, and Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brainby Antonio Damasio.

Related Episodes: 

  • BSP 32: Brief Introduction to brain anatomy.
  • BSP 47: Basics of brain evolution.
  • BSP 57: Chris Frith, author of Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World.
  • BSP 67: Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self.

Announcements:

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Tell me what you think:

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Review of "Self Comes to Mind" by Antonio Damasio (BSP 90)

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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 precedes Consciousness. Listen to this podcast to learn how the Mind becomes Conscious.

ow to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • The most recent 25 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are still FREE. See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

References:

Related Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast: 

  • BSP 21 and BSP 23 How the Brain Creates Maps of the Body
  • BSP 65: Jaak Panksepp talks about the subcortical origins of emotions
  • BSP 89: Evan Thompson talks about his book, Mind in Life

Announcements:

  • Next month's Brain Science Podcast will be a return interview with Jaak Panksepp to talk about his new book, The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions.
  • Please check out my other podcast, Books and Ideas.
  • The earliest episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are no longer available from iTunes but you can get them here or by buying the Brain Science Podcast  app, which is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.
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Send me feedback at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter (@docartemis).

"Mind in Life" with Evan Thompson (BSP 89)

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Evan Thompson, PhD

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 controversial topic of emergence. It is also intended as a follow-up to my recent interview with Terrence Deacon.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • The most recent 25 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are still FREE. See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

 

References:

Related Episodes: 

  • BSP 5: A bried introduction to philosphy of mind
  • BSP 25: Embodied Intelligence with Rolf Pfeifer
  • BSP 36: Art Glenberg on Embodied Cognition
  • BSP 53: Discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? (emergence and free will)
  • BSP 62: Warren Brown, co-author of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?
  • BSP 73: Lawrence Shapiro, author of Embodied Cognition.
  • Books and Ideas #47: Terrence Deacon, author of Incomplete Nature.

Announcements:

  • Continuing education credit is now available for selected episodes of the Brain Science Podcast. Click here to learn more.
  • I will be in Philadelphia, PA October 16-21 to attend the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Please contact me if you would like to get together.
  • My eBook Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty is on sale for only $2.99. Please post your review.
  • Next month's Brain Science Podcast will be a discussion of Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio. Self Comes to Mind is also available from our sponsor Audible.com.
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Embodied Cognition with Lawrence Shapiro (BSP 73)

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Lawrence Shapiro

n his new book, Embodied Cognition, Dr. Lawrence Shapiro provides a balanced introduction to embodied cognition's 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. 

 

 

 

How to get this episode:

Related Episodes:

  • BSP 25: Embodied Artificial Intelligence with Dr. Rolf Pfeifer.
  • BSP 36: Introduction to Embodied Cognition with Dr. Art Glenberg.
  • BSP 58: "Extended Mind" with philosopher Alva Noë.
  • BSP 66: Computational cognitive science with Dr. Randy Gallistel.

Some scientists mentioned in this episode:

References:

Annoucements:

Send feed back to Dr. Campbell at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

Thomas Metzinger Explores Consciousness (BSP 67)

The free podcast version of Brain Science Podcast 67 is now available.  It is an interview with German philosopher Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self , and Being No One.   Dr. Metzinger argues that any credible model for how the brain generates the mind must incorporate unusual human experiences, such as so-called out of body experiences (OBE), and psychiatric conditions.  In this interview we explore how OBE and virtual reality experiments shed light on how the brain generates the sense of self that characterizes normal human experience.

How to get this episode:

Links:

Related Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

References:

Announcements:

  • BSP 68 will be an interview with geriatric neurologist, Peter Whitehouse, author of The Myth of Alzheimer's: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis.  The premium version will be available on April 1 and will include an additional interview with his co-author Daniel George.  The free podcast will come out the second week of April.  
  • The latest episode of my Books and Ideas podcast is an interview with best-selling horror writer Scott Sigler.  We discuss the challenges of incorporating accurate science into fiction writing. (Listen to the end to get a coupon code for his book The Rookie.) 
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  • Leave your feedback in the Discussion Forum or on our Facebook Fan Page or send email to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

Interview with Philosopher Alva Noë (BSP 58)

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Episode 58 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with philosopher, Alva Noë, whose book, Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, argues persuasively that our minds are MORE than just our brains.  He says that "the brain is necessary but not sufficient" to create the mind.     

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Show Notes and Links:

Important scientists mentioned in the interview:

  • Paul Bach-y-Rita: pioneering studies in sensory substitution using tactile stimuli to substitute for vision.
  • Held and Hein: experiments with cats showing that development of normal vision requires motor-sensory feedback.

References:

  • Brain Mechanisms in Sensory Substitution by Paul Bach-y-Rita, 1972.
  • Bach-y-Rita, P "Tactile-Vision Substitution: past and future", International Journal of  Neuroscience 19, nos. 1-4,  29-36, 1983.
  • Held, R and Hein, "Movement-produced stimulation in the development of visually guided behavior." Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. 56(5), 872-876, 1963.
  • Held, R.  "Plasticity in sensory-motor systems." Scientific American. 213(5) 84-91, 1965.

Announcements:

  • Special thanks to Diane Jacobs, Jenine John and Lori Wolfson for transcribing all the episodes of the Brain Science Podcast.
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  • The Brain Science Podcast is supported by listener donations.

Please send your feedback to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

How our Brain Creates Our World with Chris Frith, PhD (BSP 57)

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Episode 57 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with neuropsychologist, Dr. Chris Frith, author of Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World.   Our brain processes information about the world outside us (via our senses) in the same way that it processes information from within our bodies and from our own mental world.  In this interview.  Dr. Frith and I explore the implications from recent discoveries about how our brain generates our mental world.

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Useful Links:

Selected References:*

*These references are from Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World by Chris Frith.

Send feedback to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

Review: "Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?" (BSP 53)

 Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?

Episode 53 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will, by Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown.  This book challenges the widespread fear that neuroscience is revealing an explanation of the human mind that concludes that moral responsibility and free will are illusions created by our brains.

Instead, the authors argue that the problem is the assumption that a physicalistic/materialistic model of the mind must also be reductionist (a viewpoint that all causes are bottom-up).  In this podcast I discuss their arguments against causal reductionism and for a dynamic systems model.  We also discuss why we need to avoid brain-body dualism and recognize that our mind is more than just what our brain does. The key to preserving our intuitive sense of our selves as free agents capable of reason, moral responsibility, and free will is that the dynamic systems approach allows top-down causation, without resorting to any supernatural causes or breaking any of the know laws of the physical universe.  This is a complex topic, but I present a concise overview of the book's key ideas.

How to get this episode:

 

Additional Show Notes

 

References:

  • Books and Ideas #12 ("The Myth of Free Will")
  • Alice Juarrero, Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System.
  • Terence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain.
  • Terrence Deacon, "Three Levels of Emergent PHenomena," in Nancy Murphy and William R. Stoeger (eds.) Evolution, and Emergence: Systems, Organisms, Persons (OUP 2007) ch 4.
  • Alwyn Scott, "The Development of Nonlinear Science", Revista del Nuovo Cimento, 27/10-11 (2004) 1-115.
  • Roger W. Sperry, "Psychology's Mentalist Paradigm and the Religion/Science Tension," American Psychologist, 43/8 (1988), 607-13.
  • Donald T. Campbell, "'Downward Causation' in Hierarchically Organized Biological Systems." in F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky (eds.) Studies in the Philosophy of Biology 179-186.
  • Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
  • Robert Van Gulick, "Who's in Charge Here? And Whose Doing All the Work?"In Heil and Mele (eds.) Mental Causation, 233-56.
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.
  • Ludwig Wiggenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

Other scientists mentioned in the episode:

  • Antonio Damasio: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.
  • Arthur Glenberg: interviewed in Episode 36.
  • Rolf Pfeifer: interviewed in Episode 25.
  • Leslie Brothers, Friday's Footprint: How Society Shapes the Human Mind.
  • Raymond Gibbs, Embodiment and Cognitive Science.
  • Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again.
  • Gerald M.Edelmanand Guilo Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination.

Donations and Subscriptions are appreciated

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

Embodied Cognition with Art Glenberg (BSP 36)

Art Glenberg, PhD

Episode 36 of the Brain Science Podcast  is an interview with Arthur Glenberg, PhD, about embodied cognition.  Dr. Glenberg recently moved to Arizona State University, after over 30 years at the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory of Embodied Cognition.  His research focuses on the relationship between embodiment and language.  In this interview, we explore the experimental evidence for a theory of language that embraces the concept that our language abilities are actually rooted in our perceptual and motor abilities.  Dr. Glenberg also explains how his work has practical implications in helping children learn how to read.

Since Dr. Glenberg has had a long career as a working research scientist, this interview also provided an opportunity to explore how scientific hypotheses are formed and how experiments are designed to test these hypothesis.  I think this interview will give you a fascinating look into the real world of cognitive psychology.

How to get this episode:

 

Links and References:

Arthur Glenberg, PhD

Other scientists mentioned in the Episode:

  • George Lakoff: pioneering linguist.
  • James Gibson: known for his ideas about affordances.William Epstein-emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin.
  • Joseph Campos: University of California (Berkelely).
  • Amy Needham and Amanda Woodard-experiments with velcro mits and infant cognition.
  • David A Havas: graduate student and co-author with Dr. Glenberg.
  • Mike Kashak: Florida State University.
  • Mike Rinck: German co-author-see paper under Glenberg (more papers).
  • Vittorio Gallese, Dept of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Italy (where mirror neurons were discovered): extensive experimental with motor neurons in monkeys.
  • Fritz Stack (Germany): experiments showing that facial experiments affect mood and cognition.

References:

Donations and Subscriptions are appreciated

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Some Recent Research About Embodied Cognition

There is an ongoing debate on the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum about whether the importance of embodiment is an essential obstacle to trying to simulate human cognition with computers.  Meanwhile, the role of embodiment in cognition continues to be a growing area of research.  I enjoyed a recent post on the Scientific American Community website entitled, Thinking with the Body, by Art Glenberg from Arizona State University.  He reviews recent research by Holt and Bellock.  The bottom line is that even when people are involved in verbal tasks, like reading sentences, their comprehension is influenced by their body knowledge of what is being described.

You can read more at Mind Matters: Neuroscience, Psychology, Psychiatry, and More.

How Philosophy of Mind Influences Artificial Intelligence

The latest episode of Talking Robots is an interview with Inman Harvey of the University of Sussex.  He observes that when researchers attempt to build autonomous robots, their approach is strongly influenced by their philosophy of mind, even if that philosophy is only implicit.  He also points out that what he calls "good old-fashioned AI" fails to represent how brains really work.

This is a point I have emphasized repeatedly.  Inman observes that approaches liked embodied artificial intelligence (which we discussed with Rolf Pfeifer in Episode 25) are really based on a different philosophy of mind that "good old-fashioned AI."

His paper, Philosophy of Mind Using a Screwdriver, is available as a PDF.

Dr. Robert Schleip Discusses Fascia on Books and Ideas

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Books and Ideas Podcast #15 is an interview with Robert Schleip, PhD, from the University of Ulm in Germany.  Dr. Schleip is an experienced practitioner of the body work method known as Rolfing, but several years ago he went back and earned his PhD in Biology and began a second career as a research scientist.

In our interview, we discuss some of the recent discoveries that may revolutionize the way we look at the connective tissue that is commonly called fascia.  We also talk about the importance of applying the scientific method to the evaluation of alternative and complimentary healing methods (CAM).  Dr. Schleip's enthusiasm for science made this a very enjoyable interview.

 

References and Links:

Dr. Schleip recommends the Wikipedia entry on fascia if you would like to learn the basics.

To learn more about Dr. Schleip's work, visit the Fascia Research Project website at http://www.fasciaresearch.de/

The First International Congress International Research Congress was held in October, 2007 in Boston, MA.

You can find some of the scientists Dr. Schleip mentions on this speaker page.

Click here for more references, including those written in German.

Additional Show Notes for BSP 25

On the last episode of the Brain Science Podcast, I promised to list previous episodes that related to the discussion of embodied artificial intelligence.  For the sake of those of you who rely on the RSS feed to get the show notes, I am going to list those below. They have also been added to the original show notes.

Related Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast::Another thing I did not get into the original notes was a reference for the pivotal paper by Rodney Brooks. Here is  that reference:

Embodied Intelligence with Rolf Pfeifer (BSP 25)

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How the Body Shapes the Way We Think, by Rolf Pfeifer and Josh Bongard

Brain Science Podcast  Episode 25 is an interview of author Rolf Pfeifer, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Zurich.  The focus of our conversation was the importance of embodiment.  Brains (and intelligence) cannot be understood separate from their interaction with the body and the physical world.  Pfeifer explains how this realization has led the field of artificial intelligence away from a pure computational approach to one he calls embodied artificial intelligence.  His interview is spiced with numerous examples that demonstrate why this approach is relevant to those of us who are interested in the human brain. 

How to get this episode:

Episode Highlights:

  • A brief overview of artificial intelligence.
  • Introduction to biorobotics.
  • Why artificial intelligence and biorobotics are relevant to understand the brain.
  • The meaning of complexity and emergence.
  • Why the close coupling of the sensory and motor systems is essential to intelligence.
  • Applying design principles to understanding intelligence.
  • Numerous examples make these potentially intimidating topics accessible to all listeners.
  • I also introduced a new way for listeners to support the Brain Science Podcast 

Related episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

Scientists mentioned in the podcast:

    Rodney Brooks

    Books by Rodney Brooks:

    Where to learn more about Pfeifer's work:

    Sandra Blakeslee (BSP 23)

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    This episode is an interview with Sandra Blakeslee, co-author (with her son Matthew) of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps Help You Do (almost) Everything Better, which we discussed in Episode 21.

    How to get this episode:

    Show Notes

    I asked Blakeslee to tell me a little bit of her background as a science writer.  She wrote for the New York Times for many years and was the co-author of both Jeff Hawkins groundbreaking book, On Intelligenceand VS Ramachandran's modern classic Phantoms in the Brain (1998), which was one of the first books to explore neuroplasticity.

    In this interview, we explored the relationship between body maps and neuroplasticity, as well as questions from listeners about out of body experiences and other oddities once considered "paranormal."  We talked about how body maps are relevant to understanding why some methods of alternative healing appear to be effective.

    I asked her to tell me which scientist she met made the biggest impression.  Here are a few of those she mentioned:

    Blakeslee told me about some of the pioneering work that Merzenich is doing to apply his discoveries to help people, both those with disabilities and those who just want to combat aging.  You can learn more about his work at http://www.positscience.com/.

    If you would like to contact Sandra Blakeslee to give her feedback or ask her questions, she has a contact form on her books website at http://www.thebodyhasamindofitsown.com/.  She is going to let me know when she gets the references posted on the site.

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    A review of "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own" (BSP 21)

    Featured in this episode: The Body has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better (2007), by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee.  (Also available on from Audible.com)

    How to get this episode:

    SHOW NOTES

    Topics:

    • Body maps and the role of embodiment.
    • Basic ideas about the body maps in the brain.
    • Mapping the world around us.
    • How body maps differ between species.
    • Body schema and body image.
    • The role of body maps in disease.
    • The role of belief in health and illness.
    • How body maps explain non-traditional healing methods and unusual experiences.
    • The role of motor imagery in improving motor skills.
    • Mirror Neurons and grid neurons in the hippocampus  (see more on Scholarpedia).
    • How sensation and emotions come together (the role of the insula).

    Scientists mentioned in the podcast:

    Other scientists mentioned in The Body has a Mind of Its Own:

    Note: This list is not exhaustive.  I know I left off VS Ramachandran and several others, but those listed above did work that was addressed, directly or indirectly, in my podcast.

    Brain Structures (links include diagrams of the brain):