Consciousness as Social Perception (BSP 108)

Michal Graziano and Kevin (click image to play interview)

Michal Graziano and Kevin (click image to play interview)

In his latest book Consciousness and the Social Brain  Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano proposes a unique and compelling theory of consciousness. He proposes that the same circuits that the human brain uses to attribute awareness to others are used to model self-awareness. He emphasizes that his attention schema theory is only tentative, but it is testable and it does fit our current knowledge of brain function.

In a recent interview for the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 108), Graziano used the following clinical example to clarify his approach. A colleague had a patient who was convinced that he had a squirrel in his head. When confronted with the illogic of his claim the patient replied “Not everything can be explained by science.” In this example it is clear that the squirrel doesn’t really exist, so the question to be answered is HOW did his brain reach the conclusion that it does.

While imagining one has a squirrel in one’s head is thankfully rare, we also know that our subjective experiences of the world are not necessarily accurate. Our perception of the world is shaped by how our brain processes the sensory inputs it receives. For example, we perceive white light as an absence of color even though in reality it consists of all wavelengths.

Perception is something our brains do constantly and which we can not consciously control. In considering awareness (and by extension consciousness) perception-like Graziano is emphasizing several important features. The most important is probably the fact that it is only “quick and dirty model” of what is really going on, which means that our intuitions about consciousness are not necessarily reliable. In fact, humans have a strong tendency to over-attribute awareness to the world around us. This is part of the social circuitry that has made us the most successful species in the earth’s history, but it can also lead to amusing results (as anyone who has interacted with Siri on an iPhone has no doubt observed).

Another implication of considering awareness as a form of social perception is that it reverses the usual approach taken to understanding consciousness. Instead of asking how a physical brain can produce something subjective and non-physical called consciousness, we ask what kind of information processing leads to the conclusion that I (or anyone else) is conscious. As Graziano points out, this is a “mechanistic” model. Not only can it be tested but it has interesting implications. Dr. Graziano concluded that one of the key implications is "that awareness and consciousness are tools for information processing, and they are mechanistically understandable, and presumably can be engineered.”

I find the attention schema theory to be very compelling. Besides being testable, it has a simple elegance that I appreciate. It also explains why most humans experience a world filled with spirits, and are utterly convinced that their own consciousness is something special and non-physical.

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Related Episodes:

Since understanding consciousness is one of the deepest questions facing neuroscience, it has been explored on many previous episodes of the Brain Science Podcast. Rather than list all those episodes I want to mention just a few that I think are particularly relevant to this month’s episode. 

Announcements:

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.

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 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.

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.
  • Get my eBook, Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty, from Amazon.com for only $3.99.
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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.
  • Please visit the Brain Science Podcast on Facebook or Google+, or join the BSP  Discussion Forum at Goodreads.com.
  • Never miss an episode of the Brain Science Podcast!  Sign up for the Newsletter.
  • Send me (Dr. Campbell) email at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter (@docartemis).

Disgust with Rachel Herz (BSP 86)

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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.

How to get this episode:

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Announcements:

Neurobiology of Placebos with Fabrizio Benedetti (BSP 77)

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Fabrizio Benedetti, MD 

r. 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

How to get this episode:

References

  • Benedetti F, Mayberg HS, Wager TD, Stohler CS, Jon-Kar Zubieta J (2005) Neurobiological Mechanisms of the Placebo Effect. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25,10390-10402. (Full article)
  • Benedetti F (2009) Placebo Effects: Understanding the mechanisms in health and disease. Oxford University Press.
  • Benedetti F (2011) The Patient's Brain: The neuroscience behind the doctor-patient relationship. Oxford University Press.
  • Levine JD, Gordon NC and Fields, HL (1978) The mechanisms of placebo analgesia. Lancet, 2, 654-7. (Abstract)
  • Levine JD, Gordon NC and Fields, HL (1978) “The mechanisms of placebo analgesia.” Lancet, 2, 654-7. (Abstract). See also a follow-up paper: Levine JD, Gordon NC, Bornstein JC, and H L Fields HL (1979) “Role of pain in placebo analgesia.” Proc Natl Acad Sci76(7): 3528–3531. (full text)
  • Volkow, ND, Wang JG, Ma Y, Fowler JS, Zhu W, Maynard L et al. (2003) Expectation enhances the regional brain metabolic and the reinforcing effects of stimulants in cocaine abusers. Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 11261–8. (Full text)
  • de la Fuente-Fernández R, et al. (2001) Expectation and Dopamine Release: Mechanism of the Placebo Effect in Parkinson's Disease. Science293, 1164. (Abstract)
  • Benedetti F, Colloca L, Torre E et al. (2004) Placebo-responsive Parkinson patients show decreased activity in single neurons of the subthalamic nucleus. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 587-88. (Abstract)
  • Herrnstein RJ, (1962) Placebo Effect in the Rat. Science138, 677-678.
  • Linde K, Witt CM, Streng A et al. (2007) The impact of patient expectation in four randomized control trials of acupuncture in patients with chronic pain. Pain, 128, 264-71. (Abstract)
  • See Episode Transcript for additional references.

Announcements

Corrections

  •  32:48 only NON-members are eligible to get a free audiobook download from our sponsor at http://audiblepodcast.com/brainscience.
  • Dr. Benedetti’s first book is called Placebo Effects, not Placebo “responses”.
  • Special Thanks to Lori Wolfson for finding these mistakes and correcting them in the episode transcript.

Send me feedback at gincampbell 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.) 
  • Read episode transcripts right on your iPhone® or Touch® with the BSP application.
  • Get episode show notes automatically via the free Brain Science Podcast Newsletter.
  • 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.
  • Don't forget to post your reviews in iTunes®. Your word of mouth helps us find new listeners.
  • 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.

Neurophilosophy with Patricia Churchland (BSP 55)

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Episode 55 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with highly respected philosopher Patricia Churchland.  Churchland is the author of Neurophilosophy and Brain-Wise.  She is currently on the faculty of the University of California at San Diego, and she was a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2008.

In this interview, we talked about neurophilosophy, which is an approach to philosophy of mind that gives high priority to incorporating the empiric findings of neuroscience.   We also talk about the evolving relationship between philosophy and neuroscience.   Churchland shares her enthusiasm for how the discoveries of neuroscience are changing the way we see ourselves as human beings.  We also talked a little about the issues of reductionism that I first brought up in Episode 53.

How to get this episode:

Recommended Reading:

Related Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast

  • Episode 5: Introduction to philosophy of mind and the question of consciousnes.
  • Episode 22: Interview with Christof Koch about consciousness.
  • Episode 53: Discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? a defense of free will.

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

Meditation and the Brain with Daniel Siegel, MD (BSP 44)

Daniel Siegel, M.D.

In Episode 44 of the Brain Science Podcast I talk with Daniel Siegel, MD about meditation and the brain.  Dr. Siegel is the author of several books including The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being.  In this interview, we review the scientific evidence about how mindfulness meditation changes the brain, both in terms of short term activity and in terms of long-term structural changes.  The evidence is convincing that a regular mindfulness practice can be an important element of brain health.

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Show Notes and Links

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:

Scientists and writers mentioned in Episode 44:

More information about meditation:

Note: Insight Meditation is based of vipassana meditation, the mindfulness practices of Theravada, the oldest branch of Buddhism.  Insight Meditation is easily adapted to secular purposes because it not based on beliefs or dogmas.  The most well-known secular form is called mindfulness meditation, which begins with a focus on breath awareness and then advances to developing compassion for oneself and others.

Researchers are studying people who practice other types of mediation also. Richard Davidson has focused his work on the study of Tibetan Buddhist monks.  Their practice emphasizes the development of compassion.

*I discussed the therapeutic use of mediation with Delany Dean, PhD, in Episode 20 of Books and Ideas.

Donations and Subscriptions are appreciated

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Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD 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.

How to get this episode:

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.

Donations and Subscriptions are appreciated

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

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.

Neuroplasticity with Dr. Norman Doidge (BSP 26)

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Episode 26 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Norman Doidge, MD, author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (2007).  Dr. Doidge and I agree that neuroplasticity is the most important discovery about the brain that has been made in several hundred years.  In his interview, Dr. Doidge talks about some of the obstacles that delayed this discovery including what he calls the "plastic paradox," which is the fact that plasticity itself can contribute to the development of rigid behaviors, including addictions and bad habits.

The Brain That Changes Itself includes the work of the key scientists of neuroplasticity.  In my conversation with Dr. Doidge, we talked about the work of Paul Bach-y-Rita, Edward Taub, and VS Ramachandran.  Dr. Doidge also shared how his own work is being affected, and why he thinks neuroplasticity has the potential to lead to more important discoveries.

I will be talking to Dr. Taub in Episode 28.  If you are new to the Brain Science Podcast, you may want to go back and listen to Episode 10, which is where I first introduced neuroplasticity in my discussion of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, by Sharon Begley.

You can learn more about Dr. Doidge's work at his website: http://normandoidge.com

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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.

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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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Consciousness with Christof Koch (BSP 22)

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Brain Science Podcast #22 is an interview with Dr. Christof Koch of Cal Tech, one of the pioneers in the neurobiological study of consciousness.  About two decades ago, when Koch and Francis Crick began looking for what they called the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), such a quest was considered controversial; but now the field is increasing in popularity.  In our interview, we talked a little about his book,The Quest for Consciousness, as well as his on-going research and his thoughts about what the future might bring.

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Here is a list of some of the topics we discussed:

  • Why Francis Crick was an outstanding mentor and colleague.
  • A Working definition of consciousness.
  • How consciousness relates to awareness.
  • What are neural correlates of consciousness.
  • Why vision is the focus of Koch's research.
  • The search for the "footprints" of consciousness.
  • The role of functional imaging and the use of monkeys.
  • Neurons-"the atoms of perception".
  • Why we need a theory of consciousness.
  • The role of the frontal lobes in consciousness.
  • Is consciousness an emergent property?
  • What about zombies?
  • Why do we need consciousness?
  • Will artificial intelligence become conscious?
  • The hard problem:  how does the brain generate subjective experience  (qualia).

Links:

Update on 2012-05-03 15:42 by Ginger Campbell, MD

Christof Koch returned to the Brain Science Podcast in Episode 84.

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):

Brain Science Podcast's First Six Months (BSP 14)

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Although the first full episode of the Brain Science Podcast appeared on December 15, 2006, I went live with an introductory podcast around December 1, 2006.  (I have deleted episode 0 from the feed).  At any rate, I decided it was time to look back over the first six months and reflect on some of the topics we have covered.

This is one of the shorter episodes, but I hope it will bring some of the key ideas back to mind (and encourage new listeners to go back and get the older episodes).  It will also give you a glimpse of what we will be discussing in the next few months.

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

How to get this episode:

 

Why Quantum Mechanics Can't Explain Consciousness

Quantum mechanics can't explain consciousness, and I am going to explore why.

The reason I bring this up is that many people seem to be worried that the mounting evidence that the brain generates the mind implies that free will can not exist.  Of course, most of us feel strongly that we do have free will.  Various arguments are put forth to "save" free will. (I am not going to tackle the claim that it needs saving in this post.)  One recent approach has been to use the uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics as a potential location for free will.  John Searle has observed that this only gives us randomness, not free will, but that doesn't seem to reduce the appeal of such an approach.

Today I wish to argue against using quantum mechanics to explain any aspect of consciousness by considering and entirely different point of view.  My argument is simple: I think trying to use quantum mechanics is taking the argument in the wrong direction.

Consciousness is clearly an emergent property.  The latest evidence is that there is no master site of consciousness or control in the brain.  If that is the case looking to the subatomic level is clearly a move in the wrong direction.  It makes as much sense as trying to understand the properties of water by studying hydrogen and oxygen.  Because water emerges from the combination of the two, studying its components tells us little about water.