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:

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  • 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.

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.

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"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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How Mind Emerges from Brain (BSP 82)

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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.

How to get this episode:

References:

Related Episodes:

  • Links to episodes of the Brain Science Podcast that are mentioned in BSP 82.
  • BSP 81: Interview with Patricia Churchland about the brain and morality.
  • BSP 53: Discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancey Murphy, Warren S. Brown.  (Also BSP 62)
  • BSP 35: Discussion of Mirror Neurons.
  • BSP 66: For more on scrub jays.
  • BSP 3: Memory and the use of animal models.
  • BSP 38: Interview with Jeff Hawkins.
  • BSP 47: Brain Evolution.
  • BSP 74: "Small world architecture" in brain networks (Olaf Sporns).
  • BSP 75: Interview with David Eagleman (arguments for legal reform).
  • BSP 76: "Choking" with Dr. Sian Beilock.
  • BSP 56: Interview with Eve Marder (implications of muliple realizability in neuronal circuits).

Announcements:

Send feedback to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

Patricia Churchland on Neuroscience and Morality (BSP 81)

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Patricia Churchland (photo by Nines Minquez)

 

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. 

 

 

 

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References:

Links: 

Announcements:

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.

"Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?" with Warren Brown (BSP 62)

Warren Brown and Nancey Murphy

Warren Brown and Nancey Murphy

Episode 62 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Warren Brown, PhD, co-author (with Nancey Murphy) of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will.  This book was discussed in detail back in Episode 53, but this interview gave me a chance to discuss some of the book's key ideas with Dr. Brown.  We focused on why a non-reductive approach is needed in order to formulate ideas about moral responsibility that are consistent with our current neurobiological understanding of the mind.

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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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Please send your feedback to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

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

frith

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Journey to Perplexity: "The Mind Is Not a Computer"

The blog, Journey to Perplexity, notes that Gerald Edelman's book, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge, offers some valuable insights into why "the mind is not a computer."   I am not sure who writes this blog, but he seems to be writing from a philosophical background.

It has been a while since I read Edelman's book.  Edelman won the Nobel Prize in 1972 for important discoveries about the structure of antibodies, but he has devoted the last several decades to studying neuroscience.  His two most well-known contributions are his theory of so-called 'neural Darwinism,' and his study of the importance of redundancy and feedback loops within the brain.  He has written quite a few books on the subject including, Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness (2005).

Second Nature is Edelman's attempt to address some of the philosophical issues about consciousness, while Wider than the Sky introduces some of his theories about how the brain generates consciousness.

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.

Natasha Mitchell Interviews Jonah Lehrer about "Proust was a Neuroscientist"

The February 9th episode of All in the Mind  is an excellent interview of author Jonah Lehrer about his book Proust Was a Neuroscientist.  In the interview, Lehrer reflects on the danger of viewing science as the sole source of discovery, but he also talks a little about several of the people explored in his book.  His basic premise is that artists from various fields often intuitively grasped truths that are now being revealed by neuroscience.  One example is the insights that Proust had about memory.

Proust was a Neuroscientist is a valuable contribution to the current exploration of the relevance of neuroscience to everyday life.  It can be easily read in a few sittings or savored one artist at a time.

Natasha Mitchell is an excellent interviewer because she always asks interesting and probing questions.  (I think of her as the Australian Terry Gross.).  All in the Mind is an excellent compliment to the Brain Science Podcast.

Mitchell has recently begun an All in the Mind blog and there is a new All in the Mind group on Facebook.

Philosopher's Zone Podcast Explores "Minds and Computers"

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The Philosopher's Zone is one of the excellent Australian podcasts that I listen to regularly.  The episode of January 12, 2007, is especially relevant to our recent discussion of embodied intelligence.  Host Alan Saunders interviews Matt Carter , author of Minds and Computers: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence.

Their conversation is a good brief introduction to some of the issues of philosophy of mind, the relevance of the computational theory of the mind (introduced in Brain Science Podcast #15), and the  importance of embodiment to the field of artificial intelligence.

If anyone has already read this book, I would love to hear your feedback and impressions.

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.

"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:

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

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