Connectome Update (BSP 103)

Olaf Sporns, PhD (click photo to play mp3)

Olaf Sporns, PhD (click photo to play mp3)

The Human Connectome is a description of the structural connectivity of the human brain, but according to Olaf Sporns, author of Discovering the Human Connectome, this description  must include a description of the brain's dynamic behavior. I first talked with Sporns back in BSP 74, but BSP 103 gave us a chance to talk about recent progress in connectomics.

Sporns sees the study of the brain's connections as fundamental to understanding how the brain works.

"It will allow us to ask new questions that perhaps we couldn’t ask before. It will be a foundational data set for us, just like the genome is. We will not be able to imagine neuroscience going back to a time when we did not have the connectome, but it will not give us all the answers.”

In his first book, Networks of the Brain, Sporns described how Network Theory provides important tools for dealing with the large data sets that are created by studying complex systems like the human brain.  In BSP 103 we discuss both the challenges and the promise of Discovering the Human Connectome

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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.

"The Autistic Brain" by Temple Grandin (BSP 98)

 The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum  by Temple Grandin (with Richard Panek), is a tremendous gift, not just to patients and their families, but also to teachers, mentors, friends, and everyone who is interested in understanding how our brains make us who we are.

I think that this is a book everyone should read because as we come to appreciate the fact that the strengths and challenges of autism occur across a broad spectrum, we may also realize that some of these issues actually affect people who aren't considered autistic.  It is not the label that matters.  What does matter is recognizing that each of us has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, but thanks to brain plasticity, we all have the potential to nurture our strengths and, when necessary, accommodate our weaknesses.


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 and Related Episodes:


  • I am still trying to schedule an interview with Dr. Temple Grandin, but there is a possibility that the next episode of the Brain Science Podcast will not come out until August 2013.
  • The Deadline for listener submissions to Episode 100 is August 1, 2013.
  • Several products are not available directly on this website including the PDF version of Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty by Ginger Campbell, MD and a zip file contain BSP 1-10. Click here to learn more.
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"Mind and Brain" with William Uttal (BSP 83)


William Uttal, PhD

There is nothing more exciting than the mind/brain problem" according to Dr. William Uttal, author of Mind and Brain: A Critical Appraisal of Cognitive Neuroscience.  In the latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast  (BSP 83) I talked with Dr. Uttal about why he feels that brain imaging can not solve this mystery.

First, there is the problem that brain imaging represents the wrong level of analysis because every spot you see on a brain scan actaully represents thousands of neurons.  This means that the activity and interaction between individual neurons has been lost. Then there is the problem of reproducibility, with divergent results between studies.

The evidence is accumulating that "much of the brain responds to any stimulus, and every area of the brain participates in multiple functions."  This means that asking where a given function occurs may be the wrong question.

BSP 83 represents an on-going discussion of these issues, so I have included links to related episodes in the show notes. 

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Related Podcasts:  


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How Mind Emerges from Brain (BSP 82)


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.

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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).


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Brain Networks with Olaf Sporns (BSP 74)


Olaf Sporns, PhD

Networks of the Brain by Olaf Sporns is an excellent comprehensive introduction to the use of Network Theory to study both the brain and the nervous systems of invertebrates.

In Episode 74 of the Brain Science Podcast, I interviewed Dr. Sporns (Indiana University) about some of the key ideas in his book.  Network Theory is becoming increasingly important as a tool for dealing with the massive amounts of data being generated by current techniques, such as brain imaging.  It is also a valuable tool for dealing with the fact that nervous systems consist of multiple scales (from the molecular level up to billions of neurons), which can not be reduced to a single scale.

While Networks of the Brain will be of greatest interest to those working in neuroscience and to those with a background in fields like engineering, mathematics, and computer science, this interview provides an introduction for listeners of all backgrounds.





How to get this episode:




  • BSP 31: Interview with György Buzsáki, author of Rhythms of the Brain.
  • BSP 46: Discussion of Brain Imaging, including Diffusion Imaging.
  • BSP 56: Interview with Dr. Eve Marder about the use of circuit theory in neuroscience.
  • BSP 61: Mapping the Brain (and generating huge amounts of data).


  • The Brain Science Podcast will be returning to a monthly schedule on July 1, 2011.
  • Please join the new Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum at
  • Get show notes automatically via our Newsletter.
  • Dr. Campbell gave a talk in London last month entitled "Why Neuroscience Matters." (Available here.)
  • Dr. Campbell will be a speaker at The Amazing Meeting 9, July 14-17,2011 in Las Vegas, NV.
  • Don't forget to check out the Books and Ideas podcast and SCIENCEPODCASTERS.ORG.
  • The Brain Science Podcast app is available for iPhone, Android, and iPad. If you have purchased the iPhone version, it will now work on your iPad (no additional purchase needed). The iPad is the perfect device for reading episode transcripts, especially if you want to read along as you listen.
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How our Brain Creates Our World with Chris Frith, PhD (BSP 57)


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.

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Brain Imaging: Recorded LIVE at Dragon*Con 2008 (BSP 46)

Dragon*Con 2008

Dr. Campbell at Dragon*Con 2008

Brain Science Podcast #46 is a discussion of brain imaging with Dr. Shella Keilholz and Dr. Jason Schneiderman.  The focus of our discussion is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is revolutionizing neuroscience.  We talked about both the strengths and weaknesses of this technique.  Both of my guests agree that mainstream coverage of this technique tends to exaggerate what we can actually tell from this kind of brain scan.  An important principle is that the scan of any single individual can vary greatly from day to day, which means that valid conclusions require data from a large number of people.

Since this episode was recorded LIVE in the Podcasting Track at Dragon*Con 2008, it includes audience questions at the end, which helped bring out additional ideas.  I have posted an edited version (but there is still some noise from the room next door).  If you are interested in hearing the raw unedited version, click here.  I also want to thank Swoopy from Skepticality for all the work she did to make the podcasting track a great success.

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More about my guests:

Shella Keilholz, PhD, is an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineeering at Georgia Tech and the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.  She is doing studies that involve correlating fMRI scans with the reading from electrodes placed in rat brains.  This work is fundamental to improving the correlation between fMRI scans, which reflect brain activity only indirectly, and what is actually happening in the neurons of the brain.

Jason Schneiderman, PhD studied psychology before earning his PhD in neuroscience.  His dissertation involved the use of diffusion tensor imaging, which is a new method of scanning that is being used to track the axonal connections in the brain.  He is currently doing a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where his team is trying to determine if the connections in the brains of young schizophrenics are different from normal.  The goal is to improve early diagnosis because early intervention makes a big difference.

Some recent discussions of fMRI:

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


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).

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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?

Review: "The Future of the Brain" (BSP 9)


Show Notes for Episode 9


This episode is a discussion of The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience, by British neuroscientist, Steven Rose.  Unlike most episodes of the Brain Science Podcast, the emphasis of this episode is on asking what kind of ethical dilemmas might be posed by our increased knowledge of how the brain works.

Topics discussed:

  • Why the mind is more than the brain.
  • Why the mind is more than genetics and biochemistry.
  • How we still have a long way to go before we can fully understand how the brain-body generates the mind.
  • Problems and dangers of reductionism.
  • Implications for freedom and personal responsibility.
  • Examples from the history of science that demonstrate why these concerns are valid.
  • The "Paradox of Memory."
  • Some email from listeners.

One issue I only mention briefly on the podcast is Rose's attack on evolutionary psychology.  If you are interested in learning more about this, you might want to read the transcript of a debate between Steven Rose and Stephen Pinker, which was held in 1998.  It is on the Edge website, which is an interesting website even though it lacks an RSS feed.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy BSP 1-10 (zip file of mp3 files)
  • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
  • The most recent 25 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are still FREE. See the individual show notes for links the audio files.