Brain Science Podcast Celebrates 8 Years of Neuroscience

Ginger CampbeLL, host of the Brain Science Podcast (L>R: Greta, Rusty, & Jake)

Ginger CampbeLL, host of the Brain Science Podcast (L>R: Greta, Rusty, & Jake)

The first episode of the Brain Science Podcast appeared on December 5, 2006, which makes it one of the longest running shows in any genre, not just science or medicine. I am especially proud of the fact that we have reached listeners in 219 different countries. BSP 114 is our 8th annual review episode and as a part of our year-end celebration all previous annual review episodes have been added to the FREE feed that also includes our most recent 25 episodes.

The goal of our annual review episode is to highlight some of the key ideas that we have explored during the last years. For 2014 this included discussions of brain plasticity with Dr. Michael Merzenich, the integration of cognition and emotion with Dr. Luis Pessoa, the science of sleep with Dr. Penny Lewis, the hazards of neuromaniaconsciousness with Dr. Michael Graziano, exercise and the brain with Dr. John Ratey, neurobiology with Dr. Frank Amthor, and mirror neurons with Dr. Greg Hickok. We ended the year with highlights from the event "Neuroplasticity and Healing," which featured the Dalai Lama and three previous Brain Science Podcast guests.

How to get this episode:

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  • Premium Subscribers have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.

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

2014 Episodes:

 

 

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.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)

  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.

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

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:

"The Cognitive-Emotional Brain" (BSP 106)

Luiz Pessoa  of the University of Maryland

Luiz Pessoa of the University of Maryland

In The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration neuroscientist Luiz Pessoa argues that emotion and cognition are deeply intertwined throughout many levels of the brain. In a recent interview (BSP 106) Pessoa and I focused on recent discoveries about the amygdala and Thalamus that challenge traditional assumptions about what these structures do. The amygdala processes more than fear (and other negative stimuli) and the Thalamus is more than  a mere relay station.

This a fairly technical discussion but Pessoa did a good job of making the material accessible to all listeners. The reason I think these concepts matter is that not only do they challenge overly simplistic notions of how the brain works, but they also challenge our tendency to see emotion and cognition as separate and often opposing processes.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)

  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.

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

References and Additional Reading

Related Episodes

Announcements

2013 Neuroscience Highlights (BSP 104)

Ginger Campbell with Rusty and Greta

Ginger Campbell with Rusty and Greta

Its time for the Brain Science Podcast's seventh annual review episode. In 2013 we had the chance to talk with ten scientists, including three returning guests. We also celebrated our 100th episode and passed 5 million downloads.

BSP 104 is a review of some of the key ideas we explored in 2013. I also announced the launch of a new Premium Subscription program. Beginning around December 30 the twenty-five most recent episodes will remain free while the rest of the 100+ podcasts and transcripts will be available either by subscription or for individual purchase. 

Click here to learn more about our new Premium Content.

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

2013 Episodes and Books

Announcements

Send feedback to Dr. Campbell at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

"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:

  • Buy Transcript for $1.

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.

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

References and Related Episodes:

Announcements: 

  • 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.

  • Be sure to sign up for the Brain Science Podcast Newsletter so that you can receive show notes automatically and NEVER miss a new episode. (But there was a glitch last month, so if you did not get the show notes for BSP 97, please click here.