All in the Mind: Is the Adolescent Mind a Myth?

natasha_mitchell The March 28th episode of All in the Mind is an excellent discussion of the controversy surrounding the meaning of adolescence. While some researchers point to the growing evidence that parts of the brain (such as the frontal lobe and its connections) do not mature until early adulthood as evidence that the adolescent brain is different, some writers, like Dr. Robert Epstein, argue that the problems of adolenscence are created by Western culture not changes in the brain. The episode includes a several distinguished guests with different view points. One of the guests was David Bainbridge, whose book Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey Through Your Brain was discussed in Episode 32 of the Brain Science Podcast. I am looking forward to reading his new book Teenagers: A Natural History when it is released in the United States (August, 2009).
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Paul Offit, MD on Vaccine Safety (Extra Podcast)


I am including the latest episode of my Books and Ideas Podcast  (Episode 25) in the feed for the Brain Science Podcast because I think it may be the most important interview I have ever recorded. My guest was Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. This book examines the history of on-going controversy about whether vaccines cause autism.

I recommend Dr. Offit’s book, Autism’s False Prophetsto everyone because of its thorough examination of the vaccine-autism controversy.  He examines the evidence from both sides, while showing compassion for why parents are easily confused and frightened by claims that physicians and scientists have dismissed.  The book is unlikely to dissuade those who are convinced by the tactics of vaccine opponents, but it will be a valuable resource to parents who want a clear explanation that includes a sober account of the risks of not vaccinating their children.  Physicians and scientists will also benefit from reading this book because it provides an important case study in how lack of scientific literacy can threaten public health.


"All in the Mind" Looks at Brain Plasticity

Recently Natasha Mitchell did an excellent two-part All in the Mind  podcast about brain plasticity.  In Part 1, she interviewed Jeffrey Schwartz, MD and Norman Doidge, MD.  Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, and Dr. Doidge wrote the recent bestseller,The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

In Part 2, Mitchell interviews Dr. Doidge further.  One of the topics they explore is the "dark side" of plasticity.  Since neuroplasticity is a dynamic, competitive process, it is actually a factor in how we form our habits, both good and bad . This interview is an excellent follow-up to the interview Dr. Doidge did for the Brain Science Podcast back in Episode 26.

You can listen to the podcasts and get transcripts at the All in the Mind website.

"The Psych Files" Explores the "Mozart Effect"

Dr. Michael Britt of The Psych Files podcast has just completed an excellent two-part discussion of the so-called Mozart Effect.  With his guest, Dr. Kenneth Steele, he examines the origins of this popular idea, as well as the fact that no one has replicated the original research that suggested such an effect might exist.  If you have ever wondered whether listening to classic music could make you (or your baby) smarter, you will want to listen to this podcast.  Also, check out his blog for a full list of references.

I recently started listening to The Psych Files , and  I think the style and content of The Psych Files compliments the Brain Science Podcast.  For that reason, I have just added the feed from Dr. Britt's blog to our new Brain Science Podcast room in FriendFeed.

"All in the Mind" Explores the Implications of Cognitive Enhancement

The June 14 Episode of All in the Mind has a thoughtful discussion of the implications of using drugs to improve cognitive performance. Natasha Mitchell interviewed Barbara Sahakian, professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge (UK) and William Glannon, a bioethicist from the University of Calgary (Canada). Several important issues emerged including the fact that that it is unknown whether the drugs currently available are safe for long-term use. There is also the nagging question of whether the use by normal people of drugs originally intended to treat medical conditions (like ADHD) constitutes cheating? What do you think? You can find the podcast and its transcript here. If you want to share you opinion with Natasha go to her All in the Mind Blog.
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"All in the Mind" Looks at Nicotine and the Brain

The May 10th episode of All in the Mind is an excellent discussion of the latest research about nicotine addiction.  It includes a very balanced look at the controversy over the new smoking cessation drug, varenicline, which is sold in the US as Chantix.  Nicotine has a unique effect on certain neurotransmitter receptors in the brain.  Varenicline works as a partial agonist, which means it mimics some of the effects of nicotine, but it also blocks the receptor so that when a person smokes the experience is not rewarding.  However, since the receptors involved also have other functions (they aren't there to respond to the nicotine in cigarettes just like the opiate receptors are not there to respond to man-made narcotics), using the drug can lead to a wide variety of side effects. Balancing the risks and benefits of the drug is one of the topics discussed in the podcast.

I have to admit that addiction is a subject in which I have little personal interest, but obviously addiction to smoking effects millions of people. I highly recommend this podcast to everyone who smokes or loves some who does.

Be sure to go to the site for both the show's transcript and links to everyone featured on the show.

Excellent Recent Episodes of All in the Mind

Most of you know that I am a fan of the All in the Mind podcast from Australian radio.  I want to recommend the two most recent episodes:

The March 22 episode is actually  hosted by Volkart Wildermuth, from Germany.  He interviews several of the world's leading primate researchers.  You will learn some of the recent discoveries about primate intelligence and culture, and also hear an excellent discussion of what makes humans different.  Go to the website not just to hear the show, but to get a transcript and to see the extensive links.

The March 29 episode is a fascinating interview with Dan Ariely from MIT, who is the author the new bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, which describes his experiments in what is called behavioral economics.  His work has shown that people often do not make economic decisions in a logical manner.  He is an extremely likable guest who shares stories from his own life as well as some of the highlights of his work.  The show notes include extensive references.

"Brains Matter" Podcast Has an Excellent Interview About the Philosophical Implications of Robotics


Brains Matter is a podcast about science from Australia.  It was one of the shows on my ill-fated Podango™ Science channel, and it is now one of the charter members of SCIENCEPODCASTERS.ORG.  Unfortunately, I don't have a chance to listen to it on a regular basis, but I want to recommend the most recent episode, which is a discussion of robotics in history and in fiction.  The guest is Adam Parker, who is studying for a PhD in Robotics in Australia.  He has a surprising knowledge of the history of the field and brings that perspective to the conversation . I think that that is one of the things that makes the interview interesting.  This is not a technical conversation, but one that everyone can enjoy.  As I said on Digg™, if you liked Blade Runner, you will enjoy this interview.

From AAAS: The Evolution of Morality

The Science magazine podcast is providing highlights from this year's AAAS meeting in Boston.

So far, I found the discussion of the evolution of morality with Marc Hauser and several other scientists to very interesting.  One issue that was raised was whether the utility of a theory depends on its ability to generate testable hypotheses.  Listen and let me know what you think.

Do People Hear Sounds Differently?

There is lots of interesting stuff coming out of this year's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  I hope to attend the meeting in person next year. This year's meeting is  ove,r but I hope to bring you a few brain-related highlights in the next few days.

Since Episode 30, I have been on the lookout for linguistics related news, which is why the following item in caught my eye:  Linguistics professor, Jackson T. Gandour, presented information from several of his pitch processing studies entitled "Brain Basis of Speech."
"Everyone has a brainstem, but it's tuned differently depending on what sounds are behaviorally relevant to a person; for example, the sounds of his or her mother tongue," Gandour said.

Jackson T. Gandour is a researcher in neurophonetics at Purdue University.  The complete article, "Linguist Tunes In To Pitch Processing In Brain" is available at the Science Daily website.

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.

Check Out This Interview with Linguist Alice Gaby


I just listened to the February 6, episode of Science Talk, the podcast from Scientific American.  Steve Mirsky talks with linguist Alice Gaby, from the University of California-Berkeley, about the relationship between language, culture, cognition and perception.   This is very relevant to Episode 30 of the Brain Science Podcast  (due out on February 8), which is about the evolution of language.

Hear Steven Novella on the Latest Episode of Books and Ideas

In response to listener requests, I recently interviewed Dr. Steven Novella from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.  This has been posted as Episode 16 of Books and Ideas , my other podcast.  The details are available in the show notes on the Books and Ideas website.  I hope you will consider subscribing to the podcast, but if you just want to hear the interview,

Philosopher's Zone Podcast Explores "Minds and Computers"


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.

Dr. Robert Schleip Discusses Fascia on Books and Ideas


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

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.

Neuropod Reviews the 2007 Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience


Nature recently relaunched its neuroscience podcast under the new name: Neuropod with host Keri Smith.  The show is supposed to come out once a month, and while there is some overlap in content with the main Nature Podcast, the focus on neuroscience allows them to expand the coverage of related topics.

I got an email from Keri Smith today that said there is a special episode available on the website that is devoted to coverage of the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting that was held in San Diego.  I have enjoyed all the episodes so far and look forward to more.

Brain Science Podcast #24 Will Be Delayed

This week's episode of the Brain Science Podcast will be delayed until next week.

Meanwhile, if you don't already listen to Books and Ideas I hope you will check out the new episode that I posted this week. It is an conversation with Dr. Pamela Gay of the Astronomy Cast.

Listen to Dr. Gay's interview now

Latest Episode of Talking Robots Explores Mirror Neurons

talkingrobotpodcastlogo.jpg Michael Arbib of USC discusses (Talking Robots 10/12/07) how the discovery of mirror neurons is inspiring attempts to design robots that can emulate human emotions. This is part of a larger trend in robotics which is called biological robotics in which designs are inspired by biological systems. It is significant that what is learned by attempts to design robotic animals can in turn shed light on how biological systems work. This kind of interdisciplinary work is at the intersection of neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and computer engineering. Dr. Arbib also discusses the challenges of doing interdisciplinary work in an age of exploding knowledge. You can find more about his work including links to a few of his numerous publications on his website.
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Nature Relaunches its Neuroscience Podcast

I am happy to report that Nature has relaunched its neuroscience podcast under the new name NeuroPod.  If you like the Nature podcast but would rather hear a show devoted to the latest Nature articles on neuroscience, you will want to check this out at

If you prefer blogs, you might want to check out Action Potential (also from the editors of Nature).  I am not very good at keeping my blogroll up-to-date, but another site worth checking out (suggested to me by Adam Rutherford at Nature) is Mind Hacks.

As always, remember that you can submit your favorite podcasts, blogs, and other neuro-related websites at the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum.