Honoring William Uttal's Contributions to Cognitive Neuroscience (BS 132)

Dr. William Uttal, who died last month at the age of 86, had a very unusual career, going from physics and engineering to psychology and cognitive science. I think his unique background contributed to the refreshing skepticism that he brought to the growing use of imaging (especially fMRI) in the cognitive sciences.

He was a prolific writer on the subject and back in 2012 I had the honor of talking with him about his book Mind and Brain: A Critical Appraisal of Cognitive Neuroscience. In addition to shedding light on the limitations of imaging (such as poor reproducibility), Dr. Uttal also argued that it was premature to abandon other psychological testing methods.

This month I am replaying that 2012 interview. Brain Science 132 includes a new introduction and closing remarks.  While Dr. Uttal's writing was aimed at a technical audience I think it is important for listeners of all backgrounds to be aware of these issues because they remain as relevant as ever.

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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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