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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Links and References


  • You can now record your voice feedback at http://speakpipe.com/docartemis.

  • Brain Science is now 100% listener supported. You can support the show via direction donations, Premium Subscription, or Patreon.

  • I am planning to attend this year's Society of Neuroscience Meeting, which is being held in Washington DC November 11-15, 2017. Please email at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com if you are going to be in Washington during those dates. If there is enough interest I will arrange a listener meet-up.

  • I am also in the early stages of planning a trip to Australia in 2018 and would love to hear from Australian listeners for ideas and advice, including leads on speaking opportunities.

"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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Send me feedback at gincampbell at mac dot.com.

Interview with Philosopher Alva Noë (BSP 58)


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.     

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
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  • 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.

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.


  • 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.


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Cognitive Computing: Videos from 2007

Last week I had Dr. Michael Arbib on the Brain Science Podcast. While our discussion focused on his work related to mirror neurons, we also talked a little about his general area of expertise, which is cognitive neuroscience. Most of us don't have a real feel for what this field involves, but those of you who are interested in learning more might want to check out  the archive of videos from Cognitive Computing 2007, which was held at UC-Berekeley on May 2 and 3 last year. The site includes Dr. Arbib's presentation "From Cognitive Neuroscience to Computer Archictectures." http://cognitivecomputing2007.berkeley.edu/CognitiveComputing2007Video.htm
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