"On Being Certain": Interview with Robert Burton, MD (BSP 43)

BSP 43 is an interview with Robert A Burton, MD, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're NotThis is a follow up to BSP 42.

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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.

Other scientists/writers mentioned in this episode:

Other terms mentioned in the interview:

  • Cotard's Syndrome: when the patient believes they do not exist or that they are dead
  • Cognitive dissonance: a mismatch between what one believes and what the evidence supports

Previous Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

  • Episode 42: Part 1 of our discussion of On Being Certain.
  • Episode 13: Unconscious Decisions-featuring Blink, by Malcom Gladwel.l
  • Episode 15: Interview with Read Montague about unconscious decisions.

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Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

Journey to Perplexity: "The Mind Is Not a Computer"

The blog, Journey to Perplexity, notes that Gerald Edelman's book, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge, offers some valuable insights into why "the mind is not a computer."   I am not sure who writes this blog, but he seems to be writing from a philosophical background.

It has been a while since I read Edelman's book.  Edelman won the Nobel Prize in 1972 for important discoveries about the structure of antibodies, but he has devoted the last several decades to studying neuroscience.  His two most well-known contributions are his theory of so-called 'neural Darwinism,' and his study of the importance of redundancy and feedback loops within the brain.  He has written quite a few books on the subject including, Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness (2005).

Second Nature is Edelman's attempt to address some of the philosophical issues about consciousness, while Wider than the Sky introduces some of his theories about how the brain generates consciousness.

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.

Philosopher's Zone Podcast Explores "Minds and Computers"

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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.

Consciousness with Christof Koch (BSP 22)

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Brain Science Podcast #22 is an interview with Dr. Christof Koch of Cal Tech, one of the pioneers in the neurobiological study of consciousness.  About two decades ago, when Koch and Francis Crick began looking for what they called the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), such a quest was considered controversial; but now the field is increasing in popularity.  In our interview, we talked a little about his book,The Quest for Consciousness, as well as his on-going research and his thoughts about what the future might bring.

How to get this episode:

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

Here is a list of some of the topics we discussed:

  • Why Francis Crick was an outstanding mentor and colleague.
  • A Working definition of consciousness.
  • How consciousness relates to awareness.
  • What are neural correlates of consciousness.
  • Why vision is the focus of Koch's research.
  • The search for the "footprints" of consciousness.
  • The role of functional imaging and the use of monkeys.
  • Neurons-"the atoms of perception".
  • Why we need a theory of consciousness.
  • The role of the frontal lobes in consciousness.
  • Is consciousness an emergent property?
  • What about zombies?
  • Why do we need consciousness?
  • Will artificial intelligence become conscious?
  • The hard problem:  how does the brain generate subjective experience  (qualia).

Links:

Update on 2012-05-03 15:42 by Ginger Campbell, MD

Christof Koch returned to the Brain Science Podcast in Episode 84.

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

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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).

How to get this episode:

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

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • What is computational neuroscience?
  • What is the computational theory of the mind (CTOM)?
  • How isthe objection that the CTOM doesn't account for meaning answered ?
  • What about choice and responsibility?
  • Is there room for free will in this model?

Neuroplasticity: A Review of its Discovery (BSP 10)

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In this episode of the Brain Science Podcast we explore the recent research that has established, contrary to long-standing dogma, that our brains our able to change throughout our lives, based on our experience.

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
  • 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

The reference for this episode is Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, by Sharon Begley.  This book describes the 2004 meeting between the Dalai Llama and several leading neuroscientists.  To learn more about these meetings, go to the Mind and Life Institute website.  All the studies that I mention in the podcast are referenced in the back of the book.

Here is a list of the some of the scientists and their work:

  • Michael Meany- McGill University: He has shown that the way that a mother rat treats her babies determine which genes in the baby's brain are turned on and which are turned off.
  • Fred Gage- the Salk Institute:  His work with lab animals showed that adult brains do change.  (more from Google)
  • Helen Neville-University of Oregon: She has shown that the auditory and visual cortices are rewired in people who are born blind or deaf.
  • Phillip Shaver-UC-Davis: He is a pioneer in attachment theory: how people's sense of emotional security, acquired in childhood, affects their adult behavior, including their response to other ethnic groups and their willingness to help others.
  • Richard Davidson-Wisconsin:  He has done studies showing how the brain is changed by meditation.
  • Edward Taub- University of Alabama in Birmingham:  He helped develop a revolutionary treatment for stroke victims.
  • Jeffery Schwartz-UCLA:  He has used mindfulness meditation to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, showing that meditation can change the brain in beneficial ways.
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn- University of Massachusetts:  He has done many years of work using mindfulness meditation to treat stress related diseases.
  • Michael Merzenich:  Pioneer researcher who also founded FastForward™ and Posit Science™.

More Links of Interest:

I am sure this list is incomplete.  If you have a question or comment about a topic mentioned on the show, leave a comment below, or send me email at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

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

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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
  • 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.

The Sci Phi Show: Interview of David Chalmers about Consciousness

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On the Brain Science Podcast #5 I talked about Consciousness and mentioned that David Chalmers is a proponent of a modern version of dualism and also quite concerned with what he calls the "hard problem;" which is explaining the subjective nature of consciousness, which he has called qualia.  If you would like to hear him explain some of these ideas himself, I suggest you listen to Jason Rennie's interview of David Chalmers on The Sci Phi Show  Outcast #36.

One thing that surprised me in the interview was that he actually defined consciousness as subjective awareness.

I  don't share Chalmers' views on these issues, but I think is a good interview, because Jason always lets his guest speak for themselves.

Why Quantum Mechanics Can't Explain Consciousness

Quantum mechanics can't explain consciousness, and I am going to explore why.

The reason I bring this up is that many people seem to be worried that the mounting evidence that the brain generates the mind implies that free will can not exist.  Of course, most of us feel strongly that we do have free will.  Various arguments are put forth to "save" free will. (I am not going to tackle the claim that it needs saving in this post.)  One recent approach has been to use the uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics as a potential location for free will.  John Searle has observed that this only gives us randomness, not free will, but that doesn't seem to reduce the appeal of such an approach.

Today I wish to argue against using quantum mechanics to explain any aspect of consciousness by considering and entirely different point of view.  My argument is simple: I think trying to use quantum mechanics is taking the argument in the wrong direction.

Consciousness is clearly an emergent property.  The latest evidence is that there is no master site of consciousness or control in the brain.  If that is the case looking to the subatomic level is clearly a move in the wrong direction.  It makes as much sense as trying to understand the properties of water by studying hydrogen and oxygen.  Because water emerges from the combination of the two, studying its components tells us little about water.

Has Science Made Metaphysics Obsolete?

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Alan Saunders of the Philosopher's Zone

Ever since the logical positivists in the early 20th century, there has been a debate over whether science has made metaphysics obsolete.  Is science all we need to describe and understand the ultimate meaning of reality?  Even those who consider themselves philosophers of science can't agree on the answer to this question.

Metaphysics and its relation to science is the starting point for the discussion on this week's Philosophers Zone podcast.  This is an excellent podcast, that is enjoyable no matter what your level of knowledge is of philosophy.  It is put out by the Australian version of public radio and the website includes full transcripts of each episode.

Consciousness: A Brief Introduction to Philosophy of Mind (BSP 5)

Show Notes for BSP 5

Until the last few decades the question of consciousness fascinated philosophers, but was considered off-limits to science; but the discoveries of the last few decades have brought consciousness into the realm of neuroscience.  Scientists such as Nobel Prize Winner, Francis Crick, have proposed that the brain has “neural correlates of consciousness.”  (Francis Crick,  Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994.)  This episode is an introduction to the topic.

After considering the definition of consciousness, I introduce some of the classical questions of the philosophy of the mind:

  • The "hard problem" (proposed by David Chalmers):  How does the physical brain create subjective experience.
  • Dualism: Is there some aspect of mind that is not physical?
  • Free will: If the brain creates consciousness, can we still have free will?

I also introduce several famous thought experiments:

  • Mary the color scientist (Frank Jackson,1982).  Chalmers has argued that the subjective qualities of experience, which he calls qualia, can not be explained by what the brain does.
  • What is it like to be a bat?    (Thomas Nagel)  Do qualia exist?
  • The philosopher’s zombie:  Chalmers argues that a robot could exist that looks and acts just like us but that is “dark inside.”
  • John Searle’s Chinese Room:  An argument against what he calls “strong” artificial intelligence."  Listen to John Searle argue against dualism onThe Philosopher's Zone.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett rejects the existence of both qualia and zombies, and argues that the hard problem does not exist.  To me, the interesting question is whether these arguments will be answered or made obsolete by scientific discoveries.

Perhaps the hard problem will disappear.  I consider how the discovery of neurotransmitters has changed our understanding of the role of emotions in consciousness.  We now know that neurotransmitters provide two-way signaling between our brains and the rest of our bodies, producing our experiences of emotions and feelings.  Though there is still a tendency to regard logic as superior to emotion, researchers like Antonio Damasio are showing that emotions play an essential part in decision-making and other aspects of intelligence.

Philosophers are not the only ones unwilling to let go the idea that consciousness is a mystery that can’t be explained; but those philosophers who keep up with the science can help science ask new questions.

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
  • 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:

I will continue to introduce books about consciousness on future podcasts.  Susan Blackmore writes books for general audiences, so I have listed a few of hers below.