Interview with Philosopher Alva Noë (BSP 58)

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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.     

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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.

References:

  • 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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How our Brain Creates Our World with Chris Frith, PhD (BSP 57)

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Episode 57 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with neuropsychologist, Dr. Chris Frith, author of Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World.   Our brain processes information about the world outside us (via our senses) in the same way that it processes information from within our bodies and from our own mental world.  In this interview.  Dr. Frith and I explore the implications from recent discoveries about how our brain generates our mental world.

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Useful Links:

Selected References:*

*These references are from Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World by Chris Frith.

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Neurophilosophy with Patricia Churchland (BSP 55)

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Episode 55 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with highly respected philosopher Patricia Churchland.  Churchland is the author of Neurophilosophy and Brain-Wise.  She is currently on the faculty of the University of California at San Diego, and she was a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2008.

In this interview, we talked about neurophilosophy, which is an approach to philosophy of mind that gives high priority to incorporating the empiric findings of neuroscience.   We also talk about the evolving relationship between philosophy and neuroscience.   Churchland shares her enthusiasm for how the discoveries of neuroscience are changing the way we see ourselves as human beings.  We also talked a little about the issues of reductionism that I first brought up in Episode 53.

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Recommended Reading:

Related Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast

  • Episode 5: Introduction to philosophy of mind and the question of consciousnes.
  • Episode 22: Interview with Christof Koch about consciousness.
  • Episode 53: Discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? a defense of free will.

Review: "Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?" (BSP 53)

 Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?

Episode 53 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will, by Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown.  This book challenges the widespread fear that neuroscience is revealing an explanation of the human mind that concludes that moral responsibility and free will are illusions created by our brains.

Instead, the authors argue that the problem is the assumption that a physicalistic/materialistic model of the mind must also be reductionist (a viewpoint that all causes are bottom-up).  In this podcast I discuss their arguments against causal reductionism and for a dynamic systems model.  We also discuss why we need to avoid brain-body dualism and recognize that our mind is more than just what our brain does. The key to preserving our intuitive sense of our selves as free agents capable of reason, moral responsibility, and free will is that the dynamic systems approach allows top-down causation, without resorting to any supernatural causes or breaking any of the know laws of the physical universe.  This is a complex topic, but I present a concise overview of the book's key ideas.

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Additional Show Notes

References:

  • Books and Ideas #12 ("The Myth of Free Will")
  • Alice Juarrero, Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System.
  • Terence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain.
  • Terrence Deacon, "Three Levels of Emergent PHenomena," in Nancy Murphy and William R. Stoeger (eds.) Evolution, and Emergence: Systems, Organisms, Persons (OUP 2007) ch 4.
  • Alwyn Scott, "The Development of Nonlinear Science", Revista del Nuovo Cimento, 27/10-11 (2004) 1-115.
  • Roger W. Sperry, "Psychology's Mentalist Paradigm and the Religion/Science Tension," American Psychologist, 43/8 (1988), 607-13.
  • Donald T. Campbell, "'Downward Causation' in Hierarchically Organized Biological Systems." in F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky (eds.) Studies in the Philosophy of Biology 179-186.
  • Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
  • Robert Van Gulick, "Who's in Charge Here? And Whose Doing All the Work?"In Heil and Mele (eds.) Mental Causation, 233-56.
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.
  • Ludwig Wiggenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

Other scientists mentioned in the episode:

  • Antonio Damasio: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.
  • Arthur Glenberg: interviewed in Episode 36.
  • Rolf Pfeifer: interviewed in Episode 25.
  • Leslie Brothers, Friday's Footprint: How Society Shapes the Human Mind.
  • Raymond Gibbs, Embodiment and Cognitive Science.
  • Andy Clark, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again.
  • Gerald M.Edelmanand Guilo Tononi, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination.

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Meditation and the Brain with Daniel Siegel, MD (BSP 44)

Daniel Siegel, M.D.

In Episode 44 of the Brain Science Podcast I talk with Daniel Siegel, MD about meditation and the brain.  Dr. Siegel is the author of several books including The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being.  In this interview, we review the scientific evidence about how mindfulness meditation changes the brain, both in terms of short term activity and in terms of long-term structural changes.  The evidence is convincing that a regular mindfulness practice can be an important element of brain health.

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Show Notes and Links

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:

Scientists and writers mentioned in Episode 44:

More information about meditation:

Note: Insight Meditation is based of vipassana meditation, the mindfulness practices of Theravada, the oldest branch of Buddhism.  Insight Meditation is easily adapted to secular purposes because it not based on beliefs or dogmas.  The most well-known secular form is called mindfulness meditation, which begins with a focus on breath awareness and then advances to developing compassion for oneself and others.

Researchers are studying people who practice other types of mediation also. Richard Davidson has focused his work on the study of Tibetan Buddhist monks.  Their practice emphasizes the development of compassion.

*I discussed the therapeutic use of mediation with Delany Dean, PhD, in Episode 20 of Books and Ideas.

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"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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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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Review: "On Being Certain" (BSP 42)

Episode 42 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, by Robert Burton, MD.  This Part 1 of a two-part discussion of the unconscious origins of what Dr. Burton calls "the feeling of knowing."  In Episode 43 I will interview Dr. Burton. Today's episode provides an overview of Dr. Burton's key ideas.

In past episodes I have discussed the role of unconscious decision-making.  On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not ,by Robert Burton, MD, takes this topic to a new level.  First, Dr. Burton discusses the evidence that the "feeling of knowing" arises from parts of our brain that we can neither access or control.  Then he discusses the implications of this finding, including the fact that it challenges long-held assumptions about the possibility of purely rational thought.

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References and Links:

Other scientists mentioned in this episode:

  • Leon Festinger-proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957.
  • Joseph Ledoux-research with rats and the role of the amygdala in the fear response.
  • Michael Merzenich-showed how the auditory cortex in young rats is affected by experience.

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Embodied Cognition with Art Glenberg (BSP 36)

Art Glenberg, PhD

Episode 36 of the Brain Science Podcast  is an interview with Arthur Glenberg, PhD, about embodied cognition.  Dr. Glenberg recently moved to Arizona State University, after over 30 years at the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory of Embodied Cognition.  His research focuses on the relationship between embodiment and language.  In this interview, we explore the experimental evidence for a theory of language that embraces the concept that our language abilities are actually rooted in our perceptual and motor abilities.  Dr. Glenberg also explains how his work has practical implications in helping children learn how to read.

Since Dr. Glenberg has had a long career as a working research scientist, this interview also provided an opportunity to explore how scientific hypotheses are formed and how experiments are designed to test these hypothesis.  I think this interview will give you a fascinating look into the real world of cognitive psychology.

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Links and References:

Arthur Glenberg, PhD

Other scientists mentioned in the Episode:

  • George Lakoff: pioneering linguist.
  • James Gibson: known for his ideas about affordances.William Epstein-emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin.
  • Joseph Campos: University of California (Berkelely).
  • Amy Needham and Amanda Woodard-experiments with velcro mits and infant cognition.
  • David A Havas: graduate student and co-author with Dr. Glenberg.
  • Mike Kashak: Florida State University.
  • Mike Rinck: German co-author-see paper under Glenberg (more papers).
  • Vittorio Gallese, Dept of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Italy (where mirror neurons were discovered): extensive experimental with motor neurons in monkeys.
  • Fritz Stack (Germany): experiments showing that facial experiments affect mood and cognition.

References:

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Exploring Consciousness in the Blogospere

I am not very good at keeping up with all the great blogs about neuroscience, but I did happen to find two that I thought you might enjoy.  Both Developing Intelligence and Conscious Entities explore both the meaning of consciousness and the relationship between the human brain and computers.

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.

Year-end Review for 2007 (BSP 27)

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Episode 27 is a look back on the first 26 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast.

I look back on some of the main topics that we have explored including memory, consciousness, emotions, decision-making, body maps, and plasticity.  Then I talk a little about what I hope to do in the covering year.  This episode is a little more personal than most, and will mainly be of interest to regular listeners.  It includes some ideas about how you can help the Brain Science Podcast grow and prosper.

However, in preparing this episode, I went back over the past year's episodes, and I have prepared a list of all the episodes so far and the main topics.  This should help both new listeners and regulars to find episodes that pertain to particular topics.

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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.

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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.

Brain Science Podcast's First Six Months (BSP 14)

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Although the first full episode of the Brain Science Podcast appeared on December 15, 2006, I went live with an introductory podcast around December 1, 2006.  (I have deleted episode 0 from the feed).  At any rate, I decided it was time to look back over the first six months and reflect on some of the topics we have covered.

This is one of the shorter episodes, but I hope it will bring some of the key ideas back to mind (and encourage new listeners to go back and get the older episodes).  It will also give you a glimpse of what we will be discussing in the next few months.

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

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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.

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.

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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.