12th Annual Review Episode (BSP 152)

12th Annual Review Episode (BSP 152)

BS 152 is our 12th annual review episode. In 2018 nine new books were featured and the subjects covered included memory, peri-personal cells, creativity, language, reading, the cerebral mystique, synapses, happiness, emotion and work of Eve Marder.  We had 4 new guests and 4 returning guests along with an encore interview with Dr. Eve Marder.

This episode includes highlights from all 11 episodes that were released between January and November 2018.

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Explore the Synaptome with Seth Grant (BS 150)

Explore the Synaptome with Seth Grant (BS 150)

BS 150 is our 4th interview of Seth Grant, the molecular biologist who has uncovered the fascinating evolution of synapse complexity. In this interview we learn about the first whole brain mapping of the mouse brain synaptome. We discuss the implications of the surprising level of diversity found in synapses in different brain areas. Dr Grant introduces us to a new theory of perception and memory recall.

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Language in the Brain (BS 144) with Angela Friederici

Language in the Brain  (BS 144) with Angela Friederici

BS 144 is an interview with Dr. Angela Friederici, author of Language in Our Brain: The Origins of a Uniquely Human Capacity. This is an extensive review of several decades of research, but this interview makes the field accessible to listeners of all backgrounds.

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Michael Graziano explains Peripersonal Neurons (BS 142)

Michael Graziano explains Peripersonal Neurons (BS 142)

BS 142 features the return of Dr. Michael Graziano, who first appeared on Brain Science in BSP 108. In this episode we talk about his new book, The Spaces Between Us: A Story of Neuroscience, Evolution, and Human Nature. This is an exploration of peripersonal neurons. We explore not just how they were discovered, but why they are so important in our daily lives, affecting everything from tool use to getting along with others.

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Jeff Hawkins Explores a New Theory of Cortical Function (BS 139)

Jeff Hawkins Explores a New Theory of Cortical Function (BS 139)

Jeff Hawkins, author of the bestseller On Intelligence tells us about his latest research into how the neocortex produces intelligence. He proposes an exciting new model that could change the way we imagine cortical function.

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Seth Grant's latest Research (BS 137)

Seth Grant's latest Research (BS 137)

In BS 137 neuroscientist Seth Grant introduces the "genetic lifespan calendar." He describes a new paper that describes how the genome determines the brain's complexity in "both time and space." This is the first paper to describe evidence that gene expression in the brain follows a predictable schedule that might offer new understanding of diseases like schizophrenia.

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Counting Neurons with Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (BS 133)

Counting Neurons with Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (BS 133)

This is an interview with Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, the scientist who discovered that the human brain has an average of 86 billion neurons, which is significantly less than the 100 billion that was long assumed. She has also written a wonderful book called The Human Advantage: How Our Brains Became Remarkable.

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Neuropsychology and the Study of Memory - Dr. Brenda Milner (BS 129)

Neuropsychology and the Study of Memory - Dr. Brenda Milner (BS 129)

BS 129 features pioneering neuroscientist Brenda Milner. Dr. Milner is best known for work work on memory including key discoveries she made while working with the famous patient HM. She also made important discoveries about the differences between the brain's hemispheres by studying the so-called "split brain" patients. This interview was recorded in 2008 when Dr. Milner was 90, but I am glad to report that she is still going strong at age 98.

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Neural Reuse and Embodied Cognition (BSP 124)

BSP 124 is an interview with Dr. Michael Anderson, author of After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain. We also continue our ongoing discussion of Embodied Cognitive Science.

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"How Do you Feel?" with Dr. Bud Craig

"How Do you Feel?" with Dr. Bud Craig

BSP 121 is an interview with AD (Bud) Craig, author of How Do You Feel?: An Interoceptive Moment with Your Neurobiological Self. Even though his book is quite technical he does a great job of describing his discoveries in a way that is accessible for listeners of all backgrounds.

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Exercise Promotes Brain Plasticity (BSP 111)

John Ratey, MD
Click picture to hear interview

According to psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey the best way to improve brain plasticity is by exercise.  I spoke to him shortly after he published his best-seller Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008). He commented that even compared to drugs "Exercise is the champ."

Download BSP 111

Since then Dr. Ratey has been traveling the world promoting the value of exercise for people of all ages, but his main focus has been on young people and on trying to restore and invigorate physical education programs in the schools. In Spark he provided some of the preliminary evidence that vigorous exercise promotes better academic performance, but that evidence had continued to mount.

Besides improving academic performance regular exercise also helps over all mental health. Exercise is especially effective for problems like depression and ADHD. Our brains rely on a complex mixture of neuroactive chemicals (neurotransmitters, etc.), but since our understanding of these is still very primitive, treatment with drugs can be unpredictable. Dr. Ratey feels that medications can be an important part of treating problems like ADHD, but that exercise should be included as an essential element.

Of course, even those of us who don't struggle with mental illnes are concerned with keeping our brains healthy as we age. Here again Dr. Ratey argues that exercise is essential. He speculates that exercise tricks your brain "into thinking that you're younger and that you still need to grow, as opposed to being stationary and having atrophy occur." Also, when you keep on learning (new things) your brain continues to respond and build new pathways. This is very similar to what Dr. Michael Merzenich (one of the pioneers of brain plasticity) told us in BSP 105.

Dr. Ratey is working on a new book that will be an update on the science that has been done since Spark was published, but his 2008 interview remains one of my favorites. That's why I just released an updated version of this interview as BSP 111. 

How to get this episode:

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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.

References and Links

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"Neurobiology for Dummies" (BSP 110)

Frank Amthor, PhD: Click image to play BSP 110

Frank Amthor, PhD: Click image to play BSP 110

Frank Amthor's latest book Neurobiology for Dummies isn't just for readers who are new to neuroscience. In this excellent follow-up to his Neuroscience for Dummies Dr. Amthor discusses a wide variety of brain-related topics. Since I have known Frank for several years it was a special treat to interview him for BSP 110. We talked about a wide variety of ideas ranging from what makes neurons special to how brains differ from current computers. 

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • 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.

Reference and Links:

Announcements:

Consciousness as Social Perception (BSP 108)

Michal Graziano and Kevin (click image to play interview)

Michal Graziano and Kevin (click image to play interview)

In his latest book Consciousness and the Social Brain  Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano proposes a unique and compelling theory of consciousness. He proposes that the same circuits that the human brain uses to attribute awareness to others are used to model self-awareness. He emphasizes that his attention schema theory is only tentative, but it is testable and it does fit our current knowledge of brain function.

In a recent interview for the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 108), Graziano used the following clinical example to clarify his approach. A colleague had a patient who was convinced that he had a squirrel in his head. When confronted with the illogic of his claim the patient replied “Not everything can be explained by science.” In this example it is clear that the squirrel doesn’t really exist, so the question to be answered is HOW did his brain reach the conclusion that it does.

While imagining one has a squirrel in one’s head is thankfully rare, we also know that our subjective experiences of the world are not necessarily accurate. Our perception of the world is shaped by how our brain processes the sensory inputs it receives. For example, we perceive white light as an absence of color even though in reality it consists of all wavelengths.

Perception is something our brains do constantly and which we can not consciously control. In considering awareness (and by extension consciousness) perception-like Graziano is emphasizing several important features. The most important is probably the fact that it is only “quick and dirty model” of what is really going on, which means that our intuitions about consciousness are not necessarily reliable. In fact, humans have a strong tendency to over-attribute awareness to the world around us. This is part of the social circuitry that has made us the most successful species in the earth’s history, but it can also lead to amusing results (as anyone who has interacted with Siri on an iPhone has no doubt observed).

Another implication of considering awareness as a form of social perception is that it reverses the usual approach taken to understanding consciousness. Instead of asking how a physical brain can produce something subjective and non-physical called consciousness, we ask what kind of information processing leads to the conclusion that I (or anyone else) is conscious. As Graziano points out, this is a “mechanistic” model. Not only can it be tested but it has interesting implications. Dr. Graziano concluded that one of the key implications is "that awareness and consciousness are tools for information processing, and they are mechanistically understandable, and presumably can be engineered.”

I find the attention schema theory to be very compelling. Besides being testable, it has a simple elegance that I appreciate. It also explains why most humans experience a world filled with spirits, and are utterly convinced that their own consciousness is something special and non-physical.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • 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.

Related Episodes:

Since understanding consciousness is one of the deepest questions facing neuroscience, it has been explored on many previous episodes of the Brain Science Podcast. Rather than list all those episodes I want to mention just a few that I think are particularly relevant to this month’s episode. 

Announcements:

Sleep Science with Penny Lewis (BSP 107)

Penny Lewis (click image to play interview)

Penny Lewis (click image to play interview)

In The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest Dr. Penelope A. Lewis provides a highly readable account of the fascinating world of sleep research. Fascinating research is being carried out with animals as varied as fruit flies and rats, as well as with humans. I was surprised to learn that most people actually find it fairly easy to fall asleep in an fMRI scanner.

I have just posted an interview with Dr. Lewis (BSP 107) that includes a discussion of the role of sleep in memory as well as interesting findings about how synapses in the brain actually change during sleep. We still don't know exactly what sleep (and dreaming) are essential, but research in this field is growing. Dr. Lewis is excited about emerging research that suggests improving slow wave sleep may significantly improve learning and memory.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • 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:

Announcements:

"The Cognitive-Emotional Brain" (BSP 106)

Luiz Pessoa  of the University of Maryland

Luiz Pessoa of the University of Maryland

In The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration neuroscientist Luiz Pessoa argues that emotion and cognition are deeply intertwined throughout many levels of the brain. In a recent interview (BSP 106) Pessoa and I focused on recent discoveries about the amygdala and Thalamus that challenge traditional assumptions about what these structures do. The amygdala processes more than fear (and other negative stimuli) and the Thalamus is more than  a mere relay station.

This a fairly technical discussion but Pessoa did a good job of making the material accessible to all listeners. The reason I think these concepts matter is that not only do they challenge overly simplistic notions of how the brain works, but they also challenge our tendency to see emotion and cognition as separate and often opposing processes.

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • 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 and Additional Reading

Related Episodes

Announcements