(Some) Highlights from the Charlie Rose Brain Series

Summary of Highlights from Each Episode

In October 2009, Charlie Rose began a 12-part monthly series on the human brain. You can watch each full episode online and read transcripts at: www.charlierose.com/view/collection/10702.

    1 Great Mysteries of the Brain, October 2009
    2 The Perceiving Brain, November 2009
    3 The Active Brain, December 2009
    4 The Social Brain, January 2010
    5 The Developing Brain, February 2010
    6 The Aging Brain, March 2010
    7 The Emotional and Vulnerable Brain, April 2010
    8 The Anxious Brain, May 2010
    9 The Mentally Ill Brain, June 2010
    10 The Disordered Brain, July 2010
    11 The Deciding Brain, September 2010

1 Great Mysteries of the Brain, October 2009

His guests for this episode included:

  • Eric Kandel — co-host of the series, 2000 Nobel Laureate (Physiology/Biology), professor, Columbia University Physiology & Cellular Biophysics
  • Cornelia Bargmann — Torsten N. Wiesel Professor, The Rockefeller University
  • Gerald Fischbach — executive vice president for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
  • Anthony Movshon — Presidential Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University and Adjunct Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine.
  • John Searle — Slusser Professor of Philosophy, University of California Berkeley

Among the highlights:

Rose: New discoveries could someday promote mindfulness, increased cognition, and treatment for disease. (My question: why wait for new discoveries? Why can’t we already apply what we know now to increase “mindfulness” and “increased cognition”? That’s what this blog and my website advocate.)

Kandel: “Mind” is a series of functions carried out by the brain. Every aspect of behavior is carried out by the brain. In the past few years, fields such psychology, philosophy, brain science, molecular biology, have begun to integrate their understanding of the brain/mind. Consciousness: you cannot know or understand directly what is going on in someone else’s brain.

Rose/Kandel: The brain is always changing, with each experience. Everything we do makes the brain change to some degree. This helps explain how the brain recovers from damage, it illustrates the plasticity of the brain.

Bargmann: The reason that humans can generate language is because humans have specialized genes that distinguish us from animals, can do things that animals can’t. Humans have approximately 25,000 genes; these genes create the structures and functions of each brain. Regarding differences between genetic and environment influences on brain development, this is the essential question. Some things are exclusively determined by genes (ability to see color), others determined by experience/culture (which language we speak, how well we speak is a function of when we have those learning language experiences).

Searle: How does the brain generate the “qualitative unified subjectivity” of experience and feeling? Every experience we have “is produced by variable rates of neuron firings in the brain.” Consciousness can be commonly defined as: “states of qualitative feeling or sentience or awareness that go on all the time.” Features of consciousness: 1) always special qualitative feel; 2) subjective, personal, goes on in ME; 3) unified, all senses and perceptions integrated into single unified conscious feel.

Kandel: Nerve cells communicate through points of contact called synapses. Short-term memory results in/from a functional change. For longer-term learning or memory (beyond a day) there is a change in the expression of genes, growth of new synaptic connections.

Fischbach: Nerve cells are building blocks of the brain; estimated 100 billion nerve cells/neurons that generate electrical pulses ~ 1/1000 of a second. Many scientists believe that the information in nervous system is somehow encoded in the frequency or the detailed time structure of these impulses. The larger neurons conduct pulses at about 100 mph. Our brains are continually active even when we’re asleep. Brain cells require more oxygen and blood than other cells, consume more energy. Each neuron may have as many as 1,000 connections, resulting in 1,000 x 100 billion synapses. The complexity of the brain lies in how the synapses change as a function of genetic instructions and experience. The brain is not “hardwired.” It is within limits in that there is an architecture to the brain, but on the micron scale there is a great deal of flexibility.

Movshon: The brain is not a computer — it’s “made of meat”, very different from silicon and copper.

Searle: We must respect the brain’s specific biology. The computer metaphor was an impediment that did not recognize the biology of the brain. This analogy reflects an “unintelligent view.” This group respects the anatomical, biological specificity of the brain, not an accidental organ.

Fischbach: Nerve cells are organized into circuits, and larger ensembles of circuits.

Bargmann: One of the miracles of the brain is that an experience, an emotion, a thought, is turned into a biological, physical reality by your brain. How does one brain produce infinitely-many behaviors in response to external and internal stimulations?

Movshon: We have a huge challenge in identifying what level of brain function we’re talking about. The brain is unique as an organ in that there are so many levels of activity; molecular, cellular, cell communication, circuits, areas, lobes; each level of analysis has a level of answer to whatever problem is being discussed.

2 The Perceiving Brain, November 2009

His guests for the second show, “The Perceiving Brain – Sight and Visual Perception," included:

  • Eric Kandel — co-host of the series, 2000 Nobel Laureate (Physiology/Biology), professor, Columbia University Physiology & Cellular Biophysics
  • Edward H. Adelson — John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT
  • Nancy Kanwisher — Professor in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
  • Anthony Movshon — Presidential Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University and Adjunct Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine.
  • Pawan Sinha — Associate Professor of Vision and Computational Neuroscience at MIT

The snippets posted here reflect what I found especially meaningful to my interests. Among the highlights:

Charlie Rose: 25% of the brain is devoted to visual perception; seeing happens in the brain, not the eyes; patterns are translated into objects.

Eric Kandel: We understand the visual system better than any other part of the brain; a model for understanding all of the brain. Four important points or themes:

  1. The eye is not a camera (although certain parts/functions are analogous).
  2. Sensory functions, including vision, are localized to specific areas in the brain.
  3. Visual computations are hierarchical, through a series of relays they process progressively complex associations (from thalamus to cortex).
  4. Plasticity of the brain/nerve cells is pervasive and critical to brain functioning.

Spotted Image

Kandel: The visual system/brain makes guesses and can sometimes be fooled.

Anthony Movshon described the brain's anatomy: It's not a camera, but it functions like a camera.

  • Photoreceptive cells funnel the image from the back of the retina to the optic nerve; compress 100 million receptor cells down to about 1 million fibers (100:1 compression).
  • Acuity is only very good at the center of the retina, acuity falls off away from the center of the retina, have to move your eye around to capture multiple snapshots.
  • The thalamus connects to all parts of the cerebral cortex, visual signals pass through thalamus; series of relays in hierarchical.
  • Most amazing aspect of visual system is how it puts together and integrates all the data into a coherent image, hierarchy of processing, integrating images we have stored in memory. Transformation of the response from thalamus to cortex, a major operation that the brain performs, how it reconstructs a visual image.
  • Localized regions of the brain for face recognition, words and letters, places and landscapes, bodies; all activated later/higher in the hierarchy.
  • Humans have only been reading for a few thousand years, the part of the brain that recognizes words and language must be developed after birth, too young to have been genetically evolved.
  • The last video clip summarizes several references that support what Alfred Korzybski termed abstracting (1933).

3 The Active Brain, December 2009

The guests for the third episode, “The Active Brain," included:

  • Eric Kandel — co-host of the series, 2000 Nobel Laureate (Physiology/Biology), professor, Columbia University Physiology & Cellular Biophysics
  • Daniel Wolpert — University of Cambridge
  • John Krakauer — Columbia University
  • Tom Jessell — Columbia University
  • Robert Brown — Massachusetts General Hospital

Among the highlights I found most pertinent:

  • The motor system in the human brain controls 650 different muscles. Every voluntary and involuntary movement or activity, reflexive or deliberate, is controlled by the motor system in the brain.
  • Wolpert states that the sole reason brains have evolved as they have is for the purpose of adaptable and complex movement, the contraction of muscles.
  • Dr. Charles Sherrington (1932 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) quote from his 1906 book, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System: "To move things is all that mankind can do, and for this task the sole executant is a muscle, whether it be whispering a syllable or felling a forest."
  • Regarding last month's program that focused on perception (rim shot ... pun intended), perception cannot be considered in isolation from the action it precipitates.
  • The video excerpted here includes an amazing video demonstrating the difference in motor skills dexterity between humans and robots. (Taken together with last month's Charlie Rose Brain Series discussion regarding facial recognition of humans vs. computers, and Jeff Hawkins' work on human vs. computer pattern recognition ... humans can rest easy for a few more eons.)
  • Regarding anatomy, while the sensory organs provide multiple paths into the brain, the motor system provides the only neurological pathway out of the brain.
  • Motor system functions are, like the sensing/perceiving functions, localized to specific regions of the brain.
  • Motor system activity consists of three functions: 1) planning, 2) execution, 3) feedback or reporting back of results. This can be considered as the "logic" of the central nervous system.
  • Reflex vs. conscious muscle activity is discussed.
  • The importance of motor system (ie, muscle) predicting/simulating is emphasized, including an easy-to-replicate demonstration with a heavy book. (The video clip posted here doesn't include it, but if you watch the episode online there's also a hard-to-believe report about the ability of professional basketball players to predict whether or not a player will make a free throw BEFORE the ball leaves the shooter's hand.)
  • Neurological degenerative diseases, such as ALS Lou Gehrig's Disease, have multiple causes that can be traced to some combination of genetics, behavior, environment, and chance.
  • According to Wolpert, understanding the motor system is the key to understanding higher brain activity.
  • John Krakauer: "Thought is movement planning without the movement."

4 The Social Brain, January 2010

Featuring Charlie Rose with Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel. Panelists include:

  • Cornelia Bargmann. She studies the genetic control of social behavior in simple animals such as worms and flies. She is also a professor at Rockefeller University.
  • Kevin Pelphrey. His work uses brain imaging techniques to understand social perception and cognition. He is an associate professor of child psychiatry at Yale University.
  • Giacomo Rizzolatti. In 1996 he discovered a special group of cells known as mirror neurons. They are thought to play many crucial roles in social interaction. He’s a professor at the University of Parma, Italy.
  • Gerald Fischbach. His research is devoted to understanding autism, a disease that robs victims of their social skills. He is a professor at Columbia University and the director of autism research at the Simons Foundation.

Excerpts (with corrections) from the transcript:

  • ERIC KANDEL: As you pointed out very nicely in your introduction, we are immensely social beings. We use our social behavior to find a partner, to build a family, to build a community, to build a culture. And also, as you indicate, aspects of that can go into disarray and lead to aggression. Social behavior is so important that it is conserved in evolution, and you find it not only in people, but you find it in simple animals, such of which, like ants build complex societies.
  • Although much of social behavior is learned, important aspects of it are determined by genes. For example, you can show in flies and in worms and in simple mouse-like animals that single genes control bonding, whether animals will hang together, whether they go their own way. So genes can have important influences in behavior.
  • Moreover, as you indicated with the social brain, social functions are localized in the brain just as sensory functions and motor functions are. In fact, we see in the social brain that there are sensory areas and the motor areas. In sensory areas, the visual system is very important. Faces, as you pointed out, are extremely important, reading other people’s emotions. So there are face areas in the brain that respond not only to faces but to emotional expression of faces.
  • Moreover, as you pointed out, parts of the motor systems are committed to social behavior. Rizzolatti made this wonderful discovery that there are areas of the motor system that respond when the monkey picks up a glass of water. That’s not surprising. The motor system is designed to pick up a glass of water. But the amazing thing is the same cells in a monkey respond when you, Charlie Rose, pick up a glass of water. So they are mirroring your behavior, so empathic identification with another person is mediated through the motor system. So we have learned all of this by looking at the emotional brain.
  • CORNELIA BARGMANN, ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY: Most animals, most living things spend at least part of their life in association with others of their own kind. And we know that even in the way we talk about schools of fish or flocks of geese or hives of bees that groups of animals are often units that are traveling through time and are behaving together. So they have to recognize each other, they have to communicate with each other, and they have to generate coherent behavior. So what E.O. Wilson noticed, a naturalist about the middle of the last century, is that many of the social behaviors that animals have are recognizably similar to each other, related to each other even in animals that are very different and very widely separated by evolution. And when you make an observation like that in biology, very often what it means is that there’s an underlying genetics that are very ancient that is contributing to the same output in lots of different animals. And that idea of taking different genes, that sort of flowing them through the different animals and using them for social behavior in a variety of animals, is the idea that builds on the idea that there’s a genetics of social behavior.
  • BARGMANN: So if we could have a movie, I’m going to show you the organism that my lab works on, which is a very simple worm. And this worm is tiny and it lives in the soil, and it eats bacteria. But it has a number of interesting behaviors, and among those, as shown in this movie, are that it’s a friendly worm. And so if we look at a group of worms together, here we see that the two little white worms are associating with about ten other little black worms, and they’re gathered together in two little clusters of animals. And most of the worms want to spend most of the time with other worms, although sometimes they will wander off and come back and join the group. And this is not about food, there’s food everywhere, and it’s not about mating, this is a family show. It’s about the animals preferring to associate with each other.
  • GIACOMO RIZZOLATTI, UNIVERSITY OF PARMA: Well, I think one mechanism which we discovered a few years ago is very important in showing how monkeys interact one to another. And especially this discovery of mirror neurons show there’s a specific way in which the animals, and humans as well, we’ll talk later about humans, have knowledge of the other. So in other words, there are these neurons which fire both, one you observe something or one you do the same thing. So what is strange in this neuron because the type of knowledge you get from them, it’s completely different from that that you can get about obstructing. So what you are doing inside my brain and become my behavior. So it’s a specific type of link which cannot be substituted by any type of cognitive or inferential thing. So you do something, enter inside my brain as a motor system, and that’s my experience. So somehow, we share the experience. That’s the novelty of the mirror neurons. So it’s not only a way to understand, because there are many other ways in which we can understand behavior patterns. But this one has this unique stuff that somehow we share experiences.
  • KANDEL: Giacomo’s discovery of mirror neurons is one of the major discoveries of the last 20 years in neuron science because it taught us several different lessons. One is, as he indicated, the appreciation that one has in one’s brain, the capability of understanding another person’s action, that when somebody does something, your own nervous systems goes off as if you’re carrying out the action yourself although your hand doesn’t move. That’s number one. Number two, we used to think that the sensory systems and the motor systems are completely separate. This processing of sensory information, your movement is occurring in his motor system. So a fraction of the cells that are involved in picking up this pencil will respond when you pick up your pencil. It’s in the motor system that he discovered this remarkable thing. So he made us realize that the motor systems have sensory cognitive capabilities. It’s an extraordinary advance.
  • CR: As we listen every episode to this, I’m hearing certain common themes. One is localization, the cutting engine of where brain research is going is understanding where localizations are. The other two is, sort of as we’re discussing here, both genetic and environmental and where those things come.
  • And the third thing that I find is how complex all of this is, so that if you really want to go really understand it, you have to go to begin with genes where you can isolate and these are commonalities -- every conversation we have...
  • EK: This is why it’s so important to have different experimental models. The worm that Cory works on is fantastic in terms of understanding how genes control the logic of neuro-circuitry. Monkeys are terrific because they’re the closest things to humans. They are non-human primates. So you can study complex things like mirror neurons, which he discovered there. So this is the advantage of having these different experimental animals. Each one can give you a different insight into important biological problems. But there’s one other point that I think is important to emphasize. These are very difficult problems, and we’re at the beginning of understanding any one of them. So it’s really in the last decade or two that the social brain is really emerged in terms of discrete subcomponents.
  • GERALD FISCHBACH: Yes. And so Charlie, I think this also a theme throughout every session of the program, that basic science has taught us a lot about human disorders or predicaments. But conversely, it’s the human predicament that has taught us enormously about the basic science of the brain. We talked about this in the very, very first show, and nowhere is that illustrated more profoundly than in autism and related developmental disorders. Autism runs the spectrum between normal behavior and the other end of the spectrum, really compromised, severely compromised individuals.
  • CR: And talk about aggressive behavior.
  • BARGMANN: At the level of animals, animals have fights. And animal aggression or animal conflict is something that is well-organized and has rules. It’s a way that animals use to allocate scarce resources. So I’m going to show two videos. We’ve all seen movies on the Nature Channel, elks fighting each other for a female. But these movies will show you that even very simple animals, fruit flies, can show aggressive behaviors. And so these are going to be two male fruit flies, and they’re going to be fighting over food supply. So in the first very short clip you’ll see one fruit fly decide that the other fruit fly has to go. (LAUGHTER)
  • CR: And the next one?
  • BARGMANN: And in the second video we’re going to see one male fruit fly decide that the other male fruit fly has really got to go. And I would like you to watch this movie to get a sense of the clear intention of this fly’s action. (LAUGHTER)
  • CR: What did we learn from this? (LAUGHTER)
  • BARGMANN: The important thing to learn is these are not fights to the death. So when animals have this kind of an argument, there’s a winner and there’s a loser, and the loser goes off to try and find another location to find some food. If these are two males, they might have been fighting about a female instead of fighting about food. But these are orderly ways of determining who gets to be dominant and who has to move on. And in fact, animals will remember this and they will change their behavior. Even pretty simple animals will remember who they lost a fight to. Fish can figure out if they lost a fight to this guy and an even bigger guy beat up the other guy, the even bigger guy, just don’t even bother. (LAUGHTER)
  • This is a surprisingly logical, intelligent way of working. And there’s work in animals that has told us something that there is really a biology, that there are chemicals involved in the memory of being a winner and a loser. And that, for example, serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is particularly involved in correctly recognizing whether you’ve won or lost an argument. And so again this is a neuro-chemical that’s present in the human brain. There’s some evidence that severe disruptions in serotonin systems caused disruptions in your ability to correctly learn and evaluate a situation where there’s a potential aggressive interaction.
  • BARGMANN: But humans are complicated. We start from children, we learn throughout our lives what the right way is to act within our environment. We’re educated for many years until we encounter each other. And we learn that the football field is an acceptable place to give aggression under well-defined circumstances with protective headgear. And we learn other situations are incorrect situations in which to display them.
  • RIZZOLATTI: I don’t deny the aggression and everything you said about it in biology. But I think we are born to be good, as a matter of fact.
  • KANDEL: Giacomo makes a very good point. Reinhold Niebuhr, the great protestant theologian, once said "The capability of people for good makes democracy desirable. The capability for evil makes democracy necessary."
  • CR: Right.
  • RIZZOLATTI: That is a very good point.
  • KANDEL: Social custom often determines how we behave. The capabilities for good may in fact be the predominant built-in mode, but we can be corrupted.
  • CR: Corrupted by?
  • KANDEL: By social pressure, by, you know, all kinds of constraints in society, or by lack of resources.
  • BARGMANN: And as you say, if you see someone in pain, you feel pain. But if you see someone angry, you start to feel defensive. Good behavior around you can elicit positive behavior in yourself. Problematic behavior around you can elicit problematic behavior in yourself.
  • KEVIN PELPHREY: One of the points I want to highlight is that a lot of the mechanisms that we’re talking about for social perception can be used for good or ill. So I can try to understand other people’s intentions because I want to help them, and we hope that most of the time that’s what’s going on. But these very same mechanisms are extremely powerful if I want to compete with them.
  • PELPHREY: ... and that’s really a developmental perspective on all this. So the reason why autism is such a profoundly difficult thing to understand is development. We’re talking about a neuro-developmental disorder, and things are changing constantly, and you take all of that into account. And the question I want to address in that medium to short term is I think we’re in a position where we have an understanding from genetics, both clinical genetics and work in other organisms and non-human primates, and we can take that information into human neuro-imaging, and we can begin to understand the very early development in the social brain and why different social brains development differently.
  • CR: But the theory of mind means what?
  • KANDEL: The theory of mind refers to a fact when you and I have a conversation I have a general idea of where you’re going, what you hope to get at, that you have your only way of thinking about a problem. Autistic kids can’t get into your brain. They don’t understand that you have your own agenda, which is different than their agenda.
  • FISCHBACH: This is very profound. It’s a matter of belief. When the children develop an idea about false beliefs, that other people may believe things that are different than what they believe. It’s different than a shared emotion. A young child will smile when you smile or they’ll frown when you frown. But to appreciate that the person you’re looking at may be thinking about something that’s different than what you’re thinking about is a very late developing and very profound skill.
  • PELPHREY: And a key concept that we can relate back to aggression is understanding that another person’s belief may be different from yours and different from what you know to be reality is your belief of what reality is. When those two things disagree, that’s an opportunity for conflict.
  • BARGMANN: The point to take away is that our brains are not calculators where you punch in a bunch of numbers and you get a number out in the end. Our brains are ourselves, and they incorporate what’s important and how we feel, and they give you different kinds of responses. And one of the most important things for us is each other. From the moment of our birth, the most important aspect of our life is our ability to predict and affect the behavior of others. And so this is a big part of what it is to be human. And I would say that the question I would like to understand is how a biological system can do something so remarkable.
  • KANDEL: I think there are two themes that struck me that have come out of this discussion. One is how important it is for biology for our understanding of using a number of different experimental approaches, including different organisms varying in complexity from worms to non-human primates to people. I think this is essential, this comparative approach that is critical to understanding behavior, number one. And number two, given the fact that we are born to do good, as Giacomo would have us believe, but we’re capable of evil -- to understand better how one flips from one to the other, and to see a way where we can prevent this tribalism from becoming a dominant force. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had some biological insight into how to contain that?

5 The Developing Brain, February 2010

The fifth of twelve episodes in the series on the brain aired on February 23. Charlie and co-host Dr. Eric Kandel welcomed a panel of experts to discuss "The Developing Brain":

  • Elizabeth Spelke, cognitive psychologist at Harvard and director of the laboratory for developmental studies;
  • Patricia Kuhl, professor at the University of Washington, director of the Center for Brain and Learning Sciences, author of The Scientist in the Crib;
  • Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Research Institute at Baylor Medical Center, and a Howard Hughes medical investigator;
  • Stephen Warren, professor at Emory University in Atlanta, focusing on the causes of mental retardation.

Most of the episode dealt with brain development of infants and children, their capacity for learning language, abstract concepts such as counting and numbers, and commending the early work in this field by Jean Piaget.

6 The Aging Brain, March 2010

Episode 6 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series aired March 25. Charlie and his co-host, Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, addressed "The Aging Brain" with their distinguished panel: (from the available transcript)

Brenda Milner -- one of the pioneers in this field. Her experiments in the 1950s formed the basis for the modern theory of memory. She is the Dorothy J. Killam Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute, and a professor in the department of Neurology and Neuro-surgery at McGill University.

Larry Squire -- his work has shown us that not all memories are the same. In the 1980s he began categorizing memories according to their content, their purpose, and their locations in the brain. He is a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and a scientist at the Veterans’ Affairs Medical College in San Diego.

John Hardy -- his research into the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease has given hope to millions. In 1992 he discovered a genetic mutation responsible for the plaque that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease. He is a professor of neuroscience at University College London.

Scott Small -- he uses brain imaging techniques to study how the brain changes in old age. He is searching for behaviors, foods, and drugs that might prolong our mental acuity. He is an associate professor at Columbia University.

The edited clips for this episode begin with Eric Kandel talking about neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield's work in the 1950s.

7 The Emotional and Vulnerable Brain, April 2010

To discuss "the emotional brain" with focus on pleasure and addiction, Charlie and co-host Eric Kandel welcomed their panel:

Daniel Salzman — he studies how the brain assigns an emotional value to the information that it receives from the five senses. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Columbia University.

Wolfram Schultz — he studies how the brain’s reward systems affect decision making and learning. He is a professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University and a fellow of the Royal Society.

Nora Volkow — her research into addiction helps us understand drug abuse as a disease rather than a moral weakness. She is a director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Washington, D.C.

Eric Nestler — through research on mice, his work has illuminated the molecular basis of drug addiction. He is chairman of the Department of Neuroscience and director of the Brain Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center here in New York.

Among the topics discussed that were of particular interest to me:

  • biological anatomy of what we call emotions
  • degree to which the pre-frontal cortex can regulate emotions, and how addictions destroy the ability of the pre-frontal cortex to control this function
  • scientific basis for considering various addictions as diseases rather than "moral weaknesses"
  • differences between conscious and unconscious (or subconscious) emotional processes
  • medical, pharmacological, and cultural discrimination and stigmatization of addicts and addictions
  • how addictions play into discussions regarding "free will" and individual responsibility
  • how much of addiction is determined (or influenced by) genetics, how much by environment
  • addictions as chronic diseases that with current knowledge cannot be cured, only treated; yet there is still widespread "magical thinking" that addictions can be cured
  • how risk plays into addictions and behaviors
  • effective behavioral treatments (cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, etc.) actually change the brain on biological levels as do pharmacological medications; "they both work through biological processes"

8 The Anxious Brain, May 2010

"Negatie Emotions" is the topic for the 8th in the series, focusing on fear, anxiety, and aggression. With his co-host Eric Kandel, Charlie welcomes the panel:

Antonio Damasio -- his work has helped us understand emotion, decision making, social behavior, and even consciousness. He is the Dornsife Professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute. He’s also the author of several books, including "Descartes’ Error" and "Looking for Spinoza."

Joseph LeDoux. In the 1970s, he revolutionized his field by showing that emotions could be studied in animals. He’s a university professor at New York University and director of the Emotional Brain Labs at the Nathan Klein Institute. He’s also the author of the books "The Emotional Brain" and "Synaptic Self."

Kerry Ressler -- he studies the genetics and neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder, focusing on the interaction between genes and environment. He is a professor at Emory University.

David Anderson -- he studies the neural circuits that control fear and anxiety. He’s a professor of neuroscience at Cal Tech and a Howard Hughes medical investigator.

9 The Mentally Ill Brain, June 2010

Episode 9 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series focused on major brain/mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. With series co-host Eric Kandel, their panel includes two experts who are also patients: (from the available transcript)

Kay Redfield Jamison is a world renowned authority on bipolar disorder, a disease she has struggled with throughout her adulthood. She is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-director of Johns Hopkins Mood Disorder Center.

Elyn Saks was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman. After keeping the disease private for most of her adult life, she publicly revealed her illness in 2007. She is a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of law and founder of the Saks Institute of Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics at USC.

Jeffrey Lieberman studies the neurobiology of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders. He is a professor at Columbia University and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Stephen Warren's research helped isolate the gene responsible for fragile x syndrome. He is now studying the genetic basis of the major psychiatric disorders.

Helen Mayberg uses scanning technology to isolate the brain regions involved in clinical depression. She has performed studies that illustrate the positive effects of deep brain stimulation on depressed patients.

Some highlights discussed in the 17-minute excerpt:

  • Whereas grief is an emotion that virtually every human will experience and is therefore accepted and supported by societies, severe depression is not suffered by everyone and therefore usually results in patients feeling isolated. Grief is a natural human condition that people can normally deal with; depression requires treatment.
  • Mental illness continues to carry a social stigma, which is reflected in discriminatory insurance reimbursement restrictions.
  • The most effective treatments for mental illnesses are usually a combination of drugs and psychotherapy.
  • Recent research confirms that the benefits of psychotherapy result in actual biological changes in the brain, as do pharmaceutical treatments.
  • Mental illnesses result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • The biological effects of depression can be evidenced by brain imaging.

10 The Disordered Brain, July 2010

Episode 10 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series focused on the disordered brain, with discussions about neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, Huntington's disease, and spinal cord injury. With series co-host Eric Kandel, the panel included: (from the available transcript)

John Donoghue -- his work allowed paralyzed patients to move and communicate using only their thoughts and a machine called a brain-computer interface. He is a professor at Brown University and the cofounder of a company called Cybernetics.

John Krakauer -- his work explores how the brain controls movement and how movement is recovered following a stroke. He is an associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Columbia.

Nancy Bonini -- she studies the genetic basis of neurological disease by performing experiments on fruit flies. She is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Howard Hughes medical investigator.

Mahlon Delong -- he is an expert on Parkinson’s disease and a pioneer in the growing field of deep-brain stimulation. He is a professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine.

Some highlights discussed in the 18-minute excerpt:

  • The differences between psychiatric disorders and neurological disorders.
  • How Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke were instrumental in demonstrating localization of function within the brain by focusing on language impairments.
  • By studying neurological disorders, we gain insight into how the normal brain works as well as treatments for abnormalities, impairments, and disorders.
  • Deep-brain stimulation has proven successful in treating some patients with disorders such as Parkinson's disease, but it doesn't work for everybody and it's not a cure. It's also beginning to be applied to patients with psychiatric problems.
  • Fruit flies are being studied and used in experiments with applications to humans as many genes and gene pathways are shared between fruit flies and humans.
  • Sophisticated, miniature electrode arrays have been implanted into the motor cortex of paralyzed patients such that their brain activity (action potentials, or thoughts) can be transmitted outside of their nervous systems to control external devices such as (potentially) video screens, robotic arms, etc.
  • Traditionally, psychiatrists have not thought in anatomical terms as have neurologists, but there is now a need for more overlap between the two disciplines.

11 The Deciding Brain, September 2010

Episode 11 of the Charlie Rose Brain Series focused on the deciding brain. From the transcript:

"This evening we continue our exploration of the most fascinating topic in science, the human brain. Tonight's subject is decision-making. From simple decisions such as what to wear to complex decisions such as whom to marry, the brain is constantly making choices. But choosing wisely is not easy. Tonight we will examine why and how the brain is prone to error and irrationality. For example, we sometimes pursue short-term pleasure at the expense of our health. We sometimes crack under pressure instead of rising to the occasion. We also struggle to make the right moral decisions in the face of uncertainty. Researchers today are trying to explain these discrepancies by unraveling the biology of the brain. They're exploring how decisions are made at the level of the individual neuron. They've also isolated the brain regions that control our thoughts and feelings. Our discussion tonight will touch on some of the most important aspects of the human experience, including morality, social interaction, and economic decision-making. We will learn how emotions exert powerful control over our choices for better or for worse. We will also learn how decision-making is disrupted in disorders like Attention-Deficit Disorder and psychopathic behavior."

With series co-host Eric Kandel, the panel included: (from the available transcript)

William Newsome -- he studies decision-making on the cellular level by exploring the neural processes that mediate visual perception. He is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University and a Howard Hughes medical investigator.

Tony Movshon -- he studies the brain's system that controls the simplest form of decision-making -- perception. He is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University.

Ray Dolan -- he studies how emotion and cognition interact to produce a decision. He is a professor at University College in London and the director of the Wellcome Trust Center of Neuro-imaging.

Joshua Greene -- he studies the brain mechanisms responsible for decision-making. He is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University and director of the Moral Cognition Lab.


We discriminate against people to the degree we fail to distinguish between them.—Irving J. Lee
We think that is which appears to be.—Henry David Thoreau
To a mouse, cheese is cheese. That is why mouse traps are effective.—Wendell Johnson

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