C. Rose Brain Series #3: The Active Brain

Charlie Rose Brain SeriesThe third of the Charlie Rose 12-part monthly series on the human brain aired December 22nd. An excerpt (16:48, including the opening introduction) is included below.

His guests for the third show, “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

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

  • 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.”