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Science Salon Archives

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time. Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, or using the audio or video players below.

SCIENCE SALON # 115

Matthew Cobb — The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience

For thousands of years, thinkers and scientists have tried to understand what the brain does. Yet, despite the astonishing discoveries of science, we still have only the vaguest idea of how the brain works. In The Idea of the Brain, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb traces how our conception of the brain has evolved over the centuries. Although it might seem to be a story of ever-increasing knowledge of biology, Cobb shows how our ideas about the brain have been shaped by each era’s most significant technologies. Today we might think the brain is like a supercomputer. In the past, it has been compared to a telegraph, a telephone exchange, or some kind of hydraulic system. What will we think the brain is like tomorrow, when new technology arises? The result is an essential read for anyone interested in the complex processes that drive science and the forces that have shaped our marvelous brains. Cobb and Shermer also discuss:

  • panpsychism
  • the hard problem of consciousness
  • free will and determinism
  • mind uploading
  • near death experiences (NDEs) and other paranormal experiences
  • quantum consciousness
  • the history of neuroscience and how we got to where we are today
  • brain mapping and localization
  • why the new phrenology (brain localization and modules) is still wrong
  • why neurons are not digital like computer chips, and why the brain is not like a computer, and
  • why we’re still nowhere near understanding how the brain works.

Matthew Cobb is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he studies olfaction, insect behavior, and the history of science. He earned his PhD in psychology and genetics from the University of Sheffield. He is the author of five books: Life’s Greatest Secret, Generation, The Resistance, Eleven Days in August, and Smell: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in England.

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