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The Unconscious Toscanini of the Brain

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How does the brain produce a thought? Or experience a unitary, whole, synchronized perception of a cup of coffee? For neuroscientists, this is the Mount Everest of questions. We have a look at one possible theory (that a thought is like lots of little neurons singing together in harmony) and then visit neurologist Christof Koch to ask: who conducts the brain chorus? Koch thinks he knows, and he tells us of the cutting edge work of one of science’s great thinkers, Francis inquiry which lasted until his dying day.

Comments [6]

Maybe the gnomes who code this page for listening to this discussion of the brain should provide some means for Windows 7 users to interrupt the streaming of this episode. But of course that would demand engaging their brains to imagine the needs of users, and nowhere else on this site is there evidence of their ability to do that. For example, a major need of listeners to WNYC on the radio is to locate the same episode on the Web to check what someone said, a name, a reference etc and there is no evidence visible on any WNYC page where to find a proper listing of the programs that have just played today or this week where one might hope to find the precise episode you need to replay. Fantastic inability of WNYC page designers to cater to the biggest and most obvious need of users.

Nov. 22 2014 02:06 PM
Charlie from Ann Arbor, MI

This episode is one of the best I've heard. It takes the study of brain to its logical conclusion, to "consciousness" which is only in the past 5 or 10 years becoming accessible to modern scientific methods. I do not accept the contention that consciousness can't arise from "just the brain." The brain has about 100,000,000,000,000 connections between neurons, a truly vast number. Why can't all those connections working together at the same time (the brain is very active even when we are daydreaming) make something as magical as consciousness?

Nov. 08 2013 06:26 PM
JTM from near 60 North

@I_e_Cox "Don't they know that their cousins in psychiatry have already discovered that memory survives body death? "

Care to provide reliable references ?

Nov. 07 2013 05:19 PM
Christian M from PA

I'm surprised that there was no mention of the Buddhist idea of "no soul." A foundational Buddhist belief is that who/what we think we are arises from the interactions of the phenomena of the "world"--none of which is permanent. There is no "I" or in Koch's phrase, inner conductor, behind/beneath the conditions of existence. The Buddha's insight through meditation (the analysis of consciousness as experienced as consciousness) was that there was no "me" there. It was the letting go of ego in the deepest sense that extinguished (nirvana) the causes of suffering (dukkha). Koch and Susan Greenfield had an article in Scientific American a few years ago where they disagreed about a bunch of things but I think they agreed that the "hard problem of consciousness"--that a physical body (3-4 lb. brain) has "immaterial" thoughts--can't really be explained. What neuroscience can do is describe the physical correlates (whether through specialized neurons in certain regions, or synchronicity, or emergence) to thought--but that doesn't explain "thought" itself.

Nov. 14 2012 09:35 PM

I'm listening to this episode right now. I am so frustrated! They refuse to leave the bounds of neuroscience to solve this problem. Why? Why should neuroscience know about the higher levels of consciousness when they specialize in studying the brain? Don't they know that their cousins in psychiatry have already discovered that memory survives body death? And that thousands of people knew this before anyway? So it can't all be in the brain. It just can't. They'll never solve it with a brain-only model of consciousness. Never.

Jul. 16 2011 05:04 PM

Being a person who is listenign to the podcasts with out any bend whether religous or no, i believe they have every right to say if they think its "holy" or not. it isn't like they were saying hey you atheists out there its all God, no there were two sides on the pod cast, one said they thought it was holy and they other said he didn't think so. there was no reason to say hey you doing the pod cast you can't say what you think.

Jan. 29 2011 11:43 AM

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