BILL #3: "Synapses and the Self" by V.S. Ramachandran

Bill&Ted2Crop.jpgUPDATE: Links are now changed to take you to the newer BBC site, on which you can listen to the lecture without the hassle of getting RealPlayer. And you can download the lecture as a podcast if you prefer.

The third BILL is a brilliant foray into neuroscience, focused on consciousness and the human brain.

BILL the third is “Synapses and the Self,” by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. Ramachandran is the author of Phantoms in the Brain (1999) and most recently of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, published this year.

This lecture is audio only, accompanied by a transcript. It was the second in Ramachandran’s five-lecture series “The Emerging Mind,” which was the 2003 installment in the fantastic Reith Lectures. All five lectures are riveting; this one includes some thoughts on human evolution and might thereby ensnare many Panda’s Thumb regulars. If you can’t get enough of Ramachandran after this introduction, you’ll find videos of other lectures and a NOVA appearance on the ‘tubes. And he blogs a bit; the most recent entries discuss his remembrances of Francis Crick.

I encourage you to listen without referring to the transcript; he’s very clear and fun to listen to.

Here are some things to look for and think about:

  • The fallacy of imagining perception to be analogous to a little guy in your brain.
  • Neural representations of reality as “an alien code.”
  • The remarkable phenomenon of blindsight and what it tells us about the brain.
  • Conscious vs. unconscious systems in the brain.
  • A reference to Bertrand Russell, the first Reith Lecturer.
  • “Looking glass syndrome.” In honor of you know who.
  • Anosognosia. A mean case of denial.
  • The famous mirror neurons, and why they might matter in human evolution.

Listen to “Synapses and the Self” by V.S. Ramachandran. The link puts you into the BBC iPlayer to listen online. You can also download the .mp3 here.