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neuroscience

Videos

  • Full Program: Brains on Trial

    What if we could peer into a brain and see guilt or innocence? Brain scanning technology is trying to break its way into the courtroom, but can we—and should we—determine...
  • Mapping the Other Brain by R. Douglas Fields

    The World Science Festival Salon “Mapping the Brain:  A Grand Challenge” assembled a panel of experts to discuss President Obama’s brain mapping initiative in an open public...
  • Can Eyewitnesses be Trusted?

    Legal expert Nita Farahany and neuroscientist Anthony Wagner say that fMRI studies show that we cannot rely on our memories to be accurate. But technology to prove this is not yet...
  • The Infamous Hand Injury

    Performance artist Andrew Dawson ends the night with the story of a roller derby player who shattered her middle finger in a fall. What followed was months of recovery, which...
  • The Importance of Feedback

    Due to a freak spinal infection, Ian Waterman lost all proprioception, his body’s sense of position in space, as well as all feeling. In order to do the everyday things we take...
  • Ian Waterman’s Missing Body

    Ian Waterman woke up one morning and realized that his body was gone. In reality, it was still there, but Ian had lost all proprioception—the body’s awareness of positioning in...
  • The Articulate Hand: Debbie Graham

    When Debbie Graham was 23, she dove into a pool and broke her neck, mostly paralyzing her from the neck down. Thanks to the clever work of her doctors, she has regained some...
  • Curing the Aging Brain

    If one could live to a thousand years, but 850 of those years would be spent in the throes of advanced Alzheimer’s disease, there wouldn’t be much of a point to it. This is why...
  • The Safety of Sitting Ducks

    Curious observers have noticed for centuries that ducks sometime sleep with one eye open, but had never really looked into why or how. Neils Rattenborg, a neurophysiologist at the...
  • The Curious Case of Kenneth Parks

    In 1987, a Canadian man named Kenneth Parks drove 14 miles to the home of his in-laws. Upon reaching their home, Parks brutally attacked them both, killing his mother-in-law. When...
  • What is Parasomnia?

    Parasomnias are extreme sleeping behaviors that include bizarre phenomena such as “sleep violence,” “sleep binging,” and “sleep sex.” In his treatment of patients with a...
  • Perchance to Dream about Tetris

    How well do you remember your dreams? Have you ever had a dream about something you were doing earlier in the day—especially if you were doing it when you nodded off? If you’re...
  • Dreams and the Resolution of the Mind

    Our mind’s eye is a space in our heads where memories, images, and sounds all come together in a roiling sea of thoughts. Given that, just how clear is the “vision” of this eye?...
  • Spotlight: The Frontier of the Mind

    Strip away the trimmings of a traditional science presentation, add cocktails, and you have WSF Spotlight. Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch comes from a long line of unorthodox women....
  • Confessions of a Pro-Social Psychopath

    Neuroscientist James Fallon is a self-styled “hobbit scientist.” The rules are simple: Don’t talk to the press and don’t go out of your area of expertise. But when a fascinating...
  • The Fiction in Our Identity

    Have you ever remembered something so clearly that you were 100% positive in its retelling, only to second-guess yourself as soon as a contradiction surfaces? This...
  • Beautiful Minds: The Enigma of Genius

    Full 90 Minute Program: Immanuel Kant, who coined the term genius in the 1700s, defined it as the rare capacity to independently understand concepts that would normally have to be...
  • Genius’ Dark Cousin

    When talking about geniuses, the conversation inevitably strays towards topics of eccentricity, or even madness. One needs only to look at the lives of artists such as Vincent Van...
  • What Is Genius?

    How to define genius? Dean Keith Simonton takes us on a historical tour of its ever-changing meaning. From its humble beginnings as a measure of potential we all have within us,...
  • ‘Genius Cells’ in the Brain?

    After his death in 1955, Albert Einstein’s brain was studied by scientists worldwide—all wanting to gain insight into the anatomy of a genius. But it wasn’t until the 1980s when...
  • Robot Learning: Rebuilding Newton

    Hod Lipson’s self-aware robot used feedback from its limbs in order to learn how to walk. He had successfully created a machine that learns like we do, with observation, modeling,...
  • Double Jeopardy: WATSON

    Get inside the mind of a supercomputer as it goes head-to-head against the expert panel of roboticists. David Ferrucci, lead researcher on the WATSON project, pulls back the...
  • The Creative Brain Across Time and Cultures

    What did genius look like 5,000 years ago? How are new tools reshaping our brain, and subsequently our concept of intelligence? What effect is the alway-on, multitasking era...
  • Genius: Striking Out a New Path

    Genius represents the ability of unprecedented execution and perspective in any given field. It embodies ideas that force the rest of the world to rethink what it thought it knew....
  • BIORYTHM: Opening Reception

    Why does a minor chord sound sad? Is there a formula for the perfect hit? Whistling, dancing, finger-snapping, and toe-tapping—what makes us do it? Find out through a...
  • Strangers in the Mirror

    What’s it like to face a faceless world? Acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sacks once apologized for almost bumping into a large bearded man, only to realize he was speaking to a...
  • The Story of the Living, Breathing Mirror

    Living with the perceptual disorder known as prosopagnosia—the inability to recognize even the faces of people you know—can be difficult. But it can also be awkwardly funny,...
  • The Illusion of Speech

    Your brain is an extremely complex pattern-recognition machine. Neuroscientist Jamshed Bharucha demonstrates to our audience how three indistinct synthesized sounds can be...
  • Finding God In the Brain

    What happens in the brain when somebody enters a religious state? Nina Azari, an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, used a series of devices...
  • Spirituality and Music in Adversity

    Do people of different faiths react differently to music? Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels doesn’t think so. She believes music reaches down to something deeper, especially during...
  • Persistence of Memory

    Our memories are the aggregate of our life experiences. They shape who we are in a big way. Giulio Tononi, an award-winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist, has made this study...
  • Democratic System in Our Heads

    Take a look at an object. Now, try to view only the left half of it. You’ll find no matter how hard you try, you will always be conscious of both halves. This is the result of...
  • Instinctually Musical

    When you think about music as a survival instinct, taking the edge off a long train ride is probably what first comes to mind. But neuroscientist Lawrence Parsons wants you to...
  • The Universal Language

    Music as a form of expression exists across all cultural and geographic barriers. It has been called the “universal language,” but is it truly a language that is understood...
  • Bobby McFerrin: Spontaneous Inventor (Part II)

    Musical artist Bobby McFerrin performs for a live audience using a variety of vocal improvisations during the 2009 World Science Festival, as part of Notes & Neurons: In Search of...
  • Music: A Whole Body Experience

    When we think about music, we tend to associate it as a purely auditory activity, but just how deep does it go? Neuroscientist Lawrence Parsons walks us through music’s effects on...
  • Hearing in Utero

    Psychologist, musician, and author Daniel Levitin speculates on how our ability to hear sounds in the womb may give us a head start on understanding music.
  • Music Where It Is: Context and Perception

    Music has a measurable physiological and neurological effect on us. But how much does the context of a musical experience change that effect? Here, musical artist Bobby...
  • Bobby McFerrin: Spontaneous Inventor (Part I)

    Musical artist Bobby McFerrin performs for a live audience using a variety of vocal improvisations during the 2009 World Science Festival, as part of Notes & Neurons: In Search of...
  • The Need for Cognitive Privacy

    As technology and our ability to interpret fMRI data increases, so will the need for laws that protect the “domain of privacy” in our skulls. Neuroethicist Paul Root Wolpe...
  • Decoding the Visual Field

    Everything you see produces a unique pattern of activity in your brain. Can scientists studying this data predict what you are visualizing? Frank Tong explains the technology, and...
  • The Faint Echoes of Memory

    Neuroscientist Frank Tong elaborates on the processes used by scientists to decipher what a person is visualizing. The insights gained by being able to visualize the human brain...
  • The Noisy System of Guilt

    Lie detection—and more specifically, the polygraph machine—has only proven to blur the line between innocence in guilt. Scientists agree that it is often leaned too heavily...
  • Decoding Dreams

    Being able to visualize another person’s imagination for all to see is a staple of science fiction stories. According to Frank Tong, a neuroscientist and psychology professor, we...
  • Consciousness: Explored and Explained

    Consciousness is a terrible curse. Or so says a character in screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. Part theater of the absurd and part neuroscience...
  • Dreams, Darkness, and Consciousness

    What is consciousness? Where does it go when we sleep? When we dream? Does consciousness need external stimuli—light, matter, a world—to be conscious of? Neuroscientist and...
  • Thinking about Thinking

    Animals may not understand English or Chinese, but can they read our body language? Can they get inside our heads? Brian Hare demonstrates tests with dogs that assess their...
  • The Stranger You’ve Become

    Who are you more like: yourself or your best friend? Seems simple enough. But maybe it isn’t? Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi wrestles with this rhetorical question with filmmaker...
  • Two Minds in One Brain

    Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi discusses the the bizarre phenomenon of “split-brain” patients with filmmaker Charlie Kaufman. More than inspiring interesting cinema and art, real...
  • Painting and the Scientific Method

    In high school, most of us learned that the scientific method is a rigid, step-by-step process. In practice, successful science is often conducted loosely, nonlinearly, and with...
  • Spotlight: This Is My Brain

    Strip away the trimmings of a traditional science presentation, add cocktails, and you have WSF Spotlight. Here, cognitive neuroscientist Jamshed Bharucha presents scans of his...
  • Painting Blind

    Chuck Close on how the curious neurological disorder known as face-blindness affects his artistic process of creating enormous, painstakingly detailed faces. Referencing scenes...
  • Mind Control: Introducing BrainGate

    Moving objects with one’s mind is the fodder of sci-fi, magic tricks, and futuristic visions. But John Donoghue explains how, in some ways, such dreams are a reality. He’s...
  • Eye Candy: Science, Sight, Art

    Are you drawn to Impressionism? Or more toward 3D computer art? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? Contrary to the old adage, there may be universal biological...
  • Mind and Machine: The Future of Thinking

    Creative thought is surely among our most precious and mysterious capabilities. But can powerful computers rival the human brain? As thinking, remembering, and innovating become...
  • The Social Neuron

    Spindle cells are special neurons in the human brain that serve as the hub of higher-order cognitive processes: judgment, emotion, morality, recognition, self-awareness. ...
  • In a Coma, Do We Cease to Exist?

    What happens when someone slips into a vegetative state? Do they feel pain? Do they think? Without consciousness, do they ostensibly cease to exist? Such questions have haunted...
  • The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

    We don’t know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of...
  • Cool Jobs: The Neuroscientist

    Cool Jobs: Meet the people with the coolest jobs in the world. Watch as neuroscientist André Fenton describes the life of a modern brain scientist, leads a group of students...
  • All Creatures Great and Smart

    Does your dog really think and feel like a human? Do our closest primate relatives have brains and emotions similar to ours? What about the storied intelligence of dolphins and...
  • How We Hear

    Have you ever wondered how we hear? Harvard physicist and auditory physiologist Christopher Shera explains that the inner workings of the ear. He simply explains how the bones and...
  • Good Vibrations: The Science of Sound

    We look around us—constantly. But how often do we listen around us? Sound is critically important to our bodies and brains, and to the wider natural world. In the womb, we hear...
  • Is Google Making Us Smarter?

    Is our increasing reliance on Google rotting our brains and turning us in to lazy halfwits? Or could search engine technology actually be exercising our brains in ways don’t fully...
  • How to Program Intelligence?

    What is intelligence? Can computers be intelligent? The mechanisms behind human intelligence are poorly understood. Similarly, our conception of the ability of today’s computers...
  • Coping with Face Blindness

    The ability to recognize faces is an important social adaptation. Those who are face blind—what is known as prosopagnosia—can easily be assumed as rude or inconsiderate or...

Blog Posts

  • Dalai Lama Wins the Templeton Prize

    Each year, The John Templeton Foundation, one of our founding benefactors and sponsor of the festival's Big Ideas series, honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical...
  • A New Cure for the Aging Brain?

    During the 2011 Festival's Longevity program, molecular biologist Leonard Guarente stressed the the need to address the afflictions of the aging brain. In particular, he singled out Alzheimer's disease as a key obstacle in the road to healthy longevity. Now, an already...
  • Protecting Our Thoughts

    Is it ethical to non-invasively read a terrorist's mind if it contains the knowledge of a bomb that will kill thousands?
  • Confessions of a Pro-Social Psychopath

    Neuroscientist James Fallon is a self-styled "hobbit scientist." The rules are simple: Don't talk to the press and don't go out of your area of expertise. But when a fascinating new brain scanner enters the lab, Fallon can't resist. He ends up breaking both rules, and learns a...
  • Full Program: Scents and Sensibiities

    What does fear smell like? Love? Can we use scent to control behavior? Do humans really sense pheromones? What if you could diagnose diseases just by smelling them? And exactly how does our brain convert floating organic molecules into chemical signals that our brain processes...
  • Genius Across Cultures and the “Google Brain”

    I recently had the opportunity to sit down with other scientists—along with famed director Julie Taymor and legendary composer Philip Glass—to wrestle with the riddle of genius. I found that Taymor made about cultural and environmental influences on cognitive traits very...
  • The Emerging Science of Smell

    What does fear smell like? Love? Can we use scent to control behavior? Do humans really sense pheromones? What if you could diagnose diseases just by smelling them? And exactly how does our brain convert floating organic molecules into chemical signals that our brain processes...
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Memory

    This week we explored our tenuous relationship with our own memories. We learned how powerful they could be, as well as how they can lead us astray.
  • How the Brain Remembers 9/11

    Memories of tragic public events have been of interest to researchers for years. Dubbed as "flashbulb memories" for their extraordinary vividness of detail and photographic recall, these emotionally charged memories are described as being “burned” into one’s mind. But...
  • Seeking Shelter within Memory Palaces

    Memory is in the news lately. A new study, elegantly crafted by psychologist Betsy Sparrow, provides the most convincing evidence yet of the so-called "Google Brain": the notion that our minds have become so reliant on ever-present caches of information at our fingertips that...
  • Searching for Genius in the Brain

    Genius is a big concept to get one’s head around. I was surprised to find that no studies of this topic have ever been reported in the scientific literature. There exist numerous studies of intelligence, creativity, personality—some of the key ingredients—but none...
  • Is Genius Hiding in Plain Sight?

    After his death in 1955, Albert Einstein’s brain was studied by scientists worldwide—all wanting to gain insight into the anatomy of a genius.
  • Understanding Genius: The Grand Enigma

    The 18th-century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once remarked: "Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." But what gives rise to this special vision? Why is it so difficult to define, and what of the relationship between...
  • Man-Made Minds: Full Program Now Available

    All week, we've been exploring the next-generation of robots and thinking machines, hearing from the leading minds, who stand to reinvent what know as artificial intelligence. Today, we present the full program of Man-Made Minds in all its glory.
  • How Does WATSON Think?

    Building a computer capable of winning a game show such as Jeopardy! takes much more than bestowing upon it the breadth of human knowledge. It has to be a fluent English speaker, too.
  • The Smell of Sexy: Leslie Vosshall Featured in NY Times

    World Science Festival alum, Leslie Vosshall, is featured in today's New York Times. She discusses the neuroscientific relationship between scent and arousal, and the perfume industry's never-ending quest to bottle sex appeal.
  • Instant Reaction: The Invisible Language of Smell

    A neuroscientist, a chemical ecologist, a sensory psychologist, and a scent artist revealed the hidden information found in smells and debated the role of pheromones in human behavior, while the audience explored surprising smells using specially treated scent cards.
  • Instant Reaction: The Enigma of Genius

    Genius: What is it and how do geniuses get that way? This diverse panel of scientists and artists discussed the characteristics that define a genius, its relationship with mental illness, sacrifice, and whether modern information overload could degrade creativity.
  • Instant Reaction: Music and the Spark of Spontaneity

    In the Great Hall of Cooper Union, a panel of musicians—one professional, Pat Metheny, and four scientists who study their beloved hobby—discussed the art of improvisation and what happens in the brain when you do it. Casual banter and fact-dropping was highlighted by live...
  • Instant Reaction:  Origins of Orientation

    Origins of Orientation panelists delved into riveting discussions about arousal, longing, bonding and, of course, sexual activity on Saturday night at the World Science Festival.
  • Instant Reaction: Rhythms on the Brain

    One of life's eternal questions was addressed at the Eyebeam Center for Technology, one that each of us has been pondering since birth: What makes The Beatles The Beatles? The World Science Festival brought four music-lovers onstage—a neural scientist, a producer, and two...
  • Instant Reaction: The Mind after Midnight

    At The Mind after Midnight: Where Do You Go When You Go to Sleep?, we learned that every organism, every life form, from protozoa and coral to flies to us, needs something resembling sleep. It seems to be inexorably tied to what we know as life.
  • Can You Smell That?

    BOOM. The smell hit me like a punch in the teeth. Staggering, I tried to make sense of the pungent, salty, almost sweet odor. It was certainly offensive, but also curiously intriguing. What was this?
  • Basic Instincts Unleashed in Sleep

    Parasomnias are abnormal states of behavior and experience in which basic instincts are inappropriately unleashed during sleep. These instinctual behaviors can be appetitive, such as feeding (sleep related eating disorder), and sex (sexsomnia, sleepsex), and can also involve...
  • The Curious Symmetry of Sleep

    Not long ago, I woke up in a hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Waking up for me is a slow climb, and so I was still a bit bleary by the time I reached the front desk. I was checking my bags for the day, which I would be spending at a conference nearby, when I noticed a...
  • The Other Brain of Genius

    Cerebral glial cells span the brain. Are they the key to understanding genius ability? Genius—is it the seed or the soil? Beethoven and Einstein are examples of extraordinarily creative geniuses. Was their vastly superior brain the chance outcome of a genetic dice roll, or...
  • A Memory for Pain, Stored in the Spine

    You slam your hand in a door, and the experience becomes etched into your brain. You carry a memory of the swinging panel, the sound as it crushes your flesh and the shooting pain as your skin gives way. Your body remembers it too. For days afterwards, the neurons in your spine...
  • Creation on Command

    Al Kooper didn’t know what to play. He’d told some half-truths to get into Bob Dylan’s recording session — the musicians were working on some song tentatively titled “Like A Rolling Stone” — and Kooper had been assigned the Hammond organ. There was only one...
  • A Curious Case of Sleep Violence

    On September 11, 1982 I started my career in sleep medicine at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis. I had three new patients on my schedule for that day. The second patient was a 67-year-old gentleman from Golden Valley, Minnesota named Donald Dorff who...
  • Memories Are Made of This

    U.S. Patent 7,928,070 issued in April of this year for what was simply labeled as a “memory-enhancing protein.” Todd Sacktor, a professor at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, and a panelist at the 2011 World Science Festival’s The Unbearable Lightness of Memory, received the...
  • Your Brain on Music

    When we think about music, we tend to associate it as a purely auditory activity, but just how deep does it go? Neuroscientist Lawrence Parsons walks us through music’s effects on the brain, demonstrating how music activates every corner of our mind and body, making it a...
  • The Biological Mechanism That Gives Life Meaning

    As the title of our program The Unbearable Lightness of Memory suggests, memory is much more than the process by which we recall errands or birthdays. Memory—how information obtained from experience is stored in the brain—is also the mechanism that molds our sense of the...
  • Accessing the Viewer’s Imagination

    When considering a work of art, perhaps one by Monet or Van Gogh, what is it that stuns you? Why does it move you? Cartoonist Jules Feiffer shares his musings on exactly how the artist gains access to the viewer’s imagination.
  • Does consciousness need a world?

    What is consciousness? Where does it go when we sleep? When we dream? Does consciousness need external stimuli—light, matter, a world—to be conscious of? Neuroscientist and sleep expert Giulio Tononi sheds light on these difficult questions.
  • The Story of the Living, Breathing Mirror

    Living with the curious perceptual disorder known as prosopagnosia—the inability to recognize even the faces of people you know—can be difficult. But it can also be awkwardly funny, as the legendary author and neurologist Oliver Sacks recounts from his life experiences of...
  • The Illusion of Speech

    Your brain is an extremely complex pattern-recognition machine. When it comes to interpreting human speech, the brain pieces together familiar sounds to create the "illusion of speech." Here, cognitive neuroscientist Jamshed Bharucha, who studies the perception of music,...
  • Face blindness, the World Science Festival, and CBS Evening News

    Sanjay Gupta reported on Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close's face blindness during last night's CBS Evening News. Both Sacks and Close discussed in detail their bizarre experiences with the disorder, known as prosopagnosia, last June at the Festival during Strangers in the Mirror.