Jonah Lehrer on the Brain (Video)

Inter­viewed over at, Jon­ah Lehrer (Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at Wired and the author of the new book How We Decide) begins:

How do you take [the brain], this piece of meat that runs on 10 watts of elec­tric­i­ty, and how do you study it in its actu­al con­text, which is that it’s not a brain in a vat. It’s a brain inter­act­ing with oth­er brains. How do you study things like social net­works and human inter­ac­tions?

Just think, for instance, about what’s now the hottest method in cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science: The fMRI machine, the brain scan. Think about the fun­da­men­tal lim­i­ta­tion of this machine, which is that it’s one per­son by him­self in what’s essen­tial­ly a noisy cof­fin. So you give him the stim­u­lus. He’s going through the exper­i­men­tal task, what­ev­er it is. Choos­ing whether or not to buy some­thing, doing a visu­al mem­o­ry task. What­ev­er the pro­to­col is, you’re in essence look­ing at a brain in a vac­u­um. You’re look­ing at a brain by itself, and we don’t think enough about how pro­found­ly abstract that is, and what an abstrac­tion that is on the real­i­ty we actu­al­ly inhab­it, the real­i­ty of being a human and what human nature is all about.

The ques­tion now, and this is a fas­ci­nat­ing ques­tion to think about, is how can we take this research, which is so rig­or­ous, and how can we make it more real­is­tic.

Neu­ro­science has con­tributed so much in just a few decades to how we think about human nature and how we know our­selves. But how can we take that same rig­or, which has made this research so valu­able and, at the same time, make it a more real­is­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what it’s actu­al­ly like to be a human. After all, we’re a brain embed­ded in this larg­er set of struc­tures.

You can watch the rest of the inter­view here. But make sure you scroll down a lit­tle.

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