Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Two podcasts on the brain - Saeed Ahmed guest post

I am very happy and proud to present you yet another guest post by Saeed Ahmed. Saeed is a psychiatrist, a Pakistani by origin who lives and works in the US, where he has also received his professional training. He is a very thorough podcast listener, taking on themes and building wide playlists around them. Or he takes on podcast university courses and carefully goes through the whole series.

Two interesting podcasts

I have listening to podcasts that explore relationships of "world" to "brain" and "brain" to "world". One way the world clearly influences the brain directly (not just behavior) is by actually changing the structure of the brain.

This is elucidated by Ginger Campbell in episode 10 of her long-standing Brain Science Podcast. (feed)

What is interesting is that many parts of the brain can change function quite dramatically, given the proper stimulus.

Dr. Campbell generally has a fairly mainstream view of mind/brain interactions (i.e. materialistic), and she doesn't go deeply into philosophical issues. The strength of this podcast is exploring the scientific aspects and medical applications. There are a number of other interesting topics she covers in various episodes, and I hope to have some time to listen to these.

Another good podcast is The Philosopher's Zone, from ABC radio national in Australia. A currently available episode has an interview with psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, who differentiates between "sensation" (what the outer sensory organs do) and "perception" (the processing of the sensory information in the central nervous system). It is of course possible to have sensation without perception. What is more surprising is that it is possible to have perception without sensation, e.g. in a phenomenon known as "blind sight," where patients who have non-functioning primary visual cortices can still perceive (accurately describe) certain types of visual phenomenon.

The material Campbell and Humphrey cover is interesting, and both cover certain philosophical issues related to the mind/body and free will/determinism problems, but I find this aspect of the discussion in each case somewhat off the point.

It may tempting to conclude from the phenomena of environmentally stimulated neuroplasticity that it is somehow countering "genetic" determinism, but it is important to recognize that is not the deep determinism that philosophers think about, the type that leads to a "causally-closed system."

Furthermore, demonstrating certain examples of perception without sensation (most often in the context of pathological states) does not really address the hard problem in mind/body philosophy.

However, I have to think about how these two things inform the "synthetic apriori" notion of Kant, and perhaps through that we may be able to make some progress.

More Saeed Ahmed:
John Searle, Philosophy of Mind,
Politics 114B.

More Philosopher's Zone:
Isaiah Berlin,
Philosopher's Zone,
Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.