14 episodes

NOUS tackles the deepest questions about the mind, through conversations with leading thinkers working in philosophy, neuroscience, psychiatry and beyond. Each episode features an in-depth conversation focussing on one big idea.

How does the brain produce consciousness? Are mental illnesses just biological? Are there limits to the power of neuroscience - or will it eventually unravel the mysteries of free will and morality?

Hosted by Ilan Goodman

NOUS Ilan Goodman: Neuroscience and philosophy podcaster

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 32 Ratings

NOUS tackles the deepest questions about the mind, through conversations with leading thinkers working in philosophy, neuroscience, psychiatry and beyond. Each episode features an in-depth conversation focussing on one big idea.

How does the brain produce consciousness? Are mental illnesses just biological? Are there limits to the power of neuroscience - or will it eventually unravel the mysteries of free will and morality?

Hosted by Ilan Goodman

    Michael Wooldridge on the History and Future of AI

    Michael Wooldridge on the History and Future of AI

    AI research endured years of failure and frustration before new techniques in deep learning unleashed the swift, astonishing progress of the last decade.
    Michael’s recent book A Brief History of Artificial Intelligence explores what we can learn from this history, and examines where we are now and where the field is going.
    We discuss:
    Why the Cyc project’s aim to encode ‘all human knowledge’ (!!) into a functioning AI got stuck, despite years of intense effort.  What OpenAI’s GPT-3 language-generating AI system really knows about making an omelette.   Why the next generation of AI systems may have to combine symbolic and non-symbolic approaches.  You can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast 

    • 55 min
    Iris Berent on Innate Knowledge and Why We Are Blind to Ourselves

    Iris Berent on Innate Knowledge and Why We Are Blind to Ourselves

    The idea we have ‘innate knowledge’ seems quite wrong to most of us. But we do! And the intuitions leading us astray here also blind us to other aspects of human nature. 
    We are all ‘blind storytellers’. Professor Iris Berent reveals what misleads us, and what we are missing.
    18:55 Newborns have basic knowledge of the nature of objects. Eye-tracking experiments reveal that they have a grasp of the 3 c’s - cohesion, contact and continuity. 
    22:35 How do you get expectations about the nature of the world coded into genes? Do genes somehow give rise to computational ‘rules’ in the brain? Is my inability to grasp this illustrating Iris’ argument!? A deep mystery remains. 
    26:51 Birdsong is innate. So why not aspects of language and human object cognition?  
    28:20 “People know how to talk in more or less the sense that spiders know how to spin webs“ says Steven Pinker. 
    37:44 We learn a particular language from those around us - but some argue that the deep structural rules underlying all languages are innate. How does that work? Are there ‘rules’ of language somehow inscribed in neural structures? 
    47:39 Our intuitive biases to *dualism* and *essentialism* lead us to get lots of things wrong about human nature. 
    55:05 Why we go ‘insane about the brain’, and get weirdly impressed by neuroscience-y explanations, even when they are bad. 
    1:00:44 Why is our thinking about mental disorders so biased and confused? 
    ***
    Check out Iris Berent's book The Blind Storyteller here, or find her on Twitter @berent_iris
    To get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation, you can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at nousthepodcast@gmail.com

    • 1 hr 8 min
    Ann-Sophie Barwich on the Surprising Neuroscience of Smell

    Ann-Sophie Barwich on the Surprising Neuroscience of Smell

    Vision is the best understood sensory domain. But smell is turning out to be wonderfully strange and even more complex than sight.
    Dr Ann-Sophie Barwich joins me to explore ideas from her recent book Smellosophy. How is vomit related to parmesan cheese? Why do things smell so different depending on context? And what does smell teach us about the very nature of perception? 
    We explore:
    Why the ‘promiscuity’ of smell doesn’t make it merely subjective. Smells can have a multitude of qualities or notes depending on the context and depending on the individual. But this variability has a functional basis.  The weird neural representation of smell. The patterns of neural activation underpinning smell don’t follow the mapping principles followed by other sensory modalities.  Why philosophers shouldn’t ignore the neural ‘plumbing’ of sensory systems. Evolved brain mechanisms underly the nature and function of the perceptual experience  - so they have to inform a philosophical account of perception.   Check out Dr Barwich’s book Smellosophy here, https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674983694, 
    her article in Aeon magazine here https://aeon.co/essays/why-might-it-be-easier-to-fool-your-eyes-than-your-nose.
    and another great piece in Nautilus http://nautil.us/issue/91/the-amazing-brain/our-mind_boggling-sense-of-smell 
    ***
    To get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation, you can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at nousthepodcast@gmail.com

    • 49 min
    Matthew Cobb - Why Neuroscience Still Can’t Explain Much

    Matthew Cobb - Why Neuroscience Still Can’t Explain Much

    Despite multi-million dollar research programmes and impressive technical progress, neuroscience still can’t explain basic systems - like a maggot’s tiny brain or the grinding of a lobster’s stomach.
    Professor Matthew Cobb joins me to discuss the intellectual history of neuroscience,  his frank assessment of where we’re at, and how we can make progress.
    We cover:
    How the idea of the brain as computer got started in the mid-C20th, and why it’s probably wrong. (10:53) The challenge of the Grandmother Cell - and why some neurons selectively respond to Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry! (21:00) What have we really learnt from fMRI? Is it “just a bit crap”? (27:25) Why the Human Brain Project was so controversial - and how its has spectacularly failed to live up to its own rhetoric (36:29). Could a neuroscientists understand a microprocessor? We discuss the brilliant study by Eric Jonas and Konrad Paul Kording. (41:30) The amazing achievement of artificial limbs (49:50) How useful is the ‘predictive brain theory’ favoured by Anil Seth, Karl Friston and Andy Clark? “Show me in a maggot!” Why we should get behind a Maggot Brain project. (58:40) Matthew’s book The Idea of the Brain has been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize. Check it out here: https://bit.ly/2Ky6IOL
    ***
    To get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation, you can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at nousthepodcast@gmail.com

    • 1 hr 4 min
    Edward Bullmore on the ‘inflamed mind’ theory of depression

    Edward Bullmore on the ‘inflamed mind’ theory of depression

    Could depression be caused by inflammation?  Cambridge psychiatrist Ed Bullmore makes the case for his radical new theory, from his bestselling book The Inflamed Mind.
    Here's the breakdown...
    6:12 There’s a Cartesian divide in the way we practice medicine.  Professor Bullmore argues that we need to find more integrated ways of treating body and mind.
    8:52 The case of Mrs P who was suffering from arthritis and depression. But what was causing what?
    12:31 Is this theory a biomedical or psychosocial approach to depression? Professor Bullmore argues that it can bridge the two.
    18:07 There will never be just one theory for depression. 
    19:12 We chat through the enormous range of options on the DSM criterion for depression. Symptoms of depression can include losing weight and gaining weight, sleeping too much and sleeping too little. 
    21:50 Everyone has a 25% lifetime risk of depression - that’s 1 in every family.
    23:11 Why depression may be a bit like fever: one symptom with myriad underlying causes, all of which need different treatments.
    25:07 WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE? We finally get around to talking through the different sources of evidence for the Inflammatory theory of depression. Animal studies, longitudinal studies. 
    27:41 What is ‘inflammation’?
    31:00 Can you have inflammation without having any apparent illness or injury?
    35:40 Why you might want to try rubbing your auricles. Seriously, it’s nice.
    38:47 Is it time to ditch the serotonin theory of depression once and for all?
    44:22 Why did the big pharmaceutical companies start abandoning research into psychiatric drugs from 2010?
    51:20 New research into the depression-inflammation link is now underway: what’s going on and what are we hoping to find?
    54:52 Professor Bullmore shares his aspiration for the next 10 years: to integrate mental and physical healthcare in the way medical are trained and in the way they practice.
    The Inflamed Mind at Amazon
    Get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation! You can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at nousthepodcast@gmail.com

    • 56 min
    Keith Frankish Exposes the Illusion of Consciousness

    Keith Frankish Exposes the Illusion of Consciousness

    ‘Qualia’, the subjective qualities of experience, are the bedrock of some theories of consciousness - but they are a fiction according to my guest in this episode. With great charm and passion, Keith Frankish makes the case for ‘illusionism’.
    0:54 We kick off chatting about Keith’s humorous definition of a philosopher as ‘an expert in everything and nothing.’ That leads us to Wilfrid Sellar’s famous description of the aim of philosophy: “to understand how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together, in the broadest possible sense of the term.”
    4:36 Keith argues that the strong concept of ‘emergence’ isn’t very helpful when thinking about complex systems like brains. It’s a reasonable assumption that the brain works just as predictably as computers, which we can build and control.
    7:26 “I want to eliminate them” says Keith of phenomenal properties. And we’re off….!
    Keith introduces ‘qualia’ aka ‘phenomenal properties’. He avoids trotting out the usual account and first talks through some things we can all agree on. Qualia are the ‘something else’ that is supposedly happening while all the functional stuff is going on - they are supposed to be the subjective experience occurring alongside or in addition to cognition and behaviour.
    11:30 I try to offer a concise definition of phenomenal properties, and Keith explains why he deliberately doesn’t like to start that way around: if you start with the common definition of qualia, you’ve already loaded the dice in favour of consciousness being a mystery! “You get captured by Cartesian gravity.”
    17: 29 By defining phenomenal properties in the traditional way we “create an artefact that’s inexplicable - and then claim there’s a big mystery!”
    22:50 Keith talks me through Dennett’s famous paper ‘Quining Qualia’, where he identifies 4 properties generally ascribed to qualia, and then goes on to show that there can’t possibly be such things! The four properties are:
    Private - They can only be known by you.
    Ineffable - You can’t really describe them, you can only note similarities and differences.
    Immediately or directly apprehensible - you know them with absolute certainty
    Intrinsic - they don’t represent anything external, they are part of the intrinsic nature of experience.
    27:08 Keith makes an often neglected point: we generally describe our experiences as being properties of the world, not merely properties of our experience of the world. So the yellowness of a banana is not merely a feature of our experience, but of the banana!
    28:08 What was ‘Galileo’s Error’? It’s the title of Philip Goff’s recent book which sets out his argument for panpsychism. Keith argues Galileo made a second, more significant error than the one Philip picks on: he plucks phenomenal properties out of the world and and places them in our minds.
    29:50 We’ve been sidling up to it, now we tackle Keith’s ILLUSIONISM head on.
    Keith introduces the positive element of illusionism: the project of explaining why this way of thinking is so compelling. Possibly, Keith suggests, because it’s useful, maybe even adaptive.   
    He suggests that ‘phenomenal properties’ are really just packages full of the meanings of things, of the ways we respond to and interact with the world. Packaging them up in like this is a useful way of compressing the complexity of experience into discrete bundles. But the packages are just a useful cognitive trick - they aren’t mysterious metaphysical objects in themselves!
    36:48 How does all of this this relate to the famous thought experiment about Mary the Neuroscientist?
    41:17 Illusionism is a bit like watching a movie. What you’re actually seeing is a series of still images, but your visual system (mis)represents them as movement. Phenomenal properties are like the movement - they’re not really there, we just represent things as if they were.
    43:00  All

    • 1 hr 12 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
32 Ratings

32 Ratings

Pieterson's Pilot ,

Superb and brilliantly put together

Ilan is fantastic at pulling together the strands of what we know and introducing new mind expanding ideas.

BothansinDsguise ,

Great discussions

Real substance, with heavy topics discussed smartly and sensitively. You can tell that the host goes into a lot of research to understand the topics and bring the best out of his guests, presenting an accessible discussion into the ideas that offers a friendly but not uncritical examination.

buonoh ,

Nous

Remarkable ,lucid & up to date interviews on such impressive range of key issues .
Really helped me understand how philosophy is being transformed by and transforming latest work in neuroscience &
Bio genetics & other formative studies .
Really thorough interviewer that knows the
Work of eminent guests well & so compels them to articulate their perceptions & discoveries with warm urgency .