84 episodes

My name is Cody Kommers, and I'm a PhD student in social psychology at Oxford. This is Cognitive Revolution, my show about the personal side of the intellectual journey. Each week, I interview an eminent scientist, author, or academic about the experiences that shaped their ideas. These stories are important as it's all too easy to look up to successful thinkers and only see the finished product. This is a show about the person behind the idea.

codykommers.substack.com

Cognitive Revolution Cody Kommers

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 14 Ratings

My name is Cody Kommers, and I'm a PhD student in social psychology at Oxford. This is Cognitive Revolution, my show about the personal side of the intellectual journey. Each week, I interview an eminent scientist, author, or academic about the experiences that shaped their ideas. These stories are important as it's all too easy to look up to successful thinkers and only see the finished product. This is a show about the person behind the idea.

codykommers.substack.com

    #78: Philip Johnson-Laird on How Cognitive Scientists Improvise

    #78: Philip Johnson-Laird on How Cognitive Scientists Improvise

    Philip Johnson-Laird is professor emeritus at Princeton University. He is one of the most influential cognitive scientists of all time, best known for developing the idea of “mental models.” Though if you really want to get a sense of how eminent he is, you have to look no further than his email address. You can find him at Phil at Princeton. That’s right. He is the Phil at Princeton University. It was a huge honor to talk to him for this conversation, as he’s long been one of my favorite cognitive scientists. My favorite paper of his is a lesser known article from 2002 called How Jazz Musicians Improvise. It’s part of a long-standing interest of his in understanding how our minds create complex, meaningful sequences—in this case, strings of notes—on the go. Phil didn’t start off planning to become an academic (he left school at age 15), and before he got on the academic track he worked as a jazz pianist. In this conversation we go deep into Phil’s background as a musician, and how that influenced his ideas about the mind. We also talk about his background working miscellaneous jobs for 10 years before starting university, marching in protests led by Bertrand Russell, the mentorship of Peter Wason, Phil’s first encounters with cognitive science, his relationship with the great George A. Miller, the genesis of the idea of mental models, how Phil’s understand of mental models has changed over the past forty years, and what the question of how jazz musicians improvise can tell us about how the mind works.

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    • 1 hr 17 min
    #77: Brian Christian on AI as a Human Problem, Part 2

    #77: Brian Christian on AI as a Human Problem, Part 2

    We discuss Brian's latest book, The Alignment Problem, and how it's not AI itself we should worry about—but the underlying models on which our AI is based.

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    • 1 hr 4 min
    #76: Charles King on Taking the Outsider Perspective

    #76: Charles King on Taking the Outsider Perspective

    I first learned of Charles' work when I saw a notice for his most recent book—Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century. I saw this, and I was like: a general audience book about the history of anthropology—sign me up! I preordered it straight away. As listeners of the show will know, even though I'm a psychologist by training I have a not so secret obsession with anthropologists. And as hoped, it turned out to be a great book. It tells a story about Franz Boaz, the father of American cultural anthropology—and his group of students that changed the face of anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century. This includes: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, Gregory Bateson, and a whole host of others. Charles is not a trained anthropologist. He's a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown. But his wife is an anthropologist, and that's how he got turned on to this story. His initial interests were in former soviet states. In particular, one of his previous books was on the history of the Caucasus. And as some of you may also know, I spent the entire second year of my PhD taking Georgian language, and my partner and I often throw elaborate Georgian feasts serving Georgian wine and preparing a great deal of Georgian food. At any rate, it was clear to me that this was a guy I really wanted to meet and talk to. I really enjoyed our conversation, as I've certainly come to look up to Charles and his work in more ways than one.

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    • 1 hr 14 min
    #75: Susanna L. Harris on Building Community through Communication

    #75: Susanna L. Harris on Building Community through Communication

    I've been a fan of Susanna for a long time following her on her social media. She's one of my favorite personalities in science communication, and it's been impressive and inspiring to watch her grow her platform over the last few years. She just recently graduated with her PhD in microbiology from University of North Carolina. During her time in grad school, she founded PhD Balance, which seeks to raise awareness about the prevalence of mental health issues in graduate school by sharing stories and building communities. She is currently manager of engagement and communications at Xontogeny, which is a bio-tech accelerator—taking seed-stage biotech startups and helping them to grow. In this conversation, we talk finishing up one's grad school work and making sense of how to take the next step. We start off talking about Susanna's recent move across the US, and her experience graduating during March 2020. It's at this point that I ask Susanna a rather subversive question, and from there we talk about growing as a person during grad school, Susanna's own story of mental health in grad school which motivated her to found PhD balance, and her strategies for productivity: from hanging out with her dogs, to organizing her to-do list. It was a conversation I really enjoyed!

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    • 1 hr 3 min
    #74: Nicole Barbaro on Judging a Book by its Cover

    #74: Nicole Barbaro on Judging a Book by its Cover

    I've been following Nicole's work for a long time, and I'm a big fan. She's developed a platform for her writing as well as a presence on social media. It's been cool to watch her do it. Nicole has a PhD from Oakland University in psychology with a specialization in evolution and human development. Most of her recent work focuses that expertise on the area of education. She's also a prolific reader. It's something she takes seriously as a part of her identity, and she wears it really well. I've been following her book reviews for a long time in other venues, but she just recently started a new forum for them at bookmarkedreads.substack.com/. In this conversation, we talked about Nicole's experiences excelling in academia then transcending it, her approach to picking new books (it always starts with the cover), as well as strategies for getting one's work and ideas out to a broader audience. She's a really cool individual, and I'm excited to see where her work takes her in the future! 

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    • 59 min
    #73: Tara Thiagarajan on Brains—All 7 Billion of Them

    #73: Tara Thiagarajan on Brains—All 7 Billion of Them

    Tara Thiagarajan is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Sapien Labs. Based in Washington, DC, Sapien Labs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to take brain diversity seriously. Most research in psychology and neuroscience treats the brain as a kind of monolithic entity, as if every brain were the same. But we know that's not true: there are important differences in the brain not only between individuals, but within the same individual from day-to-day. We also know that psychology and neuroscience have historically focused on a skewed sample of mostly white, mostly American, mostly undergraduate participants. Tara's goal with Sapien Labs is to truly account for what it means to look at differences in brains among all people on the planet. One of their in-progress projects is the Human Brain Diversity Project. Over the next five years, this project will "build an open database of 40,000 individuals across 4 countries and continents consisting of EEG recordings along with extensive information about demographics, lifestyle, technology use, diet and cognitive and mental health aspects." One of their papers, published this year in Nature Scientific Reports, showed the effect of "stimulus poverty" on brain physiology. They showed that the different stimuli people encounter on an average day—from phone use, to travel, to reading, and beyond—correlate with different physiological signatures in the brain, as measured by EEG. I found Tara's projects, as well as her overall story, very fascinating. I'm excited to see how those projects continue to develop in the coming years. 

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    • 33 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
14 Ratings

14 Ratings

iosonosenzatitolo ,

A high quality podcast

Listening to Cody during the pandemic has been like having a level headed friend who has a new thought to share, and predictably that friend is always nearby—an earshot away ;)
And his collection of academic history is fascinating! The appreciation for multiple disciplines is a joy.

Cody’s podcast has slowly become one of my favorites. Cody shares musings and interviews with a combination of curiosity, humility, and thoughtfulness.

Stovestove11111 ,

Excellent

Amazing guests (David Pizarro! Paul Bloom!), looking at the more personal side of a psychologist’s journey. Perfect podcast for psychology graduate students, or if you like similar psych podcasts (Two Psychologists Four Beers, Black Goat, Very Bad Wizards, Psychology Podcast)…

BobHope68 ,

The podcast I didn’t know I needed

Wish I had thought of this idea because these are the kinds of questions I’ve always wanted to ask the great minds I look up to. My non-scientist brain appreciates the personal angles as I see a bit of myself in each of these interviews. Looking forward to more content!

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