July 31, 2012

Charlie Rose Brain Series


One of the best free resources for learning about the brain on the internet is the Charlie Rose Brain Series available on streaming video through CharlieRose.com. For the past two years Charlie has been sitting down with Nobel Prize-winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Eric Kandel as they have explored pioneering discoveries of neuroscience. In each episode Charlie and Dr. Kandel sit down with a roundtable of leading brain scientists and researchers to explore an aspect of neuroscience. In the first year of the series they examine the major functions of the brain with special episodes on the emotional brain, the developing brain, the aging brain, the mentally ill brain, and other major areas of study in neuroscience. The 12-episode series works as an introductory course to learning about our brain complete with the latest discoveries and new areas of neuroscience research. In the second year of the series, Charlie and Dr. Kandel are examining neurological, psychiatric, and addictive brain disorders, as they sit down with experts and discuss disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other major brain disorders. Learn about your brain and the exciting field of neuroscience with this outstanding series of Charlie Rose special episodes.

Charlie Rose Brain Series – Year One:

Episode 1 – The Great Mysteries of the Human Brain – In this first episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, Charlie sits down with some of the top brain researchers and looks at big questions that brain science is currently addressing. This episode posits a lot of questions that will be addressed in depth throughout the series. Topics discussed include the relationship of genes vs. experience (nature vs. nuture) and how this interplay contributes to the brain in both its proper functions and malfunctions. American philosopher John Searle addresses his interest into how the brain produces consciousness. During this episode you also get a few visual explanations of the brain including a look at the cerebral cortex and the functions of its four lobes, and also a visual description of how neurons work. A lot of information is enthusiastically tossed around in this first episode and hopefully it will get you excited for the rest of the series.

Episode 2 – The Perceiving Brain – In this episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, the brain expert roundtable looks at the sense of sight and visual perception. They show how the brain processes visual information and how it is different than a camera. Brain scientists have determined precise locations where the brain processes facial recognition, landscapes & places, and other objects, and we are shown how brain damage can impair certain types of vision. The panel also looks at the plasticity of sight and how blind people who’ve been given treatments to restore their vision can learn to see in the same way the developing brain does. It’s a good introduction to the key human sensation of sight.

Episode 3 – The Acting Brain – In this episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, the group looks at the motor system which connects to the brain to produce the action of coordinate movement in the physical world. They discuss how movement is conducted in the nervous system in both conscious actions and reflexes. They also ponder the complexity of human movement and how robotics is far behind the human brain in this arena. Finally they discuss a few of the cases where this system of movement is damaged such as in stroke or in Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and what are some of the latest findings for repairing or overcoming these types of damage to the brain’s motor system.

Episode 4 – The Social Brain – In this episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, the group looks at the importance of social behavior in the human brain. The panel features one of the discoverers of mirror neurons, Giacomo Rizzolatti, and he discusses their importance in social learning and behavior. The panel also looks at autism and how this disorder affects social interaction. They also briefly discuss aggression and what factors contribute to anti-social behavior.

Episode 5 – The Developing Brain – In this episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, Eric Kandel and company discuss the developing brain focusing on infancy and childhood. They look at the remarkable capacity that children have for learning language and how it differs from the adult brain. They also take a look at numerous learning abilities that come at specific times in development and at some of the developmental disabilities that come along the way. Throughout the discussion they attempt to explain what development in innate and genetic versus what is learned and socialized in infants and children.

Episode 6 – The Aging Brain – In the Aging episode the panel discusses memory and Alzheimer’s disease. 91-year-old neuropsychologist Brenda Milner talks about her work with the famous patient known as H.M. who had surgery on specific brain areas to cure his epilepsy, but then lost his ability to turn short term memory into long term memory. This discovery and other related discoveries helped neuroscientists to learn that there are different types of memory in different areas of the brain such as motor memory, recognition of people and places, and memories involved in phobias. The group then looks at Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on memory, and how it can be prevented through exercise, socializing, and intellectual activity.

Episode 7 – The Emotional and Vulnerable Brain – In this episode the roundtable examines the emotional brain and focuses on the pleasure and reward system that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine. They discuss addiction and how it hijacks the dopaminergic system in the way that the addict needs more and more dopamine to feel normal as addiction progresses. Addiction is now viewed in the brain sciences as a chronic disease requiring ongoing treatment because of the risk of relapse, yet the health care system is reluctant to treat it as such. The panel finishes with pointing out that addictions involving dopaminergic activity aren’t limited to drugs & alcohol, but can also be involved in addictions to gambling, food, sex, and other risky behaviors.

Episode 8 – The Anxious Brain – In this episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, the roundtable discusses fear, anxiety, and aggression and the brain mechanisms behind these phenomena. They look at the fight or flight response which humans share with the animal kingdom, and the unique ways in which human beings have adapted this response to the modern world. Neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel points out initial insights coming from philosopher William James, in that the sequence of fear comes first with the bodily response and then the conscious feeling of fear. They examine the main brain structures involved in the fear response with emphasis placed on the amygdala. And they discuss anxiety and fear disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and methods for treating anxiety disorders. They close the talk with a look at aggression and the nature vs. nurture questions when it comes to aggression.

Episode 9 – The Mentally Ill Brain – In this special episode of the Charlie Rose Brain Series, Charlie invites to the table two experts on mental illness that are also sufferers themselves. Elyn Saks is a professor and expert in mental health law, and she suffers from schizophrenia. Kay Redfield Jamison is a clinical psychologist and author who has suffered from bipolar disorder since her early adulthood. These two tell their personal stories of coping with their disease. The rest of the panel joins in to look at the brain science involved in depression, manic depression, and schizophrenia. They discuss the best available treatments including medication and psychotherapy, and ways that the stigma of mental illness can be confronted so that people will seek help more quickly and health care can be provided more adequately for sufferers.

Episode 10 – The Disordered Brain – This episode focuses on neurological disorders which neuroscientists have tremendous insight into including Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, stroke, and spinal cord injuries. The group discusses the localization of neurological diseases and how lesions in the brain can affect human behavior. They examine Parkinson’s disease which involves a dopamine deficiency in the basil ganglia of the brain, and how it has now been discovered that deep brain stimulation can be effective as a treatment.

Episode 11 – The Deciding Brain – This episode focuses on decision making. They look at the famous example of Phineas Gage who lost much of his frontal lobe in a construction accident in the 19th century. After this accident Gage lost much of ability involving practical decision-making which is a primary function of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The group takes a look at a variety of decisions such as economic decision-making and moral dilemmas. They discuss the famous “trolley problem” and how emotions play a major role in our decisions. It’s another fascinating episode on the role that the brain plays in our everyday decision making.

Episode 12 – The Creative Brain – This episode is probably the least interesting of the series as it has little to say about the brain science involved in creativity. Modern artists Richard Serra and Chuck Close talk about their own artistic careers and creative processes, and museum curator Ann Temkin further elaborates on the works of these two artists. Neurologist Oliver Sacks offers the most interesting insights into creativity and the brain, but the panel concludes that little is known about the neuroscience of creativity.

Charlie Rose Brain Series – Year Two:

We’ll do write-ups on these once Charlie & Co. complete the series. But for now here are links directly to the shows on CharlieRose.com.

Episode 1: Neurological, Psychiatric and Addictive Disorders

Episode 2: Consciousness & Its Disorders

Episode 3: Agnosias

Episode 4: Alzheimer’s Disease

Episode 5: Schizophrenia

Episode 6: Autism

Episode 7: Depression

Episode 8: Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease

Episode 9: Multiple Sclerosis

Episode 10: Disorders of Motor Neurons – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)

Episode 11: Pain

Episode 12: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Charlie Rose Brain Series – Ongoing Episodes:

Episode 1: Obama’s BRAIN Initiative

Episode 2: Hearing Loss

Episode 3: Blindness

Episode 4: Aggression

Episode 5: Gender Identity

Episode 6: Sports-Induced Brain Trauma