Podcasts

Evolution of Mind and Brain

Lecture Series: Mind and Brain

Anna Dornhaus, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

What does anybody need a brain for? Brains are energetically expensive to make and to use, and susceptible to making mistakes. Accordingly, not learning, i.e. sticking to an innate or random strategy, is often the best thing to do. Still, humans and other animals display sophisticated learning and cognition. Recent research shows that each animal has specific learning abilities and lacks others according to its environment and evolutionary history. Understanding what different brains are used for can help us understand why they evolved.

The Making of a Mind

Lecture Series: Mind and Brain

LouAnn Gerken, Professor, Psychology and Director, Cognitive Science

We're all born with a brain, but when does our brain begin to construct a model of the world – a mind? Research now suggests that infants not only absorb a remarkable amount of information about the physical and social world, they also use this information much like scientists to make guesses about the structure of that world. By creating tentative models of different aspects of the world based on very small amounts of data, infants use their developing models to predict the behavior of objects, people and the world around them.

Metamemory: How Does the Brain Predict Itself?

Lecture Series: Mind and Brain

Alfred W. Kaszniak, Professor and Head, Psychology

Our brains recreate past experience, monitor recall efforts, and predict our chances of remembering things in the future. The knowledge we each possess about our own memory, and strategies to aid memory, form what is called metamemory. Studies of persons with impaired metamemory due to neurological illness, along with brain imaging studies of healthy adults making judgments about memory, indicate that the brain systems active in retrieving information are distinct from those that self-monitor memory. Metamemory research is helping build an understanding of a wide range of experiences from tip-of-the-tongue forgetfulness to the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Morality and the Emotional Brain

Lecture Series: Mind and Brain

Shaun Nichols, Professor, Philosophy

Does morality come from the emotions, or from rational thought? Philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries. Recent work in cognitive science suggests that emotions play a critical role in the normal ability to think about morality. Studies indicate that psychopaths have a deficient understanding of morality, and when abnormalities are found in brain regions associated with emotions, these same patients make atypical decisions about difficult moral problems. Emotions alone do not completely account for moral judgment, but the emotional brain shapes our models of what it is to be moral.

Next: An Enormous Picture of the Universe

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

John Schaefer, UA President Emeritus and President of LSST Corporation

Being built now, with “first light” planned for Fall 2015, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be very large and very different. Unlike previous telescopes, LSST will photograph the entire sky every night recording all movements and brightness changes and producing unprecedented volumes of data. Observing change is a key to answering pressing questions in astrophysics, cosmology, and fundamental physics. LSST will provide the fastest, widest, deepest eye of our new digital age and may also help us understand when Earth may next be at risk of being struck by an asteroid.

Next: Unlocking the Mystery of Matter

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

Elliott Cheu, Professor of Physics

Since the time of the Greeks, humans have sought to understand the most fundamental constituents that make up all things. The 27 km circumference Large Hadron Collider (LHC), built in a tunnel beneath the French/Swiss border, is designed to smash protons into each other as they race at 99.999999% of the speed of light. The recent start-up of the LHC could allow mankind to journey further into the mystery of matter as we probe the processes of the first second of time following the Big Bang. Hear how UA physicists’ involvement in this historic experiment is key to the LHC’s potential.

Next: A Great Leap for Bioresearch

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

Vicki Chandler, Regents' Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Plant Sciences; Director of Bio5 Institute
Plants, from mosses to giant trees, are essential for human life on earth – we eat them, wear them, live in them and every breath we take depends on them. Our ability to understand plants – from their most minute cellular processes to their roles in ecosystems – is critical for the long-term sustainability of land life on our planet. Based at the UA, the iPlant Collaborative will provide global reach – bringing together scientists from many different fields to build a deep data infrastructure within which researchers can tackle some of the toughest problems facing life.

Next: Darwin's Strange Inversion of Reasoning

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

Daniel Dennett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University
Until Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species it was assumed that life forms were built to a pre-existing plan. When Darwin showed that small inherited modifications – shaped by survival – sufficed to shape life on Earth, he was greeted by criticism for his “strange inversion of reasoning”. A century later, Alan Turing added his own strange inversion: “in order to be a perfect and beautiful computer, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.” Today, we can for the first time observe and understand Darwin’s reasoning – as the trillions of tiny robotic agencies called cells, that know nothing of the role they are playing, work together to compose the human minds that are able to discover this very fact.

Next: Visualizing Human Thought

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

Elena Plante, Professor and Head of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

The ability of the human brain to think and communicate one’s thoughts is fundamental to our experience. For centuries, our ability to understand how human thought is represented and communicated had to be inferred from observing behavior following brain damage. The recent advent of new tools for noninvasive study of the normal brain has revolutionized our understanding of brain function, allowing us for the first time to visualize human thought. And we are only just beginning.

Next: Really Intelligent Computers

Lecture Series: Science that Transforms

Paul Cohen, Professor and Head of Computer Science

Halfway through its first century, artificial intelligence has delivered some astonishing successes on narrowly defined tasks: cars that drive themselves, airline reservation systems you can talk to, search engines for the Web. Yet these accomplishments have failed to match the general, flexible, adaptive mind of a two-year-old child. By understanding the differences between childlike and computer intelligence, we set the stage for the development of really intelligent computers.

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