David Eagleman

Neuroscientist, New York Times bestselling author, Guggenheim Fellow. Writer & Presenter of THE BRAIN

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 12, 2015

Discussion

David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
I'm a neuroscientist, inventor, and TED speaker. I've written several best-selling books, both fiction and non-fictions, and I have a new series, THE BRAIN, coming out on PBS on October 14th. Let's talk!
Jay Mutzafi@jaymutzafi · iOS Developer
@davideagleman Hi David! You are a recent discovery of mine (since your cool Sense Suite TED talk) but I am already a big fan. I find the brain the most incredible thing in existence, can’t wait for your PBS show. A few questions: 1. What do you think about technologies for changing the brain like tDCS or Neurofeedback? What do you think is showing the most promise? 2. Are you of the mind that consciousness is generated by the brain or somehow facilitated by it (meaning it is perhaps primary)? 3 (Optional, really). Once you are done with the book and PBS show tours, would you go have a chat with sam harris? You two are brilliant people with a lot of neuroscience knowledge and interest in consciousness, i think a conversation between you two could be amazing! (just my 2 cents) Keep up the awesome amazing work and thanks for doing this AMA.
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@jaymutzafi 1. Tech for changing the brain is still in its very early days. Some techniques, like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) seem to be showing some interesting clinical promise. And in my lab, we're using real-time feedback with neuroimaging (specifically, fMRI) to try to help people with drug addictions overcome their cravings. In my upcoming series on PBS, The Brain, I cover a story about one woman who's trying to break her addiction to crack cocaine and is going through our pilot studies (www.pbs.org/thebrain). All this work is at the foot of the mountain but has promise, I believe. 2. I am of the mind that consciousness is generated by the brain. In episode 6 of the series I make the argument for why it's reasonable to think that's possible, even while we don't know how it works at this moment in history. 3. Re. Sam Harris - I admire Sam's writings, so I am definitely interested in a conversation with him. A meeting of the minds sounds very appealing to me. If it's cast as a debate, implying that he and I represent opposite positions (which I don't believe we do), that kind of theater is of less interest to me. A conversation is something I'd be happy to have.
Jake La Londe@ja_lalonde · Neuroscience Student
@davideagleman @jaymutzafi No. 3 was a great question. I would enjoy that discussion as well.
Jay Mutzafi@jaymutzafi · iOS Developer
@davideagleman Thanks for your answers! I look forward to watching the series. (and i totally agree about debate vs conversation, a conversation is far more appealing to me)
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@davideagleman Hey David, What’s something you are most grappling with right now?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@bentossell How consciousness emerges from physical pieces and parts of the brain.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
David! It is SUCH an honor to have you here. Many often talk about decision making in reference to making choices from the "head," the "heart," and sometimes the "gut." Of course, all of these modes of decision making connect back to our brain. I keep trying to make sense of what leads us to *feeling* like we're making decisions from such different "places." How can we better think about decision making? Is one "mode" of thinking preferable to others?
Michele Müller@muller_michele · Writer
@davideagleman First I'd like to congratulate you for the wonderful books. I've read them all, including The Brain. They all a great source of inspiration to me. I'd like to know if you ever me two people with synesthesia that made exactly the same associations (like numbers/colors and related the same colors to marching numbers) or is it always a unique experience.
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@muller_michele Thank you for the kind words, and great Q! It's always been thought that each synesthete has unique associations (say, his "J" is blue while her "J" is light green. And that assumption has been at the heart of the theory that synesthesia results from _random_ neural crosstalk between neighboring areas (e.g. between brain regions that care about color and those that care about letters). But over the past 8 years my laboratory has collected detailed, rigorously verified data from many thousands of synesthetes... and my colleagues and I recently published a paper about something unexpected and amazing: in a cohort of people born in the 70s and 80s, a substantial proportion of synesthetes have the _same_ color patterns! It turns out this pattern matches the Fisher Price colored alphabet magnets that were popular in that era. So it turns out that many synesthete imprint on what they're exposed to! Paper here for more detail: Witthoft N, Winawer J, Eagleman DM (2015). Prevalence of learned grapheme-color pairings in a large online sample of synesthetes. PLoS ONE. 10(3): e0118996. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118996. http://journals.plos.org/plosone...
AylinEr@aylinerk
Hey David, your books and talks are great inspiration to me. I have voluntari translated your many articles and talks into Turkish for free in www.okyanusum.com and many Turkish people who don't know English, have become followers of your precious ideas. Here are my questions: 1. Do you think our consciousness belongs to our physical body or is it by-product of the brain's exceptionally comprehensive activities of analysis and synthesis? 2. Is the flesh brain real thing?Is it what we call the 'brain' the flesh brain?Can it be true if we say the brain is a wave converter?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@aylinerk First, thank you so much for those translations! I've been seeing my talks and ideas getting a lot of activity among online Turkish audiences, and I've been wondering who to thank for that. :-) 1. I think that day-to-day, most of us neuroscientists work under the assumption that consciousness emerges from the operations of the brain. One way of phrasing this is: "the mind is what the brain does." That assumption can even be extended to suggest that the details of the biological wetware may not even matter much at all; instead, it's only the software that runs on top of the cells that matters -- and therefore the mind could be reproduced on different substrates. 2. Here's what I think we do know for sure: the physical brain is critical to who you are. When it changes, you change. When the physical stuff gets damaged, you become someone different. Even small amounts of brain damage (e.g. from tumors, strokes, traumatic injury, etc) can change a person's risk aversion, decision making, ability to see colors, name animals, understand music, etc, etc. So whatever else the brain might be, the integrity of the physical stuff matters first and foremost.
Nicki Friis@nickifriisw · Entrepreneur. Former Partner @ Ideanote.
@davideagleman Hey David, why is focusing on customer experience a good idea - from your point of view?
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Us humans are notoriously irrational. :-) What logical fallacies do you think we're: (1) Most prone to making? (2) Are the most deleterious?
Cassandra@_sandroi_ · Student
@davideagleman Hi David! I'm currently a student in grade 12, trying to figure out my education path. A few years ago, my dad had a fall that resulted in a TBI. This sparked my interest in the brain. I started to watch some Youtube videos to try and better understand exactly what happened to him, and the first video I watched was narrated by you. Your work really inspired me (and still does), and I think because of that first video I watched, the spark of interest that I had in the brain turned into a passion. A couple years later, I now know that I want to study Neuroscience. Can you describe the education path you took from the point of coming out of highschool? What would you have done differently, if anything? My aspiration (although big) is to someday work for your lab. Thank you for everything! - Cassandra, Ontario
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@_sandroi_ Thanks for your kind note, Cassandra -- and I'll look forward to interviewing you for my lab in some years from now! My own educational path was an idiosyncratic one: in college I mostly studied physics and literature (British and American). I didn't discover neuroscience until my senior year, when I stumbled on a special issue of Newsweek devoted to the topic... and I was immediately hooked. I read every neuro book I could get my hands on, and when I applied for graduate school I told the admissions committee "look, I know I don't have any biology on my transcript, but I've read all these books. Ask me what I know and I'll try to tell you." Miraculously, that worked, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. :-) The main advice I would offer now to a college student with neuroscience aspirations is to be sure to take some computer programming courses and at least one philosophy course (in addition to the neuroscience requirements). Best of luck in your trajectory!
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Freerance Engineer
@davideagleman I think you know machine learning. However 2016's trending is advanced machine learning. So wanna ask you one thing. Do you think possible to realize for deeper neural network for people and animals ?
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@davideagleman What's your favorite TED talk?
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
@davideagleman Would love to know your favorite Apps, Movies and Books?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@neeeharika App: Evernote has replaced my millions of scrawled scraps of paper in my pocket. Movies: In the past 18 months, it's probably Interstellar. Books: In the past year, it's "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.
Michele Müller@muller_michele · Writer
@davideagleman How could companies use the knowledge about how brains create connection and empathize to build an effective brand?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@muller_michele My lab published a paper last year showing that the brain understands companies using the same machinery it uses to understand other people. So that means that what really matters for companies involves issues like trust, integrity, and reputation. To my mind, the way companies can build an effective brand is by keeping in mind that relationships with customers are not short-term market exchanges (as suggested by traditional economics) but instead involve reputation-building, just like any interaction with friends. Paper with more details here: Plitt MH, Savjani RR, Eagleman DM (2014). Are corporations people too?: The neural correlates of moral judgments about corporations and individuals. Social Neuroscience. 1-13. http://www.eaglemanlab.net/paper...
Michele Müller@muller_michele · Writer
If each sensory input takes its own time for brain to make sense of the information and let's say there's a slightest delay in the processing, this timing deficit could be associated to different disabilities, right? Is it possible to train this deficit with music or some other exercise that requires timing precision? @davideagleman
Jared Janes@jaredjanes · Promoting wellbeing...
It seems many neuroscientists have similar opinions on free will being an illusion, do you have a strong stance on the topic?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@jaredjanes Free will remains a tough one. On the one hand, our current science doesn't make it clear how to get the ghost into the machine: the brain, despite its complexity, appears to simply be a physical system that follows physical rules. On the other hand, we certainly don't *feel* as though we're walking automata, so that suggests that something remains to be explained, even if it's simply the experiential illusion of free will. In any case, the conclusion I came to at the end of my last book, Incognito, is that IF we have any free will at all, it's a bit player in the system: almost all of what we do and act and feel and believe is generated by parts of our brains to which we have no awareness and no access. Strangely, despite attempts by several labs (including mine), we still don't have a killer experiment in neuroscience that definitively rules free will in or out.
Jared Janes@jaredjanes · Promoting wellbeing...
@davideagleman thanks for taking the time to answer David, I'll be bumping Incognito up on my book queue for sure :) Cheers
..@ciriapsico · Phd
@davideagleman in the framework of predictive coding theory of the brain how is possible to make predictions about the incoming sensory input and match these predictions with actual sensory imput -giving a particular prediction error- and at the same time simulate a future event not related with the context within the predictions about the world are made? -For example, driving a car succesfully and simulating visiting my grandmother at her home- What do you think about this dual process the brain can actually perform at the same time?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@ciriapsico Indeed, we spend most of our time doing 'time travel': not experiencing the current moment, but instead simulating the past (reminiscence) and future (evaluation of possibilities). This time travel is an important motif in my upcoming series (episode 4, "How do I decide?", pbs.org/thebrain). The fact that we can run a future simulation while driving speaks to the power of automatization -- i.e., practicing driving for so long that we burn it into the 'hardware' and thereby free up conscious resources ('software') for other sorts of evaluations.
..@ciriapsico · Phd
@davideagleman @ciriapsico Thanks for your answer David! :) And in the same direction: how the brain deals with these two types of predictions and recognizes which belongs to actual context and which one is just a mental simulation of a future event? Even if driving shows the power of automatization we are constantly making predictions of incoming sensory imput to avoid an accident. How do you think the brain deals with the manipulation of two internal models of the world at the same time to generate predictions and avoid a fatal mixture between them?
Jake La Londe@ja_lalonde · Neuroscience Student
Kittens and Prism Goggles: the stories you provide in 'The Brain' inspired me to question if augmented reality products such as Microsoft Hololens or any other HUD could cause adverse effects by introducing stimulus in our direct field of vision without having any somatosensory references. For example could some stimuli cause ocular migraines or fortification illusions? Corrective lenses with the wrong prescription can cause similar phenomena. I was wondering if you had any guesses.
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@ja_lalonde Very interesting question. I don't have strong reason to suspect that VR will cause adverse affects as long as they're not used by _developing_ visual systems, i.e. babies. The experiment I describe in The Brain was about kittens whose visual system development was messed up by taking away the correlation between their visual inputs and their own motor actions. But this presumably wouldn't make a difference in cats who were a bit older. *this particular story about the kittens is in the book (http://amzn.to/1iH8Ikx) but not the show.
Michele Müller@muller_michele · Writer
@davideagleman Can synesthesia make it easier for you be an outstanding mathematician or physicist, for instance?
David Eagleman@davideagleman · Neuroscientist and Author
@muller_michele Synesthetes tend to have a slightly better memory. If I tell my phone number to a friend he might forget it after a bit. But a synesthete might think "oh yeah, that phone number had a nice autumn pattern of colors" and thereby be able to come up with the sequence again.
Ryan J Buell@ryanjbuell · Narcoleptic Lucid Dreamer
@davideagleman I'm a narcoleptic who has lucid dreams every day. What do you think we would see if a TMS machine was used during one of my lucid dreams? Applications?
Peter Hanzák@thepeterh · Student
Hey David! I'm a huge fan of your work and your book Incognito is the best thing I've ever read. You've inspired me to become neuroscientist! Lately, I've been wondering about why and how do people enjoy music when it's nothing but patterns of sound. (And could there be such thing as animal music that would consist of sounds suitable for them?)