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Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Fragility of Our Reality: A Conversation with the Brain Behind PBS Miniseries on Neuroscience

Photo: Michael Schulson
"When you get down to it, neuroscience is just brains studying brains. One upshot of this reflexivity is a funny kind of loop: studying the brain tells you about being a self; being a self offers up questions about the brain. More, perhaps, than participants in any other scientific field, neuroscientists can oscillate between the hard data of the physical world and the loftier questions of self and soul." according to Michael Schulson, freelance writer and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, where he co-produces The Cubit, RD's religion and science portal.

That kind of back-and-forth has been central to the career of David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine. As an academic researcher, Eagleman has studied time perception, synesthesia, sensory input, and decision-making. But that more traditional work has included some less-than-traditional research techniques—Eagleman has dropped research subjects from a 150-foot-tall tower to study their time perception under duress—and some more wide-ranging intellectual explorations, including a popular study of the subconscious brain, a book about the internet, and an experimental novel, Sum, in which Eagleman imagines 40 possible versions of the afterlife.

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This intellectual energy is on display in The Brain With Dr. David Eagleman, which premieres on PBS this week. Over the course of six hour-long episodes, Eagleman dives into issues of mind, identity, perception, and reality. Each episode is titled with a question: “What is reality?” “Who is in control?” “How do I decide”? What emerges is less authoritative tour than nod toward the unknown. Our experiences of reality are delicate, and conditioned by a brain that remains, to a large extent, unmapped: the terra incognita in our skulls.
Over the phone, Eagleman spoke with The Cubit about traumatic brain injuries, the idea of possibilianism, and the language we use to describe our brains.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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Source: Religion Dispatches

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