Dabbling in Neuroscience…

Friends have been listening to audiobooks for years; if a bookclub date should roll around faster than anticipated, someone would plug in an audio version whilst driving a child to hockey/gymnastics/voice lessons/orthodontist appointments and turn the highway 99 drive into her own personal writer’s festival.

For some reason, I never tried this but I always thought it a good idea and those who listened often commented on the added nuance the reading had on their interpretation of the book. Now, however, I’ve discovered podcasts and my life has become much richer.

I started last year, with Vinyl Cafe Stories, laughing and crying and pondering life while ambling around One Mile Lake watching the dog sniff out his own stories. Next, I migrated to Quirks and Quarks, then TedTalks, and most recently, The Brain Science Podcasts with Dr. Ginger Campbell.

There are close to one hundred and fifty of these audio discussions and some are easier than others but each one has provided me with much to think about.

Dr. Campbell “…believes that understanding how the brain works gives us insight into what makes us human.”

Throughout each episode, she asks down to earth questions and tries to restate complicated material in simpler language. That said, she is speaking with neuroscientists, many of whom are philosophers, psychologists, physicists or biologists as well.

Sometimes I have to pull over to give myself time to digest what I’ve heard; I feel like my brain is being taxed enough that I could make some driving errors.

Recently, I listened to an episode entitled, “Embodied Cognition” which discusses the concept that many of the actions generally assumed to be directed by the brain are actually conducted by the body. This was a particularly challenging podcast and I felt functionally illiterate several times as the scientific terminology floated just beyond my understanding.

It was also interesting, however, to awaken my thinking skills. After each concept, I began to ask, “why is this important to me? How will this knowledge be useful?” Sometimes, there were no answers.

And then, as often is the case when I’m in need of answers, I went for a run with the idea that maybe an apt metaphor would come to me or that, at the very least, I would enjoy my journey into the woods. Just as I descended towards Nairn Falls, a single pinkish leaf caught my eye and I stopped to ponder: Why had I never noticed before that one leaf turns colour first? Do other types of trees also transform in this manner? What purpose does it serve for a leaf to change its hue?

Neuroscience by Connie Sobchak

It wasn’t till I got back home that I realized that the very act of noticing the leaf, and my description of it “catching my eye” was an example of embodied cognition-my eyes tracked down an answer for me and also gave me something else to think about.

There are still over one hundred brain podcasts for me to listen to; no doubt, several will refute the concept I’m currently trying to understand. In the meantime, I’ll turn to my run for further digestion of ideas.