Peter Doolittle: How your “working memory” makes sense of the world
“Life comes at us very quickly, and what we need to do is take that amorphous flow of experience and somehow extract meaning from it.” In this funny, enlightening talk, educational psychologist Peter Doolittle details the importance — and limitations — of your “working memory,” that part of the brain that allows us to make sense of what’s happening right now.
Peter Doolittle is striving to understand the processes of human learning.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HIM?
Peter Doolittle is a professor of educational psychology in the School of Education at Virginia Tech, where he is also the executive director of the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research. He teaches classes such as Cognition and Instruction, Constructivism and Education, Multimedia Cognition and College Teaching, but his research mainly focuses on learning in multimedia environments and the role of “working memory.”
Doolittle has taught educational psychology around the world. He is the executive editor of the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and the co-executive editor of the International Journal of ePortfolio.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel: What is so special about the human brain?
The human brain is puzzling — it is curiously large given the size of our bodies, uses a tremendous amount of energy for its weight and has a bizarrely dense cerebral cortex. But: why? Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel puts on her detective’s cap and leads us through this mystery. By making “brain soup,” she arrives at a startling conclusion.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel shrunk the human brain by 14 billion neurons — by developing a new way to count them.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO HER?
How many neurons make a human brain? For years, the answer has been (give or take) 100 billion. But neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel decided to count them herself. Her research approach involved dissolving four human brains (donated to science) into a homogeneous mixture — in her lab at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Rio de Janeiro, they call it “brain soup.” She then took a sample of the mix, counted the number of cell nuclei belonging to neurons, and scaled that up. Result: the human brain has about 86 billion neurons, 14 billion fewer than assumed — but intriguingly, far more than other animals, relative to brain size.
She suggests that it was the invention of cooking by our ancestors — which makes food yield much more metabolic energy — that allowed humans to develop the largest primate brain. She’s now working on elephant and whale brains to test her hypothesis.
Rethinking the brain: Richard Faull
Richard Faull is professor and director of the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland. Raised in a small Taranaki farming community, Richard discovered his passion for the human brain as a young medical student and has spent his life pursuing exciting, innovative and groundbreaking research in this field at the University of Auckland. Richard’s work has been widely recognised internationally and through appointments as Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Officer of the NZ Order of Merit, and receiving of many awards including New Zealand’s highest scientific award, the Royal Society Rutherford Medal.
Why Does My Brain Sleep?
We spend one third of our lives asleep, yet doctors and scientists still have no complete understanding as to why. It is one of the last great scientific mysteries. This talk will describe new discoveries suggesting that, far from being a time when the brain is dormant, sleep is a highly active process critical for a constellation of different functions. These include the importance of sleep for learning, memory and brain plasticity. Furthermore, a role for sleep in intelligently synthesizing new memories together will be examined, the result of which is next-day creative insights. Finally, a new role for sleep in regulating emotional brain networks will be discussed, optimally preparing us for next day social and psychological challenges.
Matthew Walker earned his PhD in neurophysiology from the Medical Research Council in London, UK, and subsequently became an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School in 2004. He is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley. He is the recipient of funding awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In 2006 he became a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. His research examines the impact of sleep on human brain function in healthy and disease populations.
The Milky Way Brain: Betsy Burroughs
Betsy Burroughs shares one of her approaches for helping people create more insights in their lives and work. According the Betsy, “an insight is an idea with action embedded in it.” In this exercise we shift into a mode of thinking that quiets the background noise, allowing new connections to be made and new insights gained.
Betsy Burroughs is president of FocusCatalyst and a member of the World Future Society. She is author of Focus, the Catalyst for Innovation: Guided Brainstorming for Innovators. Leveraging the latest neuroscience research on the brain’s ability to create ‘ah-ha!’ moments, Betsy helps innovators uncover new insights and solutions. She has worked with multiple international firms, including Sun-Maid Raisins, Google and The Discovery Channel
Seeing with the Ears. Hands and Bionic Eyes: Amir Amedi
Prof. Dr. Amir Amedi uses music and sounds to make blind people ‘see’ their environment. He uses non-invasive sensory substitution devices and invasive bionic eye procedures to teach blind people to see. He is an award winning brain scientist that suggest new ways to look at brain organization and brain flexibility. His work with blind and normal sighTED individuals suggests that the brain is actually a flexible sensory independent task machine, rather than a pure sensory machine, the current dogma in brain research.
How to manually change a memory: Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu
Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu shoot laser beams into the brains of living mice to activate and manipulate their memories. In a funny and — perhaps — unnerving talk from TEDxBoston, they explain the fundamental principles behind their experiments and broach the big questions that future advancements in this line of research may force us to answer.
When we close our eyes and think back to our childhood, to our first kiss, or to this morning’s breakfast, our brains perform the remarkable task of mental time travel and thereby enrich our lives with memories. How does neural machinery give rise to something as seemingly ephemeral as memory? Recently, Hollywood inspired our imaginations by proposing that memories could be artificially triggered (think Total Recall), erased (think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), or even implanted (think Inception). Now, neuroscience has plucked these ideas from the tree of science fiction and grounded them in experimental reality. The catch: our subjects are the movie stars of the laboratory setting–rodents. This talk will introduce how revolutionary techniques from our lab have made it possible to isolate and manipulate specific memories at the level of single brain cells with just flickers of light, as well as the societal ramifications of doing so.
Imagination: Human mind viewed from chimpanzee mind: Tetsuro Matsuzawa
Prof. Matsuzawa is a professor at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University and president of the International Primatological Society. He entered Kyoto University as a philosophy major and enthusiastic mountain climber. After graduate school, Prof. Matsuzawa became an assistant professor at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University. In 1978, he started the “Ai-Project”, in which he taught language-like skills to chimpanzees. He continues to be active in primatology research, a field in which he is known to be a pioneer. He recently started the ʺGreen Corridor Projectʺ, which aims to protect wild chimpanzees and their habitat in Africa.
Shawn Achor – “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance”
Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard.
His research and lectures on happiness and human potential have received attention in The New York Times, Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, as well as on NPR and CNN Radio, and he travels around the United States and Europe giving talks on positive psychology to Fortune 500 corporations, schools, and non-profit organizations.
Achor graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a BA in English and Religion and earned a Masters degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics.
Now he is the CEO of Aspirant, a Cambridge-based consulting firm which researches positive outliers-people who are well above average-to understand where human potential, success and happiness intersect. Based on his research and 12 years of experience at Harvard, he clearly and humorously describes to organizations how to increase happiness and meaning, raise success rates and profitability, and create positive transformations that ripple into more successful cultures.
In Shawn’s presentation, he says that most modern research focuses on the average, but that “if we focus on the average, we will remain merely average.” He wants to study the positive outliers, and learn how not only to bring people up to the average, but to move the entire average up.