We've all been mesmerized by them—those beautiful brain scan images that make us feel like we're on the cutting edge of scientifically decoding how we think. But as soon as one neuroscience study purports to show which brain region lights up when we are enjoying Coca-Cola, or looking at cute puppies, or thinking we have souls, some other expert claims "it's just a correlation," and you wonder whether researchers will ever get it right.
But there's another approach to understanding how our minds work. In his new book The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, Sam Kean tells the story of a handful of patients whose unique brains—rendered that way by surgical procedures and unfortunate, freak accidents—taught us much more than any set of colorful scans. Kean recounts some of their unforgettable stories on this week’s episode.
"As I was reading these [case studies] I said, 'That's baloney! There's no way that can possibly be true,'" Kean remembers, referring to one particularly surprising case in which a woman's brain injury left her unable to recognize and distinguish between different kinds of animals. "But then I looked into it, and I realized that, not only is it true, it actually reveals some important things about how the brain works."
This episode also features an exclusive brief interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson about the meaning of the just-completed Cosmos series; a discussion of whether the famed and controversial hormone oxytocin might be capable of extending the span of human life; and a breakdown of the physics of how soccer balls travel through the air (just in time for the World Cup).