What Makes Us Who We Are: Neuroscience and the Self

The idea of the mind is a relatively modern concept. In medieval times, it was believed that people were divided in two parts, the physical body and the spiritual soul. With the emergence of the scientific revolution and thinkers such as John Locke, the mind and secular life became an important topic in discussions about self-awareness. Since then, we have been trying to understand not only what it means to possess a mind, but also the neuroscience behind it.

That was part of the message at “My Neurons, My Self,” a panel discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City. Three eminent neuroscientists and a philosopher provided insight into the “mind-brain” problem, focusing on what defines the self. “What we don’t have yet is a way of bridging mental experience with the brain in a coherent model that allows for mental intention; we still are a ways off from solving the mind-brain problem,” said George Makari, M.D., director of the Institute of the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, in introducing the panel.

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Spirituality vs. Science at the Rubin

Zachary Quinto, an actor best known for roles in theater, film, and TV shows such as 24, Heroes, and American Horror Story, spoke about his lifelong spiritual journey at the “The Brain on Spirituality,” a Brainwave 2016 program at the Rubin Museum in Manhattan.

quinto rubin

Photo credit: Filip Wolak

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Neuroethics Seminar Series: Seeing Consciousness

shutterstock_221470261How is new technology helping us gain a better understanding of consciousness in patients with severe brain damage? If a patient is unable to communicate or even blink, does that mean he or she is completely unaware? At what point should the intentions stated in a living will be determined by the patient’s family or surrogate?

These questions were among the issues discussed at Harvard Medical School’s most recent neuroethics seminar, titled “Seeing Consciousness: The Promise and Perils of Brain Imaging in Disorders of Consciousness.” The school’s  Center for Bioethics invited Joseph Giacino, Ph.D., director of Rehabilitation Neuropsychology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; Joseph Fins, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College; and James Bernat, M.D., Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience at The Dartmouth Institute to share the stage and give a brief talk for its Neuroethics Seminar Series.

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The Science Behind Fear and Anxiety

In a packed theater at the Rubin Museum last Wednesday, Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., and Mark Epstein, M.D., shared the stage to untangle the mysteries behind two emotions that we are all too familiar with: anxiety and fear. Epstein is a psychiatrist in New York City, who blends Buddhist practices with his work in psychotherapy. Ledoux directs the Emotional Brain Institute of New York University, where he is also University Professor.

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy Rubin Museum of Art

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

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A Wake-up Call on Sleep Disorders

Too many of us live by the catchphrase, “sleep when you’re dead.” When it feels like there is more to do than the day allows, we surrender our sleep hours and then make up for it by consuming an excessive amount of caffeine the next day. After a few days, we’re so exhausted that we can hardly hold our heads up.

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