The 21st Century Brain: A New Series at Big Think

We now have the power to map the brain, peering into the human mind to decode words from silent thoughts. But what will human consciousness look like, if we ever finally catch a glimpse of it? Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch kicks off the debate.

What's the Big Idea?


"My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery - always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What's this passion for?" asked Virginia Woolf. The revolution in functional imaging has brought us closer than ever to answering this question. We now have the power to map the brain, peering into the human mind to decode words from silent thoughts.

But what will human consciousness look like, if we ever finally catch a glimpse of it? What new powers and possibilities might we unlock? In this interdisciplinary series, we'll explore the grand challenge of reverse engineering the brain - and its implications on every field, from neuroscience to engineering, economics, ethics, and the arts.

Pioneering neuroscientist Joy Hirsch kicks off the discussion with an answer to the question, "What new developments are on the horizon in brain research?"


If the past thirty years are any indication, the future will inevitably involve rapid and sophisticated advancements, which Hirsch says will be more about "integration of known technologies more than new technologies. The integration of structural imaging, higher and higher resolution, of course, is extremely valuable. So as our scanners become higher field strengths, we can resolve higher granularity of the anatomical details, almost down to the cellular levels."

What's the Significance?

Better pictures of the brain mean better medical care - Hirsch's work as director of the Program for Imaging & Cognitive Sciences at Columbia University has already been used by surgeons to help navigate and understand the consequences of operating on various regions. Now that researchers have built exceptional cognitive maps, the next step is to figure out how the regions interact. The more we learn about the brain, the more we can change it, says Hirsch.

Applications abound for both therapy and improvements in functioning. According to an exhibit that Hirsch helped curate at the American Museum of Natural History, "New drugs are being developed that could someday eliminate pain, reduce the need for sleep, control appetite and obesity, improve memory, increase creativity, and prevent aging.”

How to Make It to Top of Your Field (Even If You're a Woman in Science)

Here, Hirsch gives her advice for climbing the ranks and becoming an expert in your domain. Watch:


​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less

Top vets urge dog lovers to stop buying pugs and bulldogs

Pugs and bulldogs are incredibly trendy, but experts have massive animal welfare concerns about these genetically manipulated breeds. 

'No nose, no thermoregulation, no health, no welfare.' Photo by terriermandotcom.blogspot.com
popular

Pugs, Frenchies, boxers, shih-tzus and other flat-faced dog breeds have been trending for at least the last decade, thanks to higher visibility (usually in a celebrity's handbag), an increase in city living (smaller dogs for smaller homes), and possibly even the fine acting of Frank the Pug in 1997's Men in Black. We're not ruling it out. These small, specialty pure breeds are seen as the pinnacle of cuteness – they have friendly personalities, endearing odd looks, and are perfect for Stranger Things video montages.

Keep reading Show less
Image source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.
Keep reading Show less