StarTalk Live: Big Brains at BAM (Part 2)

Backstage at BAM: (from left:) Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mayim Bialik, Paul Rudd, Dr. Heather Berlin, Bill Nye, Eugene Mirman, Michael Ian Black. Credit: Elliot Severn.

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About This Episode

Welcome back for Part 2 of our 3-Part tour of the human brain, guided by neuroscientists Mayim Bialik and Dr. Heather Berlin. Join host Neil deGrasse Tyson, co-host Eugene Mirman, guests Bill Nye, Michael Ian Black and Paul Rudd and the audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as we learn about NASA’s studies on neuroplasticity in space and how adaptable the brain is. Find out why sleep is necessary and how it impacts memory and Alzheimer’s Disease. Learn about the difference between how the brain stores procedural memory and declarative memory. Get an update from the cutting edge of neuroscience, where mapping the underlying structure of the brain is just the beginning of understanding how to fix it when it’s broken or malformed. You’ll learn about the new technique called optogenetics, which injects a virus carrying photo-receptive genes from algae into the brain to monitor and control individual neurons, and about neuroprosthetics which could help blind people to see.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: StarTalk Live: Big Brains at BAM (Part 2).

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  • Ben Beckwith

    Can someone ask Dr. Bialik about her anti-science stance on vaccines?

  • Well… if you want to know about what makes us mad, read Suspicious Minds by Ian Gold and Joel Gold… the book is full of wonderful new theories:)

  • Evan Bach

    BRILLIANT!!!

  • Bryan Nayrb

    I really love the live ones. Great panel. I guess i missed Eugene a little, though I tend to find Chuck more suitable. I absolutely love when Bill and Neil are together. Mayim was great. I can’t wait for next weeks. Being out here in Missouri I can only hope I ever could make it out to one of these. It would be a blast in person to see. Keep the episodes coming!

  • Kyle

    StarTalk should just be Neil Tyson, Bill Nye and Chuck Nice taking questions from viewers. Not that this wasn’t great, but for the regular show.

    • Mitch

      you mispelt Eugene Mirman.

    • Luis

      I completely agree with you. There were several times in the show when the scientist were explaining something interesing and the comedians interrupted with something silly, breaking the train of thought.

  • Kyle

    StarTalk should just be Neil Tyson, Bill Nye and Chuck Nice taking questions from viewers. Not that this wasn’t great, but for the regular show.

  • Steve Gresham

    Cats in general sleep 20 hours a day,.or about. During sleep at night, people have different stages of sleep, (R.E.M. being only one stage…) I sleep only four hours a night (12-4 am), is it maybe because I am experiencing longer periods of R.E.M. sleep? On a side note, I have been diagnosed while in college with Asperger syndrome.

  • Will

    I like how Bill Nye put it about “what makes you think a computer can’t learn what you learned?” At my university, they’re studying ways to translate video images into actual code and designing machines that are able to actually “see” the environment and interact with it. It would make sense that a machine could be coded to pick up the nuances of a human conversation and literally provide the proper translations.

    As for whether or not consciousness is necessary for language translation, it was stated earlier in the segment that memory does not necessitate consciousness. So if a machine were to be properly loaded with every translation of every language with definitions of human behavior and other requirements, I don’t think that it would mean that the machine would require or have consciousness to do so.

    • grayrain

      I think there is difference between being a bank of information versus being aware of having that information. Consciousness, IMO, is more about awareness and having the capacity to question oneself. A computer asking itself “Why is all this information inside of me?” without having that ‘thought’ programmed into it, so to speak. It has to have a plasticity in order to evolve, basically. Admittedly that does beg the question of whether simpler lifeforms are conscious, rather than just bundles of instincts/programming.

  • Tran Nguyen

    How I can get the transcript of the Big Brains at BAM?

  • Daniel

    Is it wrong that I found the comedians to be more of a distraction than entertainment? I feel like this could have been much more of a learning experience, than purely for enjoyment. Maybe I’m being too much of a nerd, or maybe it’s because obviously, I wasn’t there live. I just felt like a little too much time on nonsense. No offense to anyone of course. Just my two cents.

    • Xain

      Personally I enjoy the blend of comedy and high academia scientific discussion. For the reason that Comedians are often great at seeing questions/paths for greater discussion. Several times during the talk, the comedians did provide great questions that Nye/NDT wouldn’t have thought to ask.

      I’d say it comes down to more of a preference thing…I also watch purely scientific discussions/panels, but I enjoyed the levity this talk offered too.

    • Afon

      I think is meant to reach a more “general” audience, let people that know very little about science maybe join conversation, or feel they can be a part of it, thus making these people maybe look more into science than they would otherwise would.

      • James Watson

        hi nice comment I think your right x

    • orange

      I feel they generally add to things, especially since they do ask questions/make points that either the rest of the panel doesn’t think of, or might just might be a bit too nice to point out (like some sort of inconsistency). But there are times when I do wish the scientist talked longer without interruption as well.

  • Sup3rScript3d

    Quietly roaring with laughter in my cubicle at work. Hoping to see Startalk live at Bumpershoot!

  • Tyson

    I like the comedy it keeps the show moving

  • This works for the same reason that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver work. It intersperses information with humor. You have to remember not everyone needs only five hours of sleep. Let’s talk about eugenics baby, let’s talk about you and me…

  • I love how the idea of consciousness found the limelight among these great minds. There is so much to muse on consciousness and the science of our senses. For now, I think, asking what is consciousness should be equivalent to asking does the Universe have a purpose.

  • Daniel Burnett

    As a software engineer with a large interest in neurobiology, here’s how I see it: yes, consciousness and mental processing are both highly complicated entities (with the number of connections in the human brain and peripheral nervous system, along with the massive amount of information that we take in all the time, that’s not surprising). However, there is NO REASON to think that synthetic computers won’t one day be able to replicate everything that a human brain can do.

    I think a major consideration on this quest is patience. When we make a new computer system, we expect that it’ll do its job as close to optimally as it can within a relatively short time scale. But think about humans: how long did it take YOU, from birth to now, to learn everything you have? They say a person needs to seriously study something for about 5 to 7 years before becoming an expert, yet we think that if a computer can’t do it in 2, it’s a failure.

    Here’s something to think about: NLP expert systems like Watson are getting better and better at understanding communication in a human way. They’re getting better and better at finding patterns that humans overlook. Machine learning has been around for decades and it continues to improve. The biggest piece of machine learning that we’ve always thought was uniquely human, that a computer could never replicate, was feature space design–yet there have recently been a small handful of algorithms coming out of research institutions of computer vision systems that evolve their OWN feature spaces to identify objects in an image or video. In other words, we now have computers that not only learn, but they learn WHAT THEY NEED TO STUDY to learn things.

    It’s true that general-intelligence AI is still not here, and it’s still the holy grail of AI research. But I see literally no reason to think that one day, maybe even in the next 50 or 60 years, it will happen. As for whether that system will be conscious… as Dr. Berlin said, we can’t even understand the consciousness of another human, let alone a computer. Computers already taken in sensory input, process it, and learn from it; if we one day have a computer that tells us it has subjective experience, when we haven’t explicitly told it to say that, in my opinion we should consider it conscious.

  • startalkradio

    We do not provide transcripts of our shows.

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  • gabi532

    I agree w/Daniel but i think the Comedy helps prevent monotony. I am not a scientist by profession, but I have NO problem understanding what they are talking of. 🙂

  • Mihkael Espino

    Seeing the discussion was Human + Computer, I’m kinda in doubt why Neil isn’t familiar with Ghost in the Shell. Its one of the classics that even inspired the Matrix. GiTS IMHO had a better handling on the whole Cyber Fusion/CyberPunk concept, than the Matrix. The Matrix felt like more of a clever Deconstruction of Action Movies meets Cyberpunk with a Terminator esque story. I still liked it though.

    Which brings the idea why would we even need to make Sentient beings when we could just upgrade ourselves. Seeing that making a sentient being who has to learn the things we learned in Thousands of Years especially Social and Political issues has a higher margin for error. AKA terminator-esque events.

    Of course new issues will arise. GiTS certainly presented that, but as with any new thing new sanctions has to be made. Kinda like how the Internet came to be.

  • intergalacticacid

    It was such a pleasure to listen to such intelligent,strong, funny women in this series. I have so much love and respect for my fellow female scientists. I love this topic and could listen to so much more. Thank you!!

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