Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Big Brains at BAM | StarTalk Live! with Neil deGrasse Tyson | Full Episode

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- Welcome to StarTalk here at Bam.


Yes, it is now my incredibly great pleasure to bring on,

your host, a wonderful man,

a hero to science.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Neil Degrasse Tyson.


As promised.


There's Neil.

I will now bring on our two comedic guests tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen Michael Ian Black.


- Hello.

Thank you Gene.

- Hello Michael.

And the always delightful,

Paul Rudd.



Welcome Paul.

- Just to remind you--

- So handsome.


- Remind you of what StarTalk is,

it is a,

(laughing) - Paul Rudd fuck fest.

- Whoo! (laughing)

- [Eugene] Set that wrong.

- We like to have fun with science.

And we always have comedic co-hosts and we go live.

We have more than one.

And now for our,

science, this is the science side of the house right here.


- Sorry.

- First let me introduce,

this is her second time,

as a guest on StarTalk Live.

She's a professor of cognitive neuroscience

at Columbia Presbyterian.

Heather Berlin, come on Heather.



I stumbled, not 'cause I didn't remember her name,

but in fact it's Mount Cyanide Medical Center,

not Columbia so,

my apologies there.

It's your second time, thank you.

This is a neuroscience show.

We have one more guest.

And she's,

I'm a big fan of hers in many ways.

You've seen her on television, know of her.

Please welcome,

warm Brooklyn welcome,

to Mayim Bialik from The Big Band Theory.

(cheering) (clapping)

- This is a hell of a lineup.


I'm just saying what they're thinking.

- Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So we're gonna talk about the brain,

the whole next 90 minutes,

three segments,

we're gonna talk about the brain.

And you're here because Mayim,

you have a PhD in Neuroscience.

You don't only portray one who does on T.V.

You actually have one, right.

- Yes I'm a doctor and I play one on T.V.

(laughing) - You do both.

You do both.

And so, you also have a new book that just came out,

on being a vegan.

- Correct.


- We have 12 vegans in the audience.

- Hey we're in Brooklyn.

There's plenty.


- And I try to say,

how do like,

how weed veganism into StarTalk.



- By just discussing it.


- So and I noticed,

that the United States actually has plans,

unfunded though they are plans to,

go to Mars by 2030.

And if you're on Mars,

there are not gonna be bringing cows with them.

- You just found the perfect way,

to incorporate it into this evening.


- And so in fact, they're developing vegan recipes,

to go to Mars.

Because the first colonists there,

they want to be able to eat sort of efficiently,

as it were.

- Not damage the environment of Mars.


- But don't we need to damage the environment of Mars,

to make Mars habitable.


Isn't that the entire point.

- Mars is just one cow away

from being a place people could live.


- Wait, wait and so it's an interesting,

what does damage mean?

If you change what it is,

that's damaging it technically.

If you turn Mars into Earth,

you totally messed with it right?

So I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

- But was Mars actually like Earth at one point?

- We don't know,

but we have evidence that it had running water.

- Right.

- So something bad happened on Mars long ago.

And so,

- George Bush.


It's just a theory.


- So are you a candidate for NASA to,

retain as an advisor in this capacity?

- No. (laughing)

- Why, you just wrote a book on veganism.

- No I wrote a book on the vegan things,

that I feed non vegans that they enjoyed.

It has nothing to do with Mars,

or space.

I should be on that side of the room,

to talk about it.

Not this side.

- Okay so it's tasty vegan food,

for the skeptic I guess.

- Sure, I mean,

I write for a website called Kveller.

And I would often write about,

recipes that I had made vegan,

just kind of in passing.

And people wanted me to publish them.

I'm not like a fancy celebrity chef.

I never look like this.

I usually am in sweats and an apron,

in my kitchen.

So I wasn't looking to be a celebrity chef and say like,

this is how you should eat.

It will make your family perfect.

But what I know is what,

I've sort of cooked my whole life,

and things that I've made vegan that taste good.

This still has nothing to do with science.

But I'll be done talking soon.


- Well it does have to do with it,

because being a vegan means you're eating,

efficiently given the ecosystem.

That matters.

- Right.

So one of the reasons that some people,

do choose to eat vegan,

is out of sort of deference to the planet,

and environmental concerns.

It shouldn't cost more to store food,

than it does to actually give it to people.

And sometimes that happens.

- Yeah and so I'm just saying,

if you make food that non vegan people are happy with,

that makes you a really valuable person.

- Why thank you.


Am I the most valuable person?

- I don't know.

I just wanted to call that to your attention.

Because NASA has an advanced technology,

advanced food technology project.

- Should I be holding this like you are?

- Oh no you don't have to.

- Everyone's holding one but me.

Okay I'll hold it.

- Speaking of someone with a perfect family,

I have a question about veganism.


Is apple wood bacon, is that vegan?


- It's got the word apple in it.

It must be healthy.

- Okay good.

- I was just thinking of your book,

Pesto Pasta for Martians.

- Yes.


- That was what you were working on right.


I really think that you should jump in on this conversation.


- So if you go to Mars,

it takes six to nine months to get there,

and then you have to wait for,

the planets to realign.

- By then you can digest the meat you ate last night.






- I just want to point out,

that most people are more omnivores,

and don't just.

Like nobody just, anyway go on.


- So no, you're there.

It takes that long to get there,

and then you're there for the planets to align again.

That's another year and half, two years or so.

So it's a three, four year,

round trip to do this.

So, I mean people are thinking serious and hard about this.

And until Mars becomes terraformed,

you're gonna have to sort of make do with plants,

and what Paul?

- I, okay.

I read this article--

- Nothing good ever begins that way.

(laughing) - I swear to God.


- Except I read this,

article on the internet. - There's a very,

sketchy magazine.

I'll throw it out there.

- Which magazine?

- Life. - We.

- Oh We.


We which is French for life.


and it was all about,

and this was, God I want to say,

it was about 20 years ago,

about the terra formation of Mars.

And they talked about,

churning oxygen out of the rocks,

creating some kind of,

- Atmosphere.

- Like an at, well.

(laughing) Containment atmosphere.

- Atmosphere.


- Let's call it an air shield.

- An air shield.

That's what I'm thinking.

Like an ozone, yeah yeah.

That they would descend above the planet,

would trap in the air,

and we would have these kind of habit trails,

green house,

where we would grow food.

They would populate Mars with about,

50 or so people.

And over time,

it would turn into judgment city,

where it's 73 degrees and sunny all the time.

- And then you could have your cows that you were missing.

- Yes so you would eventually,

you would have cows.

- Cause a cow is a machine to convert--

- You'd have to have like 10 for every person though,

cause that makes sense.


- No a cow is a machine to turn,

leaves into steak right.


- In theory, maybe.

I don't know.

- That's what that is.

What else is a cow?

- It's what it was made for, apparently.


- I guess really the only point.

I just wanted everyone to know,

that I read Life magazine.


- Yeah 'cause you certainly didn't have a question,

at the end of that.

- No, no.

There was no,

in fact I was kind of,

I was talking about it,

not really knowing where I was gonna go with it.

- You used a lot of big words though.

- Terra formation guys.

I don't know just check it out.

- And atmosphere.

- Google it. - Descend.

- So good luck with the book.

- Thank you. - and a book tour now.

- Thank you yes.

- We're grateful to the book tour,

that you were even available to us here in New York.

- No it's true,

I'm actually, I'm going on Howard Stern tomorrow,

but I did the Today Show and Rachel Ray,

and all sorts of places that people talk about cooking.

- Excellent.

So good, good.

- Thank you.

- So now another thing we may know you for,

is as Amy Farrah Fowler,

on the Big Bang Theory.


Now I actually had a cameo on Big Bang Theory,

I think it was before you,

may have been before you became a regular character.

- Yeah I was brought on the season finale of season three.

And then I was made a regular,

along with Melissa Rauch,

who plays Bernadette,

about midway through season four.

- Okay great to have you as a regular there.

- Thank you.

Thank you.

- I'm a fan of the show.

And it's a show,

if you're not familiar with the Big Bang Theory,

it's the number one sitcom on television.

But, otherwise, if you're not a T.V. watching community,

it's a caricature of sort,

geeks in their lives.

And they're professors at I guess that's Cal Tech.

- It's a group of physicists and one engineer,

with only a Masters,

which he's always teased about yes.

- Yeah and so,

it's a lot of caricature going on there.

And it's been criticized for being,

for it's stereotypes and I'm thinking,

it's a T.V. show.

Just let it do what it has to do.

You play a I don't want to,

a sexually frustrated.


- Like every woman in science.


- Not every woman.



- You preach sister.

- Just to clarify. - Touche.


- You talk girl.

- Touche.


- So it's just,

what's interesting to me is,

they each have some kind of psychological issues.

I think you're love interest,

who is Sheldon.

I think he comes closest to what anyone might describe,

as having Asperger or some other kind of,

non social behavior.

- Right so he,

so all of our characters are,

in theory, on the neuropsychiatric spectrum, I would say.

Sheldon often gets talked about,

in terms of Asperger or OCD.

He has a thing with germs.

He has a thing with numbers.

He's got a lot of sort of that precision that we see,

in OCD.

And there's a lot of interesting features,

to all of our characters,

that make them technically unconventional socially.

And I think what's interesting and kind of sweet,

and I think should not be lost on people,

is that we don't pathologize our characters.

We don't talk about medicating them,

or even really changing them.

And I think that's what's interesting for,

those of us who are unconventional people or,

who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum,

we often find ways to work around that.

It doesn't always need to be solved,

and medicated and labeled.

And what we're trying to show with our show is that,

this is a group of people who,

likely were teased, mocked, told that they will never be,

appreciated or loved.

And we have a group of people who have,

careers, successful careers,

active social lives that involve,

things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games.

But they also have relationships.

And that's a fulfilling and satisfying life.

And I think that's what we really try and show on our show.

- I never thought to,

yes yes.

(cheering) (clapping)

Heather, there does seem to be this trend in society,

that if someone is some,

finds themselves on some extreme,

of some behavior spectrum,

that you have to put em back in the middle,

like everybody else.

And is that a good, that can't be a good thing, right?

- Can I tell you what,

we in the Church of Scientology believe about this?


- Well,

I think there's a movement in psychiatry now.

So while I think labeling is important,

in certain respects because it can help clinicians,

talk about people in a certain way,

it can help with treatment.

But there are other negative aspects to it.

People can get,

labeled with something,

and it sticks with them for life.

And the whole--

- Like psychopath.


Not easy to get around.


- It's hard to shake that label, yeah.

- You try and you try.


- Difficult to treat psychopaths,

'cause they don't present.

I mean the whole.


- 'Cause they don't go,

like psychopath.


- Like, I'm a psychopath.

No so, people normally come for treatment,

when they're feeling distressed.

And there are a lot of people,

who are labeled with a disorder,

who can get on perfectly fine,

who don't necessarily need treatment.

And even now--

- That is not a disorder.

It's just an order.

- Yeah it just has to do with the amount of distress,

it's causing to the person.

And now I think,

the new DSM, which is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual,

that we use to diagnose,

different psychiatric disorders,

has now actually taken away,

the label Asperger.

And now, things like autism or pervasive,

development disorder,

or Asperger,

are all put under this name of,

autism spectrum disorders.

- Well and also Thomas Insula is trying to do away,

with the structure of the DSM,

four or five as we know it,

to say more that we are all along the lines of,

many spectrums, right.

- So yeah, so the way that,

so Tom Insula is the head of the NIH,

the National Institute of Health.

And the way psychiatric diagnosis is going,

and the way that I apply for grants,

let's say to do research,

is that instead of saying,

I'm gonna study a disorder,

because a lot of people with different,

psychiatric problems,

can be labeled as one disorder,

we're now gonna look at these different dimensions and say,

okay is this person having problems,

like emotional instability,

or impulsivity.

And try to find the neural basis of those particular traits,

and treat that rather than the disorder.

- And never think of it as a disorder.

This is good.

So, the Big Bang Theory is leading the way in this.

- We are at the forefront.

- Oh yes.


- It's an interesting discussion.

I know I sometimes suffer from depression.

And when I get stressed out,

I just burn down a building now,

instead of taking my pills.


That works great for me.

- Did you learn that from the Big Bang Theory?


- No.


I learned it from burning down buildings.


- So Mayim, do they have neuroscience advisor on the show?

I met the physics advisor there.

- Dr. Saltzberg, yeah, David Saltzberg from,

UCLA, a very fine university.

- Right.

Where you got your PhD.

- And my undergrad degree as well.

Yeah we have a physics consultant who,

he also has a vast knowledge of general science,

as those of us who are trained in science tend to.

We have a smattering of this and that.

- So use him for even the neuro stuff.

- Sometimes I am used.

- Oh yeah.


- I mean we have a really exceptionally intelligent,

interesting group of writers.

Many of whom have science backgrounds.

But yes, sometimes I get strange emails like,

what part of the brain needs to be not working,

for us to have this happen.

Or, what should Amy be doing in her lab?

Or we had a couple scenes in the episode we just filmed,

where I needed to have three different activities,

that I'm doing in my lab.

And Amy's lab is not a perfect neuroscience lab,

or neurobiology lab.

So I tried to at least make things look,

authentic for what we're doing.

It's not always perfect.

I get a lot of interesting comments.

Why would she be doing research,

in social affect in capuchins,

if she's also counting spores.

- I had that question.


(talking at once)

I watched that episode and I was like,

that's bullshit.


Social affect in capuchin monkeys.

Give me a break.

- You don't need me to confer on this but,

the white boards that had equations,

on the episode that I appear in,

- Racist.


- They used to be black boards.

What happened?


So it had equations drawn from,

my research.

And then the guy asked me, he said,

"Did you recognize something on the set?"


- It's a nerd fest over there.

It's a nerd fest.

- And it turns out,

he got equations from another Tyson,

doing research in astrophysics,

not from me.


So, but that's okay. - Was it the male model,

Tyson gay?


'Cause he's wonderful.

A reference nobody got.


- So is there a,

in your own life experience,

or in the show,

tell me about women in science.

How is that treated and thought about?

- Gosh I mean lots of different ways in my personal brain.

But in terms of sort of,

presenting or representing a female scientist,

there were no other neuroscientists,

at my audition,

you know when I auditioned to play Amy Farrah Fowler.

It was a group of very talented actresses.

But you know as actors,

we are paid to play,

whatever's on the page.

We don't have to really be that in real life.

So that was really just sort of an accident.

I feel very lucky that I had that.

- I was so disappointed when I learned,

Raj was not an actual astrophysicist.

- Yeah no.

- He was an actor.

- Yeah we're all actors.

No but I think when people,

especially criticize or say,

it's such a stereotype.

I know people like all those characters.

I promise, I hang out with them sometimes.

No I know women like Amy Farrah Fowler.

I was asked to do,

a female Jim Parson's impression,

was literally the audition.

I had never seen Big Bang Theory.

And I was told,

they are looking for a female Jim Parsons.

I said that's great,

whose Jim Parsons.

And I Google Jim the night before,

and I saw about 10 seconds of him doing his Sheldon bit.

And I thought, I can do that.

I know tons of people like that.

So yeah, so I didn't have to present,

as a scientist per say that way.

But Amy is based on,

a few female professors in particular.

And a few male professors as well.

- Out of your own life,

that you've assembled.

- Yeah I mean I spent 12 years in academia.

I've met a lot of interesting people,

in neuroscience.

So yeah she's based on a lot of,

real qualities and real things that exist.

And there's all sorts of men and women in science.

And there were professors in my department,

who looked like models, both male and female.

And there were those that looked,

like the characters on Big Bang.

The fact that we present Amy as sort of,

frumpy, they dress me a couple sizes too big,

and very kind of low on the aesthetic level,

that's not a statement that women scientists,

can't be attractive.

That's a very specific thing that,

our writers wanted to craft,

for the Sheldon, Amy relationship.

But the Bernadette character is a microbiologist.

And she gets to wear false lashes,

and she wears,

fancier clothes than I do.

But I love that I get to,

go to work and put on slouchy clothes.

I don't have to wear Spanx.

I don't have to spend long on hair and makeup.

It's very comfortable,

to be that kind of person and scientist.

- I wonder is there any,

correlation between extreme science talent,

and absence of social graces.

Heather is there any research.

The reason why I ask it,

'cause that's the stereotype.

It's been with us forever.

And it's exploited on the Big Bang Theory.

- Name one stereotype that's not true.


Fine name two.

- Well I mean,

so people in academia,

there is a stereotype.

And the reason for the stereotype,

is there are a lot of people,

particularly in the sciences and engineering,

that think very,

you have to think very methodically.

And the types of personalities,

the types of dedication it takes,

to be an academic is,

in essentially you have to be a bit asocial.

So I think it attracts people,

who tend to be a bit asocial,

think very rigidly.

You need to be a bit obsessive compulsive,

about whatever it is,

that you're studying.

- But is it that it attracts asocial people,

or that the field does not reject asocial people,

the way so many other fields would.

- Well it could be a little--

- Yes, Neil that's what it is.


- Well, there's one false correl ...

One thing that people think is that,

that necessitates that high intelligence,

necessitates these personality characteristics.

And that's not particularly true.

There's not a higher,

high corelation between high intelligence,

and say Asperger.

So I think it's more that it attracts people to the field,

rather than it's correlated per say with high intelligence.

- So, okay.

And of course in the Big Bang Theory,

everyone there is like wicked smart right.


That's everybody.


- Well it's a bunch of professors at Cal Tech.

I don't know. - There you go.

- Those are smart people.

- I just skipped over a note here.

I want to go back to it.

After you got your PhD,

you were a school teacher.

I taught,

I designed a curriculum for neuroscience.

I taught in the homeschool community in Los Angeles,

for junior high and high school.

I did basic neuroscience.

I designed a course on,

technological advances in neuroscience.

I also taught high school biology,

in the home school community.

- It's so crazy to me,

'cause our resumes are almost identical.


- Yeah I had my--

- Wait.

My question.

What does it mean to homeschool,

as a teacher that isn't,

you know what I'm saying.

- That you don't live there.

- How do you homeschool--

- Is there a, yeah exactly.

Is there a community of homeschool people,

that all meet up to have their own secret school.

- Yes.

Well so often,

often for higher level classes,

like junior high and high school science,

a tutor or a teacher is hired,

and you meet usually in a home.

Sometimes people meet in parks or community centers.

- It's a pack of kids there who are all homeschooled.

- Yeah I mean I taught 10 high school students,

who were getting ready to start taking community college.

And yeah I was the person on the Big Bang Theory,

was their biology teacher.

It was kind of freaky for them.


- Okay and you're also involved,

in a STEM initiative I've been reading.

- Yeah I'm the spokesperson for--

- Science, technology, engineering, and math.

- Magic. - I'm the spokesperson,

for Texas Instruments which is the--

- Really?

- Yeah I've been their spokesperson.

This is my third year.

So I've had a TI81,

depends on how old you are,

what TI version you had.


Yay there's people my age.

- That's the Terminator that comes back to kill,

Arnold Schwarzenegger right?


He's the scariest one of all.

- That's the TI82.


- What it the TI81,

say we're not,

whatever the age you are. - It's the handheld,

graphing calculators.

So I got mine I think when I was 14.

And that same graphing calculator took me,

all the way through junior high, high school,

into college and grad school.

But there's a new one called the TI Inspire,

that now is in color,

and you can download images.

And you can create parables from basketballs,

images of basketballs being shot.

It's exciting.

And so there's also a bunch of physics.


There's a bunch of physics and chemistry stuff.

- I had no parable machine.


But I had a notebook that was great,

covered in bands I liked.


- Can you type in those letters,

and then when you hold it upside it says hello?

- Yes!

You can still do that.

- You know it's good then.

You know it's a good one.


- Yes.

- In my day,

there was the TI people,

and then the HP people,

who had reverse polish notation.

- Uh huh.

- And those were the cool kids.

There's still that debate going on,

when I go to conferences, yeah.

- I'm just saying.

- In my community, it's between Twizzlers and Red Vines.


- You can spell boob in both.


- This is what they do with the calculators we got.

- I know.


So Mayim,

there's also,

everyone has odd relationships with their parents.

Yet your, I mean in the show.

- Oh.


- I was like wow.


- Your character,

we don't know your,

will your family come into it?

- There was one episode,

with, the reason I'm laughing,

it'll be funny in a second.

There was an episode where Amy wants to convince her mother,

that she's dating someone.

This is before she and Sheldon were dating.

So she asks him to pretend like he's her boyfriend,

and they Skype with her mom.

So there was a mom scene.

And he says to her,

'cause he's trying to convince Amy's mom,

that they're dating.

I just made love to your daughter's vagina.


and that was the end of the Skype call.



Is that okay to say?


- It's okay to say.

- I didn't write it.

- [Eugene] I don't get it.


I'll tell you later.

- If you can say it on CBS.


- Well on the subject of sex,

in the Big Bang Theory,

there's a lot of,

sexual tension everywhere.


- In restaurants, in butts.


- You have some,

so Mayim,

- Yes I'm listening.

- You have this sort of,

dual attraction to Sheldon and to Penny.

- Amy is bi-curious.

- Bi-curious.

There's a word for that, okay.

- We're in Brooklyn.

Of course there is.


- It's bi-curious.

And it's charming to watch that.

- Yeah there was a lot,

in season four,

there was a lot of the,

understanding that for some people,

and Amy was one of them,

who arrive late to social interactions like that,

and especially sort of sexual feelings,

and feelings of intimacy,

there's an appreciation of all kinds of beauty.

And obviously Sheldon is very attractive to Amy,

for a lot of reasons but,

Penny is as well.

- And there's also Raj,

I think there's a,

he's bi- interested, what was the word?

- Bi-curious.

- Bi-curious yeah.

- Are you learning about bi-curious right now?

- [Neil] Yeah, yeah.

- That makes me very happy.


- Yes Raj and Howard,

have a very special relationship.

- Somebody doesn't go on Craigslist.


- Well to take us out of this first segment.


There's an episode,

the Gothowitz Deviation I think it was called,

where there's a discussion,

about modifying people's behavior.

And Sheldon modifies Penny's behavior,

by offering her chocolate.

And she changes her behavior like instantly essentially,

for this.

And that brings up the question,

do you modify behavior by training people,

to learn how to behave?

Or do you just reward good behavior,

and punish bad behavior?

- Depends the behavior.

I'll let you take it.

- Where are we on that?

B.F. Skinner was famous for--

- Well B.F. Skinner's idea was,

he took it to very far extreme, behaviorists.

They all thought that we're all--

- And he did this with his kids.

- He might have yeah.

- And you have a new born I understand.

- I do she's three months old.

- There months old. - And I'm experimenting,

with her as we speak.

- Isn't it fun to be a scientist with kids?

- Oh it's amazing.

I like put her in front of the mirror,

do you recognize yourself yet?


She's gonna be messed up.


- Are these the children who write books,

about their parents,

when they get older. - Exactly.

My mom was the neuroscientist.

She messed me up.

- Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- No, so his idea was that we're born,

sort of tabula rasa,

blank slate.

And you can make anybody into anything,

just by training,

by giving them rewards and punishers,

and modifying their behavior accordingly.

Well we know now is that,

we're born with certain genetic predispositions,

to behave in certain ways,

and then within that sort of,

within that range of,

you can modify behavior within a range that you're given,


So for even something like intelligence for example,

you can be born with a genetic predisposition,

to be within a certain IQ range.

Then your environment can push you sort of towards,

the top end of the range,

or maybe towards the low end of that range.

But you'll never exceed.

So it's almost,

as everyone says,

it's a combination of both.

But there's definitely a lot of learning that occurs.

And we knowing now,

from mapping out the brain,

and looking at the genome that,

what seems to be most affected by the environment,

is the way the brain gets wired.

So you're born with certain genetic predisposition,

in terms of the structures of the brain.

- We got that in another segment.

But let me just ask you,

is it,

can you teach someone math faster,

by giving them candy,

than just by teaching them?

I'm just wondering. - Yeah, well actually yeah.

- Or holding them underwater,

and being like learn it.

Learn it!

And then raising,

waterboarding I guess,

I'm describing waterboarding.


A towel on the face,

a little bottle of water,

and some math.


- Well we know that people,

sort of discount delays with reward.

So if you give someone a reward right away,

they'll put more emphasis,

they'll want that rather than waiting for it later.

- Well I think the issue there is motivation,

and not necessarily sort of a,

skill set and a cognitive ability,

or a technical ability.

So the fact is yes,

candy makes everything better,

no matter what you're trying to learn,

because it's a very strong motivator,

and it's a potent motivator.

- It might not make you better at math,

but it might make you study for longer,

for example.

- And well also, that's a great example--

- What would cocaine do for my math skills?


- A kid can learn French in a week on heroine.


Now that's a reward.


- So okay,

so a little of both might help, I guess.

This is the gold star,

that children get in elementary school.

Right that's the--

- I mean it does work to a certain extent.

As they said, it'll help motivate behavior,

but it won't sort of give you a skill set,

that you don't sort of have--

- Well I think that also as parents,

one of the early things we learn,

when we're talking about how we discipline children,

and water boarding joking aside,


threats and fear and punishment and pain,

are very very strong motivators,

to change behavior.

The do you want to condition a child with fear,

is a much larger question,

which is probably not funny at all,

and I won't go into it.

- [Eugene] Whoops.


- There's positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

There's also taking away of a positive,

which can be another way to help somebody learn.

So there's a whole variety of ways you can model behavior.

- I thought of taking away,

so someone lives with a positive,

you threaten to take that away.

- Like a finger.


Don't tell me it's not a positive.


I don't have a child,

so it's fine that I'm saying all of this.


- I have two children and it's fine that you're saying this.


- One last question before we take our first,

by the way our breaks are short,

they're just to regroup here.

So on several episodes--

- It's gonna get crazy in about 30 seconds.


- On the shows you have live,

rhesus monkeys or something.

Are there projected in,

or are they really on the set?

I'm just curious.

- They're fantasy monkeys that you have to imagine,

and it appears on every screen.

Yeah we have real capuchin monkeys.

- Wow.

- I'm a vegan, you shouldn't ask me too much about that.


Acting monkeys.

That's what I am,

I'm just an acting monkey.


- On Ed you had real Reese's Pieces right,

at the crafts service table?

I remember you talking about that.

- Did they ever try to grab you?

- When we come back on StarTalk Radio,

more from,

the Brooklyn Academy of Music,

StarTalk Radio,

give it up for our panel.

(cheering) (clapping)

- Thank you.

- I want to thank you all for coming.

We've got two more segments.

Each is about a half hour,

and then we're gonna open the floor to questions.

We have a microphone in aisle,

'cause that's how we roll.


can I get the house lights up just briefly.

There's someone in the audience I just want to introduce,

to you all.

There's a--




Bill Nye!


- [Mayim] He follows me everywhere.

Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill

Bill Nye the Science Guy

(upbeat music)

- [Voiceover] Science rules.

(upbeat music)

Bill Nye the Science Guy

- [Voiceover] Inertia is a property of matter.

Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill

Bill Nye the Science Guy. ♪

- Can we get a seat here.

I'm gonna put Bill on the panel.

Why not?

(cheering) - He should probably,

he should go between science and comedy.

- Right here, there you go.

How you doin Bill?

- Fabulously. - You happened to be,

in town.

Thanks for showing up.

- Oh sorry, let me.

- He's following me.

We just did Bill Maher together.

- I'm great Neil, thanks.

- Yeah there you go.

Bill Nye the Science Guy.


- I think you-- - Thank you.

- Now Bill,

you're not actually the person I was first gonna introduce.


Can we bring the lights back up again please?


So we have in the audience--


- President Barack Obama.


- No he doesn't know he's being introduced.

He didn't know this but,

well Phil Larson,

please stand up where are you?

- Phil, Phil.

- Where are you?

There he goes.

Phil Larson everyone is,

(clapping) (laughing)

you don't know who he is yet.

Hold your applause until you find out who he is.



- The first person to ever eat a baby.


(talking at once)

- Phil Larson comes to us from the president's office,

of Science and Technology Policy.

So he's representing The White House here,

at this StarTalk.

(cheering) Thank you.

Thanks Phil for coming.


Okay the lights can come down,

and we will begin the second segment.

Are you ready?


We are back.

StarTalk Radio Live at Bam!



And Bill thanks for joining us.

- Oh no it is I who must thank you.

No, no.


- So,

we want to take this,

deeper into the brain.

We are all neuroscience today.

What is, Heather, what is consciousness?


- We're gonna start easy and then build it up.

- Yeah, yeah, yeah,

what is consciousness?

- I mean that's a great question.

- And self awareness.

- Don't pull any punches.

Just let us have it.


- You know what my biggest question is.

- Yeah.

- How come identical twins,

don't think they are each other?

- That's your biggest question.


- I mean why am I me and not you?

And we can say, - Are you high?

- 'cause we're different people.

But if you have an identical twin,

you're the same person but you're not.

- Just by that much.

- So what's up with that?

- First of all, what is consciousness?

We can define consciousness very simply as,

first person subjective experience.

So you only are aware that you have it.

I don't know what your consciousness is like.

I only know what it is from internally.

So what is consciousness.

First person experience.

How is it tied to the brain?

We're still trying to figure that out.

Now that's different than self awareness.

So you can be conscious,

without being self aware.

- Like in a coma, or asleep.

- Um, yeah--

- Like my old boss.


- There is--


- Bill I don't think you ever had a boss.

- Oh no I used to have a job.

- Oh you did, okay.


- Well so for example babies.

They can be conscious, meaning you can have raw sensations,

like seeing the color red,

or feeling something soft,

or smelling a rose,

without being aware of oneself,

or having sort meta cognation,

like thoughts about other thoughts.

Or I'm the one having these thoughts.

- So if we're gonna say another animal is not conscious,

but has, is not self aware, but has consciousness,

- Exactly.

- The bee finds the flower and,

nature goes on.

- Or there are syndromes also where we see that people,

have an experience of being conscious,

of experiencing things,

in the environment, correct,

without a notion of concrete self awareness.

- Yeah there's certain dissociative disorders,

where people loose their sense of self,

but they're still conscious.

So consciousness is very unique.

You don't need to have necessarily memory for it,

you don't need to have self awareness.

You don't even need language.

- Alec Baldwin in his New Yorker Essay.


Seems to be displaying this.

Is that right Heather?

- It's an article you read.

- Yes.


I read articles.


- You should check out this one in Life magazine,

I read about 20 years ago,

about the terra formation of Mars.

I'll tell you about it later.

This was great.

- So you're saying a baby could hear Bruce Springsteen,

but not know why it's having so much fun.


- What about lucid dreaming?

I mean does that?

- Yeah, so I mean it's just another form--


- There we go.

No, no.

You fill in the blank.

- It's another form of awareness.

Your brain is in a different state.

Its conscious, but it's in a different state of awareness.

- What is lucid dreaming as opposed to dreaming,

and you think a lot about it?

- Lucid dreaming is sort of when,

some people are able to be in a dream,

and know that they're themselves dreaming,

and the can sort of control their dreams.

- Can I say been there, done that?

- Oh yeah.

Was it good?

- Well,

it was pretty good for me.


For me it was smokin. - That's awesome.


- Wait, wait,

so a lucid dream,

is a dream that you're self aware that you're in?

- Yeah.

- I have these all the time where I will,

I often, well I mean I speak other languages.

I speak Spanish and I speak Hebrew,

and I will often have a dream where I'm--

- Enough Mayim.


We get it.

- Mayim, the PhD wasn't enough apparently.

- Anyway.

Sometimes I will be trying to consciously figure out,

how to communicate something,

in my non native tongue.

I know that I'm having a dream,

where I'm trying to communicate,

and I'm literally computing,

what to say and how to say it,

and in which tense.

But I'm very aware that this is going on.

- So normally in a dream state,

the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex,

is sort of down regulated,

sort of decreased in activation,

so that you're normally not so aware of what's going on.

And these subcortical sort of,

processes are allowed to come through,

without being monitored.

- The subcortical processes.


- There are subcortical processes that are,

- Processes.

- The limbic system,

the emotional part.

- The Amygdala.

- The Amygdala is part of it.

- Hey!

(laughing) - This is the reptile brain.

- The reptile brain, yeah.

- The reptile brain.

- I know the bit I know.


- And normally,

so it's very active in a dream state,

this reptile brain,

this limbic emotional brain.

And the prefrontal cortex--

- I have erectile brain.

I'm familiar with that.


Is that what you said?

- But in lucid dreams--

- Reptile brain.

- Oh!

- One thing leads to another.

- In lucid dreaming,

you can be in a state,

where you can actually engage,

the prefrontal cortex a bit more,

and have some self awareness,

infuse this dream state.

- So we see that on an MRI,

while somebody's asleep.

Are we able to do that or,

can you light it up while someone's unconscious?

- So there are a lot of studies, sleep studies,

which usually don't use MRI,

'cause you have to put them in a sort of--

- Dunk, dunk, dunk.

- That's very loud.

They can't sleep, exactly.

It makes a lot of noise.

So their EEG studies,

which look at different sleep states and dreams.


- And so, with this,

so you're telling me asleep you are conscious.

In a coma, are you conscious?

- So that's a really interesting question.

So there's new studies now,

that are showing there are certain people who are in a coma,

you can actually put them in a scanner,

the one that makes all the loud noise,

the FMRI,

and you can say to them okay,

we want you to imagine either,

say walking through your house,

or imagine playing a game of tennis.

Now they can't respond at all.

And we know what a healthy person's brain would look like,

if they're imagining walking through the house,

or imagining playing tennis.

And there's been some cases of people,

who we think they're in a coma,

and nothing's getting through,

but if you just simply tell them to imagine this,

their brain lights up in the right corresponding ways.

- So hence this story,

I thought maybe it was just fiction,

where you can read books to a person in a coma,

and they might still be.

- Yeah and it's not every person in a coma.

So I think they did this with a whole group of people.

- If you want to head your bets,

read the book.


Read the book.

- Yeah, just in case.

But it was maybe like one out of 50,

they found this person really was having awareness.

- Okay.

- Do those people,

are those people more likely to emerge from the coma?

- Yeah.

So exactly.

They now have something called the PCI,

which I think is called the Perdibation Complexity Index.

But basically--

- [Neil] Yeah that's it.

- Yeah that's it.


What they did was they,

so what you do is you actually,

sort of zap a part of the cortex with a magnet,

trans cranial,

- TMS. - It's TMS.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.


And you look at,

if there's a cacophony of activation and response to that,

almost if you hit a bell,

and you hear it ring and it's really loud,

you know that there's a lot of connectivity.

And those people are more likely to come out of the coma,

than if you just give them the TMS,

and the activation only happens locally.

And do those people ever have memories,

of their time in the coma.

- That varies, that varies.

Some people--

- And also this is a very small N we're dealing with.

To run the stats on this kind of thing,

you'd have to take so many people who would qualify,

for this kind of coma study.

It's a very small and I wouldn't be,

sort of making any frame.

- No obviously,

- Not you but,

- Yeah yeah.

- Other people. - Please stop bickering.


- It's a small N.

That's what you said, a small.

(talking at once)

- Let the record show,

Mayim said small N,

meaning small sample size.

- It's an integer.


It's not gonna be a fraction.

It's not gonna be a rational.

It's gonna be an integer.

- Let me get back to that.


- N, that's a tradition in mathematics.


We are geeking out here.


- So in terms of the brain,

we tend to think,

well there was the tabula rasa,

is it,

you draw it up and then is it ossified by adulthood.

But people there were all these ideas,

hypothesis running around.

NASA did a study on neuroplasticity,

your brain in space.

Okay, told you I'd bring it back to space.


So they were checking in space,

you are in zero G and so in zero G,



we have interpretive dance,

for zero G.


Bill that did not happen,

in the movie Gravity,

people's hair did not stand up on end.

- Dude I'm so down.

This is a radio show,

so I took the hair and pushed it up straight,

as though they could have done with a little hairspray,

- [Both] in the movie Gravity.

- [Neil] Yeah they didn't do it.

Didn't do that.

- I mean FCOL.

For crying out loud.

- Your sense of balance,

which requires your body's awareness of gravity,

a gravity vector.

Other things, your vision,

your sense of day and night,

because in space,

if you're orbiting Earth,

the sun rises and sets every 45 minutes.

So this could totally mess,

with your rhythms.

And they did a study.

And they found out that the brain has,

plasticity to it,

where in fact you will completely adapt to those,

to those change conditions.

Not only that,

the brain builds new brain cells,

and in some cases,

permanently responds to this environment.

And so because of the permanence,

of some of these plasticity,

they're suggesting that you should not,

bring kids into space,

'cause they don't know what a permanent change in a kid,

would be like as an adult.

- What is it like in an adult?

What happens in this?

What is the--

- You go crazy.


- What's the result of this neuroplasticity?

- Well I know people have their eyes change shape.

Astronauts have had--

- Like squares, they become a square.


- That sounds kind of cool. - That thing's for making the,

when you have the hard boiled eggs,

and you compress them in the refrigerator.

- Which part of the eye?

I need you to be more specific.

Like the whole eye?

- Guys who go into space,

with fighter pilot eyes,

come back and they don't have very good close up,

or distance vision.

They need glasses when they get back permanently.

- I'd be careful though when you say permanent changes,

because if you're talking about neuroplasticity,

if it can change one way,

it can also change back another way.

But I think the reason why not to bring,

developing brains into space or children,

is because there're critical periods of development.

And if they miss certain stimuli during that,

critical period,

then there could be problems.

- You're talking about circadian rhythms correct?

- Among other things yeah.

- Okay got it.

So talking about our,

I don't want to say awareness,

I mean it with a lower case a.

Our awareness of day and night,

you're saying those things can reset,

so you have a normal body period,

that is shorter than what it is,

if you are on Earth.

- Not quite a 45,

well it really disrupts your sleep cycle.

- Sure.

- And you don't get as deep a REM sleep in space as--

- So all of that developmentally would be,

really really a bad idea.

- Not to mention like,

my kids are a pain in the ass,

on just like an hour and a half flight.


Could you imagine sending them to Mars?


- I take it you sort of can imagine.

- You get like Jet Blue or you at least get,

some television something,

back to the seat.


- So here's what I wonder Heather.

If there's this neuroplasticity,

where your body can adapt to stress,

in the ways that were measured in space,

why don't we adapt more on Earth.

Why do people stress out and end up in mental hospitals?

How much--

- Wait those are two very different questions.


- I thought he was gonna ask working a night shift.

Like isn't it hard to work a night shift.

- Exactly.

- No, no, why are they two different questions?

If your brain can adapt,

with all this plasticity,

that the neuroscientist are boasting of,

then why do we have people,

just freaking out here on Earth?


- Well okay, they're two separate things.

- Tell me why.

- So, people,

so this is one thing.

I went around and actually met people,

who had extraordinary abilities,

way outside the norm of what we think is possible.

Extraordinary memory and,

a tolerance to pain.

All these things.


- You hosted a T.V. show on this.

- There was a T.V., a Discovery Channel show,

called Super Human Showdown.

And there were people who actually,

we went around the world to find people,

with these extraordinary abilities.

One person could hold his breathe,

under water for 22 minutes.

And amazing.

I saw it there.

- And not be dead.

- And not be dead. (laughing)

He could actually.


- Just checking.

- Could he talk to fish,

even just a little?


- But it's amazing how far we can actually push ourselves,

our physiology and our brains.

So I think a lot of what people stress about,

is they think they can't adapt,

but really we can adapt well beyond,

what we think we're capable of doing.

Why people are in mental institutions is another question.

I think there are different,

there's a lot of different reasons why people,

go insane so to speak.

But I don't think it's because of lack of neuroplasticity.

Does that make sense? - I support that completely.

- Okay as my fellow.

- Yes.

- Not even people who are super super sad.


- Is it because of heavy metal music?


- That beat, that beat.

- As I was saying,

you can modify the brain,

within certain biological constraints.

So if you're born with a certain predisposition,

or I mean just structural differences in the brain,

you can only push it so far.

But we can definitely go far beyond what we think we can,

where we can go.

- So do you think,

if we see someone else,

who has ability,

and they're human then can we also try to have that ability?

- Again it's within a certain,

so these super human people who I met,

they all practice a lot of hours,

dedicate to.

But they also had certain,

like the guy who could hold his breathe under water,

had a greater lung capacity in general.

He started out with that,

and then he pushed it further and further.

So I think we can all go further,

within our particular frames.

- There's this book the sports gene,

that talks about sort of the exceptional athletic ability,

that we don't really think about,

when we see Olympic athletes.

They're at a whole different physiological level,

than we even would think about.

We would think oh,

Michael Phelps is a great swimmer.

No, his arms are really really long.

His feet are practically webbed.

His body is different than ours.


- He's a monster.


- It's weird.

When you watch swimmers at that high level,

they go about twice as fast,

as a normal person swimming.

- I could swim all day.

I'll never look like that,

because I was not born with a genetic predisposition,

to have really long arms,

and webbed feet.


- I think you look great.

Doesn't she look great everybody.


That's really what matters.

I have a question,

but on a more pedestrian level,

talking about sports.

You see certain populations,

like people from the Dominican Republic,

which is such a small country,

but have a large proportion of people,

entering the major leagues of baseball.

Is it because they,

they have peer groups--

- This is such a dangerous question,

we know you're about to ask.

It's so dangerous. - 'Cause you're gonna,

change it to synagogue.

- I was not going into racism,

although I will if you want me to.


No it was about something somebody else asked,

about observing other people,

in peer groups,

ascending to higher levels,

and therefore seeing first hand what's possible,

does that make you more susceptible to those possibilities?

- I think that's, I mean,

you want it, or do you want me to take it?

- You can go.

You go for it.

(laughing) - You can take this.

- I think to keep it simple,

we're gonna just keep it simple,

and say that's a huge sociological,

environmental behavioral sort of influence.

But I don't know.

- I know, I'm writing my dissertation on it.


- I'm sorry.

Now it's your turn.

- Well I just think--

- Well Heather,

have they found a gene for baseball?

That's really what he's asking.

- You're born with certain genetic predispositions,

towards maybe better athletic prowess.

But it gets dangerous--

- Different distribution of muscle fibers,

for example in runners.

- I think what the reason people are getting sort of,

the thing we're dancing around,

it can be very controversial.

There was a book written,

called, "The Bell Curve" for example,

about intelligence.

And it said okay you know,

we did this whole study and looked at populations,

in X number of people from a certain type of background,

have the highest IQ and others don't.

It really can lead to--

- Ashkenazi Jews.

- Well it's happened to be Ashkenazi Jews, what it was.


- Who has the highest IQ.

- [Heather] Yeah.

- Yeah!


- Wait, wait me too.


- Let the record show,


let the record show Dr. T.

I did what I could.

I did what I could to slip in a joke about synagogues.


And the major league baseball players that they produce.

- Is that where you were going with that?

- That's where I was going,

because another factor as a baseball fan,

another very strong motivator in those countries,

is this you can play baseball all year.

And I was just in Minneapolis this morning.

It would be very challenging.

That's 'cause the snow is white,

the ball is white.

It's hard.


And then you also have the-- - that was being racist.


- You also have this extraordinary motivation of money.

You can make it in the big leagues.

And have you ever seen the World Baseball Classic?

- Yeah, yeah.

It's mostly Latin America.

- Extraordinary players,

just extraordinary players.

But it's one more click to hit it that hard.

- I'd like to change the topic,


to anything.

- To ice hockey?

- I want to know about sleep.

- Let's talk about eugenics for a minute.


- Why is it that people from Boston,

are just so soft?


Their face is just a soft beautiful face.


- So Heather I want to talk about sleep,

for a moment.

Why the hell do we have to sleep?

What a waste of time that is,

I think to myself.

- Did you just say why the hell do we have to sleep?

(laughing) - Yes!

- We could be literally learning karate instead.

(laughing) - No, I'm just saying,


- Every time I sleep I'm like,

I should be learning karate.

- I'm reading, I'm learning,

I'm having fun.

I say damn, I got to go to sleep,

be semi comatose for the next eight hours.

If an alien came to Earth,

and you're having a great conversation.

But then say, excuse me,

I have to lay semi comatose for the next eight hours.

I'll get back to you.

They'll wonder what's wrong with you.


- Maybe they go down 16.

You don't know.

- Oh I know, maybe.

- Like a baby.

- Why do we sleep?

- The latest theory that we think,

that most of the neuro scientific evidence,

is pointing towards,

is the way the brain sort of cleaning itself out.

So during the day,

you're taking in all this stimulation,

and it's almost impossible for your brain to,

integrate all of it everyday.

It would be cluttered.

So at night what happens,

is there's sort of a pruning.

It solidifies the information,

that it wants to kind of keep,

and reinforces--

- Whether or not it's accurate or correct or anything.

- Well yeah it depends.

That's psychopath.


- I just had an example.


- There's sort of pruning that happens.

And so without this cleaning out process,

they looked at people when you deprive them of sleep,

and it causes all sorts of problems,

including it can relate to things like Alzheimer's.

Because the plagues and tangles that form actually,

that sleep is a kind of way that helps,

clear out those plagues,

well things that could potentially form,

the proteins that conform those.

- So you're saying people who don't get as much as--

- No, well no.

- I knew you were gonna say that.

- I'm just asking.

- To be clear, she's saying people with Alzheimer's,

are simply extremely sleepy.


- What conclusion are we to draw?

- If you're sleepy, you're gonna get Alzheimer's.


- That's how science works.


- So remember,

play baseball.


- It's complicated.

- Alright so?

- Well like for memories for example,

if you're studying for an exam actually,

you'll do better if you get a good night's sleep.

It's not good to just cram the whole night before,

because the brain can then solidify the associations,

that were made,

and get rid of the nonsense and the noise.

- Alright so,

but some people sleep five hours,

others nine.

Should the five hour person be sleeping more,

or the nine hour person be sleeping less?

- That is hard to say.

There's no, I don't think there's an exact number on it.

I mean people, there's a lot of things out there,

that say you should get X number of hours of sleep.

But really everybody's different.

Some people just don't need that much sleep.

- I don't get a lot of sleep.

My feeling is if I'm,

if in general we are productive, functional,

getting the things done that we want to get done,

there's gonna be some variability for sure.

- Okay so also if you don't get sleep,

that's like a form of torture right.

Your brain goes crazy.

- What happens is people start to hallucinate yeah.

They start to sort of,

because again, the brain isn't able to properly prune out.

And all the information can get kind of jumbled.

- Also if you disrupt REM sleep.

- Exactly.

- [Paul] But it is--

- REM sleep is where a lot of that happens.

- It is an individual thing,

because you have people like Edison or,

Winston Churchill or these,

high functioning people,

who slept for four hours a night,

or two hours a night.

- There's actually an extraordinary,

a large number of people.

Bill Clinton is another one,

Margaret Thatcher, they would only sleep very few hours,

but then they would take these power naps during the day.

And there could be something to that.

But they all said they at least they take those little,

mini naps.

And that maybe the brain can sort of revamp itself.

- They also have a giant staff,

and many assistants and chefs.


- Are you describing mini naps,

or hooking up periodically with people throughout the day?

Both sound relaxing.


- Depends on the people.


- So what they found was that,

the REM sleep was disrupted by astronauts who,

in orbit see sunrise, sunset every 45 minutes.

They couldn't get their rhythms going.

- They could just pull down the shades couldn't they.

- I would've thought.

I would've thought.

- Those masks that cover your eyes.

- Yeah I would've thought.

You'd think.

- Well it's all coach class, that's the thing.


- It doesn't come with a little thing.

- Yeah they don't give you the little pouch.

- You're telling me they flew the space shuttle,

coach class,


and they didn't get the little eye covers.

- But studies show that if you deprive people,

particularly of REM sleep,

that they have to make up for it later on,

so that they'll have more hours of REM sleep,

when you allow them to sleep later.

- Okay so this is a feature of our human species,

not a failure of our design?

- Yeah I mean if there was,

if we could design it better,

without sleep, that'd be great.

But so far it's the--

- But it's all species right?

There's no species that does not need sleep.

- I don't know that.

I don't know.

- Sea Jellies.


- Algae.

- Fish.

- There are low metabolic periods I would say,

for all sorts of vertebrates yes, I mean at least.

- Yeah, yeah.

- And no well, - There's always,

a rest period.

There's a rest period, even if it's not what we call sleep.

There is a rest period.

- But from an evolutionary standpoint,

one could ask,

if it's a big advantage to need less sleep,

would these people be more successful,

become captains of industry,

and get extraordinarily wealthy.

- Well there must be something,

well the answer is there must be something advantageous,

I.E. incorporating a tremendous amount,

of input from the day,

that can then help you make,

different kinds of decisions,

more complicated decisions correct?

- Yeah. - The next day.

- Well I see, so the digested information,

has more value to you,

the day after,

as it's for your survival.

- If that were evolutionarily advantageous.

That's why it, - I got that.

That's a good one. - Would be retained.

Thank you.

- But there's some animal,

I think there's maybe it's dolphins,

there's some animals that,

sleep with only half their brain.

And the other half is alert.

It's dolphins.

Part of them is aware for any sort of,

let's say predator is coming.

- [Eugene] Samurai.


- The people who sleep with their guns and swords.


- Samurai bears.


- And is it true lions sleep 20 hours a day,

or something like that.

- I don't--

- Yeah is that true Heather?


- I don't know everything about everything.

- You're a cognitive neuroscientist.

Do lions sleep 20 hours a day?


- They do.

They sleep for 20 hours a day.

- [Heather] Was that in Time magazine?

- No I--

- You went to the zoo with your kids.

- No, I went on safari once.

It's true.

And I remember learning that.


And by the way,

the females do all of the hunting.

And then the male lions just go in and then eat first.

Swat away the kids,

then they go back to sleep.


- Yeah yeah it's just sleep.

- So they're called,

and if there's a bunch of em,

they're called a pride.

- Wow.


- A pride of lions.


- Murder of crows.

- Boring of panelists.


- A smack of sea jellies.

- So Mayim how much of--

- That sound is disturbing to any,

oh just to the nerds?

- We can all hear it,

so we're all fine.


I believe it is feedback.

- There is a high frequency sound entered our ear pieces,

moments ago.

So Mayim how much sleep do you get a night?

- I actually, I'm like a five or six hour person.

- As am I, I'm like five and half hours exactly.

And I nap some on the weekend.

But during the week it's five and half hours.

- I take a Saturday, a Shabbat nap for about 20 minutes.


I give my kids a cookie,

and I say I will be a much better mother,

if I can sleep for 20 minutes,

on this couch with ear plugs in,

I promise.


- And how old are your kids?

- Five and half and eight.

- Whoa, yeah.

So presumably when they were much younger,

you get no sleep.

- Well, yeah, I mean honestly it's amazing to see,

what it's like with a newborn.

I was a breastfeeding mom,

and I was up literally every two hours,

for about four or five years,

literally every two hours.

- Did you study yourself at that point?

- I wrote my thesis while breastfeeding my older one.

I literally laying down nursing and typing.

I was data analysis and writing and editing my thesis,

with my first son.

And yeah, it's amazing to sleep again.

- And she knows three languages.


- Totally impressed.


- Just get, so five and half,

how many hours of sleep for you?

- Now I have a three month old so,

and I'm breastfeeding so it's like--

- This is her most restful part of the day.

- I'm sleeping right now actually.


- Half your brain.

You're a dolphin.

She's a dolphin.

- Bill?

- I need seven and half.

Furthermore, I claim I'm skilled at the power nap.

I put in the hours.

I put in the third of an hours on the power nap.

- [Neil] Power nap, Paul.

- It really varies.

I guess probably about six or seven.

Although it seems now,

I am falling asleep for that 20 minute power nap.


I don't mean right now, as we speak.

At about lie 5:30, six o'clock at night,

generally if I'm flipping around,

and watching Pardon the Interruption,

that I notice that I fall asleep a lot.

Show on ESPN.


- Yeah.

- About 14.


Right around 14 yeah.

- Yeah like six to eight.

- Yeah okay.

- Is that weird?

I always sleep five and a half hours, I'm normal.


6.4 hours.


I'd say five to eight with a lot of afternoon naps.

After I type out my weird things.


- While breastfeeding.

- While breastfeeding.


- Not a human.

- A dragon.


- I breastfeed a really cute dragon.


- Okay, oh by the way,

when all this is over,

the bar is open,

and there's a special drink that we invented,

just for this program.

It's called the Brain Freeze.


So you just got up there and ask for the Brain Freeze.

We invented it.

The drink did not exist before tonight.

And it has sort of the color of your brain,

brain matter.

But it's really tasty.

- That does sound good.


- Mm hmm a gray drink.

- Kahlua, milk, and nails.


- So check it out after the Q and A.

So you ready to go back in.



- Let's do this now.


- We're back.

StarTalk Live at Bam!

(cheering) (clapping)

We are talking about the science of the brain.

And I want to know,

what the future holds for us.

I've got it written here,

that we have 100,000 miles of nerve fibers,

in each brain.

That's extraordinary.

That's a hell of a computer.

But it still has issues.


No I'm serious.

There's brain failure in some people, right.

I mean so,

what is the hope,

for really disentangling what all this is,

and perhaps be able to fix people,

who have problems.

You just go in and snip a connection or,

nip and tuck.

What is the future of this?

- Well I mean it's a huge problem actually to solve,

to understand how the brain works.

You're talking about 100 billion neurons,

with a quatrillion connections, possible connections.

So to understand the workings of the human brain,

is one of the greatest mysteries,

and we're all working on that very very hard.

But once we understand how it works,

then just like a mechanic has to know,

how the car works,

so that when you bring it in when it's broken,

they know how to go about trying to fix it.

So knowing the underline structure is the beginning.

- But is it that reductionist,

not to get all philosophical on you because,

in physics,

you can describe each molecule of air,

careening off of another one,

but that description doesn't give you,

the bulk properties of it.

You need sort of to step back and say,

this air has a temperature.

The individual particle doesn't have a temperature.

We have macroscopic descriptions of things,

that enable us to function.

Because you can't describe every single little thing.

Do you think the brain will,

be intractable in that way?

- So there's,

what you're trying to say,

is that if we understand everything about the brain,

but we understand the mind,

or is that, that's what I think you're saying.

- [Neil] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- So that would mean that,

some people think that the mind or consciousness,

is an emergent property of the brain.

And there's--

- It just happens, is that what you mean?

- Well the emergence out of the workings of it.

- Yeah you have,

if you have enough circuits,

you're gonna get a mind.

- You're get this thing called consciousness.

There's something called the easy problem of consciousness,

which isn't that easy.

But that is to say,

if we can correlate every single thought,

with the actual workings of neurons in the brain,

and let's say we can map all that out,

and we can do.

We solve the easy problem.

But there's still gonna be a hard problem,

of why is it that those neurons firing,

and those neuron chemical slushing around,

cause us to have these subjective experiences.

And we might not be able to,

they call it the explanatory gap.

We might not be able to fully explain that.

But I think we have to start somewhere.

And just understanding the workings,

of the basic system is a good place to begin.

- Can I ask a really, maybe dumb question,

maybe not?

Do we know that consciousness exists in the brain?

- I would venture to say yes.


- Well hold on, let me just follow up.

'Cause I know that when you take out like half your brain,

you can still function right.

You can take out the left hemisphere,

and the right hemisphere will rewire.

But then if you were to cut that in half again,

you only get a quarter of your brain.


Would you still have consciousness?

And then at what point does your consciousness disappear?

- How many subjects have you done this experiment on?


- So we do it everyday in the lab.

- But seriously, what is the N on this?


- Yes, when does it move to your feet?


- I mean it's a philosophical question.

People say if you take little bits,

and parts of the brain away,

how much can you take away,

how much of the brain do you actually need,

for conscious awareness?

And some people claim that you only need the brain stem.

Well we know that that's not true,

because if you take a full adult,

and you take away their cortex,

or they have a damage to the cortex,

their not gonna be conscious anymore.

However there are children,

who are born without a cortex,

and they just have their brain stem,

and they have some semblance,

of what we might call consciousness.

- Are these what we call children of the damned?


- You can't joke about anencephaly.

You can't joke about anencephaly.

- I didn't know there was a name for it.


- But seriously,


I'll have conversations,

with dogs. - Sounded like they were fine.

- Yeah.

- I'll have conversations with dogs.

I can see dogs are dreaming.

Dogs experience the joy of discovery.

But is a dog paralyzed by self doubt?

Actually, I think I've even seen that.


No a dog with especially,

aggressively disciplining owner,

seem to be paralyzed.

Like I can't cross this line,

or the guy's gonna hit me.

And so,

do we study,

how far back do we go,

from what is it,

Rhesus, what's the guy's name?

- Rhesus monkey?

- But they have,

it begins with a K?

The monkeys?

- More information.

- In Amy Farrah Fowler's lab.

- Capuchin.

- Oh Capuchin?

It's a C, not a K.


- Duh.

- Historical science is real!


- Oh wow.

Petersburg reference.

So the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

So, how far down do we go.

Then there's a cat.

Then I've spoken, albeit briefly with birds.


And it's a different deal right.

- So I think,

once we--

- Bill, you're Dr. Doolittle,

as well as the Science Guy, okay, okay.

- Once we have a measure of consciousness,

then we will be able to say,

does this animal have it,

does a baby have it?

When is it emergent.

But until we have an understanding of what it is.

So there are certain theories,

of consciousness.

One is that it's a certain,

when you have a system that has a certain amount of,

integrated differentiated information,

that it will fundamentally have consciousness.

That could be a computer.

That could be any kind of system, a nervous system.

So once we have an understanding, a theory of consciousness,

then we can measure it and see what has it.

- Well and I think it's important to think about,

if you take out quote half the brain,

you're essentially dealing with,

duplicated structures existing correct.

So there's gonna be some assymetry,

between left and right.

But you're dealing with half of a brain,

that then is pretty much duplicating,

all the structures you removed.

Once you start chopping up that half,

there's really no more duplicated structures,

you can start taking.

So if there's, - Prove it.

- Amygdala left.


You can't take away that Amygdala.

There's nothing to take that place.

So if you want to start chopping up cortex,

or if there's an accident that compromises part of cortex,

you have other parts of cortex,

that are similarly structured,

that can theoretically take over,

some of that function.

Once you start getting into those limbic structures,

and the sub limbic structures,

all that stuff,

there's no more duplication.

You can't keep like hacking it in half.

It's not like a calculous limit.

Like how much can I leave,

and still have the person be conscious.


- Fundamental theory of calculous.

- You understood what I said.

- I understood what you said.

You can't have a person with a brain the size of a penny.

It's too little.

- But you know what's really interesting.


- You were saying chopping up and chopping up,

and I was sitting here just actually,

thinking of your vegan cookbook.


- Broccoli rabe with brain is not bad.


- The really interesting thing here,

is that you can actually,

you can take away the Amygdala,

which you can take--

- But what about the hypothalamus?

- You can even take away the hypothalamus.

- What, how will I even hear?

- Heather you said that way too glibly.

- Well I mean if there's certain people,

who are born with calcified Amygdali,

so they actually, they have a disease actually,

that calcifies their Amygdali.

So they become damaged and they no longer work.

So you can be, let's say you can be,

you can not have emotion,

you can still be conscious.

You can not have memory,

and you can still be conscious.

There's a case in England where,

he only remembers things for 30 seconds.

So each 30 seconds,

he writes down.

I'm just now conscious for the very first time.

And then I'm just now conscious for the very first time.

But he still having awareness.

So the question is,

how much, yeah you can take away all these things,

- How does he remember how to write?

- How much of the brain is necessary,

to have subjective experience?

- Yeah actually that is a great question.

How does he remember how to write?

- Has he seen Memento?

- This is very interesting.

This is the same question.

- Is a very good question.

- It's Michael's question.

I don't want it.

- He's seen it 3000 times.

- But every single time,

it's like the first time.


- I love it every time.

- So there's something called procedural memory,

which is different than declarative memory.

- It's like riding a bicycle.

- Exactly.

So when you learn something like motoric,

like riding a bike or tying a shoe.

So what's interesting about this case in England,

is that he was a pianist,

and he could,

once he got started playing,

he could play the entire piece of music,

all the way through.

As soon as he came out of it,

he didn't know where he was,

what he was doing, whatever.

But it's a procedural memories,

with a different part of the brain,

called the basal ganglia,

which you can engage in,

even if you don't have declarative memories,

or like memories, semantic memories.

Memories about things or facts.

- So it looks like all of your research is happening,

on people who have brain disorders.

- It's some of the best ways to learn about the brain,

is by seeing what happens,

in the natural world,

when it doesn't work.

Because of all sorts of legal and ethical issues,

we can't do that.

- On a living person.

- So we take what nature gives us,

but that's one of the things that,

every brain lesion is different.

Every accident is different.

There's a tremendous amount of unpredictability,

when you're dealing with any of these sorts of syndromes.

- So you used brain mapping to,

is that the way to go to cure these,

horrific brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

- Just sleep more.

I can cure that.


- Well I've got a question, I have a question.

I had my brain scanned a couple times on camera,

for hilarious science comedy.


It seemed to me--

- Bill you got your brain,

'cause I said Bill you need your brain examined.


- Yeah and it was empty.



I just said it's not empty,

I just done use it, that's all.

So it looked to me,

like if you could get,

another order of magnitude,

that is to say,

what is the current resolution,

of a magnetic resonance image?

It looks like it's half a milometer.

- Yep.

- Something like that.

- Yep, yep.

- It looked to me like if you had another,

instead of half a milometer,

a 50 microns,

then you'd really be able to figure out what was going on.

- Well this is where we're at.

- Is that too reductionist to your point?

- No I like reductionism.

I just was wondering if that was the pathway to--

- This is, so where we're at is that--

- I converted to reductionism when I got married.


Happy wife, happy life.


- Reductionism.

- So,


the state of affairs now,

is that we have this technology,

to be able to look at the microstructure of the brain.

So we can go in and measure the activation of one or two,

individual neurons in a monkey,

or even in a human when they're during surgery.

And we can look at this very microstructure,

and then we look at the macro structure,

or the activation in things, like FMRI,

which is like a--

- Functional magnetic resonance.

- Functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Which is sort of looking from very far away.

But we need something in between,

like a meso level to understand how,

all these circuits are wired up.

'Cause just looking at where the blood flows,

to a certain area, that's what FMRI is looking at,

is too--

- [Bill] Course.

- Exactly.

And the other way is too fine.

So we need something in between.

And there are certain technologies that are,

being developed now.

Things like optogenetics,

where you can actually look at the neuro circuitry,

and control.

- So optogenetics, I did a little reading on that.

And so, you've got,

photoreceptive organisms,

you put in the brain,

or proteins.

And then you follow the light that they emit.

Is that how that works?

- It's sort of like that.

- Is this from Wrath of Kahn?


- Oh God.



- That was really worth it.

- That was deep.

That was very--

- Pairing geeks up here on the stage.

So these are ways. - Cerebellum there.

- These are ways to poke and prod a living person's brain,

without doing damage.

- Yeah basically you can insert,

you take these from photosensitive algae.

You take the gene that coats for that.

You insert it in a virus,

which then inserts that into the,

animal so far.

- Talk faster Heather, faster, faster.


- Right right,

you just said,

you get a photoreceptive virus,

that you stick in someone's brain.

Did I just hear that?

- You take the gene of the photoreceptive algae,