Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, interesting, and effective. I had watched this professor's earlier course and knew this one would be good. She is careful to define terms or concepts and offers examples by way of illustration at every turn. The idea of examining misconceptions (myths) in popular understanding of neuroscience is a great format for the course. It was excellent!
Date published: 2020-07-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Straw man When discussing global warming, she sets up a straw man and then attacks that. While thousands of scientists disagree with her viewpoint, the silly straw man creation was quite obvious. Ironically, this was on a lecture of being objective.
Date published: 2019-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent topic and discussion Each lesson covered a common misconception in clear and convincing discussion. Very informative and well presented and very clear to even those without neuroscience background.
Date published: 2019-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation My requirement from a generic TGC lecture like this (other than a few specific ones) is to get some knowledge about the topic and not to become an "expert" in it. If your requirement is the same, then go ahead with the rest of the review. Presentation : The first thing I need in any course is, it should capture my attention and I should not be forced to watch/listen to it just so that I can complete it.. This lecture more than satisfied that. I've listened to plenty of audio courses (especially TGC courses). This is the only one where I'd think "oh the lesson is over already" when it ends. The flow is fantastic. I'll blindly buy any other course from the same professor just for this aspect. Content: I was amazed at so many myths that I used to believe. The explanations to tell me that they are myths and are not true satisfied me. I don't want to research further and gather counter points and judge if the professor is right or wrong. As I said, I'm a causal listener and don't want to be an expert.
Date published: 2019-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative! A vast insight into the working of the brain through exploring common myths. I learned a lot and highly recommend.
Date published: 2019-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting lesson titles and presentation. In lesson 22 she used a disparaging tone when referring to chimps as monkeys, bur cimps are apes, not monkeys. This makes me wonder how much else of what she said was inaccurate.
Date published: 2019-06-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Serious Flaws The information part of this course seems okay, though not remarkable, but the "myths" set-up adds nothing but red herrings. The professor is so captured by the materialist/evolutionish mindset that she seems totally unaware of the fact. For example, she describes researchers, 30 years after Einstein's death, handling his brain, which she refers to has his "mind." She also seems to pick and choose a great deal how to interpret correlations. When it comes to mental illness, she wants to deny that it is caused by chemical imbalances, despite the clear fact that fiddling with chemical balances can have affects. I'm not saying it is or isn't, but her denial seems inconsistent with the facts she reports. If she weren't captured by the idiotic "myths" approach, she could simply report the facts: we don't have a good theory of mental disease, but we're pretty darn sure it's a real thing and that it seems to have, in at least some circumstances, physical manifestations, i.e. abnormalities in brain chemistry. Furthermore, again for reasons we don't understand, some chemicals, like SSRIs, can "cause" changes that often look like improvement. Those two sentences are a more accurate description of what we know about the chemistry of mental illness than her entire "myths" based lecture. When it comes to "are men's and women's brains different?" she interprets the fact that they (obviously -- could anyone doubt it?) have many similarities as somehow meaning that they are not different. Obviously there's a tremendous overlap between the distribution of male brains and female brains in terms of structure and function. But there is also statistically irrefutable evidence that male behavior is different from female behavior on average. And given her materialist view, she has to at least consider that this is biological and not environmental. Surely she knows that men are more violent, in essentially every culture ever studied. But, perhaps because it's not politically correct, she denies the differences are in the brain.
Date published: 2019-04-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A monumental feat of illogic! It's no coincidence that the word "exploded" is in the title of this course, because its very first lecture featured a feat of illogic so massive that my brain actually exploded. If this thinking is typical of the course, than the course is worthless. I sent it back. Let me specify: Prof. Viskontas cautions listeners to avoid the temptation to look to evolutionary explanations to provide a "just so" story for how our minds are. Fair enough. She then gives an example. Why are toddler boys more interested in vehicles while toddler girls are more interested in dolls? She cautions against accepting the evolutionary "just so" story as an explanation. Again, fair enough. The reason she gives for accepting the "just so" is faulty. She claims these stories "feed the myth that evolution had some design in mind." Indeed it might feed that myth. But it doesn't make the argument wrong. Perhaps the argument is true and we should still be cautious about believing the myth for other reasons. That's illogic number one. Illogic number two is this: even if the argument for the evolutionary reason for these differences is faulty, that doesn't mean that these differences are not evolutionary in origin. Professor Gimbel's Logic course will teach you that making a bad argument for a proposition doesn't make that proposition false. Perhaps the proposition is true but for a different reason. Satisfied that she's destroyed the argument for evolution, she doesn't explore any further reasons why somebody would believe the evolutionary argument. The third illogic is the cherry on top of her illogic sundae. Prof. Viskontas concludes on the basis of the above reasons that the "just-so" story evolutionary explanation is wrong. She then argues (without providing any additional reasons) that our current social environment is a much more likely explanation for these differences between boys and girls. I can't help but notice that hand-waving about our "current social environment" is a form of "just-so" story. If "just so" stories about evolution ought to "make you cringe", how come an evolutionary "just-so story" about our current social environment is a more likely explanation? What sloppy thinking! I have no desire to be "taught" further by a professor who insults my intelligence this much. For the record, I have no educated opinion as to why toddler boys and toddler girls are different and I'm skeptical both of the social and the evolutionary argument.
Date published: 2019-03-05
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Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience
Course Trailer
Is Your Brain Perfectly Designed?
1: Is Your Brain Perfectly Designed?

Begin the course by debunking one of the most fundamental myths about the human brain. Along the way, discover how our brains are shaped by evolution and experience, which neurons are responsible for self-awareness and motor coordination, and why the brain is still very much a work in progress....

33 min
Are Bigger Brains Smarter?
2: Are Bigger Brains Smarter?

When it comes to brains, size doesn't matter as much as you think. Here, explore concepts including the Encephalization quotient (which compares brain mass to body mass), the "g" factor (a long-sought-after standard of cognitive ability), and the lessons scientists have learned from studying the brain of Albert Einstein....

30 min
Is Mental Illness Just a Chemical Imbalance?
3: Is Mental Illness Just a Chemical Imbalance?

According to Dr. Viskontas, major psychiatric illnesses aren't just the result of chemical concentrations in the brain. The focus of this lecture is an intriguing exploration of two disorders that have proven to be far more complicated and nuanced in our understanding of mental illness: schizophrenia and depression....

32 min
Are Creative People Right-Brained?
4: Are Creative People Right-Brained?

Think your brain is divided into a creative side and an analytical side? Think again. The two hemispheres of your brain are actually quite interconnected. Discover what neuroimaging has revealed about the way our brains think and create, and why it's all about collaboration-not competition....

28 min
How Different Are Male and Female Brains?
5: How Different Are Male and Female Brains?

We're always hearing about studies that find significant differences the brains of men and women. How should we be thinking about gender differences in the brain? How are these differences misinterpreted? What are the differences in the male and female amygdala and hippocampus? Which genders express which emotions more openly?...

31 min
How Accurate Is Your Memory?
6: How Accurate Is Your Memory?

In this lecture that unpacks the accuracy of your memories, learn how information is encoded, stored, and retrieved in the brain; examine how Alzheimer's disease and amnesia affect the brain's ability to remember; and explore the "Seven Sins of Memory," including absentmindedness, memory blocking, and misattribution....

30 min
Do You Only Use 10 of Your Brain?
7: Do You Only Use 10 of Your Brain?

Are you using your brain to its fullest potential? Here, clear up some of the mystery about how much of our brain power we're using. As you'll learn, you use a lot more of your brain than you think, whether you're practicing a new skill or simply zoning out in front of the television....

30 min
Do You Perceive the World as It Really Is?
8: Do You Perceive the World as It Really Is?

According to Dr. Viskontas, the biggest myth about our senses is that they reflect the world as it actually is. Using vision as an example, discover how your sensory system uses shortcuts and fills in details to create, from portions of the environment, the illusion that you're perceiving reality objectively....

29 min
Is Your Brain Too Smart for Magic Tricks?
9: Is Your Brain Too Smart for Magic Tricks?

We've all been fooled by a magic trick at one point or another. But we rarely stop to think about how magicians are simply manipulating pre-existing shortcomings in our minds. Here, explore some of the neurological principles magicians rely on, including selective attention, inattention blindness, and change blindness....

30 min
Is Your Brain Objective?
10: Is Your Brain Objective?

Contrary to what you might believe, we don't weight evidence equally before building personal beliefs. Instead, we're beholden to confirmation bias. Is this a bug our brains could do without? Is it an evolutionary advantage? Can it also lead to sublime experiences (like appreciating a piece of music)?...

31 min
Do You Have 5 Independent Senses?
11: Do You Have 5 Independent Senses?

Discover why your senses aren't as separate as you think-and why you actually have more than five. Topics in this lecture include proprioception (sensing where you are) and synesthesia (a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense causes the involuntary activation of a different sense)....

28 min
Can Certain Foods Make You Smarter?
12: Can Certain Foods Make You Smarter?

In this lecture on "brain food," consider the scientific truths behind the food fads that make headlines; test out the myths associated with foods like fish oil, vitamins, power drinks, chocolate, and tea; and ponder the potential of smart pills (known as nootropics) such as Adderall and Ritalin....

31 min
Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?
13: Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?

An increased focus among scientists on neuroplasticity (changes in the brain's biology) has led to a flurry of brain-training games and tools aimed at improving our cognitive skills. Here, probe the potential of these games, and consider some alternate ways to train your brain, including exercising and socializing....

30 min
Does Your Brain Shut Down during Sleep?
14: Does Your Brain Shut Down during Sleep?

What, exactly, happens when you fall asleep? Why do our brains need sleep in order to function? What are some of the neurological dangers of not getting enough sleep? What are the sleep patterns of other animals, and how do they compare to our own? Dr. Viskontas provides some answers....

28 min
Are Your Decisions Rational?
15: Are Your Decisions Rational?

When we make decisions, we're actually swayed by things that any truly rational human being would ignore. Why do our brains work this way? Explore the "mental laziness" hardwired into our nature, and why we easily fall prey to superficial judgments. Central to this idea: the brain's two thinking systems....

29 min
Are You Always Conscious while Awake?
16: Are You Always Conscious while Awake?

In this lecture, probe the eternal "problem" of consciousness-perhaps the most difficult topic in all of neuroscience. How have scientists tried to determine what consciousness is and how it works? Along the way, examine several theories, including the intriguing idea that consciousness is nothing more than a neural afterthought....

31 min
Are Other Animals Conscious?
17: Are Other Animals Conscious?

Continue exploring consciousness with a consideration of its appearance in other animals. Scientific studies in animals ranging from primates to octopi have uncovered some illuminating insights into how animals can potentially show complex behaviors (including compassion, self-recognition, and generosity) we typically associate exclusively with conscious humans....

29 min
Can You Multitask Efficiently?
18: Can You Multitask Efficiently?

Multitasking is a critical skill in today's world. But does it really work as well as you think? Dr. Viskontas lays bare the neurology of the multitasker and uses key studies to draw several powerful conclusions, including that doing two things at once is impossible when both tasks require your conscious attention....

30 min
Are Dreams Meaningful?
19: Are Dreams Meaningful?

Consider some of the potential roots (and purposes) of dreams and how neuroscientists study them. While dreams continue to remain mysterious, some theories posit that dreams play a role in consolidating your memory, and that they can be driven by emotional events (including traumatic ones)....

31 min
Can Brain Scans Read Your Mind?
20: Can Brain Scans Read Your Mind?

Discover what neuroimaging can-and can't-tell us about how the human mind works. First, examine what brain scans are actually showing us. Then, consider three regions of the brain prone to common misunderstanding in the media: the amygdala, the reward circuitry, and the prefrontal cortex....

30 min
Can Adult Brains Change for the Better?
21: Can Adult Brains Change for the Better?

Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you can't still learn and master new things. After considering how neuroplasticity works in a toddler's brain, explore how exercise and musical training are two ways to influence the growth of new neurons and the formation of new synapses (known as neurogenesis)....

29 min
Do Special Neurons Enable Social Life?
22: Do Special Neurons Enable Social Life?

From mirror neurons to von Economo cells, learn the role that special neurons might play in human social behavior. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have expanded our understanding of how we interact with and understand people, but myths about these special neurons abound....

31 min
Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?
23: Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?

You might not be racist, but your brain likely is. How did neuroscientists come to this startling conclusion? And what can we, as individuals, do about it? Find out in this fascinating lecture on the neurology of prejudice, implicit and explicit biases, stereotyping, and in-group preferences....

31 min
Does Technology Make You Stupid?
24: Does Technology Make You Stupid?

In this final lecture, ponder several prevalent myths about the relationship between technology and the brain. Among these: smartphones are killing our attention spans, social media is addictive (and leads us to be less social), computers make us less intelligent, and search engines are destroying our memory....

32 min
Indre Viskontas

The beauty of science is that with each question that is answered, many more questions are raised; each discovery helps us develop more refined queries about the world around us.


University of California, Los Angeles


University of California, San Francisco

About Indre Viskontas

Dr. Indre Viskontas is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco and Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training. Professor Viskontas received her Bachelor of Science degree with a Specialist in Psychology and a minor in French Literature at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She also holds a Masters of Music degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She completed her PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied the neural basis of memory and reasoning. Her post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco explored the paradoxical facilitation of creativity in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

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