Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience

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
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Just Didn't Find It Too Interesting I thought this course had a lot of potential. Specifically lectures on sleep, dreaming, and consciousness intrigued me enough to purchase this course. But I could never really get into it. Simply stated I just didn't find it interesting enough. Maybe I unfairly expected components that wouldn't be in scope like more philosophy of the mind or other theories around dreaming but this just seemed to be one long recitation of study after study and while some were eye opening and do bust some myths most of us carry, the sheer volume of tidbits from this study and that made it difficult to put all of this together. And to be honest I didn't even find the studies themselves very interesting. The professor's presentation style wasn't bad but I didn't like some aspects of it: at times she seemed smug in what she was presenting, rarely offering differing views. Her attempts at humor also fell flat with me and were odd at times. Okay so she's probably a dog person and aren't too fond of cats but her disparaging jokes about cats seemed out fo place since she's probably irritating or isolating half of her audience! And sometimes the references to her husband and child seemed too much. While they can help illustrate points at time, I really didn't need to listen to her recorded reaction to the first time her child recognized his own name in which she screamed with joy. Nor did hearing her refer to him as meatloaf numerous times help my understanding of the topics at hand. Sorry maybe I'm being trivial and overly cruel here but the upshot is all of this only contributed to a lack of connection on my behalf with the content/course and instead resulted in me feeling like this course was something to just endure (in case I was missing a really good lecture somewhere at the end) vs. one to really enjoy. If you have a great interest in neuroscience then this course may intrigue you so take my review for what it's worth but I didn't going in and me thinking it just might turn my interest to the discipline...well that ended up being just a myth.
Date published: 2019-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought the product was very informative. It was great information. I was fascinated by everything that was said. The brain is complex and endlessly interesting to study. I could listen for hours to anyone talking about the brain.
Date published: 2018-12-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice overview of a range of topics The professor is very articulate and was very easy to follow in the audio version. I know that it is sometimes hard to figure out the level of difficulty in some of these courses, I often miss the mark. I have taken several different courses on neurology, each bringing a new point or perspective to the table. So, her reference to technical terms were quite familiar to me at this point. However, I think other professors may take more time to introduce some of these terms, so it might be frustrating to some people who are new to neurology. On the other hand, I don't think it is absolutely necessary to understand all of the neurological terms to be able to grasp the main points she is presenting. I don't think I'd call all of these topics myths. Some easily fall into that category, but others are more or less results of advancing science-more questions are asked, more studies are performed, advancing technologies allows for better studies, etc. And yes, there are many things that scientists do not yet understand, and things we wish were simple are, unfortunately, very complicated. Not pleasant to those who are desperately seeking answers when they are experiencing problems. I was somewhat expecting the kind of lists of myths you can find all over the internet, but I was plesantly suprised that she took some time to dig deeper into each area. I was a little disspointed, however, in some of the studies she used to "prove" that something was a myth. On the one hand she points out that neuro imaging is often used in an over zealous manner, which may or may not be true, it isn't my area of expertise. But then in a later lecture when discussing racism, she puts an awful lot of faith in the studies from social sciences, which are well known to be negatively affected by all kinds of biases. It is a shame, because I have many questions and theories about prejudice (and not just the ones that society defines as such) and neurology.
Date published: 2018-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation I greatly enjoyed this course, and learned a lot from it. First of all, the professor is well organized, speaks clearly, and demonstrates not just a broad knowledge of the topics, but also includes apt personal anecdotes to insert some humor. Although she has an opinion as to the myths she is "exploding", she also presents opposing views, and backs everything up with reference to scientific research. This has been one of my favorite courses, and I looked forward to watching each video.
Date published: 2018-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amygdala and hippocampus drive our brains! The lecturer is dynamic and easy to listen to. Her layman’s description of how amygdala and hippocampus was clear and fascinating. I enjoyed the story she told about how pathologists pooked and analyzed Einstein’s brain tissue for over 30 years. Only learning he had a smaller than average brain size. The 7 sins of memory, 10% use of our brains, discussions of benefits of sleep for brain, and especially how it is much better to socialize and exercise than playing computer games were very interesting to me. I have listened to this series twice already since there were so many nuggets of gold I missed from first listening.
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking The subject of Neuroscience is still at the Frontier. Anybody expecting definitive answers is bound to be mistaken and/or disappointed. I thought that her presentation was finely balanced in trying to explain the facts and the misconceptions behind each lecture's 'myths'. In fact, quite a refreshing approach... Her style is immediately appealing, very clear, and laced with subtle humour - often against herself !
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED IT!!! One of the best lectures I have listened to from The Great Courses. Entertaining and informative. I want to hear more from this lecturer.
Date published: 2018-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good science I enjoyed the focus on dispelling myths and accuracy.
Date published: 2018-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course Content. I found this series, and the presenter, of great interest. She presented a great deal of interesting and detailed information about the working of out incredible brains.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my Favorite Very interesting subject matter and engaging professor!
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating information, well presented. Don't be put off by some of the lecture titles that may seem mundane and uninteresting. Each lecture if full of surprising and fascinating information, well presented.
Date published: 2018-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great voice, easy to understand, not condescending I am a physician and I also teach Anatomy & Physiology and I use these tapes when I travel. There were days when I was sad to reach my destination because I had to turn off the tape. Do yourself an enormous favor---buy this tape. You shall have no regrets when you do.
Date published: 2017-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course indeed The course is informative - precise - organized - well documented - easy to understand - well delivered - ---- in general it is one of the best courses I have listened to.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative and entertaining, but not perfect I enjoyed Prof. Viskontas' "12 Essential Scientific Concepts" a lot and she has an amazing breadth of in-depth knowledge (not to mention being an opera singer!). She is an excellent presenter and I learned a lot on a wide range of topics from gender differences to magic tricks. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of animal consciousness (Jeffrey Masson's When Elephants Weep would be of interest to anyone wanting to know more). But a few times she was over-confident about conventional wisdom. For example, her materialist explanation for near-death experiences has been shown to be inadequate to explain how people can come back and report distant events while they were clinically dead (see Dr. Jeffrey Long's God and the Afterlife). She's way too optimistic about the benefits of social media and technology--as a journalist, I know most people read less and less and much of that is shockingly superficial. I seriously doubt that all the people who need to urgently check their messages the entire time they are at dinner with others is better than rela conversations. She also doesn't mention a study which showed that reading Kindle doesn't. But these shortcomings are minor compared with how much you'll learn, so definitely get this course.
Date published: 2017-07-27
Date published: 2017-07-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting But Not Great There is no doubt that Professor Viskontas is well educated, articulate, and has a good grasp of Neuroscience. She presents her subject manner in an easy going discussion format which is beneficial to understanding her arguments. I was impressed with her insights into the modern advances in Neuroscience and their ramifications for future brain studies. However, I was not convinced that she had adequately disproved all the myths she identified. In some cases, in my opinion, the studies she used to prove her conclusions were not empirical enough to satisfy scientific analysis. Phychology is ripe with studies many of which directly contradict each other in their conclusions. Therefore, although I enjoyed watching and listening to her presentation, I cannot recommend the course.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some interesting information, but not great. This course has some interesting information, but there are others out there that are much better. I wasn't a waste of time.
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done. Dr. Viskontas does a great job of describing the most current understanding of how the human brain works. It seems most of what we thought we knew about the brain is wrong...
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information. More people should get this tit I learned so much about the brain, my brain and so much more!
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Valuable Presentation It is very helpful to the general public when commonly held beliefs are shown to be untrue, and this lecture series is certainly useful in dispelling some about the workings of the human brain. However, the series simply whets your appetite for more proof about the causes of disparate human behavior.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lots of Basic, Practical Information I took this course after Prof. Sapolsky's Biology & Individual Behavior course. This one suffers by comparison. This professor has a friendly voice on the CD. She attempts to personalize the course with anecdotes about her family. The information seems generally good. I disagreed with her analysis, particularly, of, "Are mental illnesses just chemical imbalances?" She did not think so, but failed to discuss the idea that environmental events and traumas can change the functioning of neurons, and, therefore, their chemical functioning. The course seems to simplify many ideas, too much! This is not the worst course I have taken, but it is definitely inferior to many of the 20+ courses I have taken. It is good for beginners in brain science.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Review on Brain Myths Exploded I acquired this course as a means of filling in my knowledge of how the brain works, which is based on reading articles in popular and academic journals. I am not a behavorialist or a brain specialist but a writer. I enjoy the direct and clear discussion of the material on the brain, which has helped me to clarify my understanding of things like left brain and right brain, female or male brain, healthy and dysfunctional brain activities. Although I am only on lecture four, I have learned a great deal and corrective some broad misassumptions. I find the material easy to repeat as necessary when some concept I thought I understood in an earlier lecture was misinterpreted by me on the first go round.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, self-explanatory title I am finding this course absolutely fascinating. It assumes a level of intelligence in it's audience, yet it is completely accessible and comprehensible to the layman like me and is presented with charm and humor. I intend to listen to each lecture more than once, because there is actually too much to assimilate on one hearing. I have learned a tremendous amount about the brain.
Date published: 2017-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect course and Dr. Viskontas is incredible This course is flawless; I loved every minute of the lectures. Dr. Viskontas makes neuroscience engaging and entertaining while effortlessly incorporating foundational research studies.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Subject Prof Viskontas's presentation is excellent, a nice blend of humor, excellent intonation and plenty of information. Instead of just listing myths and explaining that they aren't true, this course is more of an exploration of how the brain works. With a gentle touch of science and terminology, concepts are explained clearly in a manner that most people should understand. I've completed 68 "Great Courses" at the moment, I have far more "in progress" and years of them waiting for me to get to them, this will rank among one of the best, both because the subject fascinates me and because of the excellent presentation. Caveat: I've only watched the first five lectures so far. Why doesn't Great Courses wait a month or two to give us a chance to finish a course before prompting us to review it? I decided to post a review now on this course because it is so excellent even though I've got over fifty courses that I have been meaning to write reviews on.
Date published: 2017-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very appropriate The lecturer was very knowledgeable. The information was easy to understand for the novice and still full of information for those already know a lot about the brain.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I found the information disclosed in this course fascinating. Professor Viskontas is articulate and it doesn’t hurt that she is also beautiful. The closed-captioning is the done the best of the 15 or so with that option that I’ve seen on TGC courses to date, but still has a few significant errors.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much to little time I love the variety timeliness quality I think I will always have a lecture series on my phone for walking driving waiting Such a super deal
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Excellent Course By Dr. Viskontas This is the second course of Professor Viskontas that I have purchased and greatly enjoyed. Her first was "12 Essential Scientific Concepts" which I had recommended to several of my friends. When I saw this new one "Brain Myths Exploded" I immediately purchased it and began viewing it. I have taken a number of courses and read many books on the Brain and Neuroscience so that many of the lesson topics were familiar to me, but Dr. Viskontas managed to present them in such a way that I learned something new and interesting in every lesson. I am glad to learn that my use of my smart phone, my IPAD, my computer and Google search is not making me Stupider or less focused which she covers in the last lecture. I would highly recommend both of her courses to the beginner looking for information on the brain or science or the knowledgeable individual seeking other views.
Date published: 2017-04-05
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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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