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Brain Story
Brain Story 01 - All In The Mind
Brain Story 02 - In The Heat Of The Moment

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Brain Story

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1. All In The Mind

The story of how science has begun to understand the astonishing complexity of the brain is revealed ' from the earliest crude studies of the effects of brain injury, through to the latest insights from direct stimulation of specific areas in patients undergoing brain surgery whilst wide awake. Professor Greenfield meets Sarah Kitchen while the latter is undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumour, performed by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. Because of the site of the tumour, there is a danger that the surgery could result in damage to the area of Sarah's brain that appears to be responsible for her speech. So she is kept awake for this part of the operation and asked to keep talking.

But what about more complicated processes than even speech? Susan asks if it is possible that artistic and even spiritual feelings are merely the result of electrical activity in the temporal lobe area of the brain.

Susan meets a woman whose particular form of epilepsy causes her to see colours very vividly and to experience intensely religious hallucinations ' two distinct characteristics of painter Vincent Van Gogh, another sufferer of temporal lobe epilepsy.

2. In The Heat Of The Moment

Professor Greenfield explores the complicated origins of human emotions in this programme. She asks why emotions seem so different from thoughts. Human beings don't just 'think' emotions; they feel and experience them in a way which is physically manifest in facial expressions such as happiness, sadness and fear that appear to be common to all cultures and throughout human history. Susan looks at some of the most intense emotions, beginning with disgust, and meets Professor Paul Rozin, who spends much of his time attempting to revolt people.

She learns that this particular emotion is directly linked to quite basic sensations in the mouth and the stomach. But disgust can also be learnt; an adult will not want to taste a drink that has had an insect floating in it but a child may be quite happy to drink it once the creature has been removed. Susan explains how a specific part of the brain becomes activated when stimulated by images that the subject finds disgusting.

Vietnam veteran Dennis Sines has symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome. He is jumpy and easily startled and has intrusive memories of his war experiences. 'I feel trapped in my life. I feel like I'm trapped in some kind of hell'something that's never going to go away.' An MRI scan indicates that the fear which Dennis experienced seems to have physically altered the structure of his brain.

And emotions are not just governed by physical areas of the brain; finely-tuned chemical balances may have a bearing on even that most complex of emotions ' love. But, for Susan, the answer to how ' and why ' humans experience emotion is far more complex than special areas of the brain or simple chemical changes. She believes it may be something far more subtle and mysterious. 'The indescribable sensations of different emotional states must actually emerge directly from the ever-changing patterns of nerve cells firing in the brain.' And while, at the moment, these neurone patterns cannot possibly be measured by scientists, Susan is convinced that 'in this new century, we'll be able to do just that'.

3. The Mind's Eye

Vision is one of the most complex areas of brain activity and one that is still far from fully understood. It is the brain that manages to sort out a sense of meaning from the jumbled pattern of light hitting the retina. Movement, size, shape and colour all have to be pieced together by the brain in a matter of milliseconds. For the last 20 years, Gisela Liebold has been unable to see moving images, even though her other senses will tell her that the object is in motion. 'I find it terribly disturbing when a fast train approaches ' in general, when something comes towards me that's even worse ' it's better when it's far away.' Gisela can see things only as a series of freeze frames. This is because the human eye can only capture static images ' it is the brain which incorporates them to create the sensation of seeing movement.

Susan looks at other ways in which the brain is clearly able to 'fill in the gaps' from the limited information coming from the eyes, and she also explores how hard the brain works to make sense of the most subtle differences in this information. She examines how, for example, the brain enables the viewer to differentiate between thousands of different faces even though their physical differences are actually minute, and she finds out what happens when the part of the brain which analyses this information is damaged leaving the victim 'face-blind'.

4. First Among Equals

What is it about brains that has put us in charge of the planet? Where have humans' unique linguistic abilities come from? Are there special structures in our brains which no other animals possess? Or is it possible that our sophisticated rich cultures are merely the result of having larger brains? Susan Greenfield explains why she believes we are truly just big-brained chimps.

5. Growing The Mind

The changes in the brain during the growth and development of a baby into an adult are explored in this edition. Professor Greenfield looks at how little of the fine structure of our brains is predetermined at birth, how the connections between nerves are constantly changing in response to what we encounter in the outside world.

She explains her view that learning, memory and even the process of becoming a unique individual should all be seen as a restless brain adapting minute by minute to the environment it encounters. Life is about how the world leaves its mark on us.

6. The Final Mystery

How do our brains generate consciousness? We take it for granted that the brain makes being alive feel the way it does, but there's no reason why it should. The brain is made of the same biological ingredients as the rest of the body, and yet somehow it manages to generate the indescribable phenomenon of consciousness. Consciousness is far more than just being able to imagine; it's a whole extra dimension.

Professor Greenfield explains why she believes that the existence of a private world of experiences and feelings is actually more extraordinary than the fact that living things evolved at all. She explores how we are finally taking the first steps towards understanding.



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