TED talks are popular but the newly released talk by Nancy Kanwisher ’80, PhD ’86, a cognitive science professor at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, is exceptionally so. Her talk, A Neural Portrait of the Human Mind, received more than 100,000 hits in the first 24 hours after it was posted on October 2.
Why do so many brains want to know what she knows about brains? Described as a brain imaging pioneer, Kanswisher uses a method called fMRI, which allows you to see internal anatomy at high resolution, to study the activity of the human brain. The additional blood flow involve in a neutral activity can be mapped using functional fMRI. She’s been able to identify specific areas responsible for activities like face recognition.
“The human mind and brain is not a single, general purpose processor, but a collection of highly specialized components, each solving a different, specific problem and yet collectively making up who we are as human beings and thinkers,” she told the TED audience. “Understanding the fundamental mechanisms that underlie human experience….This is the greatest scientist quest of all time.”
Want to know more? Kanwisher has published nancysbraintalks.mit.edu, a website linking to some of her short talks on the scientific methods and recent findings. Sample topics include “How Early Does Face Perception Develop in Childhood?” and “What Is fMRI?”