The brain is a Swiss Army knife: Nancy Kanwisher at TED2014

TED Blog

TED2014_DD_DSC_5927_1920 Nancy Kanwisher. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

She starts by telling us one of the most surprising results from recent neuroscience discoveries: The brain is not a general-purpose processor, but a collection of specialized components, “collectively building up who we are as human beings and thinkers.”

Imagine, she says, walking into a daycare center and suddenly realizing you can’t recognize any of the children, including your own. This isn’t a strange fantasy. It’s called prosopagnosia, and it happens to people. The really strange thing about it is, in those with that condition, only facial recognition is affected. There are many conditions like this, and Kanwisher say, “these syndromes collectively have suggested for a long time that the brain is divvied up into specific components.”

The effort to identify these components has jumped with the invention of fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Imaging has been around for a while, but the real advance happened…

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