Science, technology and nature are examined with insight, humor and an eye on the practical, with smartly paced reports on such subjects as the big-bang theory, robots, the relationship between stress and illness, and whether we are alone in the universe (more…)
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We'll meet three robots - including a future member of an astronaut team - that are trying to better understand us.
Alan catches up with Kelley Flynn, whom he saw three years ago as she was undergoing surgery for a cochlear implant. At the time, Kelley was seven, and desperately wanted to both hear and speak normally. Alan recalls the dramatic moment when Kelley's artificial hearing was first turned on. Since then Kelley has worked hard on her speech and now, as she tells Alan, she wants to become an actress. Inspired by the success of cochlear implants for the profoundly deaf, many researchers are now trying to develop artificial retinas for those who are blind due to retinal diseases. Alan visits the team at the Doheny Eye Institute of the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he meets Terry Byland, one of only six patients testing an experimental retinal implant. Alan watches as Terry's artificial vision - "a white flickering fuzzy light" - is tested, and tries out for himself some simulations of how future retinal implants may one day allow the blind to read.
The best kept secret of American archeology is now revealed.
If you think you know why you do things, you're probably wrong. Exploring how our unconscious determines our behavior, Alan goes into a magnetic resonance scanner in the Caltech lab of Steven Quartz to find out how his brain reacts to products both "cool" and "un-cool." Quartz and his associate Anette Asp are trying to find out why humans are obsessed with the social status of objects, and so are scanning the brains of people as they look at a range of products. Both Alan and Anette have brains that react strongly to things they find un-cool, as if they are recoiling from them. Steve, on the other hand, shows "shop-aholic" tendencies, his brain responding to cool objects not only in the region where his sense of self resides, but also in those regions controlling movement, as if he is reaching out to grab them. In the Harvard lab of Mahzarin Banaji, Alan takes a test designed to ferret out our unconscious prejudices. Called the Implicit Association Test, it measures the strength of associations we make without being aware of them. Alan, despite many years of working in feminist causes, still harbors a slight prejudice against associating women with a career. But the real surprise is that Mahzarin herself, despite a very successful career as a Harvard professor, shows a strong implicit bias against women in the workplace. Alan is presented with a tough moral choice by researcher Joshua Greene of Princeton: under what circumstance might he sacrifice the life of one person to save many? Greene's research suggests the emotional weight of the decision is critical, pitting the emotional centers of the brain against the rational ones.
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- Premise: Science, technology and nature are examined with insight, humor and an eye on the practical, with smartly paced reports on such subjects as the big-bang theory, robots, the relationship between stress and illness, and whether we are alone in the universe.… (more)
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