“Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization”


For all of modern science’s advancements in unearthing the secrets of the universe, the human brain remains an area of great mystery.  The deep subconscious, memory storage and retrieval, the source of emotion—all are subjects in which experts are admittedly ignorant. But David Eagleman, fiction writer and neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, is a little less ignorant than most.

Eagleman loves the brain—that three-pound lump of tofu between our ears.  You can say he has a mind for, um, the mind.  He has pioneered research in time-perception, synesthesia and neurolaw.  He asks questions like, “Does your brain slow down or speed up in moments of high adrenaline?”  Kind of like when everything moves in slow motion during a car accident, or Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in The Matrix. (In one of his experiments, he dropped subjects—himself included—from a 150-foot tower, and compared their perceived drop time to the actual drop time.)

With synesthesia, the condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers experiences in another, Eagleman goes philosophical.  Hearing music, for example, might cause a synesthete to feel textures, or seeing the number “3” will arouse the sensation of looking at the color purple.  To the synesthete, they’re all the same.  Eagleman’s study has engendered Descartes-like ideas of alternate realities: Is my experience the same as yours?  Whose reality is truer?

Then there’s the burgeoning field of neurolaw.  Eagleman is the founding director of Baylor’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, which discusses how modern brain science should affect lawmaking, criminal punishment, and new methods of rehabilitation.

Pretty heady stuff.

If you’re hungry for more brain food, check Eagleman’s seminar “Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization,” in which he uses his research to map out a new path for society. It is in the truest sense—cliché be damned—mind over matter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010, 7:30 and 9:30 pm, Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., 415-621-6600, $10

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