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Radio 4's Brain Season

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 12:25, Thursday, 3 November 2011

Next week sees the start of a season of programmes about the brain on Radio 4. It covers 5000 years of understanding (and misunderstanding) of what the brain is and what it does from the ancient Egyptians to recent advances in neuroscience. It takes in the myths and fallacies about the brain and what that tells us about the culture of the times.

Here's more info on the programmes that make up the brain season. Many of them will be available as podcasts to download and keep and there'll be profiles and interviews with many of the series' contributors including neuroscientist Colin Blakemore on Radio 4's interactive Science Explorer. I'll update with links to the programmes and podcasts as they become available.

A History of the Brain

Dr Geoff Bunn, who's also written a blog post on the series, presents 10 programmes on weekdays at 1.45pm covering 5,000 years of our understanding of the brain. From Neolithic times to the present day the series takes us through the many different historical ideas about what the brain is for and how it does its job. Starts Monday 7 November at 1.45pm and an omnibus at 9pm on Fridays.
Programme page: A History of the Brain

Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Society

A three-part series where Matthew Taylor explores new imaging techniques and their insights into the functioning of the brain. If we change our view of how the mind works should we teach, punish and rule people differently? Starts on Tuesday 15 November at 4pm. Programme page: Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Society

The Lobotomists

Hugh Levinson tells the story of the lobotomy craze of the 1940s and 50s and what it says about our attitude towards mental health then and now. On Monday 7 November at 8pm.
Programme page: The Lobotomists

Mind Myths

Radio 4's psychologist Claudia Hammond debunks common myths about the brain and its workings. Do we really only use 10% of our brain and does listening to Mozart makes children smarter? On Tuesday 8 November at 9pm.
Programme page: Mind Myths

The Life Scientific

In the next episode Jim Al-Khalili gets inside the mind of leading neuroscientist, Colin Blakemore. Tuesday 8 November at 9am.
Programme page: Colin Blakemore on The Life Scientific
The Life Scientific podcast

Paul Murphy is the editor of the Radio 4 blog

There's also a selection of brain and mind related material as part of the excellent Reith lectures archive including Colin Blakemore:

  • 2003 VS Ramachandran: The Emerging Mind Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, lectures on new insights into the human brain's workings.
  • 1984 John Searle: Minds, Brains and ScienceAmerican philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, John Searle examines the connections between Minds, Brains and Science.
  • 1976 Colin Blakemore: Mechanics of the Mind Neurobiologist Dr Colin Blakemore, Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, explores different facets of human consciousness in six lectures.
  • 1950 John Zachary Young: Doubt and Certainty in Science English zoologist and neurophysiologist John Zachary Young explores the function of the brain, and the current scientific methods used to increase our understanding of it.


  • Comment number 1.

    Will there be attention for brain tumours? Brain cancer is the biggest cancer killer for those between 20-40 and yet receives less than 1% of the budget for cancer research. Children with brain tumours tend to get more attention in the media because it tugs on our heart strings but their tumours are often completely different than those found in adults. Research in both is important of course but adult tumours tend to get less attention, unless it happens to a celebrity.

    Portrayal of brain tumours in tv dramas is completely unrealistic (Coronation Street takes the biscuit) and don't show the absolute disaster and loss of dignity most patients suffer.

    Brain Season is the perfect opportunity to shine a light on this horrible disease. It claimed my wife at 27 after a 6 year battle. Google my username to find the daily blog I kept of her journey if you want to know what living with a brain tumour is REALLY LIKE.

  • Comment number 2.

    Is this it?

    From all the hype coming out of my radio, I thought this was a major theme of connected programmes. I was expecting a web page with lots of information and an extensive schedule of listening.

    All I see here is ten 15min programmes and three others on today and tomorrow. Hardly a two week long extensive "season".

    There are a lot of other programmes I'm sure, but how do I find them other than happening to come across them when broadcast or on iPlayer?

    The "cross media supporting information" (stuff on the internet) once again is a complete letdown, just disconnected links to programme pages in a blog post.

    Don't tell me, you have been twittering and tweeting about it for weeks!

  • Comment number 3.

    hi will there be any related to arnold chiari malformation syringomyelia. i am a sufferer and it is a condition that isnt well know and could really do with the pulicity. There is a long time to usually diagnose the condition and dr's know very little to manage us appropriately. Would be grateful for the publicity. xx

  • Comment number 4.

    I too suffer from chiari malformation, this is an insidious condition that is not well known or understood. A series such as this has a real opportunity to widen awareness of this condition both to the general public and medical community.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am also a sufferer of Chiari Malformation, Syringomyelia and Hydrocephalus.....when you mention Chiari Malformation, people look at you with a blank look, as they do not know what it is.....I agree there are a lot of neurological conditions which deserve to be looked at and studied....but Chiari is classed as a "rare" disease, and not a lot is known about it!! It is a devastating condition with no cure, the main treatment for it is a major operation.....if they think it will alleviate the symptoms...those who do not qualify for surgery are treated conservatively, in the hopes the symptoms will not progress. It leads to numerous other conditions/complications and more needs to be known about it!
    This series would have been the perfect forum for it t be discussed.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am also a Arnold Chiari Malformation sufferer is there going to be anything related to to Arnold Chiari Malformation? It isn't well know and most people give you a blank look when you mention it, this is a very debilitating condition, it can take years for a diagnosis and most doctor's haven't heard of Arnold Chiari Malformation and often people are misdiagnosed

  • Comment number 7.

    We can't seem to get this program here in Japan. Is there any reason for that?

  • Comment number 8.

    FYI, Michael Mosley's BBC4 3-part series, The Brain: A Secret History, is worth looking up, esp. the third episode with its section on the interplay between the left and right hemispheres. I love this stuff, keep it up! ;)


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