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Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience

Team up with a brain expert and use the needle of neuroscience to burst popular myths about memory, dreams, and more.
Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 65.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic! This course opened my eyes (brain?) to so many aspects of life. Not the least of which is how I can be more useful to myself and others.
Date published: 2023-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome course A superb, engaging, and charming lecturer (and don't accuse me of being a sexist because I described this lady as charming). The substance of her talks is consistently at the level of a college course. When I initially read her bio, I was somewhat skeptical that the opera-singer part had any relevance. But she wove her experience into the course material in a very convincing different that if another professor had had expertise in some other arena, like sports, finance, or medicine. As I read the few negative reviews, I am inclined to state, "there's no cure for stupid".
Date published: 2023-03-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from There are better courses to study Professor Viskontas discredits most theories that to not match up with her own progressive ideas as the result of "confirmation bias". However, her own theory that our world is absolutely meaningless and a mere product of random unguided chance, display a "cofirmation bias" greater than all the theories she dismisses.
Date published: 2023-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best course I have completed so far. Perhaos my opinion of the course is influenced by my interest in consciousness and philosophy. I found that restricting myself to one session a week was difficult.
Date published: 2022-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just One Objection It’s a good thing she can sing. I’m joking! It’s a great course, though most Wondriums would be aware of some of these brain myths, such as the 10%-brain myth, or that certain foods can make you smarter. But i object to the myth of lecture 19, concerning dreams. The current myth that i am confronted with from well-read people, is that DREAMS ARE MEANINGLESS. I think this is an overreaction to Freud’s and Jung’s tremendous influence and popularity. Some dreams obviously reveal our desires and fears. The other day i woke up in an easy chair dreaming about biting into a turkey-burger. It can’t be proven, with scientific certainty, that my dream was a result both my hunger and the fact that i had recently bought some turkey-burgers. But are we such slaves to science that we can’t admit to that cause-and-effect relationship? Yet our psychic-social lives are complex. It’s doesn’t take a great leap of faith to believe that dreams sometimes reflect such complexity. And anyone who has practiced memory exercises, understands the power of ‘emotional encoding’ (conjuring up images with strong emotional impacts that represent whatever it is you’re trying to remember). I believe, our brains do that naturally when we dream. With a little decoding, and some awareness of what may be ‘on your mind’ at the time of the dream, you’ll recognize the same cause-and-effect relationships as in my turkey-burger/appetite example. Granted, it can’t be proven scientifically. But that hardly makes it a myth.
Date published: 2022-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from in general the great courses have excellent facts the great c have excellent facts from incredible amounts of science and logic classes to research methods and critical thinking and logic-
Date published: 2022-03-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing Professor Viskontas is obviously a bright woman with a pleasant demeanor and is an excellent and engaging speaker. However, from the very beginning, I found the course by far the most disappointing of the dozens of Great Courses that I've gone through. The negatives, in no particular order are: - I found the goofy background distracting. I could have ignored it if it was not for the "brain impulse" tracking around. - I think it is a stretch to consider most of the topics presented as any kind of myth, unless they are considered so among cognitive neuroscientists. A more appropriate title might be "Random Interesting Topics from Neuroscience." - While I appreciate the challenges of tailoring one of these courses to "lay persons," her choice of phraseology was too simplistic and inaccurate. The brain isn't "wired." Neurons do not "commit suicide." If the brain evolved, it obviously isn't "designed perfectly" or "designed" period. - I expected the course to be from a more physical/biological neuroscience perspective and not so heavily from the psychological approach. I suppose I should have expected that since her Ph.D. is in Cognitive Neuroscience. - The reference to so many studies that "seem to indicate" just came across as presenting opinions that support one's perspective and not established scientific explanations. I understand and appreciate that so much is unknown and research is ongoing, but more facts or established conclusions would have been preferable. - I did not appreciate that she seemed to "get preachy" in Lesson 23, "Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?" This came across as purely psychological opinion and not neuroscience in the least. Of course people have prejudices and bias. That is no myth that needs to be exploded. I try to broaden my perspectives and knowledge base, which is one of the reasons I view The Great Courses, so I gutted it out and watched the complete course. I almost quit after the first three, but I persevered. Unfortunately, my negative experience was only intensified. I am an engineer by profession, and I understand my propensity toward the practical and fact based elements of life, but this course seemed to be more of a jumble of topics that were labeled as "myths" and then discussed in a shallow presentation with no coherent structure that would have been more appropriate in a social setting of light conversation. It was a waste of my time.
Date published: 2021-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 4.5 stars for Brain Myths Exploded ... Not a review, so much as my general impression of the course. Overall, I really enjoyed this course. This is my second course from Dr Indre Viskontas (the first was "12 Essential Concepts") and I found it to be largely worth my time. The first 22 lectures had relatively interesting material with excellent presentation, excellent illustrations (especially the 3D illustration of the human brain) and maintained my interest, easily. These lectures frequently stimulated my interest and kept me pondering on what I had learned and curious to learn more. This is usually what I hope for in a lecture series. When Lecture 23 started to feel like 'Critical Race Theory' repackaged, I skipped past the remainder of the lecture (for personal reasons of my own). Lecture 24 on 'technology's influence on the human mind' did not engage me as well as the first 22 lectures did and I will likely take a pass on Dr Viskontas's entire lecture series dedicated to that topic (at least for now). In terms of pure enjoyability (very subjective, I know), I would include this course in my top 35 (out of 375 courses). In terms of what I learned, I would also include it in my top 35. So, the top 9th percentile is not bad. Would I watch it again? Absolutely. Whether or not the content engages you, I don't think that anyone would argue that Dr Viskontas has a very pleasant presentation style. I would place Dr Viskontas in my top 10 professors, for presentation style alone. If the lecture titles look interesting to you, then I would recommend giving this course a chance. I believe that most people will easily conclude that it was worth their time. I watched the video and found that the graphics and illustrations made a positive contribution to the overall presentation.
Date published: 2021-08-26
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Join an acclaimed neuroscientist for 24 lectures that bust popular myths about memory, dreams, emotions, consciousness, and more.


Indre Viskontas

The beauty of science is that with each question that is answered, many more questions are raised; each discovery helps us develop more refined queries about the world around us.


University of California, San Francisco

Indre Viskontas is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, where she runs the Creative Brain Lab. She earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published more than 50 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity. A passionate science communicator, she has appeared on major TV and radio programs and hosts the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds as well as the podcast Cadence: What Music Tells Us about the Mind.

By This Professor

12 Essential Scientific Concepts
How Digital Technology Shapes Us
Creativity and Your Brain
Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience
Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience


Is Your Brain Perfectly Designed?

01: Is Your Brain Perfectly Designed?

Begin the course by debunking one of the most fundamental myths about the human brain. Along the way, discover how our brains are shaped by evolution and experience, which neurons are responsible for self-awareness and motor coordination, and why the brain is still very much a work in progress.

33 min
Are Bigger Brains Smarter?

02: Are Bigger Brains Smarter?

When it comes to brains, size doesn't matter as much as you think. Here, explore concepts including the Encephalization quotient (which compares brain mass to body mass), the "g" factor (a long-sought-after standard of cognitive ability), and the lessons scientists have learned from studying the brain of Albert Einstein.

30 min
Is Mental Illness Just a Chemical Imbalance?

03: Is Mental Illness Just a Chemical Imbalance?

According to Dr. Viskontas, major psychiatric illnesses aren't just the result of chemical concentrations in the brain. The focus of this lecture is an intriguing exploration of two disorders that have proven to be far more complicated and nuanced in our understanding of mental illness: schizophrenia and depression.

32 min
Are Creative People Right-Brained?

04: Are Creative People Right-Brained?

Think your brain is divided into a creative side and an analytical side? Think again. The two hemispheres of your brain are actually quite interconnected. Discover what neuroimaging has revealed about the way our brains think and create, and why it's all about collaboration - not competition.

28 min
How Different Are Male and Female Brains?

05: How Different Are Male and Female Brains?

We're always hearing about studies that find significant differences the brains of men and women. How should we be thinking about gender differences in the brain? How are these differences misinterpreted? What are the differences in the male and female amygdala and hippocampus? Which genders express which emotions more openly?

31 min
How Accurate Is Your Memory?

06: How Accurate Is Your Memory?

In this lecture that unpacks the accuracy of your memories, learn how information is encoded, stored, and retrieved in the brain; examine how Alzheimer's disease and amnesia affect the brain's ability to remember; and explore the "Seven Sins of Memory," including absentmindedness, memory blocking, and misattribution.

30 min
Do You Only Use 10% of Your Brain?

07: Do You Only Use 10% of Your Brain?

Are you using your brain to its fullest potential? Here, clear up some of the mystery about how much of our brain power we're using. As you'll learn, you use a lot more of your brain than you think, whether you're practicing a new skill or simply zoning out in front of the television.

30 min
Do You Perceive the World as It Really Is?

08: Do You Perceive the World as It Really Is?

According to Dr. Viskontas, the biggest myth about our senses is that they reflect the world as it actually is. Using vision as an example, discover how your sensory system uses shortcuts and fills in details to create, from portions of the environment, the illusion that you're perceiving reality objectively.

29 min
Is Your Brain Too Smart for Magic Tricks?

09: Is Your Brain Too Smart for Magic Tricks?

We've all been fooled by a magic trick at one point or another. But we rarely stop to think about how magicians are simply manipulating pre-existing shortcomings in our minds. Here, explore some of the neurological principles magicians rely on, including selective attention, inattention blindness, and change blindness.

30 min
Is Your Brain Objective?

10: Is Your Brain Objective?

Contrary to what you might believe, we don't weight evidence equally before building personal beliefs. Instead, we're beholden to confirmation bias. Is this a bug our brains could do without? Is it an evolutionary advantage? Can it also lead to sublime experiences (like appreciating a piece of music)?

31 min
Do You Have 5 Independent Senses?

11: Do You Have 5 Independent Senses?

Discover why your senses aren't as separate as you think - and why you actually have more than five. Topics in this lecture include proprioception (sensing where you are) and synesthesia (a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense causes the involuntary activation of a different sense).

28 min
Can Certain Foods Make You Smarter?

12: Can Certain Foods Make You Smarter?

In this lecture on "brain food," consider the scientific truths behind the food fads that make headlines; test out the myths associated with foods like fish oil, vitamins, power drinks, chocolate, and tea; and ponder the potential of smart pills (known as nootropics) such as Adderall and Ritalin.

31 min
Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?

13: Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?

An increased focus among scientists on neuroplasticity (changes in the brain's biology) has led to a flurry of brain-training games and tools aimed at improving our cognitive skills. Here, probe the potential of these games, and consider some alternate ways to train your brain, including exercising and socializing.

30 min
Does Your Brain Shut Down during Sleep?

14: Does Your Brain Shut Down during Sleep?

What, exactly, happens when you fall asleep? Why do our brains need sleep in order to function? What are some of the neurological dangers of not getting enough sleep? What are the sleep patterns of other animals, and how do they compare to our own? Dr. Viskontas provides some answers.

28 min
Are Your Decisions Rational?

15: Are Your Decisions Rational?

When we make decisions, we're actually swayed by things that any truly rational human being would ignore. Why do our brains work this way? Explore the "mental laziness" hardwired into our nature, and why we easily fall prey to superficial judgments. Central to this idea: the brain's two thinking systems.

29 min
Are You Always Conscious while Awake?

16: Are You Always Conscious while Awake?

In this lecture, probe the eternal "problem" of consciousness - perhaps the most difficult topic in all of neuroscience. How have scientists tried to determine what consciousness is and how it works? Along the way, examine several theories, including the intriguing idea that consciousness is nothing more than a neural afterthought.

31 min
Are Other Animals Conscious?

17: Are Other Animals Conscious?

Continue exploring consciousness with a consideration of its appearance in other animals. Scientific studies in animals ranging from primates to octopi have uncovered some illuminating insights into how animals can potentially show complex behaviors (including compassion, self-recognition, and generosity) we typically associate exclusively with conscious humans.

29 min
Can You Multitask Efficiently?

18: Can You Multitask Efficiently?

Multitasking is a critical skill in today's world. But does it really work as well as you think? Dr. Viskontas lays bare the neurology of the multitasker and uses key studies to draw several powerful conclusions, including that doing two things at once is impossible when both tasks require your conscious attention.

30 min
Are Dreams Meaningful?

19: Are Dreams Meaningful?

Consider some of the potential roots (and purposes) of dreams and how neuroscientists study them. While dreams continue to remain mysterious, some theories posit that dreams play a role in consolidating your memory, and that they can be driven by emotional events (including traumatic ones).

31 min
Can Brain Scans Read Your Mind?

20: Can Brain Scans Read Your Mind?

Discover what neuroimaging can - and can't - tell us about how the human mind works. First, examine what brain scans are actually showing us. Then, consider three regions of the brain prone to common misunderstanding in the media: the amygdala, the reward circuitry, and the prefrontal cortex.

30 min
Can Adult Brains Change for the Better?

21: Can Adult Brains Change for the Better?

Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you can't still learn and master new things. After considering how neuroplasticity works in a toddler's brain, explore how exercise and musical training are two ways to influence the growth of new neurons and the formation of new synapses (known as neurogenesis).

29 min
Do Special Neurons Enable Social Life?

22: Do Special Neurons Enable Social Life?

From mirror neurons to von Economo cells, learn the role that special neurons might play in human social behavior. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have expanded our understanding of how we interact with and understand people, but myths about these special neurons abound.

31 min
Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?

23: Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?

You might not be racist, but your brain likely is. How did neuroscientists come to this startling conclusion? And what can we, as individuals, do about it? Find out in this fascinating lecture on the neurology of prejudice, implicit and explicit biases, stereotyping, and in-group preferences.

31 min
Does Technology Make You Stupid?

24: Does Technology Make You Stupid?

In this final lecture, ponder several prevalent myths about the relationship between technology and the brain. Among these: smartphones are killing our attention spans, social media is addictive (and leads us to be less social), computers make us less intelligent, and search engines are destroying our memory.

32 min