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August 27th, 2008
Spark Blog: Inside Alan Alda's Brain
Alan Alda and neuroscientist Scott Frey   

Filming conversation between Alan and neuroscientist Scott Frey. Note the grabbing tool on the table… can Alan successfully grasp the paper cup with it?
Photo © Maggie Villiger 2008

The first few days of shooting with Alan have nicely confirmed one of the key inspirations for the series: that many very different sciences — and scientists — are out there looking for the Spark — even if they don’t know it. A couple of days ago we were in Oregon, peering with both an MRI and a brain wave monitor into Alan’s brain to find out how he employs it for two of the most distinctively human traits, language and tool use.

Alan Alda models the EEG cap   

Alan models the EEG cap that will measure Event Related Potentials through his skull as he listens to spoken language.
Photo © Larry Engel 2008

It turns out that the places in his brain involved in both talking and planning how to use a tool are physically quite close together. Is there an evolutionary connection? We’ll see…

These days with Alan have also confirmed how key he is to the project.

He patiently endured perhaps an hour in the claustrophobic and noisy MRI scanner imagining how he would use a tool, and another hour in what looks like a swimmer’s rubber hat studded with electrodes watching animated penguins talking gibberish (but grammatically correct gibberish).

Then he conducted lively and probing conversations with the scientists doing the studies — and also made them laugh, something you don’t see too much of in the average science documentary.

– Graham Chedd

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Dan

    OK fine, but what does any of this have to do with *M*A*S*H*? Maybe nothing? But wow, it’s cool!!!

  • Kevin Bond

    If Alan Alda would like to really kick this special into high gear he should look into what I have been involved with for the past three years. It is an illegal non invasive brain computer interface which is read through an artificial EMF created by people that like to act as neural voyeurs of other people’s lives. IT’s REAL! It’SCARY! and it’s a product of the Bush Administration’s position on privacy in the public realm…

  • Bill Nyberg

    Awesome. “The Spark” does raise questions but at the same time substantiates biblical history. Genesis is not so much a history as it is the first chapter in the history of the redemption of man. Could not the “Spark” be Adam? God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Their children were Cain and Abel. In Genesis Chapter 4:17 Cain has relations with his wife. Where did she come from? The other question is how long is a day to God? Does not the 2 Peter 3:8 state “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Overlay the first chapters of Genesis on top of the first show of this series and you may finally connect evolution with biblical history. God drives Adam and Eve from the garden and settles them in southern Africa where a species of man already exists. They intermarry but the gene pool of Adam’s descendents, over years, (there is that evolution word) changes to what we are today. Adam has the “Spark” and so we also, as descendents of Adam, have the spark. Great show and look forward to the next two of the series.

  • Robert

    hmmm… the “spark” in english would be a sudden energy… “via con dios” in espenol means go with god—hence God is an eternal flame like with moses and the burning bush…In vietnam Our country The “United” states of America was supposed to be bringing peace to the “divided” nation of Vietnam instead of the seperated North and South. In our own nation we were fighting against being there…some wanted us there to kill the communists and some there to help them stop fighting while others here wanted us tending to the segregation that was causing our own civil war right here in the “united” states the same problems within the “united” arab emerates or the “united” kingdom all over the world the human spark allows us the decision of give,take or share after reasoning in our minds…the electric impulse that circuits through our brains.This electric controls our memory of everything we have known while yet our memory retrieves that information from our brains which store the information.Some dogs will retain more tricks than others this also being dogs of the same breed.Two sibling puppies can both be trained side by side but will have unique characteristics separating them besides their fur patterns or they could be identical in fur but will still have distinguishing characteristics that express who “each” one is.But yet we come back to the word “spark”…spark means interest as in what interests you and your interests where do they come from well that comes back to another word—–Matter. Physical and non-physical. Everything in and around us matters to each of us differently.All that matter is separated up on religion.Religion is something that drives you to repeatedly commit the same acts over and over The word religion means a belief system you base your morals off of— what is right and wrong to you…and each of us have our individual beliefs.But the empathy you use when you gaze into someones eyes is a non physical matter.Your gaze besides the expression on your face is perceived buy the other gazer and they reflect upon it.For some their spark is to be around others and for some their spark is to be alone but only to sort out their own conscience or maybe because they enjoy being alone but never the less we can never fully attain everyone’s spark alas we all do create the one physical matter that surrounds us all…the air we breathe that powers our lungs or you could call them our pistons if we are truly machines…great organic machines that power the universe… and as for me I believe the universe and all in it including the emotions of all living and still life create The Father,Allah,Abba,Yahwey,I Am,Immanuel,Jesus,Mohammed,Ghandi,Budha,right down to you and I and my father who was murdered when I was seventeen who still lives and breathes through us all and who remember him, when they do he is alive. Stay positive… keep learning and teaching and help others laugh and love and bring peace when you can but the one who comes preaching peace can sometimes be the devil so it is confusing but hey Live and let live and study the elements that will lead us into eternal Life

  • Karen Smith

    This was a great series. I enjoyed each minute. Alan Alda has that little spark, himself, that is infectious. I want to be involved in this type of research, too.

  • Joseph Parranto

    If one adds the ideas of Cooley (The Looking-Glass Self), much of the behavior of the children is explained more easily. In virtually every test, the child actively seeks affirmation that ‘helping’ is the approved-of action (the looking glass reflection in the face of the experimenter). The absence of parental interference in the help given also conforms to Cooley’s ideas of developing a sense of self from the reflections we see of ourselves in the faces of others. Each child actively seeks, and is rewarded with, an approving look from the experimenter ~ the genuine human reward for selecting the chosen (desired?) outcome of the test. It would be very interesting to see if the child’s helping behavior would survive if the adults showed disdain for the aid that was given. Would the helping action persist with another tester who was seeking the same aid (opening the cabinet door and/or picking up the dropped object) with the intention of rewarding it (contrary to the first reward of disapproval)? If the parent showed disapproval, would the helping behavior end? Or would the child override the parental disapproval and offer help at the next opportunity?
    When comparing humans and chimps and other primates, one fact never gets included ~ other primates reach maturity in about 2 years after birth (becoming an ‘adult’), while a human requires nearly 15 years, after being born, before reaching the point where they can reproduce. Cooperation is an adult expectation that humans want in their culture and that other primates do not seek in theirs. Comparing an immature human to an adult primate merely confirms that the social fabric is different in the two species which could be explained entirely by conditioning. Would the results be the same in immature primates that are not human? Would the chimp parents allow their infant as much latitude with an experimenter, who is from a different species, and allow the conditioning of a different set of behaviors?
    It is quite possible that when these additional factors are included in the assessment of the responses, human, chimps and other primates might be closer than these experiments suggest and that socialization is the greater demarcation between them. Would teenage humans respond differently than the chimps?

  • keith brown

    No comment, just a very strong recommendation to watch this if you have the chance. It’s so engaging that it aboslute flies past.

  • Celso Cartas

    I wonder: Why all the babys used in the experiments are caucasian. Is there any reason for that? The experiments could be enriched by showing the results with children from different races. I think that the documentary is very enlightining. Keep doing the goog work.

  • R. Marlow

    Neural Music Production and Performance
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1NJJd8N4bE

  • eeg of brain

    An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a painless procedure that uses small, flat metal discs (electrodes) attached to your scalp to detect electrical activity in your brain. Your brain cells communicate via electrical impulses and are active all the time, even when you’re asleep. This activity shows up as wavy lines on an EEG recording.When comparing humans and chimps and other primates, one fact never gets included ~ other primates reach maturity in about 2 years after birth (becoming an ‘adult’), while a human requires nearly 15 years, after being born, before reaching the point where they can reproduce. Cooperation is an adult expectation that humans want in their culture and that other primates do not seek in theirs. Comparing an immature human to an adult primate merely confirms that the social fabric is different in the two species which could be explained entirely by conditioning.
    eeg of brain

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