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Nov 22, 2020

Despite multi-million dollar research programmes and impressive technical progress, neuroscience still can’t explain basic systems - like a maggot’s tiny brain or the grinding of a lobster’s stomach.

Professor Matthew Cobb joins me to discuss the intellectual history of neuroscience,  his frank assessment of where we’re at, and how we can make progress.

We cover:

  • How the idea of the brain as computer got started in the mid-C20th, and why it’s probably wrong. (10:53)
  • The challenge of the Grandmother Cell - and why some neurons selectively respond to Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry! (21:00)
  • What have we really learnt from fMRI? Is it “just a bit crap”? (27:25)
  • Why the Human Brain Project was so controversial - and how its has spectacularly failed to live up to its own rhetoric (36:29).
  • Could a neuroscientists understand a microprocessor? We discuss the brilliant study by Eric Jonas and Konrad Paul Kording. (41:30)
  • The amazing achievement of artificial limbs (49:50)
  • How useful is the ‘predictive brain theory’ favoured by Anil Seth, Karl Friston and Andy Clark?
  • “Show me in a maggot!” Why we should get behind a Maggot Brain project. (58:40)

Matthew’s book The Idea of the Brain has been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize. Check it out here:


To get in touch with Ilan or join the conversation, you can find NOUS on Twitter @NSthepodcast or on email at