Instructor Insights

"This field is not like quantum mechanics. All of the questions of interest in my field are questions that any normal person can ask with no background whatsoever."
— Prof. Nancy Kanwisher

Nancy Kanwisher, founding member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, describes the effort to understand the mind as “the grandest scientific quest of all time,” partly because it seeks to answer fundamental questions that all people ponder from time to time: What is knowledge? How does memory work? How do we form our perceptions of the world? In the episode of the Chalk Radio podcast embedded below, Prof. Kanwisher gives a nutshell history of her field and describes how scientists use imaging techniques to study the brain structures involved in different cognitive skills. She also reflects on the usefulness of personal anecdotes as a teaching technique in courses like 9.13 The Human Brain. Kanwisher believes scientists have a moral obligation to share the results of their research with the world—which may explain why she has published her course materials for 9.13 on OpenCourseWare—but she doesn’t see that sharing as an onerous responsibility. “The stuff I do is easily shareable with people,” she says, “but it’s also fun. It’s really fun to get an idea across and see somebody resonate to it.”

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