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A Neuroscientist and a Composer on How the Brain Generates New Ideas

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David Eagleman is a world-renowned neuroscientist, an adjunct professor at Stanford University, and the writer and host of the Emmy-nominated PBS television series The BrainAnthony Brandt is an award-winning composer and professor at Rice University who has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Houston Arts Alliance, and more. The two recently joined science historian and bestselling author Steven Johnson to discuss the three ways that the brain gets creative, plus more surprising insights from their new book, The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.

This conversation has been edited and condensed. To view the full version, click the video below.

Steven: I’m so fascinated by the capacity of the human brain to build these [what-if] scenarios or simulations. It’s one of those things we do so well that we don’t ever think about how complicated it is. Can you talk a little more about what that really means?

David: This is probably the thing that makes our species really special—a genetic tweak leading to the expansion of the human brain. We don’t know why it happened, but it allowed this small species in Africa to take over the entire planet. As part of the expansion of the cortex, which is the wrinkly bit on the outside, we are able to generate these what-if scenarios, imagine things that haven’t yet happened.

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