Neuroscience Isn’t Just for Scientists: It Solves Real-World Problems

David Eagleman, neuroscientist and host of ‘The Brain’ on PBS, will speak at the Los Angeles Hope Festival on Sunday, May 21. The event is free but seats are limited. RSVP here.

David Eagleman isn’t your garden-variety neuroscientist—if there is such a thing. His former neuro lab at Baylor College of Medicine built the technology to help deaf people hear through their skin:

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“One of the things my lab is doing is building a vibratory vest so that we can feed in sensory information through the skin of your torso rather than through more typical sensory channels. So, for example, we’re doing this for people who are deaf who want to be able to hear. We set up a microphone on the vest and then the auditory stream is turned into this matrix of vibrations on your skin, and what that does is it feeds in electrical signals into the brain that represent the auditory information.  

“And if it sounds crazy that you would ever be able to understand all these signals through your skin, remember that all the auditory system is doing is taking signals and turning them into electrical signals in your brain,” he says.  

That vest was recently put to a very scholarly use:

Eagleman is best known for his work on sensory substitution, time perception, brain plasticity, synesthesia, and neurolaw, and leverages that research to solve problems in the real world—whether that’s by restoring lost senses, breaking up fights between atheists and believers, or equipping people with tools to have more informed discussions about mass shootings in America. Eagleman points out that in the aftermath of every massacre, people toss around labels like: psycho, sociopath, ADHD, Asperger’s. 

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“There’s no such thing as a psycho. That’s a meaningless term. What the commentator presumably means is either this person has a psychosis, something like schizophrenia where they have a disorder of cognition, or they mean this person is a psychopath which is not a disorder of cognition. Instead psychopathy is about having no empathy towards other people, not caring at all about other people, seeing other people as objects to get around. They’re also known as sociopaths. So somebody can have a psychosis or somebody can have a psychopathy or sociopathy, and these are completely different things.

“An understanding of these things in the public dialogue I think would be very important; every time there’s a mass shooting there are all sorts of commentators that come out and say things like, ‘Well, I heard he had Asperger’s’ or ‘I heard he had ADHD,’ or, ‘I heard that he wrote dark poetry,’ which is, of course, true of most young teenagers. So a better understanding of the…

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