Using fMRI imaging to watch the human brain at work, Nancy Kanwisher’s team has discovered cortical regions responsible for some surprisingly specific elements of cognition.

Why you should listen

Does the brain use specialized processors to solve complex problems, or does it rely instead on more general-purpose systems?

This question has been at the crux of brain research for centuries. MIT researcher Nancy Kanwisher seeks to answer this question by discovering a “parts list” for the human mind and brain. "Understanding the nature of the human mind," she says, "is arguably the greatest intellectual quest of all time."

Kanwisher and her colleagues have used fMRI to identify distinct sites in the brain for face recognition, knowing where you are, and thinking about other people’s thoughts. Yet these discoveries are a prelude to bigger questions: How do these brain regions develop and function? What are the actual computations that go on in each region, and how are these computations implemented in circuits of neurons? And how do these work together to produce human intelligence?

To learn more, see Kanwisher's collection of short talks on how scientists actually study the human mind and brain and what they have learned so far.

What others say

“Is the brain like a Swiss Army knife with a lot of different tools in it, or is it a single general-purpose tool? Professor Nancy Kanwisher ... is leading research which has been looking into this.” — BBC News, January 5, 2012

Nancy Kanwisher’s TED talk

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The brain is a Swiss Army knife: Nancy Kanwisher at TED2014

March 19, 2014

Watch this talk on Onstage at TED, Nancy Kanwisher starts by telling us one of the most surprising results from recent neuroscience discoveries: The brain is not a general-purpose processor, but a collection of specialized components, “collectively building up who we are as human beings and thinkers.” Imagine, she says, walking into a daycare center and […]

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