Episode 64: Knowledge Representation

• July 27th, 2014

A look at how we understand and think about semantic knowledge. I discuss semantic and propositional networks, the spreading activation model, present some evidence in favour of these models, and discuss the promising new approach of connectionism. I also examine how we classify objects into categories, looking at prototype and exemplar theories, family resemblance, graded membership, and the theory-theory of concepts.

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Episode 63: The Nervous System

• June 30th, 2014

An overview of the structure and function of the nervous system, including a discussion of the autonomic and somatic divisions of the peripheral nervous system, the spinal cord, and the brain. I discuss the major regions and structures of the brain, including the brainstem, the cerebellum, the cerebral cortex, and various subcortical structures. I conclude with some brief remarks about lateralization and the relationship between brain size and IQ.

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Episode 62: Organic Chemistry Demystified

• June 1st, 2014

An overview of organic chemistry, beginning with a discussion of the nature of organic compounds, the history of vitalism and its influence on the development of organic chemistry, and what makes carbon so special. I then discuss some important concepts in organic chemistry, including IUPAC nomenclature, functional groups, aromaticity, fullerenes, polymers, and organic synthesis. Recommended prelistening is Episode 15: Chemical Bonding, and Episode 23: Chemical Reactions.

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Episode 61: Magnetism

• April 27th, 2014

A discussion of the basic concepts of magnetism, including magnetic fields, magnetic poles, and electromagnets. I also discuss the ultimate subatomic source of magnetic force in the phenomenon of electric spin, and explain how this leads to the different types of magnetic materials: ferromagnets, paramagnets, and diamagnets. I conclude with some applications of electromagnetism, including electric generators and motors, transformers, and a brief discussion of Maxwell's equations. Recommended prelistening is Episode 43: Electric Forces and Fields. 

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Episode 60: Memory Encoding and Recall

• March 16th, 2014

An analysis of memory, including a discussion of the different types of memory, the capacity of short term memory, how environment and depth of processing influences learning and recall, the relationship between memory and familiarity, and different types of amnesia. Complements Episode 20: The Reliability of Memory.

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Episode 59: Smell

• February 19th, 2014

A analysis of the sense of smell, beginning with the nose, the olfactory epithelium and the different types of receptor proteins, and progressing through the processes of sensory transduction, transmission of neural signals to the olfactory bulb, and thence into the higher regions of the brain. I also discuss the sense of smell in humans compared to that of other animals, with a focus on the special abilities of bloodhounds. Recommended prerequisite is Episode 38: Neurons and Synapses.

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Episode 58: Taste

• January 28th, 2014

A discussion of how our sense of taste works, including an overview of the basic anatomy of the tongue and relevant brain circuits, a discussion of taste buds and how they work, a review of the five basic tastes and how they differ, and a look at some other interesting topics such as pungency and aftertaste. Recommended pre-listening is Episode 10: The Cell and Episode 38: Neurons and Synapses.

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Episode 57: Electric Current and Circuits

• December 31st, 2013

We begin with a discussion of basic electrical phenomena such as current, voltage, resistance and power, before applying these ideas to the analysis of circuits, including series and parallel circuits. We then apply these concepts to understand a number of interesting phenomena, including light bulbs, lightning, and why electricity can be dangerous. Recommended pre-listening is Episode 43: Electric Forces and Fields.

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Episode 56: The Gains from Trade

• December 27th, 2013

A discussion of the notion of trade and exchange, including the purpose of these activities, the gains from trade, and the role of comparative advantage. I also examine some recent trends in global trade, and briefly discuss some of the major global trade institutions such as the WTO and World Bank and their role in attempting to reduce trade barriers. The episode concludes with a brief discussion of the concept of 'Buy Local'. Recommended pre-listening is Episode 12: The Price System.

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Episode 55: Sex and Gender Part 2

• December 23rd, 2013

Continuing on from the previous episode, I discuss some of the biological determinants of gender differences, including hormonal effects on interests and behaviour, and structural differences in the brain. I then examine a number of more specific topics pertinent to the issue of gender differences, including occupational segregation, women in science and technology, emotional differences, and differences in conversational form and topics.

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