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  • Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience

    Professor Indre Viskontas, Ph.D.

    Available Formats: Video Download, Audio Download, DVD, CD

    To build a more accurate understanding of the brain, you have to start by shattering popular myths. Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience is an eye-opening journey into the neuroscience of everyday life. Each of Dr. Indre Viskontas’s 24 lectures use a prevalent brain myth to explore topics including decision making, memory, dreams, emotions, neuroplasticity, consciousness, mental illness, and more.

    View Lecture List (24)
    24 Lectures  |  Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience
    Lecture Titles (24)
    • 1
      Is Your Brain Perfectly Designed?
      Begin the course by debunking one of the most fundamental myths about the human brain. Along the way, discover how our brains are shaped by evolution and experience, which neurons are responsible for self-awareness and motor coordination, and why the brain is still very much a work in progress. x
    • 2
      Are Bigger Brains Smarter?
      When it comes to brains, size doesn't matter as much as you think. Here, explore concepts including the Encephalization quotient (which compares brain mass to body mass), the g" factor (a long-sought-after standard of cognitive ability), and the lessons scientists have learned from studying the brain of Albert Einstein." x
    • 3
      Is Mental Illness Just a Chemical Imbalance?
      According to Dr. Viskontas, major psychiatric illnesses aren't just the result of chemical concentrations in the brain. The focus of this lecture is an intriguing exploration of two disorders that have proven to be far more complicated and nuanced in our understanding of mental illness: schizophrenia and depression. x
    • 4
      Are Creative People Right-Brained?
      Think your brain is divided into a creative side and an analytical side? Think again. The two hemispheres of your brain are actually quite interconnected. Discover what neuroimaging has revealed about the way our brains think and create, and why it's all about collaboration-not competition. x
    • 5
      How Different Are Male and Female Brains?
      We're always hearing about studies that find significant differences the brains of men and women. How should we be thinking about gender differences in the brain? How are these differences misinterpreted? What are the differences in the male and female amygdala and hippocampus? Which genders express which emotions more openly? x
    • 6
      How Accurate Is Your Memory?
      In this lecture that unpacks the accuracy of your memories, learn how information is encoded, stored, and retrieved in the brain; examine how Alzheimer's disease and amnesia affect the brain's ability to remember; and explore the Seven Sins of Memory," including absentmindedness, memory blocking, and misattribution." x
    • 7
      Do You Only Use 10% of Your Brain?
      Are you using your brain to its fullest potential? Here, clear up some of the mystery about how much of our brain power we're using. As you'll learn, you use a lot more of your brain than you think, whether you're practicing a new skill or simply zoning out in front of the television. x
    • 8
      Do You Perceive the World as It Really Is?
      According to Dr. Viskontas, the biggest myth about our senses is that they reflect the world as it actually is. Using vision as an example, discover how your sensory system uses shortcuts and fills in details to create, from portions of the environment, the illusion that you're perceiving reality objectively. x
    • 9
      Is Your Brain Too Smart for Magic Tricks?
      We've all been fooled by a magic trick at one point or another. But we rarely stop to think about how magicians are simply manipulating pre-existing shortcomings in our minds. Here, explore some of the neurological principles magicians rely on, including selective attention, inattention blindness, and change blindness. x
    • 10
      Is Your Brain Objective?
      Contrary to what you might believe, we don't weight evidence equally before building personal beliefs. Instead, we're beholden to confirmation bias. Is this a bug our brains could do without? Is it an evolutionary advantage? Can it also lead to sublime experiences (like appreciating a piece of music)? x
    • 11
      Do You Have 5 Independent Senses?
      Discover why your senses aren't as separate as you think-and why you actually have more than five. Topics in this lecture include proprioception (sensing where you are) and synesthesia (a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense causes the involuntary activation of a different sense). x
    • 12
      Can Certain Foods Make You Smarter?
      In this lecture on brain food," consider the scientific truths behind the food fads that make headlines; test out the myths associated with foods like fish oil, vitamins, power drinks, chocolate, and tea; and ponder the potential of smart pills (known as nootropics) such as Adderall and Ritalin." x
    • 13
      Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?
      An increased focus among scientists on neuroplasticity (changes in the brain's biology) has led to a flurry of brain-training games and tools aimed at improving our cognitive skills. Here, probe the potential of these games, and consider some alternate ways to train your brain, including exercising and socializing. x
    • 14
      Does Your Brain Shut Down during Sleep?
      What, exactly, happens when you fall asleep? Why do our brains need sleep in order to function? What are some of the neurological dangers of not getting enough sleep? What are the sleep patterns of other animals, and how do they compare to our own? Dr. Viskontas provides some answers. x
    • 15
      Are Your Decisions Rational?
      When we make decisions, we're actually swayed by things that any truly rational human being would ignore. Why do our brains work this way? Explore the mental laziness" hardwired into our nature, and why we easily fall prey to superficial judgments. Central to this idea: the brain's two thinking systems." x
    • 16
      Are You Always Conscious while Awake?
      In this lecture, probe the eternal problem" of consciousness-perhaps the most difficult topic in all of neuroscience. How have scientists tried to determine what consciousness is and how it works? Along the way, examine several theories, including the intriguing idea that consciousness is nothing more than a neural afterthought." x
    • 17
      Are Other Animals Conscious?
      Continue exploring consciousness with a consideration of its appearance in other animals. Scientific studies in animals ranging from primates to octopi have uncovered some illuminating insights into how animals can potentially show complex behaviors (including compassion, self-recognition, and generosity) we typically associate exclusively with conscious humans. x
    • 18
      Can You Multitask Efficiently?
      Multitasking is a critical skill in today's world. But does it really work as well as you think? Dr. Viskontas lays bare the neurology of the multitasker and uses key studies to draw several powerful conclusions, including that doing two things at once is impossible when both tasks require your conscious attention. x
    • 19
      Are Dreams Meaningful?
      Consider some of the potential roots (and purposes) of dreams and how neuroscientists study them. While dreams continue to remain mysterious, some theories posit that dreams play a role in consolidating your memory, and that they can be driven by emotional events (including traumatic ones). x
    • 20
      Can Brain Scans Read Your Mind?
      Discover what neuroimaging can-and can't-tell us about how the human mind works. First, examine what brain scans are actually showing us. Then, consider three regions of the brain prone to common misunderstanding in the media: the amygdala, the reward circuitry, and the prefrontal cortex. x
    • 21
      Can Adult Brains Change for the Better?
      Just because you're an adult doesn't mean you can't still learn and master new things. After considering how neuroplasticity works in a toddler's brain, explore how exercise and musical training are two ways to influence the growth of new neurons and the formation of new synapses (known as neurogenesis). x
    • 22
      Do Special Neurons Enable Social Life?
      From mirror neurons to von Economo cells, learn the role that special neurons might play in human social behavior. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have expanded our understanding of how we interact with and understand people, but myths about these special neurons abound. x
    • 23
      Is Your Brain Unprejudiced?
      You might not be racist, but your brain likely is. How did neuroscientists come to this startling conclusion? And what can we, as individuals, do about it? Find out in this fascinating lecture on the neurology of prejudice, implicit and explicit biases, stereotyping, and in-group preferences. x
    • 24
      Does Technology Make You Stupid?
      In this final lecture, ponder several prevalent myths about the relationship between technology and the brain. Among these: smartphones are killing our attention spans, social media is addictive (and leads us to be less social), computers make us less intelligent, and search engines are destroying our memory. x
  • The History and Achievements of the Islamic Golden Age

    Eamonn Gearon,

    Available Formats: Video Download, Audio Download, DVD, CD

    It is nearly impossible to overstate the power and importance of the crucial 500-year history of the Abbasid Empire. The History and Achievements of the Islamic Golden Age is your opportunity to get to know the story and the accomplishments of this great period in human civilization. Taught by acclaimed lecturer Eamonn Gearon, these 24 remarkable lectures offer brilliant insights into an era too often overlooked by traditional history textbooks.

    View Lecture List (24)
    24 Lectures  |  The History and Achievements of the Islamic Golden Age
    Lecture Titles (24)
    • 1
      From Camels to Stars in the Middle East
      Step back to one of the most important yet overlooked periods in human history. Your tour of the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization begins with the who, what, why, where, when, and how of this great period and its impact. Explore the Abbasid Empire and see how it bridged the ancient world and the Renaissance. x
    • 2
      Ibn Battuta's Search for Knowledge
      As a truly international, intercultural, interracial, and even intercontinental era, great travelers abound. Here, you will meet the Moroccan wayfarer Ibn Battuta and trace his journey across Northern Africa and the Middle East in the century after the Mongol sack of Baghdad. Gain new insights into the era-including whether it ever truly come to an end. x
    • 3
      Arabian Nights Caliph: Harun al-Rashid
      Get to know the great Caliph Harun al-Rashid and Baghdad's House of Wisdom, which was the largest depository of books in the world at that time-and served as the engine that drove much of the Golden Age. Then shift your attention to the Arabian Nights collection of stories and legends to discover the source of al-Rashid's enduring fame. x
    • 4
      The Arab World's Greatest Writer: al-Jahiz
      Considered by many scholars to be the finest writer of Arabic prose who ever lived, al-Jahiz was a brilliant stylist and author of more than 200 works, many of which survive today. In this lecture, you will uncover the origins of Arabic writing before turning to the life and works of al-Jahiz. x
    • 5
      Algebra, Algorithms, and al-Khwarizmi
      The field of mathematics owes a tremendous debt to the Islamic Golden Age. Mathematicians such as Omar Khayyam (who is perhaps better known today as a poet) and al-Khwarizmi built on the work of Babylonian, Greek, and Indian mathematicians to systematize and explain algebra and symbolic algorithms. Survey this critical period of mathematics history. x
    • 6
      Baghdad's House of Wisdom
      During the Abbasid Empire, Baghdad's House of Wisdom was the world's preeminent center for translation and original research. Find out why translation flourished in this era, and meet two of the Golden Age's most important translators: Hunayan Ibn Ishaq and al-Kindi. Then consider the intellectual legacy of the Arabic translation movement. x
    • 7
      Muhammad, the Hadith, and Imam Bukhari
      Hadith" refers to the collected sayings of Muhammad outside of the Quran, all of which were gathered and sifted in an amazing feat of research by Iman al-Bukhari 200 years after Muhammad's death. Journey with al-Bukhari as he wrestles with the authenticity of hundreds of thousands of hadith-and how his work continues to impact Islam today." x
    • 8
      Interpreting and Defending the Quran
      Delve into the realm of Quranic exegesis from the year 750 until about 1258. By considering the life of al-Tabari, one of the most important commentators in Islamic history, you will uncover the method and implications of tafsir, or exegesis. Your study will take you into controversial territory with a look at the infamous Satanic Verses. x
    • 9
      The Arab Herodotus: al-Masudi
      Examine the life and times of one of the era's great travel writers. Following the journey of al-Masudi gives you a broad tour of the Islamic Golden Age and its history. After reviewing his biography and reflecting on his reasons for traveling, you will survey the many subjects he wrote about, from geography and geology to the strategy of backgammon. x
    • 10
      Cairo, al-Haytham, and the Book of Optics
      Al-Haytham's seven-volume Book of Optics is one of the most fascinating works of scientific enquiry in the Golden Age. After reviewing the wider context of Cairo in the 10th century, delve into al-Haytham's experimentation with optics and the eye. Find out why many modern scholars have called him the world's first true scientist. x
    • 11
      Master Muslim Scholar: al-Biruni
      This lecture introduces you to al-Biruni, a scholar and polymath who left a mark on physics, math, astronomy, geography, anthropology, history, and much more. Born in modern-day Uzbekistan, his pursuit of learning and dissemination of knowledge is unparalleled. See what made his scholastic approach and his research methodology so groundbreaking. x
    • 12
      Astronomy in the Islamic Golden Age
      It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Islamic Golden Age on the field of astronomy, as evidenced today by the number of stars with Arabic names. Focusing on the work of three Islamic astronomers, you'll explore the difference between astronomy and astrology, and unpack the many scientific advancements of the era. x
    • 13
      Medieval Muslim Medicine and Hospitals
      Continue your study of the Golden Age's many scientific achievements with a look at the development of medicine and the rise of what today we would call the teaching hospital. Along the way, you will encounter one of the greatest medical minds of all time, Ibn Sina (better known in the West as Avicenna). x
    • 14
      Alchemistry and Chemistry in Early Baghdad
      The word scientist" wasn't invented until the 19th century, but we would nonetheless apply the word to the many scientific thinkers of the Golden Age. Here, you'll witness the process of experimentation that was the start of the scientific method, and you'll see how scientists of the time advanced the field of chemistry." x
    • 15
      The Fertile Crescent, Water, and al-Jazari
      The Middle East's river systems and irrigation methods were vital for the Abbasid Empire to thrive. After learning about the geography and agricultural techniques of the Golden Age, you'll turn your attention to the link between agriculture and politics-and round out your study of water with a look at some beautiful gardens. x
    • 16
      Jewish Scholar in Cairo: Moses Maimonides
      The 12th century Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides offers great insight into the relationship among the three Abrahamic religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Delve into the politics of Cordoba in Andalusia, Spain, during the Golden Age, and then consider Maimonides' scholarship-including his philosophy about the relationship between faith and reason. x
    • 17
      The Banu Musa's Inventions and Automatons
      From water fountains to self-playing musical instruments, the Golden Age saw an astounding amount of ingenuity. Take a look at a few of the era's most interesting and delightful inventions and automations, and then examine the life and work of al-Jazari, who today is considered the father of robotics."" x
    • 18
      Mosques, Architecture, and Gothic Revival
      The development of architecture is a gradual process of shifting styles from one generation to the next, and the 500 years of the Islamic Golden Age gave the world striking advancements in both religious and military architecture. Here, tour the architecture of great mosques and arches, and see how the era influenced the later European Gothic Revival. x
    • 19
      Arabic Verse, Love Poetry, and Wine Songs
      Examine the lives and work of three powerful poets: Abu Nuwas, Abu Tammam, and al-Mutanabbi. Reflect on the role of poetry in the Golden Age, including forms and subject matter, and examine the relationship between poetry and the multicultural world of the Abbasid Empire. x
    • 20
      Medieval Mastermind: Avicenna (Ibn Sina)
      Ibn Sina-or Avicenna-is arguably the most important philosopher in Islamic history, as well as one of the most influential thinkers of all time. Find out what makes him such an important figure in the history of philosophy, and how he built on the tradition of Aristotle. Then shift your attention to his arguments in the realms of ontology and cosmology. x
    • 21
      Entertaining in the Time of the Abbasids
      Shift your attention from the great minds of the Golden Age and find out how people of the time relaxed. As you learn about the era's food and music cultures, you'll uncover quite a few surprises-such as the origins of the traditional three-course meal. You'll also discover that celebrity cookbooks promoting the latest dietary fad are not a modern invention. x
    • 22
      Calligraphy, Carpets, and the Arabic Arts
      We're all familiar with the geometric designs of the mythical flying carpets, but there is an astounding array of Islamic art from the period. Here is your chance to revel in the fine arts of the Islamic Golden Age, which in addition to geometric patterns, included stunning calligraphy, plant or vegetal designs, and figurative representations. x
    • 23
      When Did the Islamic Golden Age End?
      Scholars conveniently cite the Mongolian sack of Baghdad in 1258 as the end of the Golden Age, but as you have seen in this course, the truth is more complex. Consider several reasons why the era came to an end-including outside invaders, shifting finances, changes in faith, and plain old human folly. x
    • 24
      Ibn Khaldun on the Rise and Fall of Empire
      Conclude your survey of the Islamic Golden Age with a big-picture look at what followed, including the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Black Death, and the emergence of gunpowder. While golden ages must inevitably subside, this final lecture gives you the opportunity to reflect on one of the most stunning eras in all of human history. x
  • Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

    Professor Leo Damrosch, Ph.D.

    Available Formats: Video Download, Audio Download, DVD, CD

    In this chapter-by-chapter guide, Professor Leo Damrosch of Harvard University helps you navigate the Decline and Fall’s themes, structure, and lasting influence. Whether you’ve read the book before or never knew where to start, these 24 lectures are an authoritative study of a once-mighty empire—and the great book that became its classic eulogy and epitaph.

    View Lecture List (24)
    24 Lectures  |  Books That Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
    Lecture Titles (24)
    • 1
      The Greatness of Gibbon's Decline and Fall
      Ground your understanding of Gibbon's masterpiece with this helpful introductory lecture. Why was Rome so important to Gibbon and his readers? What makes the periodic style so essential to the Decline and Fall's accessibility? Why should we want to read it today in the 21st century? x
    • 2
      The Making of Gibbon the Historian
      Follow Edward Gibbon's intellectual development: his childhood obsession with reading, his military service, his disappointed love, his social circles, his personal politics, and his life as a gentleman "scholar of leisure." Your primary source for this biographical study: fragments from Gibbon's posthumously published Memoirs. x
    • 3
      The Empire at Its Beginning
      Before plunging into the Decline and Fall, which starts in the second century A.D., you need a little background in early Roman history. Professor Damrosch reviews the Empire's important provinces (including their strange names), the excessive influence of the Roman military, the emergence of imperial dictatorship, and other facts Gibbon's original readers took for granted. x
    • 4
      The Theory and Practice of History
      It's no accident that the Decline and Fall survives as a great work of history. Here, explore how Gibbon understood the role of the historian; consider what he thought of Hume, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment writers; and discover how he revolutionized the use of extensive documentation in his work. x
    • 5
      The Golden Age of the Antonines
      Meet the Antonines: the subject of the first three chapters of the Decline and Fall. From Nerva to Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius, these "five good emperors" ruled the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government. x
    • 6
      The Hidden Poison Begins to Work
      After the peace of the Antonines, things quickly began to fall apart. Describing the horrific reigns of emperors like Commodus, Caracalla, and Elagabalus, Gibbon illustrates the "hidden poison" by which one-man rule produced a vicious cycle of incompetent, power-corrupt emperors. x
    • 7
      Diocletian and the Triumph of Constantine
      Get a close reading of Chapters 8 to 14 of Gibbon's masterpiece. In these pages, follow the first assaults of the barbarians who would eventually bring the Empire to its knees: the Goths. Also, meet two emperors who would radically reshape the structure of the Roman Empire: Diocletian and Constantine. x
    • 8
      Enlightenment Skepticism
      Consider just how dangerous Gibbon's sociological treatment of Christianity in Chapters 14 and 15 (while grounding the faith in extremely detailed historical analysis) seemed to most of his readers. Rather than focusing on divine providence, the Decline and Fall documents the human causes behind Christianity's evolution into the dominant ideology of the ancient world. x
    • 9
      The Rise of Christianity
      Continue your look at Chapters 14 and 15 of the Decline and Fall. In these pages, Gibbon takes up five causes for Christianity's success, including proselytizing zeal the promise of a future life in heaven, but also unprecedented organizational ability. What Gibbon leaves out, however: any imaginative empathy with religion. x
    • 10
      Constantine and Athanasius
      Chapter 17 is the major turning point in the Decline and Fall. What are Gibbon's thoughts on the transferring of the capital to Constantinople, and on Constantine's famous vision of the cross? Why does he give so much attention to theological controversies, and why was he so impressed by Athanasius, the archbishop of Alexandria? x
    • 11
      Julian and the Return to Paganism
      Paganism in the Empire didn't go down without a fight. Enter Julian the Apostate, who tried to reinstate the Olympian gods. Here, study Chapters 22 to 24, which are devoted to this last dying gasp of paganism-struck down by Julian's death during an ill-advised military campaign, and afterward by pushback from the Christians. x
    • 12
      Barbarian Advances and Theodosius
      In the wake of Julian's death there was great confusion, which occupies Chapters 25 to 28. Topics covered here include increased barbarian threats from in Britain, Germany, the Middle East, the Danube, and North Africa; the "chaste and temperate" rule of Theodosius; and Gibbon's intriguing thoughts on Christian veneration of saints' relics. x
    • 13
      East and West Divided
      With Rome's fracture into eastern and western camps, the story of the empire's decline begins to get complicated. Learn how to navigate the tricky waters of Chapters 29 to 33, which examine cataclysmic events including the sack of Rome in 410 A.D. and the loss of North Africa to the Vandals. x
    • 14
      Huns and Vandals
      Professor Damrosch guides you through successive waves of barbarian invaders, beginning with the assault of the Huns, led by Attila. You'll also get Gibbon's insights on the development of barbarian kingdoms, a sequence of nine Roman emperors in just 20 years, and his biased views on the growth of monasticism. x
    • 15
      Theodoric and Justinian
      The first was a Gothic king; the second Rome's eastern emperor. Theodoric and Justinian (along with his general, Belisarius, and his wife, Theodora) dominate Chapters 39 to 44 of the Decline and Fall, which also examines Constantinople's massive building program (including the Hagia Sophia) and the codification of Roman Law. x
    • 16
      The Breakup of the Empire
      After the fall of the empire in the West, how did Byzantium in the East persist for another nine centuries? Start with this look at Chapters 45 to 47, which cover the consolidation of France under Clovis, the establishment of the papacy as the center of Christendom, and a new swarm of religious heresies. x
    • 17
      The Byzantine Empire and Charlemagne
      Turn now to the fifth volume (of the original six) of the Decline and Fall, where the narrative starts to speed up. In addition to covering historical moments like the reign of Charlemagne and the Comnenian dynasty, you'll also consider the implications of Gibbon's "great man" approach to history from the 7th to 11th centuries. x
    • 18
      The Rise of Islam
      Step back in time to get Gibbon's account of the rise of Islam. Occupying Chapters 50 to 52, this narrative emphasizes how, in Gibbon's view, Islam arrived at a fortunate historical moment when it faced only weak opposition from surrounding powers; he also pays warm tribute to Muhammad's qualities of character. x
    • 19
      The Byzantine Empire in the 10th Century
      At the end of the Decline and Fall's fifth volume, you'll survey the ever-shrinking form of the Byzantine Empire (Chapter 53), early Russians (Chapter 55), Norman conquests in the Mediterranean (Chapter 56), and the expanding dominion of the Turks (Chapter 57). x
    • 20
      The Crusades
      Gibbon's account of the Crusades focused on the way religion was used to rationalize European military and territorial aggression. Learn what this master historian has to say about the rivalry of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the birth of the Crusader States, and military orders like the Knights Templar. x
    • 21
      Genghis Khan and Tamerlane
      Unpack another turning point in the Decline and Fall: Genghis Khan and the dawn of the Ottoman Empire. Central to this lecture is another of Gibbon's charismatic figures: Tamerlane (known as "the scourge of God"). Then, end with Gibbon's account of the discovery of gunpowder-which would forever change history. x
    • 22
      The Fall of Constantinople
      Chapters 66 to 70 chronicle the final defeat of Byzantium. Topics you'll explore in this lecture include the exiled papal court at Avignon, Mahomet the Second's capture of Constantinople, and the Great Schism from 1378 to 1417. x
    • 23
      The End of Gibbon's Work
      How did Gibbon keep the Decline and Fall from simply petering out in its final chapter?What were some of his assumptions about the "darkness and confusion" of medieval Europe? See how his visit to the physical ruins of Rome inspired Gibbon's final thoughts on the collapse of the empire and helped to bring his great work to a close. x
    • 24
      Decline and Fall in Modern Perspective
      Professor Damrosch ends his course with a reflections on the Decline and Fall in the 21st century. You'll consider why some historians reject the term "fall" in favor of "transformation," together with insistence by recent specialists that there truly was a fall; and also three major blind spots Gibbon exhibits in his history: toward religion, toward Byzantine civilization, and toward the persistence of deep cultural rhythms as contrasted with political and military events. x
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