In this episode, Nancy Kanwisher takes you along on her journey to understand the human mind.



Nancy Kanwisher, founding member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, describes the effort to understand the mind as “the grandest scientific quest of all time,” partly because it seeks to answer fundamental questions that all people ponder from time to time: What is knowledge? How does memory work? How do we form our perceptions of the world? In this episode, Prof. Kanwisher gives a nutshell history of her field and describes how scientists use imaging techniques to study the brain structures involved in different cognitive skills.

She also reflects on the usefulness of personal anecdotes as a teaching technique in courses like her 9.13 The Human Brain. Kanwisher believes scientists have a moral obligation to share the results of their research with the world—which may explain why she has published her course materials for 9.13 on OpenCourseWare—but she doesn’t see that sharing as an onerous responsibility. “The stuff I do is easily shareable with people,” she says, “but it’s also fun. It’s really fun to get an idea across and see somebody resonate to it.”

Relevant Resources

Connect with Us

If you have a suggestion for a new episode or have used OCW to change your life or those of others, tell us your story. We’d love to hear from you!

Call us at 617-715-2517, or visit one of our channels

Stay Current

Subscribe to the free monthly “MIT OpenCourseWare Update” e-newsletter.

Support OCW

If you like Chalk Radio and OpenCourseware, donate to help keep those programs going!


Sarah Hansen, host and producer

Brett Paci, producer

Dave Lishansky, producer

Scriptwriting assistance from Nidhi Shastry

Show notes by Peter Chipman