Brain Café - 2012


Zen and the Neurosciences: When body and spirit come closer together

Dipl. Phys. Sebastian Thomas Philipp, Neuroinformatics, LMU München & Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Meditative practices have been at home in almost all cultures of the world for thousands of years; their common core is a visibly present lifestyle in the here and now, and their common practice is “sitting still.” Outwardly, nothing really happens during meditation, but within the body much can be happening. Sebastian Philipp wants his talk to impart that the inner conditions during meditation have the potential to initiate learning processes in the brain, and that meditation can thus radically change our perception of ourselves and of the world. The basis for the talk is composed of research findings from a collaboration project between the LMU München and the Institute for Neuroinformatics at the RUB.

Download audio podcast (91 MB | 38:39 min) (in German)


Gone to the dogs: Neurogenetics

Prof. Dr. Jörg T. Epplen, Human genetics, Faculty of Medicine

“Man’s best friend”, the dog, can suffer from various diverse hereditary diseases, just like his or her owner. Depending on the breed of dog, such diseases can actually occur more frequently in the household pet. With clarification about what the causes of these illnesses are, so-called Gen-Tests can be developed with which a breed can be freed of hereditary disease through selective breeding. Modern research methods can even give us deeper insight into the corresponding diseases in people. Prof. Dr. Jörg T. Epplen shows this in his talk with the example of hereditary vision disorders. His research also endeavors to develop brand new strategies for the treatment of hereditary diseases for both dog and man.

Download audio podcast (74 MB | 52:04 min) (in German)


My Left and my Right Self: How our two halves of the brain contribute to the development of the concept of self

PD Dr. Martina Manns, Biopsychology, Institute for Cognitive Neurosciences, Faculty of Psychology

When we think about ourselves, we tend to see ourselves as a person: our being, our “self” does not seem divided to us. This, however, is not a given; we do indeed have two halves of the brain, which differ in structure and function and therefore process and evaluate information in different manners. “Folk psychology” likes to discuss our rational left and our emotional right hemispheres of the brain. What if both hemispheres had their own concept of self? With the help of current research from the cognitive neurosciences, the talk by Martina Manns will examine the question of where our two halves of the brain differ and how this differentiation contributes to the development of a concept of self. A series of fascinating, bizarre phenomena and disorders illustrate that the picture we have of our “self” is an interpretation of the brain, a process in which various networks of both halves of the brain are involved in.

Download audio podcast (93 MB | 64:41 min) (in German)


Control of the brain via light: A revolution for therapy and research?

Prof. Dr. Stefan Herlitze, General Zoology and Neurobiology, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology

In the last 5 years a new area of research has developed, called optogenetics. In 2010 the internationally renowned scientific journal,Nature Methods, crowned optogenetics the “Method of the Year”, which promises previously inconceivable insights into the functioning of the brain. Optogenetics enables scientists to control neuronal pathways via light with high temporal and spatial resolution. Light-activated proteins from algae, insects, mice, rats and humans are incorporated into specific groups of neurons to discover new functions of these neurons, but also to control processes which are damaged in diseases such as spinal cord injuries, blindness or Parkinson’s disease.
In this episode of the Brain Café, the principles and the development of optogenetic technologies will be explained, and the latest developments will be shown by one of the co-founders of this technology.

Download audio podcast (66 MB | 48:12 min) (in German)


The power of feelings: Positive Emotions as protective of our health

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Margraf, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Faculty of Psychology

The idea is old, but is it also up to date? The importance of positive emotions as protective factors of our health is emphasized from the Bible to the Dalai Lama. However, these statements are mostly very general and are usually not checked scientifically. At first, the talk will outline current research of positive emotions, their development and their importance for health. New epidemiological results show that the development of health and disease is caused by various mechanisms. In this process positive factors are of major importance, in particular for remission. In the second part of the talk the factors being identified until now will be described and the "Broaden and Build"-theory will be discussed as an explanation, before giving practical advice for daily life.

Download audio podcast (113 MB | 61:25 min) (in German)


Beauty is in the brain of the beholder

Prof. Dr. Lars Kuchinke, Experimental Psychology and Methods, Faculty of Psychology

Current psychological and neuroscientific research show that beautiful objects are processed differently in the brain than less beautiful ones. Interestingly this processing always seems to occur through activation of emotional circuits in the brain.
Lars Kuchinke's talk will give insights into current research and theories of perception of aesthetic objects, and their processing in the brain, and will refer to approaches of evolutionary theory. In doing so it will be necessary to clarify which definition of beauty is used in this kind of research, and whether this definition can contribute to our understanding of art and kitsch.

Download audio podcast (118 MB | 73:28 min) (in German)


Neurogenetics from the laboratory to the practice of medical councelling

Dr. med Andrea Epplen, Human Genetics, Medical Faculty

Knowledge about the genetic causes of diseases has grown enormously during recent years. Researchers have identified genetical mutations for many diseases and developmental disorders of the brain. It was shown that genes play an important role in pathogenesis, but on the other hand they comprise only one component in a complex interaction of manifold and (mostly) unknown factors. This talk will give an insight into possibilities and limits of genetic diagnostics and refers to experiences from genetic consultation and supervision of affected families. Ethical consequences and concrete effects on the quality of life of affected patients will be shown using genetic testing on Huntington Disease as an example.


The Irrationality of Interpersonal Behaviour

Prof. Dr. Martin Brüne, Research Department of cognitive Neuropsychiatry and psychiatric preventive Medicine, LWL University Clinic Bochum

Most people may consider their behaviour as reasonable and understandable. But taking account of the turbulent trends on the stock markets and in the political field one has to realize: Our behavior is by no means rational. Especially with regard to interpersonal aspects we are much more emotional than we would like to admit to ourselves. Mutual reliance and fairness are more important for us than to keep cool all the time. This apparent irrationality is based in our phylogenesis. Prof. Dr. Martin Brüne examines the reasons and explains why we perceive following rational rules as “abnormal”.

Download audio podcast (149 MB | 65:17 min) (in German)


Becoming a Learning Machine: The Brain’s Development

Prof. Dr. Petra Wahle, Developmental Neurobiology, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology

The development of the central nervous system is a fascinating process, regarding both humans and animals. Prof. Dr. Petra Wahle explains some of the mechanisms of the birth and differentiation of nerve cells and the network of parts of the brain. Disordered neural development typically causes serious mental handicaps. The Neurobiologist shows which progress is already achieved in clarifying the sources of these disorders and how neurophysiological findings concerning the premature nerve system resulting from experiences with animals can help to treat early infantile epilepsies successfully.