Understanding 'How the Mind Makes Meaning'

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MRI machine at the Role 3 Medical Facility at Joint Operating Base, Bastion, Afghanistan
From and

Today, The Takeaway spends the hour looking at the science of the mind, and how understanding the brain gives us new insights into how we understand ourselves.

Cognitive science professor Benjamin Bergen explains that language particularly illuminates how researchers' understanding of the brain has evolved over time. Scientists once believed that parts of the brain were dedicated to one specific purpose, such as meaning. Today, Bergen says, thanks to brain scanners and other new technology, scientists realize that, for every function, "there's actually much more of the brain involved than just a small, localized region."

Bergen, the author of "Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning," says that in brain scans, when subjects are asked to think of a shortstop throwing a ball to first base, researchers can actually see how the imagination uses several different regions of the brain. "Parts of the vision system in the brain light up," he says, "and parts of the motor system might light up if we're thinking about what it would be like to be that shortstop, to perform that action."

While computer technology continues to make strides in recognizing and processing language, Bergen says that programs like the iPhone's Siri have a way to go. 

"The best constructed, the smartest, the statistically most powerful computation tools, still fail," he says. "The difference between Siri and you is that you have a body, and that you've had experiences in that body, and Siri doesn't and hasn't."