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'The Brain with David Eagleman' review: Heady stuff

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the brain in this

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the brain in this six-part series. Credit: PBS

THE SERIES "The Brain with David Eagleman"

WHEN|WHERE Wednesday night at 10 on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT This six-part series is hosted by a 44-year-old neuroscientist -- also director of Baylor's Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law -- and best-selling author ("Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain"). Each episode explores a different aspect of the brain.

MY SAY I really like "The Brain." I like that I have a semi-functioning brain to watch "The Brain," and think about "The Brain" and (right) like it, too, along with its congenial, erudite host. My only real qualification: You have to wait awhile to get to the brainy stuff.

Case in point: The episode,"Who Will We Be?" (about the frontiers of artificial intelligence) is terrific, and full of exhilarating observations about the mapping of the human brain, and the far-off potential to render the whole thing in computer code. The problem is that it airs Nov. 18.

Unfortunately, Wednesday's opener is Brain 101. Entitled "What is Reality?," it reflects Eagleman's inherent bias. Not only a brainiac, he's brain-centric, too -- a true believer in the noggin's vast power to create all that is or will ever be. "What if I told you," he says, "this richly textured world was just an illusion -- constructed in your head."

But what if someone told him (as if he needs to be told) that philosophers and scientists have puzzled over this for thousands of years. . Hasn't the consensus been that there is a reality beyond our senses? That even if the tree fell in the forest and we didn't see it fall, it still fell?

Eagleman probably isn't arguing the poor tree never fell, or that it -- or all of reality -- is simply in our heads. But at least in the first episode, it's not entirely clear what the argument is, other than the obvious (and trivial) one, that our senses determine how we perceive the world.

Nevertheless, once "The Brain" gets out of the philosophical (or semantic) weeds, and into the science, it can be an intellectual thrill-ride. Plus, Eagleman isn't merely a brilliant guide, he can turn a phrase, too. On a baby's brain development: We "arrive with something that's a little bit sloppy and tune it up on the fly."



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