Understanding the Brain

Course No. 1580
Professor Jeanette Norden, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
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Course Overview

Everything that goes on inside your body and every interaction you have with the outside world is controlled by your brain. It allows you to cope masterfully with your everyday environment. It is capable of producing breathtaking athletic feats, sublime works of art, and profound scientific insights. It also produces the enormous range of emotional responses that can take us from the depths of depression to the heights of euphoria.

Considering everything the brain does, how can this relatively small mass of tissue possibly be the source of our personalities, dreams, thoughts, sensations, utterances, and movements?

Understanding the Brain, a 36-lecture course by award-winning Professor Jeanette Norden of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, takes you inside this astonishingly complex organ and shows you how it works, from the gross level of its organization to the molecular level of how cells in the brain communicate. With its combination of neurology, biology, and psychology, this course will help you understand how we perceive the world through our senses, how we move, how we learn and remember, and how emotions affect our thoughts and actions.

Solving the Mystery of the Brain

The ancient Egyptians discarded the brain during mummification while carefully preserving other organs; to them, the brain was of no importance. Starting with the Greek physician Hippocrates, however, observers began tracing more and more of our sensory, nervous, and intellectual activities to the brain—and eventually to specific regions of the brain.

The brain is still a mystery in many respects—for example, we still are unsure as to how consciousness is generated—but recent decades have seen unparalleled advances in understanding how the brain does what it does. In the last 50 years, an explosion of knowledge about the brain's structure and function has occurred. Scientists have performed amazing research by using tools such as MRIs and PET scanning to get a better grasp on deciphering the mysteries of how this important organ works.

Due to these technological advances, we can now pinpoint:

  • where light that enters the eye is converted into the subjective experience of sight
  • where pressure waves that reach the ear are processed into sound
  • where fear is generated
  • which areas of the brain are involved in spoken and written language
  • where the deep chemistry of love is kindled

What You Will Learn

Understanding the Brain provides you with an in-depth view of the inner workings of your brain. Your tour starts with the organization of the central nervous system at the gross, cellular, and molecular levels, then investigates in detail how the brain accomplishes a host of tasks—from seeing and sleeping to performing music and constructing a personal identity.

  • The Structure of the Brain: Lectures 1–11 cover the cellular structure and the overall layout of this intricate organ. You learn how the brain develops during gestation, and are introduced to the technical vocabulary that you will use throughout the course.
  • Brain and Mind: Lectures 12–19 explore how the brain and mind are thought to be related by examining the sensory functions of sight, hearing, and bodily sensation. You analyze the motor system, which governs how movement is initiated and coordinated, and explore Parkinson's disease and its progressive impairment of movement.
  • Higher-Order Cognitive Functions: Lectures 20–29 discuss the areas of the brain thought to be responsible for language, emotion, executive function, and cognition—abilities that, in large part, define us as humans. You look at the underlying neurological mechanisms and explore their role in various phenomena like depression, musical ability and appreciation, and drug use.
  • Special Topics: Lectures 30–36 look at several subjects of universal interest. Are the brains of males and females different? How does the brain regulate sleep and dreaming? What is consciousness? And how can you understand the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

Our insights into the functioning of the brain often come from cases where something has gone wrong, such as strokes, tumors, injuries, neurological diseases, and mental illnesses—pathologies that vividly demonstrate the distinct roles played by the various affected regions. An expert neuroscientist, Dr. Norden provides a fascinating presentation of these cases.

Know Your Mind

We now know that something important is always going on inside our brain and, as Understanding the Brain illustrates, if you know what to look for, you can observe specific aspects of your own brain in action:

  • Vision: The "now you see it, now you don't" feeling you get when you see an illusion is your brain trying to interpret raw data from the eyes. Far from taking a picture of the world and sending it to the brain, the eyes actually transmit very little information; "seeing" is a creation of the brain.
  • Thought: Sometimes, you can have trouble thinking after taking an antihistamine. This is because antihistamines do not just combat the effects of an allergy, they also block histamine as a neurotransmitter in the brain, altering your ability to think and process information.
  • Motor skills: When you learn how to walk, ride a bicycle, knit, dance, or perform some other motor skill, you reach a point where all of a sudden you are able to coordinate the new movement. That is because specialized neurons in your brain's cerebellum are now firing in sequence.
  • Emotion and memory: Think about doing your taxes. Does that thought elicit a particular emotion? We do not just remember something; our memories are colored with emotion. All of our experiences are influenced by previous experiences through complex loops in the brain's limbic system.
  • Social bonding: Your feeling of well-being with your spouse or friends has a neurochemical basis. The neurotransmitter oxytocin is found in very high concentrations in the limbic systems of animals that bond socially.
  • Consciousness: Sometimes, you can arrive at work with very little memory of the details of your journey; obviously you were not unconscious, but you were not fully aware either. This occurs when your brain is in "autopilot" mode—where it was in control without your being conscious of all that was happening around you.

Appreciate the Wonder of the Brain

As a researcher, Dr. Norden has participated in an ongoing scientific revolution. She is also a nationally recognized educator, singled out as one of the most effective teachers in America in What the Best College Teachers Do. Among Dr. Norden's special qualities cited in the book is this simple, but highly effective, approach to teaching: "Before she begins the first class in any semester, she thinks about the awe and excitement she felt the first time anyone explained the brain to her, and she considers how she can help her students achieve that same feeling."

You can share her consuming passion for the intricacies of the brain in this lively and engaging course, which Dr. Norden has designed specifically for those without a background in science. "All you need to bring is your own brain and a desire to learn," she says.

Thus equipped, you will explore a broad range of exciting topics in neuroscience. Above all, you will come away from Understanding the Brain with a deeper knowledge of how the brain is organized—and a feeling of wonder and appreciation for all that it accomplishes.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Historical Underpinnings of Neuroscience
    Our picture of the brain has changed markedly since antiquity, when it was considered an organ of minor importance. This lecture traces the major paradigm shifts in our understanding of the brain and the contributions of such pioneers as Leonardo da Vinci, René Descartes, and Thomas Willis, the "father of neurology." x
  • 2
    Central Nervous System—Gross Organization
    This lecture covers the overall organization of the brain and spinal cord and defines important terms and concepts, focusing on areas of the central nervous system that can be viewed from the outside. Neuroanatomists divide the brain into five major regions from rostral (front) to caudal (back). x
  • 3
    Central Nervous System—Internal Organization
    We examine how the central nervous system is organized internally, starting with the basic unit: the nerve cell or neuron. The brain and spinal cord are made up of concentrations of neuronal cell bodies called nuclei (gray matter) and bundles of axons coursing between them (white matter). x
  • 4
    Central Nervous System—Subdivisions
    The hundreds of nuclei in the brain can be grouped into specialized systems for sensation, learning, memory, and other functions. Regions of white matter can also be subdivided into functional types; for example, projection pathways connect different areas, like the motor cortex and the spinal cord. x
  • 5
    Cortex—Lobes and Areas
    The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of neurons or "bark" covering the brain. Considered the seat of the mind, it is where cognition and other higher-order functions such as language, intellect, and memory take place. The cortex can be divided into four lobes, each comprised of areas that are associated with specific functions. x
  • 6
    Cortex—Sensory, Motor, and Association Areas
    This lecture introduces the traditional and modern classification of sensory, motor, and association cortex. One of the crucial discoveries of the past 40 years is that much of what was previously called association cortex is actually sensory in function. For example, there are many more cortical areas devoted to vision than previously thought. x
  • 7
    Central Nervous System—Development
    We investigate how the brain's subdivisions and different cell types are generated during the remarkable process of development. From a few cells, a human brain forms that is capable of regulating the function of all the other organs as well as producing a theory of relativity or appreciating Bach. x
  • 8
    Central Nervous System—Cellular Organization
    This lecture focuses on the structural and functional differences between the two main types of cells in the central nervous system: neurons and glial cells. The name glia ("glue") derives from the historical view that glia simply hold the brain together, but modern neuroscience has revealed that these cells have many other functions. There are about 100 billion neurons and 10 to 100 times that many glial cells in the brain. x
  • 9
    Pathways and Synapses
    Unlike most cells in the body, neurons are designed to receive and transmit information. How do they do it? The critical factor is the internal and external environment of neurons, where changes in the distribution of ions (charged atoms) act as a signaling mechanism for encoding and transmitting information. x
  • 10
    Neurotransmitters
    Neurotransmitters are specialized chemical messengers that signal activity from one neuron to another. More than 60 neurotransmitters/neuromodulators have been identified, including simple amino acids like glutamate; enkephalins and endorphins, which are involved in the processing of pain; and dopamine, which plays a role in reward and addiction. x
  • 11
    Stroke
    This lecture uses the damage caused by stroke to review material covered up to this point in the course. By understanding the organization of the brain and its blood supply, we can predict which functions will be lost or affected after a stroke impairs the blood flow to specific regions of the brain. x
  • 12
    The Visual System—The Eye
    This lecture investigates how the eye works in concert with the brain. Far from taking a picture of the external world, the eye actually transmits information primarily about edges and contrast to the brain. From this limited input, the brain constructs the visual world we experience in all its complexity and detail. x
  • 13
    The Visual System—The Cortex
    We trace pathways from the retina of the eye to different areas in the cortex, where functions such as face recognition and color perception take place. Color is a fascinating example of how "seeing" is a mental construct; color is not a property of objects in the world but rather a consequence of brain processes. x
  • 14
    The Auditory System
    Like seeing, hearing is a construction of the brain. This lecture discusses how the ear converts pressure waves in the air into electrical signals that travel to the auditory areas of the brain, where they are interpreted as sound. We don't just "hear" sounds; we apply meaning to them, as in our processing of language. x
  • 15
    The Somatosensory System
    The somatosensory system gives us information not only about the immediate external world but also about our own bodies. From receptors in our skin, joints, and other parts of our bodies, parallel pathways transmit information that we experience as the senses of touch, pain, temperature, and proprioception (awareness of where our limbs are). x
  • 16
    Agnosias
    Agnosia ("without knowledge") is the inability of individuals to recognize some aspect of their sensory experience because of lesions in the brain. This lecture concentrates on visual agnosias, where an individual who can see loses some specific knowledge related to vision, such as the ability to identify faces or to distinguish between stationary and moving objects. x
  • 17
    The Motor System—Voluntary Movement
    Not only do we experience the world, we move around in it. This lecture covers the pathways and brain areas that allow us to make voluntary movements of the body. The motor system is divided into pyramidal, extrapyramidal, and cerebellar subsystems, which work together in normal movement. x
  • 18
    The Motor System—Coordinated Movement
    Coordination of movement, especially learned, skilled motor movement, is largely under the control of the cerebellum. This "little cerebrum" allows for the proper timing and execution of movement and for the correction of errors during ongoing movement. We could not walk, play, or dance without a cerebellum. x
  • 19
    Parkinson's Disease
    Parkinson's disease arises when neurons are lost from a specific area of the brain called the substantia nigra. This removes a major source of input to forebrain structures involved in regulating movement. This lecture covers signs, symptoms, and treatments of this disorder. x
  • 20
    Language
    The ability to communicate symbolically through language is thought to be unique to our species. Language involves both higher-order sensory and motor areas of the cerebral cortex. Even though written language is an invention, specific areas in the brain underlie this ability as well. x
  • 21
    The Limbic System—Anatomy
    The limbic system represents a large number of interconnected nuclei that together allow for learning, memory, emotion, and executive function. Its importance is dramatically illustrated by the case of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker in the 1840s whose personality was completely altered by a frontal lobe injury involving part of the limbic system. x
  • 22
    The Limbic System—Biochemistry
    This lecture discusses some of the neurotransmitters that are critical in the normal functioning of the limbic system circuits. Damage to this system can cause the delicate balance of excitation and inhibition to be disrupted. Such imbalances are believed to underlie many mental disorders such as depression. x
  • 23
    Depression
    Depression is a scourge of modern societies. This lecture focuses on unipolar depression, a central nervous system disorder that has known anatomical and biochemical correlates. We also investigate how the three major classes of antidepressants work and what led to the development of designer antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac. x
  • 24
    The Reward System—Anatomy
    All humans seek experiences that are rewarding or pleasurable. This lecture covers the brain structures and neurotransmitters involved in reward—in functions as diverse as slaking thirst or enjoying a sunset. The endogenous reward system allows us to tap into the joy of life and engage in the world. x
  • 25
    The Reward System—Drugs
    Psychoactive drugs that produce euphoria or a "high" do so by altering the biochemistry of the endogenous reward system. Such drugs can be both physiologically and psychologically addicting. Using cocaine and marijuana as examples, we investigate how drugs can hijack this system and even produce permanent changes in the brain. x
  • 26
    Brain Plasticity
    Far from being static structures, synapses are highly dynamic and can be modified by experience. This synaptic plasticity underlies learning and memory. We look at several ways synapses can be modified and the neurobiological basis of why memories change with time. x
  • 27
    Emotion and Executive Function
    Truly rational behavior is not possible without emotion, as evidenced in humans by the tremendous elaboration and interconnection of structures involved in both emotion and executive function. Emotion, memory, and cognition combine to give meaning to our experiences, which can then be used to influence and guide future behavior. x
  • 28
    Processing of Negative Emotions—Fear
    Fear is often considered a negative emotion, but it is critical for survival. This lecture explores the role played by a small almond-shaped structure called the amygdala in the rapid processing of sensory information signaling threat. The amygdala is implicated in a number of disorders, including posttraumatic stress syndrome. x
  • 29
    Music and the Brain
    The ability to write, read, and perform music requires the coordinated activity of the sensory, motor, language, and limbic systems of the brain. Studies of musicians who have suffered strokes have identified specific brain areas involved in both the composition and appreciation of different features of music, such as rhythm. x
  • 30
    Sexual Dimorphism of the Brain
    At birth our brains are sexually dimorphic, meaning they are either male or female in pattern. While the most dramatic differences in brain structure involve areas associated with sexual behavior and mating, how we experience and interpret the world may also be influenced by the sex of our brains. x
  • 31
    Sleep and Dreaming
    Why do we sleep? What, if anything, do dreams mean? Far from being a passive event, sleep is actively induced and involves areas of the central nervous system extending from the spinal cord to the forebrain. Researchers have also learned a great deal about the types of dreams that occur during various stages of sleep. x
  • 32
    Consciousness and the Self
    Why does consciousness appear to be something that is happening to a "me"? What is the "me"? We explore these and other questions surrounding the nature of consciousness. We also delve more deeply into some of the cases discussed in Lecture 16 on agnosias, re-examining what is actually lost in cortical blindness, prosopagnosia, and contralateral neglect. x
  • 33
    Alzheimer's Disease
    This lecture uses the number one neurological disorder in the United States—Alzheimer's disease—as a clinical example to bring together much of the information given in the course. The signs and symptoms of the disease can be understood by looking at the particular brain areas most affected. x
  • 34
    Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease
    We look at what has been learned about factors that appear to increase or decrease the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease, focusing on a study of Catholic nuns who showed a very low incidence of the disorder. This study and others suggest ways to make positive lifestyle changes that may help ward off this dreaded disease. x
  • 35
    Wellness and the Brain—Effects of Stress
    Our brain has mechanisms that allow for rapid response to threatening events by preparing us for fight or flight. Unfortunately, in our modern world we respond to everyday stressors as though they were life-threatening events. This lecture reviews evidence that chronic activation of this system has deleterious effects on our health. x
  • 36
    Neuroscience—Looking Back and Looking Ahead
    We summarize the course, survey present research challenges, and address the question: What does our remarkable understanding of the brain tell us about ourselves? Our ability to reason, feel, or even act morally may be the result of neural processes, but this does not denigrate our experiences or our uniqueness as a species. x

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Your professor

Jeanette Norden

About Your Professor

Jeanette Norden, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Dr. Jeanette Norden is a neuroscientist, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the School of Medicine, and Professor of Neurosciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology, with training in Neurobiology and Clinical Neurology, from Vanderbilt University. She completed postdoctoral training at Duke University, the National Institute for Medical Research in...
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Reviews

Understanding the Brain is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 183.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Informative Any legitimate course on the brain would be informative,but Jeanette Norden's presentation and clarity have given me an understanding beyond what I was expecting when I started this course. The initial lectures are a bit intimidating, but they lay a foundation for the more specific topics of the brain systems and it all comes together. Not being in the medical field, this course allows a lay person to gain insight to a field that is very complex and important.
Date published: 2015-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course & lecturer An excellent course to follow. The lecturer is really professional, it's a joy to watch. Some people are complaining that the lecturer talks slow, but in my opinion she talks just fine, I am not a native speaker so it's very pleasant for me. Content is interesting as well, I have just had the 23rd episode and looking forward for the upcoming episodes. This review may not give enough impression of what the content is but at least it shows my great enthusiasm and good experience. Thanks to Ph. D. Jeanette Norden.
Date published: 2015-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Those of us that are in medicine, have focused on our particular speciality. There is so much material overall, that we can only spend a short time on each subject. The brain, of course, is important in every specialty. This course has allowed me to look deeper, and relate the brain structures and functions as they pertain to my field of work. Excellent!!
Date published: 2015-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Listened to over and over For anyone with some background or with interest in neurology this is a wonderful lecture series. I wish I had a teacher like Norden when I went to medical school. Try it!
Date published: 2015-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informed AND Amazed! Dr. Norden invites us to take this course with the promise of informing and amazing us, and she certainly lives up to the promise. I brought little in the way of understanding or knowledge of the brain to this course, but Dr. Norden's presentation was clear and accessible from the beginning. From lecture to lecture, she built up an understanding so expertly, that I was constantly asking myself - do I really understand those terms she's using? And, yes I do. The subject matter is endlessly interesting, and our brain is truly amazing. Thank you, Dr. Norden
Date published: 2015-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly What I needed from a course I had checked out several of the other courses that related to brain function and I found them to all be a bit simplistic and lacked detail with respect to neuroanatomy. I had a particular goal to revisit neuroanatomy and learn all the functions and relationships of the different areas of the brain as it has been 20 years since I last spent any in depth time learning this in med school. It turns out to be so detailed and rich in content, I would be surprised if anyone without a medical background didn't get a bit overwhelmed. I am kind of at the edge of my comfort level with this information. I am assimilating it fairly efficiently, but I attribute that to a familiarity with terminology and general neuroscience understanding. She is an excellent presenter. Her pacing is perfect and she knows when to repeat her self in short order to reinforce a concept or term. I do wonder how this course would be different with the knowledge that has been gained since this was produced, however I do not have any concern that what I am learning is outdated. This is classic neuroscience.
Date published: 2015-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Insight to Our Brain I attended a pharmacy school in late 70's and have been a praticing pharmacist for the last 35 years. Honestly I didn't learn half of what I have learned from Professor Norden. A lot of discoveries happened in the last 35 years have been astounding. I was particularly interested in the lecture of Parkingson's disease and Alzheimers as my Japanese grandmather had Parkingson's for many years and wonder I would get it some day. I was also interested in lectures of anxiety and OCD. I feel like I am in a better position to help and explain to patients their behaviors and neurotrasmitters are so intricately connected and how medications can help them. I also liked the lecture of stress: how we can reduce the stress in our lives so we can live a more peaceful and fulfilling life. This is the lecture series I wish I had taken 35 years ago. Thank you, Professor Norden. I also enjoyed Professor Norden's hairstyle and fashion.
Date published: 2015-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile, Even 8 Years Later Not much to add to the many reviews, so I'll be brief. This is a well done review of neuroscience for non-scientists. Even though it was made in 2007, it still provides a worthwhile introduction for any interested. (As a physician, albeit not a neurologist, I have at least some background for assessing this.) The focus is partly on neuroanatomy, and especially on the many and remarkable brain functions which have been mapped to particular anatomic areas. The anatomy and physiology of neurons and other brain cells are also reviewed in a very basic and understandable fashion. Some interesting history of the discoveries and discoverers is included as well. And Professor Norden nicely makes clear what was not (and, for the most part, is still not) known - particularly how the individual and small group cellular functions work with each other to produce, at the macro level, the amazing capabilities of the human (or any other) brain. Professor Norden is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher. She is also so likable that it feels wrong to say anything even a little negative about her. But her lecture style is somewhat inelegant and choppy, with frequent use of incomplete sentences and unneeded word fillers (e.g., "and things like that," "really," and "very, very, very.") Occasionally terms are used before they are defined, and many simple points are repeated unnecessarily. The visuals are plentiful and helpful, but Professor Norden sometimes relies on hand gestures to demonstrate anatomy or physiology when a visual would obviously have been much clearer. The Course Guidebook is quite good, and contains a detailed glossary, biographical notes on important scientific contributors, and a fairly extensive annotated bibliography. My one major criticism concerns the frequent discussion of animal experiments. I support animal research for scientific and medical purposes when the animals are treated as 'humanely' as possible. But Professor Norden makes absolutely no mention of the ethics of animal research. She should have. (In fact, in lecture 30 she presents a brief video, which she laughs at and characterizes as "hysterically funny," of a rat who was endocrinologically tricked into "thinking" and behaving as if he was actually a she. This may have been justifiable from a research standpoint, but should not be presented as a source of humor.) So - a worthwhile course as an introduction for any with an interest in this field.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very detailed-very textbook like-tons of information
Date published: 2015-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazed I'm a complete layman - a wannabe writer doing research for a story - and this course, minus a bit of technical terminology, was as engaging as any I've ever had. Dr. Jeanette Norden is clearly fascinated by her subject matter, and it helps immensely as she infects her class with equal awe during this preliminary tour of the brain. There's a lot to slog through, but its all worth it, with enough graphics to enthrall the uninitiated. Its hard not to be changed by the information once you start to comprehend how complex and astonishing these little machines inside our heads actually are, but my grandmother also had Alzheimer's in her waning years, making me and others in my family candidates, so it affected me on a deeply personal level as well, offering more than facts, but actual ways to use the plasticity of our neuronal pathways to our advantage - learning new behaviors that could drastically change the quality of our lives. Whether you're a wannabe brain surgeon, a health-nut, or just interested in something new, this is a great way to immerse your mind in the mind, so to speak. Outstanding teacher, outstanding subject; thank you Great Courses!
Date published: 2014-09-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Powerful course demanding full attention This is a remarkable and challenging course requiring full concentration. I came through it with the feeling that I had been on a wondrous journey of discovery and learning... and indeed with a new understanding of just how marvellous the brain is, how it works and controls our functions, and what can go wrong. What a trip! A large portion of this course initially is dedicated to an arduous listing of names of various parts of the brain -- just pure anatomy you might think, but it is essential to have this groundwork in order to appreciate and follow later lectures, as the specialised terminology rolls off the professor's tongue. Lectures 10 and 11 on neurotransmitters and stroke particularly grabbed my interest... and from then on the course was flying, including an excellent explanation of Parkinson's Disease. Dr Norden is a powerful, highly-qualified lecturer, but I became very tired of hearing "basically". The course is ideal for those looking to start a career in a related field or with a special interest in the brain; it may be too technical, at least in part, for the less serious, more casual student. Graphics are superb and the on-set large colourful plastic brain model is an impressive aid. Congratulations to Great Courses and Professor Norden for presenting this course.
Date published: 2014-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding the brain Of the many Great Courses in various fields that I have taken, this may be the finest. Professor Norden's presentation of the material is clear and well-orgainized. Her teaching skills are superb, especially her technique of repeating important terms and ideas throughout the lectures, which makes it much easier to understand them and really see their full importance. Most helpful of all is her evident enthusiasm and love of the subject as well as the energy she displays throughout the course of lectures. It was difficult to accept that the course was done after the last lecture -- just like that great book that you don't ever want to finish.
Date published: 2014-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Brain discussing itself in intimate detail Giving five stars across the board to Jeanette Norden may appear as if I am possibly biased. In reality, however, it is just my axonal pathways having been repeatedly invigorated by listening to her absolutely superb lectures. Many of the lectures were so well presented and so full of informative material that I listened to them several times over -- not because I couldn't follow or couldn't understand what was being taught but because I desired to thoroughly learn the material (I do a lot of note taking while listening and I certainly cannot do that while driving which is where I do most of my listening).
Date published: 2014-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good coverage of neurobiology and psychology I'm a psychology doctoral student and have been using The Great Courses as a resource to bolster my learning. I found this to be one of several excellent courses that helped me bridge the gap between psychology and neurobiology. She provides an excellent walkthrough of the many areas of the brain and brain functioning. I found her style to be enjoyable, although she does make some assumptions about the listener’s speed of learning, frequently stating: "You'll remember that <minute detail>". I didn’t always remember but was still able to keep up.
Date published: 2014-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the Brain Dr. Norden does an excellent job of providing an overview of what we know about the workings of the human brain. The course vacillates between exploring the whole nervous system on a broad scale and zeroing in on specific systems to give an idea of how different areas of the brain affect perception, cognition, and function. By the end, I was left with a solid base of knowledge from which to further explore specific areas of interest in neurology with the confidence that I have a basic understanding of the nervous system as a whole. A wonderful place to start for anyone who wishes to scratch the surface of understanding the most complex piece of biological engineering in the known universe. Well worth the investment in time and money.
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course On The Brain This is a superb guide to our most important biological structure. Dr. Norden is a highly knowledgeable teacher, who guides us through the wondrous maze of the seat of the mind – the brain. She provides sufficient detail to give us insights into the functions of the brain, yet not so complicated that the intelligent student would be lost. The course starts with the overall anatomy of the brain and then proceeds to lay the neural foundations necessary to understand the functions of the brain. She summarizes each series of lectures with an example of a functioning piece of the brain or sadly what has been learned through damage to the brain in human beings. As the course proceeds, she constantly reinforces previously covered material by showing its relevance when a new topic is introduced. Dr. Norden presents findings for afflictions such as drug addiction, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases in a most insightful and compassionate manner. It is obvious that she is not only an accomplished scientist and teacher, but a person who truly cares about the plight of the victims of these maladies. In addition to the high quality of her professionalism, I was attracted to her passion and sense of wonder for her field of study, and her joy in presenting it. My only regret about the course it that is ended. I wish she could give a 201 level course or one devoted to special topics. I was quite taken back by the nature of the very few negative reviews of this excellent course. First, I was surprised about the criticism of the technicality of the course. Reviewers had problems with the presentation of technical terminology. What did they expect; a subject such as this requires common reference points and common definitions within the field to explain their findings. Moreover, it should come as no surprise to anyone who read the course synopsis. It detailed the technical nature of the course. Dr. Norden delivered on the course blueprint. The comments of a personal nature were disturbing though not unexpected in this web age of courage behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen. I found the professor’s voice to be clear, understandable and well paced, and I am a 67 year old male with hearing issues. For those, who are considering buying this course, disregard the negative reviews. They have no grounding. Perhaps those people could learn some lessons in decency from Heime Studmuffin!
Date published: 2014-06-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Neurology Streaming Video When I tried to watch the streaming video, after each of the video sections, the system kicked me out and I had to sign back in to watch the next session. Then, after I had watched several of the sessions, the system kicked me out and when I signed back in, the system had removed the neurology videos from my "library" and replaced them videos that are advertisements for other Great Courses products that I could not possibly be less interested in. Really, really, really annoying. And completely counter-productive, because given the way their system has treated me so far, what possible reason could I have for buying anything else from them? Hint: if you want your customers to buy more stuff from you, treat them fairly, which really, is not brain science.
Date published: 2014-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent hardly covers it I've seen dozens of TTC courses and enjoyed all of them but this one is by far the best one. I've watched it three times and I'm fairly certain I will watch it again. Excellent work professor Norden!
Date published: 2014-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Widely informative and very well done This course gives an excellent, wide-ranging introduction to the brain and how it functions. Professor Norden does a great job of describing macro level functions while also delving down into components of individual neurons and even to some of the chemical processes involved. I also appreciated the historical perspective within the course, as well as glimpses into future research. Another big plus is that the course covers problems that can arise and ways to help take care of the brain. One is amazed at the brain's overall complexity, but still can understand the many and varied aspects of the brain that are included in this course. Professor Norden presents enthusiastically and speaks very clearly. Some of her pronunciations of technical terms seem unusual, she too-frequently refers to “modern neuroscience” unnecessarily, and she occasionally becomes overly repetitive. Yet in general she is very easy to listen to and understand. Spending 18 hours “with” her is not only highly informative but quite pleasant.
Date published: 2014-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply excellent Well organized content and lots of it. Fascinating to anyone with a healthy curiosity. A brilliant teacher above all. Kudos Professor Norden.
Date published: 2014-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Although I've taken a couple dozen of these courses, this is only the 2nd time I've written a review; but both the course and the lecturer are excellent, and the course should be mandatory for anyone who has to live in this world.
Date published: 2014-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is a rather thorough review of the brain, geared toward the novice. Great depth for someone who wishes to learn a lot about anatomy and function.
Date published: 2014-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible neuroscience course If you want to start (or continue) a fascinating journey into a neuroscience, Professor Jeanette will be a guide who will make this experience very pleasant and interesting. She seems to have devoted her life to this field and yet still is far more down-to-earth than many of her peers (especially considering her experience and credentials). She is very enthusiastic and that energy is sustained throughout all lectures. A lot of effort has been put to create the visuals in this course - you will not just hear things explained, you will see them showed by Professor Jeanette (using her body-parts :), as an analogy or directly as an example), and you will also see many of the mechanisms schematically rendered in computer animations. I have to stress MANY and not MOST, as some things MIGHT be left unexplained (how action potentials actually propagate?). I understand that you are not able to put everything into a single course and this is where background knowledge or other courses will come in handy to fully (or should I say better) understand the brain. And, please don't get discouraged by this - this IS a Great course worth the name of the producing company. I am currently taking EDX online neuroscience course and this (Norden's) course has not just filled some gaps or expanded EDX course, it has also given a lot of ideas which areas would be interesting to research next. Also, it helps to understand the mechanics (at least fundamental) behind many CNS diseases, so there are some real-life benefits (to the extent how much knowledge of causality can be beneficial). This also makes it attractive to individuals interested in medicine. Hint/idea - the topic of this course is the workings of the BRAIN, not the neuron. Although professor talks about neurons, she leaves out some stuff about the internal mechanisms in the neuron (how does myelination change the properties of an axon, how, when and why ions go through the membrane, depolarization, hyper-polarization, etc.), so additional knowledge about this BEFORE taking this course would help. As for the lecturing style - you might have to get used to Professor Jeanette's way of addressing (I suppose) an imaginary auditorium. This was somewhat distracting for me initially as you never see the "students" she is talking to, but you get used to it. Also, a minor (you could say silly) detail - she sometimes wears something which resembles a coat and this takes my emphatic attention - it is either cold in the auditorium or she is going to leave soon :). Minor criticism aside - bottom line - a great course, HIGHLY recommended. P.S. My primary purpose of purchasing any courses here is to STUDY neuroscience, not to increase general knowledge, this might give a better perspective on my review.
Date published: 2014-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile course with great professor! I am a physician, but have not explored neurophysiology for many years. This course looked like it might be interesting, so after looking over the list of lectures, I bought it. This was a very good thing, as I have found the course worthwhile, and Dr Norden worthy of all the Best Teacher awards she has won. She is very well educated, and has a vast range of knowledge. Even her use of the English language reflects this. She presents the material with enthusiasm and interest, but is very down to earth and has a wonderful sense of humor. The material is brought to life by her many clinical examples, and she has prepared a large bibliography of relevant and interesting material in the accompanying coursebook. I have taken many Teaching Company courses, but this is one of the very best. Because of my interest, I would love to be able to take another course from her on advanced neurophysiology, but probably this will not be available. She is a wonderful teacher, and I am glad that the Teaching Company has made her expertise and enthusiasm available to us.
Date published: 2013-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses we have taken My husband and I are physicists from Germany and we really like TTC Courses and have listened to and watched various. This course has become one of our very favorites. We thoroughly enjoyed a. the teacher's passion and knowledge of the subject, b. the intelligent organization of the course, c. the interesting topics chosen - d. and the excellent presentation which helped us memorizing the terminology and principles. Having been generally interested in brain science for many years, we still didn't know the subject from its basic principles and ideas or in a well-structured way - this course gave us a wonderful and solid foundation in the terminology and brain basics of biology, anatomy, medicine, clinical medicine and psychology - as well as many incitements for further reading. It picked us up from where we were in the beginning and took us to a new level. A great compliment and thanks to the wonderful teacher and this excellent course.
Date published: 2013-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A short but excellent intro to the brain I enjoyed this set tremendously. The first 2/3 of the course are excellent and Prof. Norden does a great job to describe a difficult topic in an easy to understand set of short lectures. The last 1/3 is less detailed. The topics are equally interesting and valuable, but the presentation falls a bit short of expectations. I come to The Great Courses to learn topic in detail, not to get a few pointers. I believe the course would have been improved if the last topics had been covered in more technical detail. These negative comments do not however retract me from given this course my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2013-11-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from My brain hurts from this lecture I completely agree with the observations of another customer who gave this lecture 1 star. This topic could be made truly interesting but instead the lecturer devotes so much time to teaching brain terminology. OMG there are countless terms she uses in each lecture and it becomes burdensome to remember all of them... as they are often referenced in subsequent lectures. The rather dry, monotone voice does not help... and I have to admit with several of the lectures I fell asleep while viewing them. This is by far the most disappointing class I've taken from The Great Courses in content and presentation... and I have returned it. I'm sure there are countless better books and videos on the subject.
Date published: 2013-11-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Much More Great course overall however hate when someone says "that area is much more complex and we don't have time for that in this course" Hey! I got plenty of time and that's why I took course. Please I'm prepared to struggle with any issue that's why I want to learn more than I know.
Date published: 2013-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Firing on All Synapses This is an outstanding course and a great introduction to neuroscience. Anyone interested in understanding how the Brain and Central Nervous System(CNS) work will gain much from this course. Dr. Jeanette Norden says her objective is to "inform and amaze" the student and she clearly succeeds. All of the TTC instructors are knowledge experts in their fields, many are great lecturers, a few are great showman. Dr. Norden is a GREAT TEACHER. Her course is well organized and follows a logical topical sequence. She uses multiple forms of communicating her points: verbally, non-verbally with appropriate body language and expressions, using props such as brain models and actual brain cross sectional slices, great animations, photos of stained tissues, and other photos. She typically reviews the key learnings form the prior lecture at the beginning of each new lecture. Her pace and timing is appropriate and she effectively uses pauses to let key points sink in. The course content is at the level of a college science course with quite a bit of technical terminology. However, a student with a very basic understanding of biology, chemistry and electricity should be able to follow along. Considering the complexity of the brain and its various subsystems Dr. Norden presents the material in a very straightforward manner making it easier to contemplate. However in "Understanding the Brain" you are challenged to use yours. In addition to covering the form, function, and science of the brain, Dr. Norden does discuss various brain injuries, diseases and disorders. She does so in a way that is empathetic to the patients. Among these she covers agnosias, aphasias, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. The course guide is excellent.In addition to lecture summaries which cover the key learning from each talk, the guide contains a complete (and necessary) glossary, biographical summaries, and an extensive bibliography. This was the twelfth Great Course I have taken and of those I would rank Dr. Norden with Dr. Mark Whittle (Cosmology) as one of the two best teachers of the twelve. I am certainly not a neurologist, but I was inspired (and amazed) by this course to learn even more about neuroscience and follow new developments in this field. Thank you Dr. Norden.
Date published: 2013-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Start on Neuroscience I am a big consumer of Teaching Company course on CD for my morning commute. Understanding the Brain, however, was only the second video course I have watched at home. I enjoyed watching Professor Norden so much that I decided to get several other courses on neuroscience and continue exploring the topic. The lecturer provides multiple lectures on both the gross anatomical structures of the brain, as well as lectures on neurology at the cellular and synapse level. She then uses that basic anatomy to explain areas as diverse as addiction and memory formation. This basic knowledge forms a really good base for further exploration. I am currently watching The Neuroscience of Everyday Life, and I find myself recalling Professor Norden's lectures to provide more detail than the current lecturer can include in his lectures. This is a fascinating topic, and Professor Norden does it justice for the layman.
Date published: 2013-07-24
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