At 38 years old, Susan Polgar has reached heights that few women have ever equalled in the chess world. Despite the common assumption that men’s brains are better at understanding spatial relationships, giving them an advantage in games such as chess, Susan went on to become the world’s first grandmaster. Susan’s remarkable abilities have earned her the label of ‘genius’, but her psychologist father, Laszlo Polgar, believed that genius was “not born, but made”. Noting that even Mozart received tutelage from his father at a very early age, Polgar set about teaching chess to the five-year-old Susan after she happened upon a chess set in their home. “My father believed that the potential of children was not used optimally,” says Susan.
The first programme in the series uncovers what happens in our minds when we learn, remember and have original ideas. It explores what we can do to improve our ability to learn and manipulate knowledge, and shows how eating fish oils can boost our brain power.
What if each of us could make the symptoms of an illness disappear? Cast a spell so powerful it would actually rid us of pain, help us walk, or breathe better? For centuries placebos have been thought of as fake medicine involving trickery and deceit, but Brain Magic: The Power of Placebo pulls back the curtains on the proof that placebos can have powerful – and real – effects on our mind and body. New research is proving that everything from sugar pills, to saline injections, to sham surgery, can have real healing power. Placebos won’t shrink tumours or cure diabetes, but they can be effective in subjective conditions – where self-appraisal plays a role. And, as we’ll discover in Brain Magic, neuroscience is revealing how our bodies’ response to treatment is heavily influenced by our expectations, prior experiences, our beliefs, and the social cues that surround us.
A 200,000 year old jawbone tells the story of an elderly woman who was kept alive thanks to the kindness of her companions. From this first known example of human compassion to modern day heroes, the final programme in the Human Instinct series explores the most complex of instincts. The instinct to put others first.
For most of human history, our brains dealt with pretty straight forward problems. But that brain is the exact same one we now use to post pictures of our pets on social media, fill out Excel spreadsheets, and worry about the next payment on our credit card.