Memory is not a photo album where your images of the past are faithfully recorded. The latest neuroscience discoveries show that memory can be affected in many ways and with surprising results: false memories, distortions, modifications and deja vu. To what extent can we rely on our memories?
Part 1 of this eight-part series of shorts introduces the world of the visual scientist. Beyond boggling your mind, Prof. Arthur Shapiro explains how and why you see what you see -- and what part of what you see is actually "real", as opposed to how your mind fills in the blanks.
Could the power of fake pills be used to treat some of our most common medical complaints? To find out, Dr Michael Mosley embarks on Britain's largest ever trial to investigate the placebo effect. He is heading to Blackpool to gather 117 people suffering from backache - one of the leading types of chronic pain - before trying to treat them with nothing but fake pills and the power of the mind. Working with experts from the University of Oxford, Michael discovers that the placebo effect is more than just a medical curiosity. The brain is actually capable of producing its own drugs, and these can be more powerful than prescription painkillers. Michael's volunteers come from all walks of life, but they have all suffered with bad backs for years and feel their conventional medication isn't up to the job. They include Stacey, who is struggling to keep up with her two energetic daughters, wheelchair user Jim, who longs to be able to get back on a boat, and poker player Moyra, who is looking for a painkiller which doesn't affect her performance. They think they are taking part in the trial of a powerful new painkiller, but their blue and white capsules actually contain nothing but ground-up rice. Can this fake treatment make a real difference? And how will the volunteers react when Michael reveals the truth? Michael also finds out about some remarkable placebo experiments from around the world, including a woman in Oxfordshire who experienced a near-miraculous recovery after undergoing fake surgery to fix her chronic shoulder pain. Plus a team in Lancashire who want to see if the placebo effect can cure a broken heart. And Michael discovers a team in Germany working on a placebo that works even if you know you are taking it, which might improve the lives of transplant patients. Michael also tests this out on himself - attempting to train his own body to respond to a fake treatment - a foul-tasting green drink - as if he were taking actual drugs.
Would you reroute a train to run over one person to prevent it from running over five others? In the classic “Trolley Problem” survey, most people say they would. But I wanted to test what people would actually do in a real-life situation. In the world’s first realistic simulation of this controversial moral dilemma, unsuspecting subjects will be forced to make what they believe is a life-or-death decision.
We all like to think we are in control of our lives - of what we feel and what we think. But scientists are now discovering this is often simply an illusion. Surprising experiments are revealing that what you think you do and what you actually do can be very different. Your unconscious mind is often calling the shots, influencing the decisions you make, from what you eat to who you fall in love with. If you think you are really in control of your life, you may have to think again.
How can a lie become true? In this episode, Dr. Aaron Blaisdell and I create a game show that is actually a giant “human Skinner Box” to observe the formation of superstitious beliefs. And Dr. Samuel Veissière helps me design and perform a placebo reverse exorcism, harnessing the power of belief in both science and religion to convince normal people that a spirit has possessed their bodies.