Dedee is still overseas, taking in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here’s her latest report…
In this show, Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman takes you through the science behind human consciousness. He explores different aspects of how our brains work, using his well honed skills of rap storytelling. His other shows covered topics such as climate change, religion and evolution, through a combination of rap concert, comedy show and TED Talk.
After a brief introduction, he starts with a rap about Bayes’ theorem — a mathematical formula for determining conditional probability, named after British mathematician Thomas Bayes. Thinking back to when he was first learning to rap, he explained how this theory could relate to his expectations of success. He showed the equation on the screen, swapping in faces of famous rappers (of varying abilities) where the numbers would be. It was a good visual for explaining a fairly complex equation, especially for those unfamiliar with this kind of thing.
Using a cute clip of his son Dylan was a nice touch. ‘What’s it like to be a baby?’ he muses. They’re still forming their first memories, they’ve never experienced regret, learned about consequences, decision making, and many other things.
“Clearly, ignorance is bliss, I mean look at him,” he says, pointing to the happy smiling kid on the screen. His rap illustrates this point well, comparing adult brains to those of a newborn, and looking at differences between humans and animals in our levels of consciousness.
There were some trippy visuals, (that definitely gave my brain that woozy feeling) to go with a rap about what it’s like to be an octopus. Let’s just say it started out as an octopus and slowly morphed into something completely different…
The freestyle “peer-reviewed rap” at the end was especially good. Brinkman teamed up with Professor Anil Seth (from the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex) who he invited on stage, to give academic input between the rapping. He asked for topics from the audience. Today we had child bilingualism, self loathing, and ‘a defining moment in your neural development’. Professor Seth gave impressively fluent explanations, giving a good insight into each of them. It complemented the freestyle beautifully. I felt smarter just listening to it.
Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness is lyrically rich, educational and fascinating. Quite fitting that it was on in a lecture theatre, as it sets out to entertain as well as educate. After seeing this, I’m keen to check out his other show about neuroscience, where he’s joined by his neuroscientist wife Dr Heather Berlin. They look at what happens in the brain during a freestyle rap. It’s called Off the Top: Neuroscience With Attitude. A perfect follow-up to today’s lesson.