Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia—Latin for invisible things—fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.
Here's the Latest Episode from Invisibilia:
The strange story of an unlikely crew of people who band together to take on one of our largest problems using nothing but whale sounds, machine learning, and a willingness to think outside the box. Even stranger, several of the world's most accomplished scientists seem to think they might have a good idea. | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
A city council candidate says he's black. But his opponent accuses him of being a white man pretending to be black. If race is simply a social construct and not a biological reality, how do we determine someone's race? And who gets to decide? We tell the story of a man whose racial identity was fiercely contested... and the consequences this had on an entire city. | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
What if you had a superpower that allowed you to see part of the world that was to come? At the age of 60, a Scottish woman named Joy Milne discovers she has a biological gift that allows her to see things that will happen in the future that no one else can see. A look at how we think about the future, and the important ways the future shapes the present. | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
Welcome to what is possibly the most tense and uncomfortable summer program in America! The Boston-based program aims to teach the next generation the real truth about race, and may provide some ideas for the rest of us about the right way to confront someone to their face. | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
Daniel Martinez discovered the unthinkable: a creature that breaks one of the most fundamental laws of life. In the wake of his discovery--which has been widely confirmed by the scientific community--all kinds of people have thrown themselves into trying to unlock the secrets of how this creature seems to cheat death. Cellular biologists, aging researchers, and the biotech industry all hold high hopes that there may be some application to slow human aging. Millions of dollars are being poured into the dream of extending the human lifespan, which looks increasingly possible. But Daniel? He trashed his experiment. He completely abandoned the pursuit of unlocking the secrets of immortality. Perhaps because he believes that dream is all wrong. Invisibilia co-founder Lulu Miller went down to visit him in California to try to find out why. Please take our short, anonymous listener survey: npr.org/invisibiliasurvey. | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
Bernie Krause was a successful musician as a young man, playing with rock stars like Jim Morrison and George Harrison in the 1960s and '70s. But then one day, Bernie heard a sound unlike anything he'd ever encountered and it completely overtook his life. He quit the music business to pursue it and has spent the last 50 years following it all over the earth. And what he's heard raises this question: what can we learn about ourselves and the world around us if we quiet down and listen? | To learn more about this episode, subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to learn more about NPR sponsors.
You hear the train barreling towards you and you're tied to the tracks. It's an impossible situation. Most people would panic, and then a tiny handful would think up improbable workarounds. This season on Invisibilia: inventors in desperate times.
A special gift during this season of giving: An original animated video in two parts! Part 1 explores a small but strange study about a machine that could predict human friendships. Then, in collaboration with fictionalist Ian Chillag (Everything Is Alive), we ask, What would the machine have to say about all of this, if it could talk? If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can watch it at npr.org/invisibilia. And, if you want to reciprocate this little gift, don't forget to donate to your NPR station before the end of the year at donate.npr.org/invis.
What happens when you treat artificial intelligence with unconditional love?
Producer B.A. Parker started recording her calls with her father because she was concerned about the care at his nursing home. But the recordings gave her a window into something very different: their relationship. So she started recording her calls with her grandmother as well. A story of relationships told through the small recorded calls between people who love each other.
As a parent, what do you do when your four-year-old starts telling you about memories that can't possibly be his? Memories that he says are from a past life?
Alix presents a new episode from NPR's Rough Translation about residents of an immigrant neighborhood in Marseille, France who considered their local McDonalds to be a home of sorts, so when the owner tries to sell it, they take extreme measures to try and save it.
A mysterious profile pops up on a dating app - leading to a bubble of chaos and confusion. A story about trying to sort fact versus fiction, how destabilizing that can be, and a very strange confrontation with the truth. NOTE: Since this story was originally published, we have added some background reporting and context to the episode.
Richard Kraft was in a fog of grief when he bought his first Disney collectible at an auction. But once he started, he couldn't stop. In the first episode of our new fall season, we explore the role of positive distraction in the face of adversity.
Invisibilia is a show that runs on empathy. We believe in it. But are we right? In this episode, we'll let you decide. We tell the same story twice in order to examine the questions: who deserves our empathy? And is there a wrong way to empathize? If you or somebody you know might need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
A young woman discovers a pattern in her dating habits that disturbs her - a pattern that challenges her very conception of who she is and what she believes in. The realization sets her off on a quest to change her attractions. But is this even possible? And should we be hacking our desire to match our values?
What would it be like if you could control your mood with a hand held device? Literally turn the device to different settings and make yourself happier and sadder? Alix Spiegel talks to a woman who has that power. If you or somebody you know might need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
In this episode of Invisibilia, we explore our relationship with uncertainty through the eyes of a chief meteorologist. We wonder: what do you do when you don't know what to do? And how do we handle it when that question has no answer?
What is the relationship between the version of you that lives online and the one that walks around the earth? We think of our online selves as shadow versions of us which we can control. But in this age when facts are malleable, something strange is happening: our online selves are sometimes eclipsing our real ones, even when we don't want them to.
We look at how our culture's massive effort to address pain has paradoxically increased it. And we follow one young girl as she struggles through a bizarre and extreme treatment program. NOTE: The treatment in this episode is administered by trained professionals in a hospital setting (and should not be implemented without medical supervision).
This moment in our culture can feel fraught. From 'fake news' to the opioid crisis, there's a lot of uncertainty about the future. So this season, Invisibilia helps you discern truth from fiction, cure your pain, and find your true love with conviction. It's your very own Emotional Survival Guide!
Years ago, producer Yowei Shaw taught high school students how to make radio. And in one of her classes, something bizarre happened with one of her students, something that she's never been able to make sense of. In this episode, Yowei tracks down her former student and uncovers a story much stranger than she ever expected.
Five years ago, Leena Sanzgiri was living her childhood dream... New York city apartment, job at Vogue, and a boyfriend she planned to marry. Until the July day she woke up in the hospital, and everything changed. Support for this episode provided by Charles Schwab: https://www.schwab.com/.
An uncomfortable encounter with a stranger sets producer Abby Wendle on a quest to answer the question: who do you let in and who do you keep out? In her search for balance between openness and caution – she navigates the struggles of her long-distance relationship and chats up musician John Prine.
In this story, comedian Cord Jefferson tells a heartfelt personal story and offers up some illuminating science about the power of the human voice. Support for this episode was provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/.
Our first live event!! We explored the In Between with Alix, Hanna and several DC-based storytellers, who talked about charting their own path in a world of absolutes. We couldn't feature all the amazing storytellers in this bonus episode, but you can see videos of performances by Vijai Nathan, Mike Kane, Carly Ciarrocchi on our website: http://npr.org/invisibilia. The videos from Hanna's story are there too! For more information about Story District, visit their website: http://storydistrict.org/.
A lot of communities today are taking a hard stand against sexual harassment and assault. Using social media shaming, ostracism, professional excommunication, whatever punishment is painful enough to shift the moral code by brute force. Through one incident in the Richmond Virginia hardcore music scene, we chronicle a social media callout and ask what pain can accomplish. CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains obscenities and descriptions of sex and violence. For resources on handling accountability for harm done, please visit: n.pr/2GZqccC.
Today we introduce you to Allie n Steve, who is one person. For half the day she can be Allie and the other half he is Steve. For many of us this would be a disorienting experience. But after a shattering experience in their life, Allie n Steve has learned to live comfortably in this in between space. And Allie n Steve has lessons to teach us about the beauty of not retreating to black and white. We also talk to a woman who suffers from a little known condition called "maladaptive daydreaming." She is so addicted to her fantasy life that she's finding it hard to manage her real one.
A panel of judges sits to decide the fate of the young woman. She's the child of addicts and an ex-addict and ex-felon herself, and she's asking the court to trust her to become an attorney. The outcome of her case hinges on a question we all struggle with: are we destined to repeat our patterns, or do we generally stray in surprising directions? - a question increasingly relevant in an age when algorithms are trying to predict everything about our behavior. CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of sexual abuse.
Your aging mother lives in another country. Then a tenant moves into her house – he's clean, polite, helpful. At first you are relieved, until you begin to suspect that man has sinister motives. That's the situation two brothers found themselves in, in Taiwan. Then something happened between the tenant and the mother that unsettled the brothers' lives even more. We examine how leaving things unsaid with our intimates can lead to misunderstandings and missed connections.
Reality TV may be popular around the world, but it's also roundly mocked as formulaic and contrived. So, can that kind of fragile fantasy world meaningfully influence reality? We look at the goals and impact of a UN-backed reality show called "Inspire Somalia," that attempted to model democracy and freedom in a country racked by decades of clan warfare and oppression by extremist groups like al-Shabab.
In this episode, we talk to a 74-year-old woman who decides the only way to get over her husband's death is to jump out of an airplane. And to a third generation beekeeper whose entire collection of hives has been stolen - he believes by Russian mobsters. After losing so much can they tell themselves new stories about themselves that allow them to function?
We're living in a black and white world, where the stories we tell ourselves lock us into one side or the other. These stories define us – imprison or liberate us. In their fourth season, co-hosts Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel map the grey areas.
In this bonus episode, we catch up with a character from Season 3 of Invisibilia... Max Hawkins, a San Francisco-based computer programmer who initially built an app to help him break out of his predictable bubble. Recently, Max, and others he's inspired to "bubble-hop," have been led to confront situations they feel have crossed the line from uncomfortable...to morally repugnant. These experiences have meant grappling with when to shut down, and when to engage. Invisibilia is supported by GoToMeeting: https://www.gotomeeting.com/
In a special podcast bonus, co-host Hanna Rosin checks in with Bill Millar, who we met in Season 2's "Flip the Script." They talk about dating, cats, and how love can look different for everyone. Listen to the original episode here: http://apple.co/2x0aWE3.
A thief knocks down your door and you are flooded with fear. Your baby smiles up at you and you are filled with love. It feels like this is how emotions work: something happens, and we instinctively respond. How could it be any other way? Well, the latest research in psychology and neuroscience shows that's not in fact how emotions work. We offer you a truly mind-blowing alternative explanation for how an emotion gets made. And we do it through a bizarre lawsuit, in which a child dies in a car accident, and the child's parents get sued by the man driving the other car.
Can you discover an emotion? We travel to the jungles of the Philippines where an anthropologist named Renato Rosaldo lived with the Ilongots, an isolated tribe of headhunters. There he learns about legit, an emotion so intense, and varied, and scary to him, that he can't really map onto the usual palette of American emotions. It takes many years, and a shocking and tragic event, for Rosaldo to fully grasp legut. Then we follow a young woman who does something on dates that virtually guarantees their failure. Along the way , she gains insight into her own emotions, and those of a generation of kids raised to be happy.
How is it that two neighbors can look out their window at the exact same thing, and see something completely different? This is a question many people in America are asking now. We explore it by visiting a small community in Minnesota, called Eagle's Nest Township, that has a unique experience with the reality divide: some of the people in the town believe that wild black bears are gentle animals you can feed with your hands, and others think they are dangerous killers. This divide leads to conflict and, ultimately, a tragic death. So, is there a "real" truth about the bear, or is each side constructing its own reality?
The concept of bubbles (social bubbles, media bubbles, political bubbles) has become popular lately as people grapple with the unexpected outcomes of the 2016 election. We talk to two people who are making attempts to break out of their bubbles, and expose themselves to new points of view. We start with a woman seeking to break out of the confines of the human bubble altogether, by teaching herself to experience the world more like a dog. Then we meet a young man named Max, who has made a life out of hopping from bubble to bubble.
Is there a part of ourselves that we don't acknowledge, that we don't even have access to and that might make us ashamed if we encountered it? We begin with a woman whose left hand takes instructions from a different part of her brain. It hits her, and knocks cigarettes out of her hand and makes her wonder: who is issuing the orders? Is there some other "me"in there I don't know about? We then ask this question about one of the central problems of our time: racism. Scientific research has shown that even well meaning people operate with implicit bias - stereotypes and attitudes we are not fully aware of that nonetheless shape our behavior towards people of color. We examine the Implicit Association Test, a widely available psychological test that popularized the notion of implicit bias. And we talk to people who are tackling the question, critical to so much of our behavior: what does it take to change these deeply embedded concepts? Can it even be done?
What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question we ask children, and adults. In American culture the concept of the future self is critical, required. It drives us to improve, become a richer, more successful, happier version of who we are now. It keeps us from getting blinkered by the world we grew up in, allowing us to see into other potential worlds, new and different concepts, infinite other selves. But the future self can also torture us, mocking us for who we have failed to become. We travel to North Port, Florida, where the principal of a high school did something extreme and unusual to help his students strive for grander future selves - a noble American experiment that went horribly wrong. If you or somebody you know might need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
What happens when you discover a part of yourself that is so different from who you think you are? Do you hold on to your original self tightly? Do you explore this other self? We travel to England to meet an insect with a split personality. Then we talk to an internet famous cartoonist who's been hiding a part of himself for years, and a woman who records herself sleep talking, and is amazed at what she finds.
Season 3 has ended but we're hard at work on Season 4! We'll see you soon, but in the meantime, we wanted to share Invisibilia's tips for a successful road trip.
On June 1, Invisibilia is back for Season 3! Invisibilia explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior – thoughts, emotions, assumptions, expectations. Check out the trailer for the upcoming season!
There's a popular idea out there that you can change from the outside in. Power posing. Fake it 'til you make it. If you just assume the pose, inner transformation will follow. We examine to what extent this is true, by following the first all-female debate team in Rwanda, a country that has legislated gender equality. We also see how an app reshaped the relationship of twin sisters. And we end our season at the beach, with a man whose life was transformed by a seagull named Mac Daddy.
We know about the power of clothes to affect how others see us. But does clothing have the power to actually change us on the inside? To boost our intellectual skills or melt our fear? Co-hosts Hanna Rosin and Lulu Miller, along with new contributors, explore the invisible ways clothes can seep into our skin and change us in surprising ways. This hour, stories about a guy who uses sunglasses to fight off bullies, the science of how wearing a doctor's coat can make you smarter, a tailor who may or may not have survived the Holocaust by wearing a Nazi officer's shirt, a family for whom what outfit to wear is a life or death decision, and why shoes may be the root of all human evil. Maybe.
In this episode we look at situation where someone flips the script – does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, and in this way transforms a situation. The clinical term is "complementarity." Usually when someone is hostile to us, we are hostile right back. But then in rare cases someone manages to be warm, and what happens as a result can be amazing. The episode starts with a story about a dinner party in DC, when an attempted robbery was foiled by... a glass of wine and some cheese. Then we travel across the pond, to Denmark, where police officers are attempting to combat the growing problem of Islamic radicalization with... love. And finally, we talk to a man who attempted to flip the script on one of our most basic animal functions: finding a mate.
What shapes the way we perceive the world around us? A lot of it has to do with invisible frames of reference that filter our experiences and determine how we feel. Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin interview a woman who gets a glimpse of what she's been missing all her life – and then loses it. And they talk to Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj about which frame of reference is better – his or his dad's.
In this special podcast bonus, Lulu Miller tells the story of William Kitt, a resident of the Broadway Housing Communities, featured in our episode "The Problem with the Solution". William Kitt was insane, by his own definition. But he no longer believes he is, because of what he calls the Greatest Scheme of All.
In this episode we find that the solution can be the problem. The hour begins with a charming couple from Utah who stumble across a clever fix to their clogged drain problem one day while they are showering together. For them, the impulse to fix the problem leads to a happy adventure into the world of patenting and manufacturing a new product. From there, the hour takes a turn to explore how this very same impulse to fix a problem — the impulse that has led the human species to invent telephones and bicycles and rocket ships — has surprising consequences when it comes to the problem of mental illness.
In a special podcast bonus, Lulu Miller tells the story about a young runner who always thought he had it in him to break the four-minute mile, until a potential change in personality made him question if he was the same runner.
In America personality is often seen as destiny. Whether you're a famous CEO like Steve Jobs or a serial criminal like Hannibal Lecter, most of us think that our position in life has a lot to do with our personality. This episode looks more closely at this belief. We start at a Court House where lines of people who are getting married describe the personality of the person with whom they are to be joined for life. Then travel to a prison in Ohio where a woman has struck up a work relationship with a prisoner who it turns out did something far worse than she imagined. Finally Lulu talks to a scientist to come up with a complete catalogue of all the things about us that actually do stay stable over the course of our lives. They look at everything from cells to memories until ultimately they come up with a list — but it's a really short list.
You probably don't even notice them, but social norms determine so much of your behavior - how you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel. These norms are so entrenched we never imagine they can shift. But Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to do just that: teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.
On June 17th Invisibilia is back for Season 2! Invisibilia explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior – thoughts, emotions, assumptions, expectations. Check out the trailer for the upcoming season!
Alix and Lulu present a bonus podcast about why "Inside Out" was considered as a possible name for the show, but ultimately wasn't chosen.
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.
In Entanglement, you'll meet a woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia who can physically feel what she sees others feeling. And an exploration of the ways in which all of us are connected — more literally than you might realize. The hour will start with physics and end with a conversation with comedian Maria Bamford and her mother. They discuss what it's like to be entangled through impersonation.
A podcast BONUS for you today. We didn't have enough room in our Batman show for this lovely story about Julee-anne Bell, one of the many people who have learned Daniel Kish's echolocation technique. Enjoy!
In "How to Become Batman," Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect that our expectations can have on the people around us. You'll hear how people's expectations can influence how well a rat runs a maze. Plus, the story of a man who is blind and says expectations have helped him see. Yes. See. This journey is not without skeptics.
In "Fearless," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller explore what would happen if you could disappear fear. A group of scientists believe that people no longer need fear — at least not the kind we live with — to navigate the modern world. We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.
In "The Secret History of Thoughts," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller ask the question, "Are my thoughts related to my inner wishes, do they reveal who I really am?" The answer can have profound consequences for your life. Hear the story of a man gripped by violent thoughts, and explore how various psychologists make sense of his experience. Also, meet a man trapped inside his head for 13 years with thoughts as his only companion.
Starting January 9th, NPR brings you Invisibilia, a six episode series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and thoughts. Invisibilia interweaves personal stories with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently. Your co-hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel give you a sneak preview of their first show: The Secret History of Thoughts.