Ever wanted to know how music affects your brain, what quantum mechanics really is, or how black holes work? Do you wonder why you get emotional each time you see a certain movie, or how on earth video games are designed? Then you’ve come to the right place. Each week, Sean Carroll will host conversations with some of the most interesting thinkers in the world. From neuroscientists and engineers to authors and television producers, Sean and his guests talk about the biggest ideas in science, philosophy, culture and much more.
Here's the Latest Episode from Sean Carroll’s Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas – Sean Carroll | Wondery:
We are all alive, but “life” is something we struggle to understand. How do we distinguish a “living organism” from an emergent dynamical system like a hurricane, or a resource-consuming chemical reaction like a forest fire, or an information-processing system like a laptop computer? There is probably no one crisp set of criteria that delineates life from non-life, but it’s worth the exercise to think about what we really mean, especially as the quest to find life outside the confines of the Earth picks up steam. Sara Imari Walker planned to become a cosmologist before shifting her focus to astrobiology, and is now a leading researcher on the origin and nature of life. We talk about what life is and how to find it, with a special focus on the role played by information and computation in living beings.
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Sara Imari Walker received her Ph.D. in physics from Dartmouth college. She is currently Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Deputy Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and Associate Director of the ASU-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems. She is the co-founder of the astrobiology social network SAGANet, and serves on the Board of Directors for Blue Marble Space.
Wilfrid Sellars described the task of philosophy as explaining how things, in the broadest sense of term, hang together, in the broadest sense of the term. (Substitute “exploring” for “explaining” and you’d have a good mission statement for the Mindscape podcast.) Few modern thinkers have pursued this goal more energetically, creatively, and entertainingly than Daniel Dennett. One of the most respected philosophers of our time, Dennett’s work has ranged over topics such as consciousness, artificial intelligence, metaphysics, free will, evolutionary biology, epistemology, and naturalism, always with an eye on our best scientific understanding of the phenomenon in question. His thinking in these areas is exceptionally lucid, and he has the rare ability to express his ideas in ways that non-specialists can find accessible and compelling. We talked about all of them, in a wide-ranging and wonderfully enjoyable conversation.
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Daniel Dennett received his D.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University. He is currently Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is known for a number of philosophical concepts and coinages, including the intentional stance, the Cartesian theater, and the multiple-drafts model of consciousness. Among his honors are the Erasmus Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year award. He is the author of a number of books that are simultaneously scholarly and popular, including Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and most recently Bacteria to Bach and Back.
Welcome to the second annual Mindscape Holiday Message! No substantive content or deep ideas, just me talking a bit about the state of the podcast and what’s on my mind. Since the big event for me in 2019 was the publication of Something Deeply Hidden, I thought it would be fun to talk about the process of writing and selling a popular book. Might be of interest to some of you out there!
Mindscape takes off for the holidays, so the next regular episode will be published on Monday January 6. It’s a good one — maybe my favorite episode thus far.
In the United States, more than one in five deaths is caused by cancer. The medical community has put enormous resources into fighting this disease, yet its causes and best treatments continue to be a puzzle. Azra Raza has been on both sides of the patient’s bed, as she puts it — both as an oncologist and expert in the treatment of Myelodisplastic Syndrome (MDS), and as a wife who lost her husband to cancer. In her new book, The First Cell, she argues that we have placed too much emphasis on treating cancer once it has already developed, and not nearly enough on catching it as soon as possible. We talk about what cancer is and why it’s such a difficult disease to understand, as well as discussing how patients and their loved ones should face up to the challenges of dealing with cancer.
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Azra Raza received her M.D. from Dow Medical College in Karachi, Pakistan. She is currently Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine and Director of the MDS Center at Columbia University in New York. Previously she was the Chief of Hematology-Oncology and the Gladys Smith Martin Professor of Oncology at the University of Massachusetts. Her Tissue Repository contains over 60,000 samples of samples from MDS and acute leukemia patients. She is the co-editor of the celebrated blog site 3 Quarks Daily.
- Web site
- Columbia University Medical Center page
- First Cell Center
- The First Cell
- Conversation With Siddhartha Mukherjee
It’s too easy to take laws of nature for granted. Sure, gravity is pulling us toward Earth today; but how do we know it won’t be pushing us away tomorrow? We extrapolate from past experience to future expectation, but what allows us to do that? “Humeans” (after David Hume, not a misspelling of “human”) think that what exists is just what actually happens in the universe, and the laws are simply convenient summaries of what happens. “Anti-Humeans” think that the laws have an existence of their own, bringing what happens next into existence. The debate has implications for the notion of possible worlds, and thus for counterfactuals and causation — would Y have happened if X hadn’t happened first? Ned Hall and I have a deep conversation that started out being about causation, but we quickly realized we had to get a bunch of interesting ideas on the table first. What we talk about helps clarify how we should think about our reality and others.
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Edward (Ned) Hall received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He is currently Department Chair and Norman E. Vuilleumier Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. According to his web page, “I work on a range of topics in metaphysics and epistemology that overlap with philosophy of science. (Which is to say: the best topics in metaphysics and epistemology.)” He is the coauthor (with L.A. Paul) of Causation: A User’s Guide.
We've talked a lot recently about the Many Worlds of quantum mechanics. That’s one kind of multiverse that physicists often contemplate. There is also the cosmological multiverse, which we talked about with Brian Greene. Today’s guest, Max Tegmark, has thought a great deal about both of those ideas, as well as a more ambitious and speculative one: the Mathematical Multiverse, in which we imagine that every mathematical structure is real, and the universe we perceive is just one such mathematical structure. And there’s yet another possibility, that what we experience as “reality” is just a simulation inside computers operated by some advanced civilization. Max has thought about all of these possibilities at a deep level, as his research has ranged from physical cosmology to foundations of quantum mechanics and now to applied artificial intelligence. Strap in and be ready for a wild ride.
Max Tegmark received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has played an important role analyzing data from large-scale structure and the cosmic microwave background. He is the author of Our Mathematical Universe and Life 2.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. He is a co-founder of the Foundational Questions Institute and the Future of Life Institute.
An infinite number of things happen; we bring structure and meaning to the world by making art and telling stories about it. Every work of literature created by human beings comes out of an historical and cultural context, and drawing connections between art and its context can be illuminating for both. Today’s guest, Stephen Greenblatt, is one of the world’s most celebrated literary scholars, famous for helping to establish the New Historicism school of criticism, which he also refers to as “cultural poetics.” We talk about how art becomes entangled with the politics of its day, and how we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by engaging with stories and their milieu.
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Stephen Greenblatt received his Ph.D. in English from Yale University. He is currently Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He has specialized in Renaissance and Shakespeare studies, but has also written on topics as diverse as Adam and Eve and the ancient Roman poet Lucretius. He has served as the editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and the Norton Shakespeare, and is founder of the journal Representations. Among his many honors are the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation. His most recent book is Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics.
- Web site
- Harvard web page
- Amazon.com author page
- Online courses at edX
- Talk on Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
Changing technologies have always affected how we produce and enjoy art, and music might be the most obvious example. Radio and recordings made it easy for professional music to be widely disseminated, but created a barrier to its creation. Nowadays computers are helping to reverse that trend, allowing casual users to create slick songs of their own. Not everyone is equally good at it, however; Grimes (who currently goes by c, the symbol for the speed of light) is a wildly successful electronic artist who writes, produces, performs, and sings her own songs. We dig into how music is made in the modern world, but also go well beyond that, into artificial intelligence and the nature of digital/virtual/online personae. We talk about the birth of a new digital avatar -- who might be called "War Nymph"? -- and how to navigate the boundaries of art, technology, fashion, and culture. Her new album Miss Anthropocene will be released in February 2020.
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Grimes, or c, studied neuroscience at McGill University before turning full-time to music. Her previous albums include Geidi Primes, Halfaxa, Visions, and Art Angels. Her latest album, Miss Anthropocene, channels the goddess of climate change. On December 5th in Miami, she will be orchestrating the one-night-only rave Bio-Haque.
Maxwell's Demon is a famous thought experiment in which a mischievous imp uses knowledge of the velocities of gas molecules in a box to decrease the entropy of the gas, which could then be used to do useful work such as pushing a piston. This is a classic example of converting information (what the gas molecules are doing) into work. But of course that kind of phenomenon is much more widespread -- it happens any time a company or organization hires someone in order to take advantage of their know-how. César Hidalgo has become an expert in this relationship between information and work, both at the level of physics and how it bubbles up into economies and societies. Looking at the world through the lens of information brings new insights into how we learn things, how economies are structured, and how novel uses of data will transform how we live.
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César Hidalgo received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. He currently holds an ANITI Chair at the University of Toulouse, an Honorary Professorship at the University of Manchester, and a Visiting Professorship at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2010 to 2019, he led MIT’s Collective Learning group. He is the author of Why Information Grows and co-author of The Atlas of Economic Complexity. He is a co-founder of Datawheel, a data visualization company whose products include the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
- Web site
- MIT web page
- Google Scholar page
- Talk on replacing politicians
- In My Shoes (documentary film)
- Amazon author page
The human brain contains roughly 85 billion neurons, wired together in an extraordinarily complex network of interconnected parts. It’s hardly surprising that we don’t understand the mind and how it works. But do we know enough about our experience of consciousness to suggest that consciousness cannot arise from nothing more than the physical interactions of bits of matter? Panpsychism is the idea that consciousness, or at least some mental aspect, is pervasive in the world, in atoms and rocks as well as in living creatures. Philosopher Philip Goff is one of the foremost modern advocates of this idea. We have a friendly and productive conversation, notwithstanding my own view that the laws of physics don’t need any augmenting to ultimately account for consciousness. If you’re not sympathetic toward panpsychism, this episode will at least help you understand why someone might be.
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Philip Goff received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Reading. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham. His new book, Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, is being published on Nov. 5.
Cosmologists are always talking excitedly about the Big Bang and all the cool stuff that happened in the 14 billion years between then and now. But what about the future? We don't know for sure, but we know enough about the laws of physics to sketch out several plausible scenarios for what the future of our universe will hold. Katie Mack is a cosmologist who is writing a book about the end of the universe. We talk about the possibilities of a Big Crunch (and potential Big Bounce), a gentle cooling off where the universe gradually grows silent, and of course the prospect of a dramatic phase transition, otherwise known as the "bubble of quantum death." Which would make a great name for a band, I think we can all agree.
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Katherine (Katie) Mack received her Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University. She is currently an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, where her research centers on theoretical cosmology, including dark matter and black holes. She is also a member of NCSU’s Leadership in Public Science Cluster. Her upcoming book, The End of Everything, will be published in 2020.
Artificial intelligence is better than humans at playing chess or go, but still has trouble holding a conversation or driving a car. A simple way to think about the discrepancy is through the lens of “common sense” — there are features of the world, from the fact that tables are solid to the prediction that a tree won’t walk across the street, that humans take for granted but that machines have difficulty learning. Melanie Mitchell is a computer scientist and complexity researcher who has written a new book about the prospects of modern AI. We talk about deep learning and other AI strategies, why they currently fall short at equipping computers with a functional “folk physics” understanding of the world, and how we might move forward.
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Melanie Mitchell received her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Michigan. She is currently a professor of computer science at Portland State University and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Her research focuses on genetic algorithms, cellular automata, and analogical reasoning. She is the author of An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms, Complexity: A Guided Tour, and most recently Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. She originated the Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer project, on online learning resource for complex systems.
Our observable universe started out in a highly non-generic state, one of very low entropy, and disorderliness has been growing ever since. How, then, can we account for the appearance of complex systems such as organisms and biospheres? The answer is that very low-entropy states typically appear simple, and high-entropy states also appear simple, and complexity can emerge along the road in between. Today’s podcast is more of a discussion than an interview, in which behavioral neuroscientist Kate Jeffery and I discuss how complexity emerges through cosmological and biological evolution. As someone on the biological side of things, Kate is especially interested in how complexity can build up and then catastrophically disappear, as in mass extinction events.
There were some audio-quality issues with the remote recording of this episode, but loyal listeners David Gennaro and Ben Cordell were able to help repair it. I think it sounds pretty good!
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Kate Jeffery received her Ph.D. in behavioural neuroscience from the University of Edinburgh. She is currently a professor in the Department of Behavioural Neuroscience at University College, London. She is the founder and Director of the Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience at UCL.
- Lab web site
- Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience
- ResearchGate page
- Talk on Cognitive Neuroscience and Architecture
The idea of “red states” and “blue states” burst on the scene during the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections, and has a been a staple of political commentary ever since. But it’s become increasingly clear, and increasingly the case, that the real division isn’t between different sets of states, but between densely- and sparsely-populated areas. Cities are blue (liberal), suburbs and the countryside are red (conservative). Why did that happen? How does it depend on demographics, economics, and the personality types of individuals? I talk with policy analyst Will Wilkinson about where this division came from, and what it means for the future of the country and the world.
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Will Wilkinson received an M.A. in philosophy from Northern Illinois University, and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. He has worked for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and as a research fellow at the Cato Institute, and is currently Vice President of Policy at the Niskanen Center. He has taught at Howard University, the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has written for a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vox, and The Boston Review, as well as being a regular commentator for Marketplace on public radio.
- Web site
- Niskanen web page
- The Density Divide: Urbanization, Polarization, and Populist Backlash
- Writing at The New York Times
We had our fun last week, exploring how progress in renewable energy and electric vehicles may help us combat encroaching climate change. This week we’re being a bit more hard-nosed, taking a look at what’s currently happening to our climate. Michael Mann is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, and also a dedicated advocate for improved public understanding of the issues. It was his research with Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes that introduced the “hockey stick” graph, showing how global temperatures have increased rapidly compared to historical averages. We dig a bit into the physics behind the greenhouse effect, the methods that are used to reconstruct temperatures in the past, how the climate has consistently been heating up faster than the average models would have predicted, and the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. Happily even this conversation is not completely pessimistic — if we take sufficiently strong action now, there’s still time to avert the worst possible future catastrophe.
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Michael Mann received his Ph.D. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, with joint appointments in the Departments of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. He is the director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center. He is the author of over 200 scientific publications and four books. His most recent book is The Tantrum that Saved the World, a “carbon-neutral kids’ book.”
- Web site
- Penn State web page
- Earth System Science Center
- Google scholar
- Amazon.com author page
The Earth is heating up, and it’s our fault. But human beings are not always complete idiots (occasional contrary evidence notwithstanding), and sometimes we can even be downright clever. Dare we imagine that we can bring our self-inflicted climate catastrophe under control, through a combination of technological advances and political willpower? Ramez Naam is optimistic, at least about the technological advances. He is a technologist, entrepreneur, and science-fiction author, who has been following advances in renewable energy. We talk about the present state of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, and what our current rate of progress bodes for the near and farther future. And maybe we sneak in a little discussion of brain-computer interfaces, a theme of the Nexus trilogy.
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Ramez Naam worked for 13 years at Microsoft, helping to develop early versions of Outlook, Explorer, and Bing. He founded Apex Technologies, which develops software for use in molecular design. He holds 19 patents. His science-fiction trilogy Nexus was awarded several prizes. He is chair of Energy and Environmental Systems at Singularity University.
I suspect most loyal Mindscape listeners have been exposed to the fact that I’ve written a new book, Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime. As I release this episode on Monday 9 September 2019, the book will officially be released tomorrow, in print, e-book, and audio versions. To get in the mood, we’ve had several podcast episodes on quantum mechanics, but the “emergence of spacetime” aspect has been neglected. So today we have a solo podcast in which I explain a bit about the challenges of quantum gravity, how Many-Worlds provides the best framework for thinking about quantum gravity, and how entanglement could be the key to showing how a curved spacetime could emerge from a quantum wave function. All of this stuff is extremely speculative, but I’m excited about the central theme that we shouldn’t be trying to “quantize gravity,” but instead looking for gravity within quantum mechanics. The ideas here go pretty far, but hopefully they should be accessible to everyone.
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The end of this episode includes a bonus, a short snippet from the audio book, read by yours truly. Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio. And here are links to some of the technical papers mentioned in the podcast.
- Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime
- “Thermodynamics of Space-Time: The Einstein Equation of State” (Jacobson)
- “Space from Hilbert Space: Recovering Geometry from Bulk Entanglement” (Cao, Carroll, and Michalakis)
- “Bulk Entanglement Gravity without a Boundary: Towards Finding Einstein’s Equation in Hilbert Space” (Cao and Carroll)
- “Mad-Dog Everettianism: Quantum Mechanics at Its Most Minimal” (Carroll and Singh)
Physicists study systems that are sufficiently simple that it’s possible to find deep unifying principles applicable to all situations. In psychology or sociology that’s a lot harder. But as I say at the end of this episode, Mindscape is a safe space for grand theories of everything. Psychologist Michele Gelfand claims that there’s a single dimension that captures a lot about how cultures differ: a spectrum between “tight” and “loose,” referring to the extent to which social norms are automatically respected. Oregon is loose; Alabama is tight. Italy is loose; Singapore is tight. It’s a provocative thesis, back up by copious amounts of data, that could shed light on human behavior not only in different parts of the world, but in different settings at work or at school.
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Michele Gelfand received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Illinois. She is currently Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and affiliate of the RH Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a past president of the International Association for Conflict Management. Among her numerous awards are the Carol and Ed Diener Award in Social Psychology, the Annaliese Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the Outstanding International Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association.
All of us have been wrong about things from time to time. But sometimes it was a simple, forgivable mistake, while other times we really should have been correct. Properties that systematically prevent us from being correct, and for which we can legitimately be blamed, are “intellectual vices.” Examples might include closed-mindedness, wishful thinking, overconfidence, selective attention, and so on. Quassim Cassam is a philosopher who studies knowledge in various forms, and who has recently written a book Vices of the Mind: From the Intellectual to the Political. We talk about the nature of intellectual vices, how they manifest in people and in organizations, and what we can possibly do to correct them in ourselves.
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Quassim Cassam received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Oxford University. He is currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. He previously held faculty positions at Cambridge University and University College London. He has served as the president of the Aristotelian Society, and was awarded a Leadership Fellowship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK.
Memory takes different forms. Memories can be encoded in the strength of neural connections in our brains, but there’s a sense in which photographs and written records are memories as well. What did people do before such forms of memory even existed? Lynne Kelly is a science writer and researcher who specializes in forms of memory in the ancient world, as well as a competitive memory expert in her own right. She has theorized that ancient structures such as Stonehenge might have served as memory palaces, encoding social knowledge over extended periods of time. We talk about how to improve your own memory, the origin of religion, and how prehistoric cultures preserved their know-how.
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Lynne Kelly received her Ph.D. in English from La Trobe University. Originally trained as a computer scientist, she has worked as an educator before transitioning into science writing and memory research. She is an Honorary Research Associate at La Trobe University. She is the author of a number of books, including The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal. Her work on memory methods and ancient societies was published as an academic book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory, and the Transmission of Culture, as well as in trade form as The Memory Code: The Traditional Aboriginal Memory Technique That Unlocks the Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Ancient Monuments the World Over. Her most recent book is Memory Craft: Improve Your Memory Using the Most Powerful Methods From Around the World.
There are many mysteries surrounding quantum mechanics. To me, the biggest mysteries are why physicists haven’t yet agreed on a complete understanding of the theory, and even more why they mostly seem content not to try. This puzzling attitude has historical roots that go back to the Bohr-Einstein debates. Adam Becker, in his book What Is Real?, looks at this history, and discusses how physicists have shied away from the foundations of quantum mechanics in the subsequent years. We discuss why this has been the case, and talk about some of the stubborn iconoclasts who insisted on thinking about it anyway.
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Adam Becker received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan. He is currently a science writer and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley. His book What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics comes out in paperback on Sept. 3, 2019.
- Web site
- Berkeley web page
- What Is Real?
- Talk on the history of quantum mechanics
- Interactive explanation of Bell’s Theorem
Fiction shines a light on the human condition by putting people into imaginary situations and envisioning what might happen. Science fiction expands this technique by considering situations in the future, with advanced technology, or with utterly different social contexts. Seth MacFarlane’s show The Orville is good old-fashioned space opera, but it’s also a laboratory for exploring the intricacies of human behavior. There are interpersonal conflicts, sexual politics, alien perspectives, and grappling with the implications of technology. I talk with Seth about all these issues, and maybe a little bit about whether it’s a good idea to block people on Twitter.
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Seth MacFarlane is a screenwriter, director, actor, producer, and singer. He is the creator of the animated TV shows Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show. He wrote, directed, and starred in the films Ted, Ted 2, and A Million Ways to Die in the West. He created and stars in the live-action episodic TV show The Orville (which will be moving from Fox to Hulu for its third season). He has recorded several albums as a jazz singer, and was the host of the Academy Awards in 2013. He is an executive producer for the reboot of Cosmos. His honors include several Primetime Emmy Awards, an Annie Award, a Webby Award, a Saturn Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Democracy may not exist, but we’ll miss it when it’s gone” — or so suggests the title of Astra Taylor’s new book. We all know how democracy falls short, in practice, of its lofty ideals; but we can also appreciate how democratic values are crucial in the fight for a more just society. In this conversation, we dig into the nature of democracy, from its origins to the present day. We talk about who gets to participate, how economic inequality affects political inequality, and how democratic ideals manifest themselves in any number of real-world situations.
Astra Taylor is a filmmaker, author, and activist. Her documentary films include Zizek!, The Examined Life, and most recently What Is Democracy? Her books include The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital age and the new Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone. She has taught sociology at the university level, and written for publications from n+1 to The London Review of Books. She was active in the Occupy movement, and is a co-founder of the Debt Collective.
Scientists can’t quite agree on how to define “life,” but that hasn’t stopped them from studying it, looking for it elsewhere, or even trying to create it. Kate Adamala is one of a number of scientists engaged in the ambitious project of trying to create living cells, or something approximating them, starting from entirely non-living ingredients. Impressive progress has already been made. Designing cells from scratch will have obvious uses is biology and medicine, but also allow us to build biological robots and computers, as well as helping us understand how life could have arisen in the first place, and what it might look like on other planets.
Katarzyna (Kate) Adamala received her Ph.D. working with Pier Luigi Luisi at the University of Rome and Jack Szostak at Harvard. She is currently an assistant professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota. She is a member of the Build-A-Cell international collaboration, which brings together multiple groups to work on constructing artificial life.
- University of Minnesota web page
- Lab web site
- Google scholar publications
- Talk on synthetic life
As you may have heard, I have a new book coming out in September, Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime. To celebrate, we're going to have more than the usual number of podcasts about quantum mechanics over the next couple of months. Today is an experimental flipped podcast, in which I'm being interviewed by Rob Reid. Rob is the host of the After On podcast, of which this is also an episode. We talk about quantum mechanics generally and my favorite Many-Worlds approach in particular, homing in on the motivation for believing in all those worlds and the potential puzzles that this perspective raises.
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Rob Reid received his MBA from Harvard. He currently works as an author, entrepreneur, and podcaster. He was the founder of Listen.com, which was acquired in 2003 by RealNetworks. He has written nonfiction books about Harvard Business School and about the early days of the Web, as well as two novels. His most recent book is the science-fiction novel After On, which is also the name of his podcast.
It doesn’t mean much to say music affects your brain — everything that happens to you affects your brain. But music affects your brain in certain specific ways, from changing our mood to helping us learn. As both a neuroscientist and an opera singer, Indre Viskontas is the ideal person to talk about the relationship between music and the brain. Her new book, How Music Can Make You Better, digs into why we love music, how it can unite and divide us, and how music has a special impact on the very young and the very old. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Indre Viskontas received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCLA. She is currently a Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco. She is also Creative Director of the Pasadena Opera, Director of Vocallective, and host of the Inquiring Minds and Cadence podcasts. She served as the co-host for the documentary series Miracle Detectives, and has produced lecture series for The Great Courses. Her opera performances include roles in Mozart, Puccini, and others. Web site UCSF web page Wikipedia How Music Can Make You Better Great Courses professor page TEDx talk Twitter
What does it mean to be a good person? To act ethically and morally in the world? In the old days we might appeal to the instructions we get from God, but a modern naturalist has to look elsewhere. Today I do a rare solo podcast, where I talk both about my personal views on morality, a variety of “constructivism” according to which human beings construct their ethical stances starting from basic impulses, logical reasoning, and communicating with others. In light of this view, I consider two real-world examples of contemporary moral controversies: Is it morally permissible to eat meat? Or is there an ethical imperative to be a vegetarian? Do inequities in society stem from discrimination, or from the natural order of things? As a jumping-off point I take the loose-knit group known as the Intellectual Dark Web, which includes Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, and others, and their nemeses the Social Justice Warriors (though the discussion is about broader issues, not just that group of folks). Probably everyone will agree with my takes on these issues once they listen to my eminently reasonable arguments. Actually this is a more conversational, exploratory episode, rather than a polished, tightly-argued case from start to finish. I don’t claim to have all the final answers. The hope is to get people thinking and conversing, not to settle things once and for all. These issues are, on the one hand, very tricky, and none of us should be too certain that we have everything figured out; on the other hand, they can get very personal, and consequently emotions run high. The issues are important enough that we have to talk about them, and we can at least aspire to do so in the most reasonable way possible. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal.
Games play an important, and arguably increasing, role in human life. We play games on our computers and our phones, watch other people compete in games, and occasionally break out the cards or the Monopoly set. What is the origin of this human impulse, and what makes for a great game? Frank Lantz is both a working game designer and an academic who thinks about the nature of games and gaming. We discuss what games are, contrast the challenges of Go and Poker and other games, and investigate both the “dark energy” that games can sometimes induce and the ways they can help us become better people. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Frank Lantz is a game designer and Director of the Game Center at New York University. He co-founded Area/Code games, and is the designer or co-designer of numerous popular games, including Drop7 and Universal Paperclips. He is also responsible for a number of large-scale real-world games. He has taught at New York University, Parsons School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts. Web site NYU web page Wikipedia Talk on Go, Poker, and the Sublime Talk on Logic and Emotions in Games Twitter Universal Paperclips QWOP
Cosmologists have a standard set of puzzles they think about: the nature of dark matter and dark energy, whether there was a period of inflation, the evolution of structure, and so on. But there are also even deeper questions, having to do with why there is a universe at all, and why the early universe had low entropy, that most working cosmologists don’t address. Today’s guest, Anthony Aguirre, is an exception. We talk about these deep issues, and how tackling them might lead to a very different way of thinking about our universe. At the end there’s an entertaining detour into AI and existential risk. Anthony Aguirre received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Harvard University. He is currently associate professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where his research involves cosmology, inflation, and fundamental questions in physics. His new book, Cosmological Koans, is an exploration of the principles of contemporary cosmology illustrated with short stories in the style of Zen Buddhism. He is the co-founder of the Foundational Questions Institute, the Future of Life Institute, and the prediction platform Metaculus. Web site UCSC web page Google Scholar page Wikipedia Amazon.com author page Foundational Questions Institute Future of Life Institute Metaculus Twitter
It’s fun to spend time thinking about how other people should behave, but fortunately we also have an inner voice that keeps offering opinions about how we should behave ourselves: our conscience. Where did that come from? Today’s guest, Patricia Churchland, is a philosopher and neuroscientist, one of the founders of the subfield of “neurophilosophy.” We dig into the neuroscience of it all, especially how neurochemicals like oxytocin affect our attitudes and behaviors. But we also explore the philosophical ramifications of having a conscience, with an eye to understanding morality and ethics in a neurophilosophical context. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Patricia Churchland received her B.Phil. in philosophy from Oxford University. She is currently the President’s Professor of Philosophy (emerita) at the University of California, San Diego, as well as an adjunct professor of neuroscience at the Salk Institute. Among her awards are the MacArthur Prize, The Rossi Prize for Neuroscience and the Prose Prize for Science. Her latest book, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition, was just released. She has arguably the best web site of any professional philosopher. Web site Google Scholar Amazon.com author page Wikipedia TEDx talk on The Brains Behind Morality Twitter
It’s easy to be cynical about humanity’s present state and future prospects. But we have made it this far, and in some ways we’re doing better than we used to be. Today’s guest, Nicholas Christakis, is an interdisciplinary researcher who studies human nature from a variety of perspectives, including biological, historical, and philosophical. His most recent book is Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, in which he tries to pinpoint the common features of all human societies, something he dubs the “social suite.” Marshaling evidence from genetics to network theory to accounts of shipwreck survivors, he argues that we are ultimately wired to get along, despite the missteps we make along the way. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Nicholas Christakis received an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science in the Department of Sociology, with additional appointments in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Statistics and Data Science; Biomedical Engineering; Medicine; and in the School of Management. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Yale web page Google scholar page Amazon.com author page Wikipedia Twitter
If you’re bad, we are taught, you go to Hell. Who in the world came up with that idea? Some will answer God, but for the purpose of today’s podcast discussion we’ll put that possibility aside and look into the human origins and history of the idea of Hell. Marq de Villiers is a writer and journalist who has authored a series of non-fiction books, many on science and the environment. In Hell & Damnation, he takes a detour to examine the manifold ways in which societies have imagined the afterlife. The idea of eternal punishment is widespread, but not quite universal; we might learn something about ourselves by asking where it came from. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Marq de Villiers was born in South Africa and now lives in Canada. He has worked as a reporter in a number of locations, from Cape Town to London to Moscow to Toronto. His books cover a variety of topics, many on history and ecology. He has been named a Member of the Order of Canada and awarded an honorary degree from Dalhousie University, among other accolades. Web site Amazon page Wikipedia Talk on the state of the world’s water
Most people in the modern world — and the vast majority of Mindscape listeners, I would imagine — agree that humans are part of the animal kingdom, and that all living animals evolved from a common ancestor. Nevertheless, there are ways in which we are unique; humans are the only animals that stress out over Game of Thrones (as far as I know). I talk with geneticist and science writer Adam Rutherford about what makes us human, and how we got that way, both biologically and culturally. One big takeaway lesson is that it’s harder to find firm distinctions than you might think; animals use language and tools and fire, and have way more inventive sex lives than we do. Adam Rutherford received his Ph.D. in genetics from University College London. He has written numerous books on genetics, evolution, synthetic biology, human history, and the origin of life. His most recent book is Humanimal: How Homo Sapiens Became Nature’s Most Paradoxical Creature — A New Evolutionary History. (Published in the UK with the more manageable title The Book of Humans: The Story of How We Became Us.) He frequently appears on and hosts science programs for the BBC on both radio and television, including Inside Science for BBC Radio 4. BBC Bio Page Articles at The Guardian Wikipedia Amazon.co.uk author page Talk on “What Makes Us Human” Twitter
Most of us have no trouble telling the difference between a robot and a living, feeling organism. Nevertheless, our brains often treat robots as if they were alive. We give them names, imagine that they have emotions and inner mental states, get mad at them when they do the wrong thing or feel bad for them when they seem to be in distress. Kate Darling is a research at the MIT Media Lab who specializes in social robotics, the interactions between humans and machines. We talk about why we cannot help but anthropomorphize even very non-human-appearing robots, and what that means for legal and social issues now and in the future, including robot companions and helpers in various forms. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Kate Darling has a degree in law as well as a doctorate of sciences from ETH Zurich. She currently works at the Media Lab at MIT, where she conducts research in social robotics and serves as an advisor on intellectual property policy. She is an affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Among her awards are the Mark T. Banner award in Intellectual Property from the American Bar Association. She is a contributing writer to Robohub and IEEE Spectrum. Web page Publications Twitter TED talk on why we have an emotional connection to robots
For decades now physicists have been struggling to reconcile two great ideas from a century ago: general relativity and quantum mechanics. We don’t yet know the final answer, but the journey has taken us to some amazing places. A leader in this quest has been Leonard Susskind, who has helped illuminate some of the most mind-blowing ideas in quantum gravity: the holographic principle, the string theory landscape, black-hole complementarity, and others. He has also become celebrated as a writer, speaker, and expositor of mind-blowing ideas. We talk about black holes, quantum mechanics, and the most exciting new directions in quantum gravity. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Leonard Susskind received his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University. He is currently the Felix Bloch Professor of Physics at Stanford University. He has made important contributions to numerous ideas in theoretical physics, including string theory, lattice gauge theory, dynamical symmetry breaking, the holographic principle, black hole complementarity, matrix theory, the cosmological multiverse, and quantum information. He is the author of several books, including a series of pedagogical physics texts called The Theoretical Minimum. Among his numerous awards are the J.J. Sakurai Prize and the Oskar Klein Medal. Web page Theoretical Minimum page Susskind Lectures on YouTube TED Talk about Richard Feynman Publications at Inspire Amazon author page Wikipedia
When we talk about the mind, we are constantly talking about consciousness and cognition. Antonio Damasio wants us to talk about our feelings. But it’s not in an effort to be more touchy-feely; Damasio, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, believes that feelings generated by the body are a crucial part of how we achieve and maintain homeostasis, which in turn is a key driver in understanding who we are. His most recent book, The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures, is an ambitious attempt to trace the role of feelings and our biological impulses in the origin of life, the nature of consciousness, and our flourishing as social, cultural beings. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Antonio Damasio received his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. He is currently University Professor, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Philosophy, and (along with his wife and frequent collaborator, Prof. Hannah Damasio) Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. He is also an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Among his numerous awards are the Grawemeyer Award, the Honda Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award in Science and Technology, and the Beaumont Medal from the American Medical Association. USC web page Brain and Creativity Institute Google Scholar page Amazon.com author page Wikipedia TED talk on The Quest to Understand Consciousness Twitter
Some people never drink wine; for others, it’s an indispensable part of an enjoyable meal. Whatever your personal feelings might be, wine seems to exhibit a degree of complexity and nuance that can be intimidating to the non-expert. Where does that complexity come from, and how can we best approach wine? To answer these questions, we talk to Matthew Luczy, sommelier and wine director at Mélisse, one of the top fine-dining restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Matthew insisted that we actually drink wine rather than just talking about it, so drink we do. Therefore, in a Mindscape first, I recruited a third party to join us and add her own impressions of the tasting: science writer Jennifer Ouellette, who I knew would be available because we’re married to each other. We talk about what makes different wines distinct, the effects of aging, and what’s the right bottle to have with pizza. You are free to drink along at home, with exactly these wines or some other choices, but I think the podcast will be enjoyable whether you do or not. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Mattew Luczy is a Certified Sommelier as judged by the Court of Master Sommeliers. He currently works as the Wine Director at Mélisse in Santa Monica, California. He is also active in photography and music. Mélisse home page Personal/photography page Instagram Ask a Somm: When Should I Decant Wine?
The space age officially began in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite. But recent years have seen the beginning of a boom in the number of objects orbiting Earth, as satellite tracking and communications have assumed enormous importance in the modern world. This raises obvious concerns for the control and eventual fate of these orbiting artifacts. Natalya Bailey is pioneering a novel approach to satellite propulsion, building tiny ion engines at her company Accion Systems. We talk about how satellite technology is rapidly changing, and what that means for the future of space travel inside and outside the Solar System. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Natalya Bailey received her Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, where she helped invent a new kind of ion engine. She is currently co-founder and chief executive officer of Accion Systems Inc. She has been included in 30 Under 30 lists from Forbes, Inc, and MIT Technology Review. Accion Systems Wikipedia page Twitter Talk on the Human Side of Rocket Science Real-time map of satellites currently in orbit
One of the most important insights in the history of science is the fact that complex behavior can arise from the undirected movements of small, simple systems. Despite the fact that we know this, we’re still working to truly understand it — to uncover the mechanisms by which, and conditions under which, complexity can emerge from simplicity. (Coincidentally, a new feature in Quanta on this precise topic came out while this episode was being edited.) Steven Strogatz is a leading researcher in this field, a pioneer both in the subject of synchronization and in that of small-world networks. He’s also an avid writer and wide-ranging thinker, so we also talk about problems with the way we educate young scientists, and the importance of calculus, the subject of his new book. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Steven Strogatz received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Harvard, and is currently the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell. His work has ranged over a wide variety of topics in mathematical biology, nonlinear dynamics, networks, and complex systems. He is the author of a number of books, including SYNC, The Joy of x, and most recently Infinite Powers. His awards include teaching prizes at MIT and Cornell, as well as major prizes from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Lewis Thomas Prize. Web site Cornell web page Google scholar page Amazon author page Wikipedia TED talk on synchronization Twitter
The modern world is full of technology, and also with anxiety about technology. We worry about robot uprisings and artificial intelligence taking over, and we contemplate what it would mean for a computer to be conscious or truly human. It should probably come as no surprise that these ideas aren’t new to modern society — they go way back, at least to the stories and mythologies of ancient Greece. Today’s guest, Adrienne Mayor, is a folklorist and historian of science, whose recent work has been on robots and artificial humans in ancient mythology. From the bronze warrior Talos to the evil fembot Pandora, mythology is rife with stories of artificial beings. It’s both fun and useful to think about our contemporary concerns in light of these ancient tales. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Adrienne Mayor is a Research Scholar Classics and History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. She is also a Berggruen Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Her work has encompasses fossil traditions in classical antiquity and Native America, the origins of biological weapons, and the historical precursors of the stories of Amazon warriors. In 2009 she was a finalist for the National Book Award. Web page at Stanford Amazon author page Wikipedia Google Scholar Video of a talk on Amazons Twitter
Consciousness has many aspects, from experience to wakefulness to self-awareness. One aspect is imagination: our minds can conjure up multiple hypothetical futures to help us decide which choices we should make. Where did that ability come from? Today’s guest, Malcolm MacIver, pinpoints an important transition in the evolution of consciousness to when fish first climbed on to land, and could suddenly see much farther, which in turn made it advantageous to plan further in advance. If this idea is true, it might help us understand some of the abilities and limitations of our cognitive capacities, with potentially important ramifications for our future as a species. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Malcolm MacIver received his Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2001 from the University of Illinois and the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology. (This was after an unconventional childhood where he dropped out of school at age 9 and later talked his way into a community college program.) He is currently a professor of Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurobiology at Northwestern University. In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering. Northwestern Web Page Google Scholar Talk on sensing and planning Paper: “The Shift to Life on Land Selected for Planning” Twitter
Let’s say, for sake of argument, that you don’t believe in God or the supernatural. Is there still a place for talking about transcendence, the sacred, and meaning in life? Some of the above, but not all? Today’s guest, Alan Lightman, brings a unique perspective to these questions, as someone who has worked within both the sciences and the humanities at the highest level. In his most recent book, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, he makes the case that naturalists should take transcendence seriously. We talk about the assumptions underlying scientific practice, and the implications that the finitude of our lives has for our search for meaning. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Alan Lightman received his Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology. After a number of years working as a theoretical astrophysicist specializing in black holes and high-energy processes, he scored an international bestseller with his novel Einstein’s Dreams. Increasingly concentrating on writing, he moved from Harvard to MIT, where he became the first professor to be jointly appointed in the sciences and the humanities. He later was made the John Burchard Professor of Humanities at MIT, which he has subsequently stepped down from to devote more time to writing. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics. He is also the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, which supports young women leaders in Southeast Asia. Web page Wikipedia Amazon author page Harpswell Foundation
When many of us think “Ancient Rome,” we think of the Empire and the Caesars. But the Empire was preceded by the Roman Republic, which flourished for a full five centuries. Why, after such a long and prosperous run, would an essentially democratic form of government change — with a good deal of approval from its citizens — into an autocracy? That’s the question I discuss with today’s guest, historian Edward Watts. It’s a fascinating story with many contemporary resonances, especially how reformers choose to balance working within the system to overthrowing it entirely. Lessons for modern politics are left largely for listeners to draw for themselves. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Edward Watts received his Ph.D. in history from Yale University. He is presently the Vassiliadis Professor of Byzantine Greek History at UC San Diego, where he was formerly Co-Director of the Center for Hellenistic Studies. He is the author of several books on ancient history, the most recent of which is Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny. UC San Diego Web Page Center for Hellenistic Studies Page Mortal Republic on Amazon Academia.edu page
Quantum mechanics is our best theory of how reality works at a fundamental level, yet physicists still can’t agree on what the theory actually says. At the heart of the puzzle is the “measurement problem”: what actually happens when we observe a quantum system, and why do we apparently need separate rules when it happens? David Albert is one of the leading figures in the foundations of quantum mechanics today, and we discuss the measurement problem and why it’s so puzzling. Then we dive into the Many-Worlds version of quantum mechanics, which is my favorite (as I explain in my forthcoming book Something Deeply Hidden). It is not David’s favorite, so he presents the case as to why you should be skeptical of Many-Worlds. (The philosophically respectable case, that is, not a vague unease at all those other universes.) Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. David Albert received his Ph.D. in physics from Rockefeller University. He is currently the Frederick E. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His research involves a number of topics within the foundations of physics, including the arrow of time (coining the phrase “Past Hypothesis” for the low-entropy state of the early universe) and quantum mechanics. He is the author of a number of books, including Time and Chance, Quantum Mechanics and Experience, and After Physics. Columbia web page Publications at PhilPapers Wikipedia page Videos at Closer to Truth BigThink interview
Everything we think about the world outside our immediate senses is shaped by information brought to us by other sources. In the case of what’s currently happening to the human race, we call that information “the news.” There is no such thing as “unfiltered” news — no matter how we get it, someone is deciding what information to convey and how to convey it. And the way that is happening is currently in a state of flux. Today’s guest, journalist Jessica Yellin, has seen the news business from the perspective of both the establishment and the upstart. Working for major news organizations, she witnessed the strange ways in which decisions about what to cover were made, including the constant focus on short-term profits. And now she is spearheading a new online effort to bring people news in a different way. We talk about what the news business is, what it should be, and where it is going. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Jessica Yellin has worked as a journalist in a number of different capacities. Beginning with local news in Florida, she then worked as an on-air correspondent and anchor for MSNBC and ABC, before becoming Chief White House Correspondent for CNN. Her writing has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times. She is currently focusing on a new project using Instagram as a new way of delivering news. Yellin is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and a member of the Board of Directors for the Center for Public Integrity. Her upcoming novel, Savage News, is about a woman trying to navigate the modern news business. Instagram news feed Wikipedia Savage News at Amazon Twitter Profile in Vogue USC web page
Within every person’s mind there is on ongoing battle between reason and emotion. It’s not always a battle, of course; very often the two can work together. But at other times, our emotions push us toward actions that our reason would counsel against. Paul Bloom is a well-known psychologist and author who wrote the provocatively-titled book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, and is currently writing a book about the nature of cruelty. While I sympathize with parts of his anti-empathy stance, I try to stick up for the importance of empathy in the right circumstances. We have a great discussion about the relationship between reason and emotion. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Paul Bloom received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from MIT. He is currently the Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research ranges over a variety of topics in moral psychology and childhood development. He is the author of several books and the recipient of numerous prizes, including the $1 million Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize in 2017. Web site Yale web page Wikipedia page TED talk on The Origins of Pleasure Amazon page Publications Online courses at Coursera Twitter
Reality is a tricky thing. Is love real? What about the number 5? This is clearly a job for a philosopher, and James Ladyman is one of the world’s acknowledged experts. He and his collaborators have been championing a view known as “structural realism,” in which real things are those that reflect true, useful patterns in the underlying reality. We talk about that, but also about a couple of other subjects in the broad area of philosophy of science: the history and current status of materialism/physicalism, and the nature of complex systems. This is a deep one. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. James Ladyman obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Leeds, and is currently a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He has worked broadly within the philosophy of science, including issues of realism, empiricism, physicalism, complexity, and information. His book Everything Must Go (co-authored with Don Ross) has become an influential work on the relationship between metaphysics and science. Web page Everything Must Go Academia.edu page PhilPeople profile Conversation with Raymond Tallis Structural Realism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Our climate is in the midst of dramatic changes, driven largely by human activity, with potentially enormous consequences for humanity and other species. That’s why science tells us, anyway. But there is an influential contingent, especially in the United States, who deny that reality, and work hard to prevent policy action that might ameliorate it. Where did this resistance come from, and what makes it so successful? Naomi Oreskes is a distinguished historian of science who has become, half-reluctantly, the world’s expert on this question. It turns out to be a fascinating story starting with just a handful of scientists who were passionate not only about climate, but also whether smoking causes cancer, and who cared deeply about capitalism, communism, and the Cold War. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Naomi Oreskes received her Ph.D. in Geological Research and History of Science from Stanford University. She is now a professor of the History of Science at Harvard. She is the author of numerous books and scholarly articles, many on the public reception of science. Merchants of Doubt, co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was made into a feature-length documentary film. Harvard web page Wikipedia Amazon author page TED Talk on Why we should trust scientists Twitter
String theory was originally proposed as a relatively modest attempt to explain some features of strongly-interacting particles, but before too long developed into an ambitious attempt to unite all the forces of nature into a single theory. The great thing about physics is that your theories don’t always go where you want them to, and string theory has had some twists and turns along the way. One major challenge facing the theory is the fact that there are many different ways to connect the deep principles of the theory to the specifics of a four-dimensional world; all of these may actually exist out there in the world, in the form of a cosmological multiverse. Brian Greene is an accomplished string theorist as well as one of the world’s most successful popularizers and advocates for science. We talk about string theory, its cosmological puzzles and promises, and what the future might hold. (For more general string theory background, check out Episode 18 with Clifford Johnson.) Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Brian Greene received his doctorate from Oxford University, and is currently a professor of Physics and Mathematics at Columbia University. His research includes foundational work on topology change, mirror symmetry, and the compactification of extra dimensions. He is the author of several best-selling books, including The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, both of which were made into TV specials for NOVA. He and Tracy Day are co-founders of the World Science Festival. Web site Publications from InSpire Wikipedia page Amazon author page Twitter TV Documentaries TED talk on string theory World Science Festival
It’s hardly news that computers are exerting ever more influence over our lives. And we’re beginning to see the first glimmers of some kind of artificial intelligence: computer programs have become much better than humans at well-defined jobs like playing chess and Go, and are increasingly called upon for messier tasks, like driving cars. Once we leave the highly constrained sphere of artificial games and enter the real world of human actions, our artificial intelligences are going to have to make choices about the best course of action in unclear circumstances: they will have to learn to be ethical. I talk to Derek Leben about what this might mean and what kind of ethics our computers should be taught. It’s a wide-ranging discussion involving computer science, philosophy, economics, and game theory. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Derek Leben received his Ph.D. in philosopy from Johns Hopkins University in 2012. He is currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He is the author of Ethics for Robots: How to Design a Moral Algorithm. PhilPapers profile University web page Ethics for Robots “A Rawlsian Algorithm for Autonomous Vehicles”
Sometimes science is asking esoteric questions about the fundamental nature of reality. Other times, it just wants to solve a murder. Today’s guest, Raychelle Burks, is an analytical chemist at St. Edward’s University in Texas. Before becoming a full-time academic, she worked in a crime lab using chemistry to help police track suspects, and now she does research on building new detectors for use in forensic analyses. We talk about how the real world of forensic investigation differs from the version you see portrayed on CSI, and how real chemists use their tools to help law enforcement agencies fight crime. We may even touch on how criminals could use chemical knowledge to get away with their dastardly deeds. Raychelle Burks received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Nebraska, and is now an Assistant Professor at St. Edward’s University. Her current research focuses on the development of portable colorimetry sensors that can be used in the field. She is active on Twitter as @DrRubidium, and often appears as an expert on podcasts and TV documentaries, as well as speaking at conventions and festivals. She is an active advocate for women and underrepresented minorities in science. Web page Wikipedia Twitter Columns at Chemistry World Blog at Scientopia
Sir Roger Penrose has had a remarkable life. He has contributed an enormous amount to our understanding of general relativity, perhaps more than anyone since Einstein himself -- Penrose diagrams, singularity theorems, the Penrose process, cosmic censorship, and the list goes on. He has made important contributions to mathematics, including such fun ideas as the Penrose triangle and aperiodic tilings. He has also made bold conjectures in the notoriously contentious areas of quantum mechanics and the study of consciousness. In his spare time he's managed to become an extremely successful author, writing such books as The Emperor's New Mind and The Road to Reality. With far too much that we could have talked about, we decided to concentrate in this discussion on spacetime, black holes, and cosmology, but we made sure to reserve some time to dig into quantum mechanics and the brain by the end.
There won't be any regular episodes of Mindscape this week or next, as we take a holiday break. Regular service will resume on Monday January 7, 2019. In the meantime, here is a special Holiday Message. Most likely it will be of interest to very few people -- there's no real substantive content, just me talking about the State of the Podcast and some other things I've been doing. Thanks to everyone for listening, here's looking toward great things in 2019! Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal.
It's a big universe out there, full of an astonishing variety of questions and puzzles. Today's guest, Janna Levin, is a physicist who has delved into some of the trippiest aspects of cosmology and gravitation: the topology of the universe, extra dimensions of space, and the appearance of chaos in orbits around black holes. At the same time, she has been a pioneer in talking about science in interesting and innovative ways: a personal memoir, a novelized narrative of famous scientific lives, and a journalistic exploration of one of the most important experiments of our time. We talk about how one shapes an unusual scientific career, and how the practice of science relates to more traditionally humanistic concerns. Support Mindscape on Patreon or Paypal. Janna Levin received a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, and is now the Tow Professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. She is the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, and Black Hole Blues. Her awards include the PEN/Bingham Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is also the director of sciences at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, NY. Web site Columbia web page Publications on INSPIRE TED talk on gravitational waves Amazon author page Pioneer Works Wikipedia page Twitter
Everywhere around us are things that serve functions. We live in houses, sit on chairs, drive in cars. But these things don't only serve functions, they also come in particular forms, which may be emotionally or aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. The study of how form and function come together in things is what we call "Design." Today's guest, Ge Wang, is a computer scientist and electronic musician with a new book called Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime. It's incredibly creative in both substance and style, featuring a unique photo-comic layout and many thoughtful ideas about the nature of design, both practical and idealistic. Ge Wang received his Ph.D. in computer science from Princeton University, and is currently Associate Professor at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University. He is the author of the ChucK programming language for musical applications, and co-founder of the mobile-app developer Smule. He has given a well-known TED talk where he demonstrates Ocarina, an app for turning an iPhone into a wind instrument. Stanford Web page Artful Design home page (and Amazon page) TED talk on the DIY Orchestra of the Future Stanford Laptop Orchestra Smule Wikipedia page Twitter
The "Easy Problems" of consciousness have to do with how the brain takes in information, thinks about it, and turns it into action. The "Hard Problem," on the other hand, is the task of explaining our individual, subjective, first-person experiences of the world. What is it like to be me, rather than someone else? Everyone agrees that the Easy Problems are hard; some people think the Hard Problem is almost impossible, while others think it's pretty easy. Today's guest, David Chalmers, is arguably the leading philosopher of consciousness working today, and the one who coined the phrase "the Hard Problem," as well as proposing the philosophical zombie thought experiment. Recently he has been taking seriously the notion of panpsychism. We talk about these knotty issues (about which we deeply disagree), but also spend some time on the possibility that we live in a computer simulation. Would simulated lives be "real"? (There we agree -- yes they would.) David Chalmers got his Ph.D. from Indiana University working under Douglas Hoftstadter. He is currently University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science at New York University and co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his books are The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, The Character of Consciousness, and Constructing the World. He and David Bourget founded the PhilPapers project. Web site NYU Faculty page Wikipedia page PhilPapers page Amazon author page NYU Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness TED talk: How do you explain consciousness?
I remember vividly hosting a colloquium speaker, about fifteen years ago, who talked about the LIGO gravitational-wave observatory, which had just started taking data. Comparing where they were to where they needed to get to in terms of sensitivity, the mumblings in the audience after the talk were clear: “They’ll never make it.” Of course we now know that they did, and the 2016 announcement of the detection of gravitational waves led to a 2017 Nobel Prize for Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish. So it’s a great pleasure to have Kip Thorne himself as a guest on the podcast. Kip tells us a bit about he LIGO story, and offers some strong opinions about the Nobel Prize. But he’s had a long and colorful career, so we also talk about whether it’s possible to travel backward in time through a wormhole, and what his future movie plans are in the wake of the success of Interstellar. Kip Thorne received his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University, and is now the Richard Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics (Emeritus) at Caltech. Recognized as one of the world’s leading researchers in general relativity, he has done important work on gravitational waves, black holes, wormholes, and relativistic stars. His role in helping found and guide the LIGO experiment was recognized with the Nobel Prize in 2017. He is the author or co-author of numerous books, including a famously weighty textbook, Gravitation. He was executive producer of the 2014 film Interstellar, which was based on an initial concept by him and Lynda Obst. He’s been awarded too many prizes to list here, and has also been involved in a number of famous bets. Caltech page Wikipedia page Nobel Prize citation Nobel Lecture Amazon.com author page Internet Movie Database page
Brains are important things; they're where thinking happens. Or are they? The theory of "embodied cognition" posits that it's better to think of thinking as something that takes place in the body as a whole, not just in the cells of the brain. In some sense this is trivially true; our brains interact with the rest of our bodies, taking in signals and giving back instructions. But it seems bold to situate important elements of cognition itself in the actual non-brain parts of the body. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh is a psychologist and neuroscientist who uses imaging technologies to study how different parts of the brain and body are involved in different cognitive tasks. We talk a lot about mirror neurons, those brain cells that light up both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see someone else performing the action. Understanding how these cells work could be key to a better view of empathy and interpersonal interactions. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh is an Associate Professor in the Brain and Creativity Institute and the Department of Occupational Science at the University of Southern California. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA, and has also done research at the University of Parma and the University of California, Berkeley. Home page USC profile Lab home page Google Scholar Talk on Brain and Body
There's no question that human activity is causing enormous changes on our planet's environment, from deforestation to mass extinction to climate change. But perhaps there is a tiny cause for optimism -- or at least, the prospect of a new equilibrium, if we can manage to ameliorate our most destructive impulses. Wildlife conservationist Joe Walston argues that -- seemingly paradoxically, but not really -- increasing urbanization provides hope for biodiversity preservation and poverty alleviation moving forward. As one piece of evidence, while our population is still growing, the rate of growth has slowed substantially as people move into cities and new opportunities become available. We discuss these trends, the causes underlying them, and what strategies suggest themselves to bring humans into balance with the environment before it's too late. Joe Walston is Senior Vice President for Field Conservation the Wildlife Conservation Society. He received his Masters degree in Zoology and Animal Biology from Aberdeen University. Before moving to New York, he spent fifteen years working in on conservation programs in Africa and SouthEast Asia. His work in Cambodia was awarded with that country's highest civilian honor. A species of tube-nosed bat has been named Murina Walston in recognition of his work on protecting bat habitats. Wildlife Conservation Society ResearchGate Page Twitter Paper on urbanization and biodiversity (and press release)
We humans love to tell ourselves stories about why things happened the way they did; if the stories are sufficiently serious, we label this activity "history." Part of getting history right is simply an accurate recounting of the facts, but part of it is generally taken to be some kind of explanation about why. How much should we trust these explanations? This is a question with philosophical implications as well as historical ones, and philosopher Alex Rosenberg's new book How History Gets Things Wrong claims that we should basically not trust them at all. It's not that we get the facts wrong, it's that we have wrong ideas about causality and how the human mind works, and we can't help but import these wrong ideas to our beliefs about history. Alex and I dig into how this claim arises naturally from a certain way that naturalists should think about the world. Alex Rosenberg is the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, with secondary appointments in biology and political science. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the Lakatos Award for the best book in the philosophy of science. Rosenberg is the author of numerous books and articles on philosophical aspects of various subjects, including biology, cognitive science, economics, history, causation, and atheism. He has also written two novels, The Girl from Krakow and Autumn in Oxford. Web site Duke home page Wikipedia page Amazon author page Interview at 3:AM Interview at What Is It Like to Be a Philosopher?
Special Halloween edition? Scott Derrickson is a film-lover first and a director second, but he's been quite successful at the latter -- you may know him as the director and co-writer of Marvel's Doctor Strange. (When I was younger, Doctor Strange was one of my favorite comic characters, along with Green Lantern. At least one of them got a great movie.) Scott was gracious enough to take time from a very busy schedule to sit down for a chat about a wide number of topics. Using Doctor Strange as a template, we go in some detail through the immensely complicated process of taking a modern blockbuster movie from pitch to screen. But Scott's genre of choice is horror -- his other films include Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose -- and we move on to discussing why certain genres seem universal, before tackling even bigger issues about worldviews (Scott is Christian, I'm a naturalist) and how they affect one's life and work. Scott Derrickson is an acclaimed director, producer, and screenwriter. He earned his M.A. in film production from the University of Southern California. His films as a director include Hellraiser: Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil, and Doctor Strange. He has written or co-written numerous other films, including Land of Plenty (directed by Wim Wenders) and Devil's Knot (directed by Atom Egoyan). Wikipedia page IMDB page Twitter Doctor Strange on Wikipedia Interview with Scott Myers
Economics, like other sciences (social and otherwise), is about what the world does; but it's natural for economists to occasionally wander out into the question of what we should do as we live in the world. A very good example of this is a new book by economist Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments. Tyler will be well-known to many listeners for his long-running blog Marginal Revolution (co-created with his colleague Alex Tabarrok) and his many books and articles. Here he offers a surprising new take on how society should arrange itself, based on the simple idea that the welfare of future generations counts for just as much as the welfare of the current one. From that starting point, Tyler concludes that the most moral thing for us to do is to work to maximize economic growth right now, as that's the best way to ensure that future generations are well-off. We talk about this idea, as well as the more general idea of how to think like an economist. (In the second half of the podcast we veer off into talking about quantum mechanics and the multiverse, to everyone's benefit.) Tyler Cowen is the Holbert C. Harris professor of economics and General Director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is the author of over a dozen books and many journal articles, and writes frequently for the popular press. His blog Marginal Revolution is one of the leading economics blogs on the internet. He is widely recognized for his eclectic interests, from chess to music to ethnic dining. Website Home page at George Mason Mercatus Center web page Marginal Revolution Marginal Revolution University Twitter Bloomberg Opinion columns Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide Wikipedia page Amazon books
String theory is a speculative and highly technical proposal for uniting the known forces of nature, including gravity, under a single quantum-mechanical framework. This doesn't seem like a recipe for creating a lightning rod of controversy, but somehow string theory has become just that. To get to the bottom of why anyone (indeed, a substantial majority of experts in the field) would think that replacing particles with little loops of string was a promising way forward for theoretical physics, I spoke with expert string theorist Clifford Johnson. We talk about the road string theory has taken from a tentative proposal dealing with the strong interactions, through a number of revolutions, to the point it's at today. Also, where all those extra dimensions might have gone. At the end we touch on Clifford's latest project, a graphic novel that he wrote and illustrated about how science is done. Clifford Johnson is a Professor of Physics at the University of Southern California. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from the University of Southampton. His research area is theoretical physics, focusing on string theory and quantum field theory. He was awarded the Maxwell Medal from the Institute of Physics. Johnson is the author of the technical monograph D-Branes, as well as the graphic novel The Dialogues. Home page Wikipedia page Publications A talk on The Dialogues Asymptotia blog Twitter
The job of science fiction isn't to predict the future; it's to tell interesting stories in an imaginative setting, exploring the implications of different ways the world could be different from our actual one. Annalee Newitz has carved out a unique career as a writer and thinker, founding the visionary blog io9 and publishing nonfiction in a number of formats, and is now putting her imagination to work in the realm of fiction. Her recent novel, Autonomous, examines a future in which the right to work is not automatic, rogue drug pirates synthesize compounds to undercut Big Pharma, and sentient robots discover their sexuality. We talk about how science fiction needs more economics, how much of human behavior comes down to dealing with our neuroses, and what it's like to make the transition from writing non-fiction to fiction. Annalee Newitz is currently an Editor at Large at Ars Technica. She received her Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley. She founded and edited io9, which later merged with Gizmodo, where she also served as editor. She and Charlie Jane Anders host the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct, a bi-weekly exploration of the meaning of science fiction. Home page Wikipedia page Amazon author page Articles at io9/Gizmodo Articles at Ars Technica Our Opinions Are Correct podcast
Aging -- everybody does it, very few people actually do something about it. Coleen Murphy is an exception. In her laboratory at Princeton, she and her team study aging in the famous C. Elegans roundworm, with an eye to extending its lifespan as well as figuring out exactly what processes take place when we age. In this episode we contemplate what scientists have learned about aging, and the prospects for ameliorating its effects -- or curing it altogether? -- even in human beings. Coleen Murphy received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University, and is currently Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute of Integrative Genomics at Princeton. Home page at the Lewis-Sigler Institute Lab web page Princeton Profile Google Scholar publication page Twitter
Language comes naturally to us, but is also deeply mysterious. On the one hand, it manifests as a collection of sounds or marks on paper. On the other hand, it also conveys meaning – words and sentences refer to states of affairs in the outside world, or to much more abstract concepts. How do words and meaning come together in the brain? David Poeppel is a leading neuroscientist who works in many areas, with a focus on the relationship between language and thought. We talk about cutting-edge ideas in the science and philosophy of language, and how researchers have just recently climbed out from under a nineteenth-century paradigm for understanding how all this works. David Poeppel is a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at NYU, as well as the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive science from MIT. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, and was awarded the DaimlerChrysler Berlin Prize in 2004. He is the author, with Greg Hickok, of the dual-stream model of language processing.
To paraphrase Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, scientists tend to focus on whether they can do something, not whether they should. Questions of what we should do tend to wander away from the pristine beauty of science into the messy worlds of ethics and the law. But with the ongoing revolutions in biology, we can’t avoid facing up to some difficult should-questions. Alta Charo is a world expert in a gamut of these issues, working as a law professor and government official specializing in bioethics. We hit all the big questions: designer babies, birth control, abortion, religious exemptions, stem cells, end of life care, and more. This episode will give you the context necessary to think about a host of looming questions from a legal as well as a moral perspective. Alta Charo is currently the Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She earned a B.A. in Biology from Harvard, and went on to receive her J.D. from Columbia University. Charo served as a bioethics advisor on the Obama Administration transition team, as well as working as a senior policy advisor at the Food and Drug Administration. She has been a Fulbright Scholar, is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, and was awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award at UW-Madison.
For something of such obvious importance, money is kind of mysterious. It can, as Homer Simpson once memorably noted, be exchanged for goods and services. But who decides exactly how many goods/services a given unit of money can buy? And what maintains the social contract that we all agree to go along with it? Technology is changing what money is and how we use it, and Neha Narula is a leader in thinking about where money is going. One much-hyped aspect is the advent of blockchain technology, which has led to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. We talk about what the blockchain really is, how it enables new kinds of currency, and from a wider perspective whether it can help restore a more individualistic, decentralized Web. Neha Narula is the Director of the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT. She obtained her Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, and worked at Google and Digg before joining the faculty there. She is an expert on scalable databases, secure software, cryptocurrencies, and online privacy.
Jazz occupies a special place in the American cultural landscape. It's played in elegant concert halls and run-down bars, and can feature esoteric harmonic experimentation or good old-fashioned foot-stomping swing. Nobody embodies the scope of modern jazz better than Wynton Marsalis. As a trumpet player, bandleader, composer, educator, and ambassador for the music, he has worked tirelessly to keep jazz vibrant and alive. In this bouncy conversation, we talk about various kinds of music, how they might relate to physics, and some of the greater challenges facing the United States today. (This and the next few podcasts were recorded on the road with headset microphones, and the sound quality isn't quite as good, sorry about that.) Hailing from an accomplished New Orleans family, Wynton Marsalis was marked as a prodigy from a young age. He played locally before moving to New York and attend Julliard, and played and recorded with artists such as Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock. He has recorded numerous albums as a leader of small ensembles, big bands, and as a soloist with symphony orchestras. He is a multiple-time Grammy winner and the first to win in both jazz and classical categories in the same year, and in 1997 his oratorio Blood on the Fields was the first non-classical work to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. Marsalis founded and continues to lead Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is in residence at Lincoln Center along with such organizations as the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Ballet. He has won the National Medal of the Arts and the National Humanities Medal, along with numerous other awards and honorary degrees.
Few events in recent astronomical history have had the worldwide emotional resonance as the 2006 announcement that Pluto was no longer considered a planet, at least as far as the International Astronomical Union was concerned. The decision was a long time coming, but no person deserves more credit/blame for forcing the astronomical community's hand than Caltech astronomer Michael Brown. He and his team discovered a number of objects in the outer Solar System -- Eris, Haumea, Sedna, and others -- any of which was just as deserving of planetary status as Pluto. Rather than letting the planetary family proliferate without bound, astronomers decided that none of these objects dominated the orbits in which they moved, so none of them should be planets. Now Brown and his colleague Konstantin Batygin have found indirect evidence that there is another real planet far beyond Pluto's orbit -- which they have dubbed Planet Nine just to remind you that there are currently only eight. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/mike-brown.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Mike Brown received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from U.C. Berkeley in 1994, and is currently the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at Caltech. He shared the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics in 2012 for his discovery of major new objects in the outer Solar System, and in 2007 won Caltech's annual Feynman Teaching Prize. Home page Wikipedia page Blog Twitter How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Online course, The Science of the Solar System Download Episode
We're all going to die. But while we are alive, it's up to us how we understand and deal with that fact. In the United States especially, there is a tendency to not face up to the reality of death, and to assume that our goal should be to struggle at all costs to squeeze every last minute out of life. The Death Positive movement aims to change that, helping people to both face up to death on a personal and cultural level, and to give themselves more control over the manner of their own deaths. One of the leaders in this movement is today's guest, Megan Rosenbloom, who works as a medical librarian by day. We talk about attitudes toward death around the world, the differences between dying at home and in a hospital, the importance of autonomy in old age, and how individuals and societies can cope with the ultimate inevitability that comes with being alive. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/megan-rosenbloom.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Megan Rosenbloom received a Masters from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008, and is currently Associate Director for Instruction Services at the Norris Medical Library of the University of Southern California. In 2016 she won a Mover & Shaker award from Library Journal. She is active in the Death Positive movement, serving as the co-founder and director of the Death Salon. She is currently working on a book about the history of books bound with human skin. Home page Norris Medical Library page Order of the Good Death Death Salon Anthropodermic Book Project Talk sponsored by USC's Office of Religious Life Twitter Download Episode
It's fun to be in the exciting, chaotic, youthful days of the podcast, when anything goes and experimentation is the order of the day. So today's show is something different: a solo effort, featuring just me talking without any guests to cramp my style. This won't be the usual format, but I suspect it will happen from time to time. Feel free to chime in below on how often you think alternative formats should be part of the mix. The topic today is "Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?", or equivalently "Why Does the Universe Exist at All?" Heady stuff, but we're not going to back away from the challenge. What I have to say will roughly follow my recent paper on the subject, although in a more chatty and accessible style. It concerns ideas at the intersection of physics, philosophy, and theology, so tune in if you're into that sort of thing. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/something-nothing.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Big news! After a number of people have asked, I have finally opened a Patreon account for people who would like to support Mindscape in some way. You can sign up to kick in a dollar or more per podcast episode, and in return you get 1) access to occasional Ask Me Anything episodes done exclusively for patrons, and 2) my undying gratitude. If the Patreon route is successful enough, I'll forego having ads on the podcast -- we'll see how it goes. Download Episode
Our understanding of heredity and genetics is improving at blinding speed. It was only in the year 2000 that scientists obtained the first rough map of the human genome: 3 billion base pairs of DNA with about 20,000 functional genes. Today, you can send a bit of your DNA to companies such as 23andMe and get a report on your personal genome (ancestry, health risks) for about $200. Technologies like CRISPR are allowing scientists to edit genes, not just map them. Science writer Carl Zimmer has been following these advances for years, and has recently written a comprehensive book about heredity: She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. We talk about how our understanding of heredity has changed over the years, how there is much more to inheritance than simply listing all the information we pass down in our DNA, and what the future might hold in a world where genetic manipulation becomes widespread. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/carl-zimmer.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Carl Zimmer is a leading science writer whose work regularly appears in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. He is the author of thirteen books, including a university-level textbook on evolutionary biology. He has been awarded prizes and fellowships by the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. He teaches as an adjunct professor at Yale University. Home page Matter column in The New York Times Yale home page Wikipedia page Amazon author page Talk on Science, Journalism, and Democracy Twitter Download Episode
Both words in the phrase "liberal democracy" carry meaning, and both concepts are under attack around the world. "Democracy" means that they people rule, while "liberal" (in this sense) means that the rights of individuals are protected, even if they're not part of the majority. Recent years have seen the rise of an authoritarian/populist political movement in many Western democracies, one that scapegoats minorities in the name of the true "will of the people." Yascha Mounk is someone who has been outspoken from the start about the dangers posed by this movement, and what those of us who support the ideals of liberal democracy can do about it. Among other things, we discuss how likely it is that liberal democracy could ultimately fail even in as stable a country as the United States. Yascha Mounk received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. He is a Lecturer on Government at Harvard, a Senior Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, and Executive Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. His most recent book is The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It.
Poker, like life, is a game of incomplete information. To do well in such a game, we have to think in terms of probabilities, unpredictable strategies, and Bayesian inference. These are ideas that play a central role in physics and rationality as well as in poker, which makes Liv Boeree such a great person to talk about them. Liv is a professional poker player who studied physics as a university student, and maintains an active interest in science generally and astrophysics in particular. We talk about poker, probability, the likelihood that aliens exist elsewhere in the universe, and how to be rational when it comes to charitable giving. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/liv-boeree.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Liv Boeree earned a First Class Honours degree in Physics from the University of Manchester, before becoming a professional poker player. She has won well over $3 million on the poker circuit, including taking First Place at the 2010 European Poker Tour Main Event in San Remo, Italy. She is the co-founder of the charity organization Raising for Effective Giving, which has raised millions of dollars (largely from fellow poker players) for good causes. Home page Wikipedia page TEDx talk on probabilities Vox article on the Fermi paradox Raising for Effective Giving Twitter Download Episode
If you scale up an animal to twice its height, keeping everything else proportionate, its volume and weight become eight times as much. Such a scaling relation was used by J.B.S. Haldane in his famous essay, "On Being the Right Size," to help explain certain features of living organisms. But scaling relations go much deeper than that, and they are often much more subtle than the volume going as the cube of the length. Geoffrey West is a particle physicist turned complexity theorist, who studies how features from metabolism to lifespan change as we adjust the size of an organism -- or of other complex systems, from cities to computer networks. His insights have important implications for innovation, sustainability, and the best ways to organize life here on Earth. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/geoffrey-west.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Geoffrey West received his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. He is currently a Distinguished Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, where he served as President from 2005 to 2009. He has been listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. He is the author of Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies. Home page Wikipedia page Amazon page TED talk on "The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations" Google Scholar publications Download Episode
According to atheism, God does not exist. But religions have traditionally done much more than simply proclaim God's existence: they have provided communities, promoted the arts, handed down moral guidance, and so on. Can atheism, or perhaps humanism, replicate these roles? Anthony Pinn grew up as a devout Methodist, but became a humanist when he felt that religion wasn't really helping the communities that he cared about. Today he is a professor of religion who works to bring together atheism and the black community. We talk about humanism, identity politics, and the way forward. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/anthony-pinn.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_linkedin="true" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Anthony Pinn received his Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University, and is currently the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University, where he was the first African-American to hold an endowed chair at the university. He is the Founding Director of The Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University, and Director of Research,The Institute for Humanist Studies. Among his many books are Writing God's Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist and When Colorblindness Isn't the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race Home page Faculty page at Rice Wikipedia page Amazon.com page Online course at edX: Religion and Hip Hop Culture Talk on How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist Twitter Download Episode
The human mind loves nothing more than to build mental boxes -- categories -- and put things into them, then refuse to accept it when something doesn't fit. Nowhere is this more clear than in the idea that there are men, and there are women, and that's it. Alice Dreger is an historian of science, specializing in intersexuality and the relationship between bodies and identities. She is also a successful activist, working to change the way that doctors deal with newborn children who are born intersex. We talk about human sexuality and a number of other hot-button topics, and ruminate on the challenges of being both an intellectual (devoted to truth) and an activist (seeking justice). [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/alice-dreger.mp3" social_gplus="false" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Alice Dreger received her Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University. She has worked as a faculty member at Michigan State University and Northwestern University. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, and was the Founding Board Chair of the Intersex Society of North America. She is the author of a number of books, including Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice, and most recently The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in the Real World. Home page Wikipedia page Publications TED Talk: Is Anatomy Destiny? Twitter
Quantum mechanics and general relativity are the two great triumphs of twentieth-century theoretical physics. Unfortunately, they don't play well together -- despite years of effort, we currently lack a completely successful quantum theory of gravity, although there are some promising ideas out there. Carlo Rovelli is a pioneer of one of those ideas, loop quantum gravity, as well as the bestselling author of such books as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and the recent The Order of Time. We talk about how to make progress on this knotty problem, including whether string theory will play a role (Carlo thinks not). [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/rovelli.mp3" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Carlo Rovelli is a professor of theoretical physics at the Centre de Physique Théorique de Luminy of Aix-Marseille University in France. In 1988, he and Abhay Ashtekar and Lee Smolin introduced the idea of loop quantum gravity. He is also the author of the "relational" interpretation of quantum mechanics. Home page Wikipedia page Google Scholar publications Amazon.com author page Talk on The Physics and Philosophy of Time Twitter Download Episode
For the first full episode of Mindscape, it's an honor to welcome social psychologist Carol Tavris. Her book with co-author Eliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), explores the effect that cognitive dissonance has on how we think. We talk about the fascinating process by which people justify the mistakes that they make, and how that leads to everything from false memories to political polarization. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/carol-tavris.mp3" social_email="true" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Carol Tavris received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous books, covering topics such as gender, biology, and emotion, and is a frequent contributor to a variety of newspapers and magazines. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Carol Tavris on Wikipedia Social Psychology Network profile Amazon.com author page A lecture on "Dissent and Dissonance: The Science and Art of Argument." Download Episode
I've decided to officially take the plunge into the world of podcasting. The new show will be called Mindscape, and will mostly consist of me talking to smart people about interesting ideas. (Occasionally it will be me talking by myself about ideas of questionable merit.) I'm a grizzled veteran at appearing on other podcasts, and it's past time I sat in the director's chair here. [smart_track_player url="http://traffic.libsyn.com/seancarroll/episode-zero-audio.mp3" artist="Sean Carroll" social_gplus="false" social_email="true" tweet_text="Sean Carroll's Mindscape Podcast, Episode 0: Welcome!" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ] Today I'm just releasing a short teaser podcast, in both audio (bottom of this post) and video (right here) form. Next week will be a more official launch, with several real episodes, all of which I had enormous fun recording. FAQ: It won't just be about physics, although physics will naturally appear. Indeed, the opportunity to talk about things other than physics is a large part of my motivation here. I have plans/hopes to talk to historians, psychologists, biologists, philosophers, artists, filmmakers, neuroscientists, economists, writers, theologians, political scientists, musicians, and more. The video above is just to lure you in. Almost all episodes will be audio-only. I don't have a strict release schedule, that will depend on other obligations. I would guess one every two weeks, perhaps weekly if things start going super-well. (So if you want more episodes, encourage others to subscribe!) Typical episodes will be an hour long, at least to start, though don't hold me to that. Right now you can both subscribe to the RSS feed, and/or to an email list, both available on the sidebar to the right. If you join the email list, you can choose to either get just the episodes as they are released, or just special announcements relevant to the podcast, or both. Soon I hope to be available on iTunes and Google Play and various other platforms, but I'm not sure how quickly that happens. There won't be any ads to start, but I am planning to monetize it if things go well. These microphones don't pay for themselves. I'm not really in it for the money, but if money starts rolling in, my incentive to keep going will be correspondingly boosted. Feel free to leave comments and discuss individual episodes as they appear. There is also a subreddit which might make a good conversation spot. Like everything else I do that isn't physics research, this is a hobby, and might have to take a temporary back seat if things get busy. But so far it's been a lot of fun, and I'm excited to see where it will go. Show notes for this episode: I mention a study of the different ways in which artists and regular people look at images, which you can read about here. And we're ready to go! Thanks to everyone who has helped me set this up, including Gia Mora (web and technical help), Julian Morris (prodding), Cara Santa Maria (podcasting wisdom), Jason Torchinsky (art), Ted Pyne (music), Robert Alexander (gear), and Jennifer Ouellette (patience, support, wine). Comment here if you have suggestions, for good ideas to talk about, good people to talk to, or format/technical wisdom. (As always, demands that I not talk about this or that will be summarily deleted; those are my choices to make, not anybody else's.) Still very new at this, mistakes both technical and judgmental are practically guaranteed to happen, but I'm optimistic that it should be a fun ride. Download Episode [smart_podcast_player permalink="https://preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/" hashtag="mindscapepodcast" ]