221 episodes

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape

Wondery Science
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Time! It doesn’t stop, psychological effects of being under lockdown notwithstanding. How we experience time depends on our situation, but time itself just marches forward. Unless, of course, it’s possible to travel to the past, as countless science-fiction scenarios have depicted. But does that really make sense? Couldn’t we then change the past, even so dramatically that our own existence would never have happened? In this solo podcast I talk about both the physics and fiction of time travel. I point out that it might be allowed by the laws of physics, and explain how that would work, but that we really don’t know. And I try to make sense of some of the less-sensible depictions of cinematic time travel. Coming up with a logical theory that could account for Back to the Future isn’t easy, but podcasting isn’t for the squeamish.

Support Mindscape on Patreon.

But wait, there’s more! I was contacted by Janna Levin, who we fondly remember from Episode 27. Janna moonlights as Chair and Director of Sciences at Pioneer Works, an institution dedicated to bringing together creative people in art and science. Like the rest of us, they’ve been looking for ways to offer more online content in these pandemic times, so we thought about ways to collaborate. Here’s what they came up with: artist Azikiwe Mohammed has created an animated video backdrop to this podcast episode. The visuals are trippy, colorful, and inspired by (without trying to directly illustrate) what I talk about in the episode. You can check out a brief write-up at the Pioneer Works site, or view the video directly below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHy1j4LiyGQ

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Nov 20, 2020

AMA | November 2020

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As you have likely heard me mention before, I have an account on Patreon, where people can sign up to donate a dollar or two per episode of Mindscape. In return they get two tangible (if minor) benefits. First, they get to listen to the podcast without any ads. Second, once per month I do an Ask Me Anything episode, where patrons are allowed to ask any question they like, and I do my best to answer as many as I can.

Patreon supporters have kindly agreed to let these monthly AMA episodes be released to the general public (though they maintain the right actually ask the questions). I announced that I’d be doing this a while back, but with the cost structure I had with my podcast host it turned out to be prohibitively expensive for me. But now we’ve got that all figured out! So now, and hopefully going forward, these AMAs will be part of the regular podcast feed. They will be released sometime in the middle of each month, not as part of the usual Monday weekly series, so they won’t get numbers of their own.

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Emotions are at the same time utterly central to who we are — where would we be without them? — and also seemingly peripheral to the “real” work our brains do, understanding the world and acting within it. Why do we have emotions, anyway? Are they hardwired into the brain? Lisa Feldman Barrett is one of the world’s leading experts in the psychology of emotions, and she emphasizes that they are more constructed and less hard-wired than you might think. How we feel and express emotions can vary from culture to culture or even person to person. It’s better to think of emotions of a link between affective response and our behaviors.

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Lisa Feldman Barrett received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Waterloo. She is currently the University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University. She also holds research appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School in the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Program and at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in the Department of Radiology. Among her many honors are the Award for Distinguished Service in Psychological Science from the American Psychological Association, the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Association for Psychological Science, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, and her latest book is Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain.

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Imagine you were locked in a sealed room, with no way to access the outside world but a few screens showing a view of what’s outside. Seems scary and limited, but that’s essentially the situation that our brains find themselves in — locked in our skulls, with only the limited information from a few unreliable sensory modalities to tell them what’s going on inside. Neuroscientist David Eagleman has long been interested in how the brain processes that sensory input, and also how we might train it to learn completely new ways of accessing the outside world, with important ramifications for virtual reality and novel brain/computer interface techniques.

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David Eagleman received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Baylor College of Medicine. He is currently the CEO of Neosensory, a company that builds sensory-augmentation devices, as well as an adjunct professor at Stanford. His research has involved time perception, synesthesia, and sensory substitution. He is the founder and director of the Center for Science and Law. He is a bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. He was the writer and host of the TV show The Brain with David Eagleman, and writer of the Netflix documentary The Creative Brain. His most recent book is Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain.

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This episode is published on November 2, 2020, the day before an historic election in the United States. An election that comes amidst growing worries about the future of democratic governance, as well as explicit claims that democracy is intrinsically unfair, inefficient, or ill-suited to the modern world. What better time to take a step back and think about the foundations of democracy? Cornel West is a well-known philosopher and public intellectual who has written extensively about race and class in America. He is also deeply interested in democracy, both in theory and in practice. We talk about what makes democracy worth fighting for, the different traditions that inform it, and the kinds of engagement it demands of its citizens.

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Cornel West received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He is currently Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University as well as Professor Emeritus at Princeton. He is the author of numerous books, including Race Matters and Democracy Matters. He is a frequent guest on the Bill Maher Show, CNN, C-Span, and Democracy Now, appeared in the Matrix trilogy, and has produced three spoken-word albums. He is the co-host, with Tricia Rose, of the Tight Rope podcast.

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Oct 27, 2020

Wondery Presents: Dr. Death Season 2

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If someone you love is diagnosed with cancer you want them to get the best treatment from the best doctors. In 2013, patients in Michigan thought Farid Fata was that doctor. Between his prestigious education, years of experience and pleasant bedside manner, Fata was everything you could want in a doctor. But he was not who he appeared to be. From Wondery, this is the story of hundreds of patients in Michigan, a doctor, and a poisonous secret.

Laura Beil, returns with a second season of the award-winning series “Dr Death.”

Click to listen to Dr. Death Season 2: wondery.fm/DrDeathS2_Mindscape

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Erwin Schrödinger’s famous book What Is Life? highlighted the connections between physics, and thermodynamics in particular, and the nature of living beings. But the exact connections between living organisms and the flow of heat and entropy remains a topic of ongoing research. Jeremy England is a leader in this field, deriving connections between thermodynamic relations and the processes of life. He is also an ordained rabbi who finds resonances between modern science and passages in the Hebrew Bible. We talk about it all, from entropy fluctuation theorems to how scientists should approach religion.

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Jeremy England received his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. He is currently Senior Director in the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning group at GlaxoSmithKline. He has been a Rhodes scholar, a Hertz fellow, and was named one of Forbes‘s “30 Under 30 Rising Stars of Science.” His new book is Every Life is on Fire: How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Living Things.

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In the service of seeking truth, there would seem to be value in intellectual diversity, both in keeping ourselves honest and in the possibility of new ideas coming from unexpected quarters. That’s true in the natural sciences, but even more so in the humanities and social sciences, where the right/wrong distinction is sometimes less clear. But academia isn’t always diverse; as an empirical fact, there are a lot more liberals on university faculties than there are conservatives. I talk with Musa al-Gharbi about why this is true — self-selection? discrimination? — the extent to which it’s a real problem, and how we should better think about the value of diverse viewpoints.

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Musa al-Gharbi received Masters degrees in philosophy from the University of Arizona and in sociology from Columbia University. He is currently a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia, and until recently served as the Communications Director for Heterodox Academy. His essays have appeared in outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlantic Magazine, Foreign Affairs, Voice of America, and Al-Jazeera.

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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.