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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, ...
 
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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 …
 
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 aca…
 
Astronomers rocked the cosmological world with the 1998 discovery that the universe is accelerating. Well-deserved Nobel Prizes were awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and today’s guest Adam Riess. Adam has continued to push forward on investigating the structure and evolution of the universe. He’s been a leader in emphasizing a curious dis…
 
Evolution is a messy business, involving as it does selection pressures, mutations, genetic drift, and the effects of random external interventions. So in the end, how much of it is predictable, and how much is in the hands of chance? Today we’re thrilled to have as a guest my evil (but more respectable, by most measures) twin, the biologist Sean B…
 
How can, and should, we talk to each other, especially to people with whom we disagree? “Free speech” is rightfully entrenched as an important value in liberal democratic societies, but implementing it consistently and fairly is a tricky business. Political theorist Teresa Bejan comes to this question from a philosophical and historical perspective…
 
Stephen Hawking made a number of memorable contributions to physics, but perhaps his greatest was a puzzle: what happens to information that falls into a black hole? The question sits squarely at the overlap of quantum mechanics and gravitation, an area in which direct experimental input is hard to come by, so a great number of leading theoretical …
 
Sexuality is, and always has been, a topic that is endlessly fascinating but also contentious. You might think that asexuality would be more straightforward, but you’d be wrong. Asexual people, or “aces,” haven’t been front and center in the public discussion of gender and sexuality, and as a result there is confusion about such basic issues as wha…
 
You can’t always get what you want, as a wise person once said. But we do try, even when someone else wants the same thing. Our lives as people, and the evolution of other animals over time, are shaped by competition for scarce resources of various kinds. Game theory provides a natural framework for understanding strategies and behaviors in these c…
 
Not too long ago nobody carried a mobile phone; now almost everybody does. That’s the kind of rate of rapid progress we’re seeing with our ability to directly edit genomes. With the use of CRISPR-Cas9 and other techniques, gene editing is becoming commonplace. How does that work — and perhaps more importantly, how are we going to put it to use? Fyo…
 
Human civilization is only a few thousand years old (depending on how we count). So if civilization will ultimately last for millions of years, it could be considered surprising that we’ve found ourselves so early in history. Should we therefore predict that human civilization will probably disappear within a few thousand years? This “Doomsday Argu…
 
Physicists have traditionally simplified systems as much as possible, in order to shed light on fundamental properties. But small, simple parts build up into large, complex wholes. Are there new rules and laws of nature that apply specifically to the realm of complexity? This has been a popular question for a few decades now, and we have some answe…
 
It’s easy to foresee that technological progress will change how we live; it’s much harder to anticipate exactly how. Self-driving cars represent an enormous technological challenge, but one that is plausibly on the way to being solved. What will be the unanticipated consequences when autonomous vehicles become commonplace? Jason Torchinsky is a fa…
 
We are living, in case you haven’t noticed, in a world full of bullshit. It’s hard to say whether the amount is truly increasing, but it seems that everywhere you look someone is trying to convince you of something, regardless of whether that something is actually true. Where is this bullshit coming from, how is it disseminated, and what can we do …
 
Despite occasional and important disagreements, most people are in rough agreement about what it means to be moral, to do the right thing. There’s much less agreement about why we should be moral, or even what kind of answer to that question could be convincing. Philosopher Russ Shafer-Landau is one of the leading proponents of moral realism — the …
 
Someday, most likely, we will encounter life that is not as we know it. We might find it elsewhere in the universe, we might find it right here on Earth, or we might make it ourselves in a lab. Will we know it when we see it? “Life” isn’t a simple unified concept, but rather a collection of a number of life-like properties. I talk with astrobiologi…
 
We gather empirical evidence about the nature of the world through our senses, and use that evidence to construct an image of the world in our minds. But not all senses are created equal; in practice, we tend to privilege vision, with hearing perhaps a close second. Ann-Sophie Barwich wants to argue that we should take smell more seriously, and tha…
 
Creativity is one of those things that we all admire but struggle to define or make concrete. Music provides a useful laboratory in which to examine what creativity is all about — how do people become creative, what is happening in their brains during the creative process, and what kinds of creativity does the audience actually enjoy? David Rosen a…
 
Cooking is art, but it’s also very much science — mostly chemistry, but with important contributions from physics and biology. (Almost like a well-balanced recipe…) And I can’t think of anyone better to talk to about the intersection of these fields than Kenji López-Alt: professional chef and restauranteur, MIT graduate, and author of The Food Lab.…
 
The best chess and Go players in the world aren’t human beings any more; they’re artificially-intelligent computer programs. But the best poker players are still humans. Poker is a laboratory for understanding how rationality works in real-world situations: it features stochastic events, incomplete information, Bayesian updating, game theory, readi…
 
I recently saw an estimate that if you took all the novel coronaviruses in the world (the actual viruses, not patients), you could fit them into a bucket no more than a couple of liters in volume. A huge impact has been wrought by a very small amount of stuff. The world of viruses is vast and complicated, and we’re still learning some of its basic …
 
A podcast only hits the century mark once! And for Mindscape, this is it. There have been holiday messages and bonus episodes and the like. But this is the 100th officially-numbered episode. To celebrate, I decided to treat myself to a solo episode in which I reflect, somewhat non-systematically, on the age-old question of the meaning of life. I en…
 
There are some problems for which it’s very hard to find the answer, but very easy to check the answer if someone gives it to you. At least, we think there are such problems; whether or not they really exist is the famous P vs NP problem, and actually proving it will win you a million dollars. This kind of question falls under the rubric of “comput…
 
Each of us is different, in some way or another, from every other person. But some are more different than others — and the rest of the world never stops letting them know. Societies set up “norms” that define what constitute acceptable standards of behavior, appearance, and even belief. But there will always be those who find themselves, intention…
 
Humans build machines, in part, to relieve themselves from the burden of work on difficult, repetitive tasks. And yet, despite the fact that machines are everywhere, most of us are still working pretty hard. But maybe that’s about to change. Futurists like John Danaher believe that society is finally on the brink of making a transition to a world i…
 
The past few centuries of scientific progress have displaced humanity from the center of it all: the Earth is not at the middle of the Solar System, the Sun is but one star in a large galaxy, there are trillions of galaxies, and so on. Now we know that we’re not even made of the same stuff as most of the universe; for every amount of ordinary atoms…
 
Everybody talks about the truth, but nobody does anything about it. And to be honest, how we talk about truth — what it is, and how to get there — can be a little sloppy at times. Philosophy to the rescue! I had a very ambitious conversation with Liam Kofi Bright, starting with what we mean by “truth” (correspondence, coherence, pragmatist, and def…
 
Artificial intelligence has made great strides of late, in areas as diverse as playing Go and recognizing pictures of dogs. We still seem to be a ways away from AI that is “intelligent” in the human sense, but it might not be too long before we have to start thinking seriously about the “motivations” and “purposes” of artificial agents. Stuart Russ…
 
Human beings have a strange fascination with dangerous, predatory animals — bears, lions, wolves, sharks, and more. The top of the food chain is an interesting and precarious place to live; while you might be the boss of your local environment, you also depend on the functioning of an entire ecology. Rae Wynn-Grant is a carnivore ecologist who stud…
 
It’s hard doing science when you only have one data point, especially when that data point is subject to an enormous selection bias. That’s the situation faced by people studying the nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The only biosphere we know about is our own, and our knowing anything at all is predicated on its existence, so it’s unc…
 
If one of the ambitious goals of philosophy is to determine the meaning of life, one of the ambitious goals of psychology is to tell us how to achieve it. An influential work in this direction was Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a list of human needs, often displayed suggestively in the form of a pyramid, ranging from the most basic (food and…
 
Science costs money. And for a brief, glorious period between the start of the Manhattan Project in 1939 and the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, physics was awash in it, largely sustained by the Cold War. Things are now different, as physics — and science more broadly — has entered a funding crunch. David Kaiser, who is …
 
What direction does time point in? None, really, although some people might subconsciously put the past on the left and the future on the right, or the past behind themselves and the future in front, or many other possible orientations. What feels natural to you depends in large degree on the native language you speak, and how it talks about time. …
 
This is a special episode of Mindscape, thrown together quickly. Many thanks to Tara Smith for joining me on short notice. Tara is an epidemiologist, and a great person to talk to about the novel coronavirus (and its associated disease, COVID-19) pandemic currently threatening the world. We talk about what viruses are, how they spread, and a lot of…
 
“What good is half a wing?” That’s the rhetorical question often asked by people who have trouble accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Of course it’s a very answerable question, but figuring out what exactly the answer is leads us to some fascinating biology. Neil Shubin should know: he is the co-discoverer of Tiktaalik Rose…
 
If you tell me that one of the world’s leading neuroscientists has developed a theory of how the brain works that also has implications for the origin and nature of life more broadly, and uses concepts of entropy and information in a central way — well, you know I’m going to be all over that. So it’s my great pleasure to present this conversation w…
 
Anyone who has read histories of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1983 nuclear false alarm, must be struck by how incredibly close humanity has come to wreaking incredible destruction on itself. Nuclear war was the first technology humans created that was truly capable of causing such harm, but the list of potential threats …
 
It’s hard to make decisions that will change your life. It’s even harder to make a decision if you know that the outcome could change who you are. Our preferences are determined by who we are, and they might be quite different after a decision is made — and there’s no rational way of taking that into account. Philosopher L.A. Paul has been investig…
 
Nations generally want their economies to be rich, robust, and growing. But it’s also important to person to ensure that wealth doesn’t flow only to a few people, but rather that as many people as possible can enjoy the benefits of a healthy economy. As is well known, the best way to balance these interests is a contentious subject. On one side we …
 
The Greek statesman Demosthenes is credited with saying “I am a citizen of the world,” and the idea that we should take a cosmopolitan view of our common humanity is a compelling one. Not everyone agrees, however; in the words of former British Prime Minister Theresa May, “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” On the oth…
 
The Convention on Psychotropic Substances was a 1971 United Nations treaty that placed strong restrictions on the use of psychedelic drugs — not only on personal use, but medical and scientific research as well. Along with restrictions placed by individual nations, it has been very difficult for scientists to study the effects of psychedelics on th…
 
People have always disagreed about politics, passionately and sometimes even violently. But in certain historical moments these disagreements were distributed without strong correlations, so that any one political party would contain a variety of views. In a representative democracy, that kind of distribution makes it easier to accomplish things. I…
 
Physics is simple; people are complicated. But even people are ultimately physical systems, made of particles and forces that follow the rules of the Core Theory. How do we bridge the gap from one kind of description to another, explaining how someone we know and care about can also be “just” a set of quantum fields obeying impersonal laws? This is…
 
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 li…
 
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 entert…
 
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 …
 
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 …
 
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 h…
 
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: …
 
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 …
 
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 ow…
 
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זכויות יוצרים 2020 | מפת אתר | מדיניות פרטיות | תנאי השירות
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