Don’t teach people how to be stupid, but instead, much like we study the source of intelligence we should study the ways in which people make wrong decisions. Behavioral psychology is probably as close as we get.
After reading Selfish Gene, this ability to decouple what is from what ought to be was one of the things I appreciated the most from Dawkins.
At any given point in history, it seems like humans try to explain life and consciousness by comparing it to whatever is the most complex thing we understand at the time. Descartes used to think the brain was a hydraulic pump, during the Industrial Revolution people thought of the steam engine, and today the metaphor it’s a computer. What is it that makes live things, well, alive? Riskin’s book discusses the analogies that we’ve used to explain this idea as a way to navigate the history of science, and the history of our thought about ourselves.
I am fascinated by the history of automata. This episode talks about how the King of Spain commissioned a clockmaker to make a bot to pray for him, in order to save his son. The mix of religion and technology makes for a good episode.
A bunch of different stories in this episode, but I can’t not include a Radiolab episode that discusses Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.
A different way of looking at evolution. The classic view is that, in most species, males do funky things to show the females they’d be a good mate. What if instead, species just develop an aesthetic taste for certain traits? What if instead of fitness signals, evolution relies on something that’s more like art?
This industry seems unnecessarily secretive, but this piece was pretty fun. It’s good science writing, although, I have to say, the self-deprecating tone felt a bit out of place for the NYT. I had never really thought about how glitter is made, and had always assumed it was some kind of shredded/pulverized metal. I guess it makes sense that it’s mainly plastic, since that’s much cheaper, but, again, I’d never thought of it.
On a recent article club, we discussed how people of different ages competed on different levels when we we’re kids - think your middle school’s basketball team, which wasn’t playing against high schoolers - and how those cutoffs are somewhat arbitrary. After all, a kid born right after the cutoff will still have an advantage over those kids who were born right before the next cutoff. The last such age-based differentiator happens when people apply to college (which was the context of our conversation), after which these boundaries disappear and competition becomes a free for all. This episode discusses a similar topic, not on age, but on gender, where the divide is a lot less clear.
The brain is strange. This episode tells thestory of Anne Adams, and how her beautiful paintings suddenly became more structured, much like Maurice Ravel’s music had when he was affected by the disease that Adams had just gotten. It’s strange that so many seemingly different abilities are somehow connected to each other.
There were a bunch of things I love reading about here. There’s history, there’s complexity science (that’s how I got into CS in the first place), there’s python, there’s UX, and more. If you’re interested in the future of education and the spreading of scientific knowledge this is a must read.
With everything happening in Cataluña right now, this was a timely podcast. I did not know the back story behind the cathedral, but now that I’ve learned a bit more about it I am even more excited about visiting Spain at some point in the near future.
A story of the discovery of insulin, and the strange interaction between disesases, cures, and time.
Speaking of Roman Mars… I think this episode represents well what I like so much about his podcast. A mix between a history class (who invented the Stethoscope?), a design review (how can you improve upon the original rolled up notebook?), modern culture (why do doctors wear their stethoscopes around their shoulders?), and a bunch of interesting interviews. Worth the 20 minutes.
I thought I had posted articles from Edge.org before, but apparently this is a first one! If you haven’t visited their website, you definitely should. Every year they post a broad question, and ask people from a wide range of scientific and technical fields to answer it. In 2013, the question was “What should we be worried about?” and Robert Sapolsky answered with “What really worries me is that it is so hard for virtually anyone to truly act as if there is no free will.” Go read his answer, and then more questions on Edge.
Another fight over public governance, funding, and what happens when… Wait, that’s the same description as the post right above, but here we’re talking about the federal government and funding scientific research.
At Northwestern, the “One Book” program tries to build community by sending incoming students a copy of a book before they arrive on campus. My year, it was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This episode gives an overview of her story, and by interviewing her family members, and some of the scientists involved in the research that her case spawned. To be honest, I started the book that summer, but never finished it. I’ll get to it some day.
Microbiomes are interesting. It’s odd to think that so much of our life is defined by bacteria.
I had never thought about the political implications about generating electricity at home. This episode discusses “net-metering,” or the billing mechanism that allows someone with PV panels on their roof to get credit for generating more electricity than they consume. How did it come about? Some guy plugged his PV panels into his meter, and it started going backwards!
I disagree with the author’s position, but thinking of when the problem of evil meets 21st century math and science is fascinating.
The cutting edge of biological research gets more interesting, and more scary, the more I learn about it. Researchers are uncovering really powerful building blocks, but we have very little understanding of the complex relationships in the whole system. The ethical considerations discussed in the last part of this episode are especially worth listening to.
The future exists, and we have a lot ahead of us. Let’s remember that.
I had never thought about how Philosophy is studied in such a different way than pretty much any other discipline. What does this tell us about how we should study science, or how we should teach mathematics?
I should make an effort and learn more about history and philosophy. We are solving different immediate problems, but ultimately trying to answer the same basic questions as those that came before us.
Lots of interesting tid bits on culture, and how our perception of the world changes over time. What will we look back in N years and think “wow, how were we so stupid”?
Had never thought about the fact that someone had to have introduced “average” into our culture. Another great episode from the 99pi team.
Yeah, its a post about pizza. To be more accurate, pizza + science.
Great analogy between natural science vs. religion and natural science vs. social science. As Noah points out, the idea of the “God of the Gaps” fits in quite well. I have long been a fan of Paul Davies and his take on the classic fight. Noah gives a good explanation for why they are, in a way, the same.
Recommended mostly for its first half, which talks about energy, evolution, and the origins of complex life. Another book to add to the list.