In this short, writer Alex Bellos tells Robert how, from the very first time humans ever used numbers, we couldn’t help but give them human-like qualities. From favorite numbers to numbers that we’re suspicious of, from 501 jeans to Oxy 10, our feelings for these digits may all come down to some serious, subconscious inner-math….a deeply human arithmetic buried in our heart.
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31:29In 2007, Bruce Robison’s robot submarine stumbled across an octopus settling in to brood her eggs. It seemed like a small moment. But as he went back to visit her, month after month, what began as a simple act of motherhood became a heroic feat that has never been equaled by any known species on Earth. This episode was reported and produced by Annie McEwen. Special thanks to Kim Fulton-Bennett and Rob Sherlock at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Center. And thanks to the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra for the use of their piece, “Concerto for Bassoon & Chamber Orchestra: II. Beautiful.” Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate. If you need more ocean in your life, check out the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium live cams (especially the jellies!): www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams Here’s a pic of Octomom sitting on her eggs, Nov. 1, 2007. (© 2007 MBARI)
Behaves So Strangely
18:43We'll kick off the chase with Diana Deutsch, a professor specializing in the Psychology of Music, who could extract song out even the most monotonous of drones. (Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller. Bueller.)For those of us who have trouble staying in tune when we sing, Deutsch has some exciting news. The problem might not be your ears, but your language. She tells us about tone languages, such as Mandarin and Vietnamese, which rely on pitch to convey the meaning of a word. Turns out speakers of tone languages are exponentially more inclined to have absolute (AKA 'perfect') pitch. And, nope, English isn't one of them. What is perfect pitch anyway? And who cares? Deutsch, along with Jad and Robert, will duke it out over the merits of perfect pitch. A sign of genius, a nuisance, or an evolutionary superpower? You decide. (We can't). Do you want to hear Dr. Deutsch's musical illusions? Check them out here!
Never Quite Now
20:02We kick things off with one of the longest-running experiments in the world. As Joshua Foer explains, the Pitch Drop Experiment is so slow, you can watch it for hours (check out the live cam) and not detect the slightest movement. But that doesn't mean nothing's happening. Professor John Mainstone tells us about his desperate attempts to catch the flashes of action hiding inside this decades-long experiment. Then, Carl Zimmer joins us for a little recalibration. It’s hard to imagine anything faster than a thought that just pops into your head. But that kind of thinking is actually wrong-headed. In reality, thoughts are achingly, even disturbingly slow. Seth Horowitz, author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind, helps us discover our fastest possible thought, and fight our way back into the now.
The Distance of the Moon
39:00According to one theory, the moon formed when a Mars-sized chunk of rock collided with Earth. After the moon coalesced out of the debris from that impact, it was much closer to Earth than it is today. This idea is taken to it's fanciful limit in Italo Calvino's story "The Distance of the Moon" (from his collection Cosmicomics, translated by William Weaver). The story, narrated by a character with the impossible-to-pronounce name Qfwfq, tells of a strange crew who jump between Earth and moon, and sometimes hover in the nether reaches of gravity between the two. This reading was part of a live event hosted by Radiolab and Selected Shorts, and it originally aired on WNYC’s and PRI’s SELECTED SHORTS, paired with a Ray Bradbury classic, “All Summer in a Day,” read by musical theater star Michael Cerveris. Hosted by BD Wong, you can listen to the full show here.
Dark Side of the Earth
19:29Back in 2012, when we were putting together our live show In the Dark, Jad and Robert called up Dave Wolf to ask him if he had any stories about darkness. And boy, did he. Dave told us two stories that became the finale of our show. Back in late 1997, Dave Wolf was on his first spacewalk, to perform work on the Mir (the photo to the right was taken during that mission, courtesy of NASA.). Dave wasn't alone -- with him was veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev. (That's a picture of Dave giving Anatoly a hug on board the Mir, also courtesy of NASA). Out in blackness of space, the contrast between light and dark is almost unimaginably extreme -- every 45 minutes, you plunge between absolute darkness on the night-side of Earth, and blazing light as the sun screams into view. Dave and Anatoly were tethered to the spacecraft, traveling 5 miles per second. That's 16 times faster than we travel on Earth's surface as it rotates -- so as they orbited, they experienced 16 nights and 16 days for every Earth day. Dave's description of his first spacewalk was all we could've asked for, and more. But what happened next ... well, it's just one of those stories that you always hope an astronaut will tell. Dave and Anatoly were ready to call it a job and head back into the Mir when something went wrong with the airlock. They couldn't get it to re-pressurize. In other words, they were locked out. After hours of trying to fix the airlock, they were running out of the resources that kept them alive in their space suits and facing a grisly death. So, they unhooked their tethers, and tried one last desperate move. In the end, they made it through, and Dave went on to perform dozens more spacewalks in the years to come, but he never again experienced anything like those harrowing minutes trying to improvise his way back into the Mir. After that terrifying tale, Dave told us about another moment he and Anatoly shared, floating high above Earth, staring out into the universe ... a moment so beautiful, and peaceful, we decided to use the audience recreate it, as best we could, for the final act of our live show. Pilobolus creates a shadow astronaut during Dave Wolf's story on stage (photo by Lars Topelmann): The audience turns Portland's Keller auditorium into a view of outer space with thousands of LED lights (photo by Lars Topelmann): Here's Dave Wolf in the dark darkness of space, performing a spacewalk in 2009 (courtesy of NASA): To give you an idea of what it looks like during the brightness of day, here's another photo taken in 2009 -- more than a decade after the adventure described in our podcast -- this time of astronaut Tom Marshburn (Dave Wolf is with him, out of frame, photo courtesy of NASA): This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Soren Wheeler. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.
21:23This all started back when we were working on our Guts show, and author Frederick Kaufman told us about getting sucked in to the mystery of what happens to poop in New York City. Robert and producer Pat Walters decided to take Fred's advice and pay a visit to the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant... which turned out to be just the beginning of a surprisingly far-ranging quest. Want some more sewer fun? Read: As Robert and Pat report, some of that sewer sludge made it out into the ocean. Wonder what happened to it? Play: Try out our Poop Quiz:
The Septendecennial Sing-Along
17:13While most of us hear a wall of white noise, squeaks, and squawks....David Rothenberg hears a symphony. He's trained his ear to listen for the music of animals, and he's always looking for chances to join in, with everything from lonely birds to giant whales to swarming cicadas. In this podcast, David explains his urge to connect and sing along, and helps break down the mysterious life cycle and mating rituals of the periodical cicadas into something we can all relate to. David Rothenberg making music with the cicadas.Courtesy of David Rothenberg/Bug Music A visual breakdown of the cicada mating calls: Courtesy of John Cooley and David Marshall at UConn. For more on cicada mating calls, take a look at this paper from Cooley and Marshall. A close-up of cicadas getting down: Courtesy of David Rothenberg/Bug Music Enjoy a free download of our favorite track from David's CD Bug Music -- here's the description from the liner notes: Katydid Prehistory: Named in honor of Archaboilus musicus, the 165 million year old prehistoric katydid, whose fossil remains reveal an ability to sing distinct pitches.
For the Love of Numbers
19:38In this short, writer Alex Bellos tells Robert how, from the very first time humans ever used numbers, we couldn’t help but give them human-like qualities. From favorite numbers to numbers that we’re suspicious of, from 501 jeans to Oxy 10, our feelings for these digits may all come down to some serious, subconscious inner-math….a deeply human arithmetic buried in our heart.
For the Birds
14:31When the conservationists showed up at Clarice Gibbs’ door and asked her to take down her bird feeders down for the sake of an endangered bird, she said no. Everybody just figured she was a crazy bird lady. But writer Jon Mooallem went to see her and discovered there was much more to this story. Mrs. Gibbs tells us her surprising side of the tale, and together with Joe Duff, we struggle with the realization that keeping things wild in today's world will be harder than we ever would’ve thought.
Goo And You
18:17On a quiet, warm summer day, somewhere in the soil beneath your feet, tucked into a nearby plant, or at the edges of a pond, a tiny little cataclysm is happening: an insect is transforming, undergoing metamorphosis. The chrysalis is easily nature’s best known black box, but it turns out, it’s one of the least understood, and most complicated: when producer Molly Webster peers inside a pupa, she witnesses some of the most complex biology happening on earth...and catches sight of an ancient question of change. Special thanks to Lynn Riddiford, over at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and to Father James Martin, S.J., editor at large for America magazine.