Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas

Sean Carroll's Mindscape: Science, Society, Philosophy, Culture, Arts, and Ideas

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Sean Carroll hosts conversations with the world’s most interesting thinkers. Science, society, philosophy, culture, arts, and ideas.


51: Anthony Aguirre on Cosmology, Zen, Entropy, and Information
Jun 17 • 91 min
Cosmologists have a standard set of puzzles they think about: the nature of dark matter and dark energy and so on. But there are also deeper questions, having to do with why there is a universe at all, and why the early universe had low entropy. Anthony…
50: Patricia Churchland on Conscience, Morality, and the Brain
Jun 10 • 72 min
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. Today’s guest, Patricia Churchland, is one of the founders…
49: Nicholas Christakis on Humanity, Biology, and What Makes Us Good
Jun 3 • 114 min
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…
48: Marq de Villiers on Hell and Damnation
May 27 • 71 min
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…
47: Adam Rutherford on Humans, Animals, and Life in General
May 20 • 98 min
Most people in the modern world 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…
46: Kate Darling on Our Connections with Robots
May 13 • 66 min
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. Kate Darling is a research at the MIT Media Lab who specializes in social robotics, the…
45: Leonard Susskind on Quantum Information, Quantum Gravity, and Holography
May 6 • 73 min
For decades now physicists have been struggling to reconcile two great ideas from a century ago: general relativity and quantum mechanics. A leader in this quest has been Leonard Susskind, who has helped illuminate some of the most mind-blowing ideas in…
44: Antonio Damasio on Feelings, Thoughts, and the Evolution of Humanity
Apr 29 • 72 min
Antonio Damasio wants us to talk about our feelings. 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…
43: Matthew Luczy on the Pleasures of Wine
Apr 22 • 106 min
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? We talk to Matthew Luczy, sommelier at Mélisse, one of the top restaurants in the…
42: Natalya Bailey on Navigating Earth Orbit and Beyond
Apr 15 • 59 min
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…
41: Steven Strogatz on Synchronization, Networks, and the Emergence of Complex Behavior
Apr 8 • 74 min
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…
40: Adrienne Mayor on Gods and Robots in Ancient Mythology
Apr 1 • 63 min
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. These ideas aren’t new to modern society — they go way back, at least to the mythologies of…
39: Malcolm MacIver on Sensing, Consciousness, and Imagination
Mar 25 • 79 min
An important aspect of consciousness is imagination: our minds can conjure up hypothetical futures to help us decide which choices we should make. Where did that ability come from? Malcolm MacIver pinpoints an important transition in the evolution of…
38: Alan Lightman on Transcendence, Science, and a Naturalist’s Sense of Meaning
Mar 17 • 76 min
Is there still a place for atheists to talk about transcendence, the sacred, and meaning in life? 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…
37: Edward Watts on the End of the Roman Republic and Lessons for Democracy
Mar 11 • 91 min
The Roman 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…
36: David Albert on Quantum Measurement and the Problems with Many-Worlds
Mar 4 • 102 min
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. David Albert is one of the leading figures in the foundations of quantum mechanics today, and we discuss…
35: Jessica Yellin on The Changing Ways We Get Our News
Feb 25 • 68 min
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…
34: Paul Bloom on Empathy, Rationality, Morality, and Cruelty
Feb 17 • 70 min
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…
33: James Ladyman on Reality, Metaphysics, and Complexity
Feb 10 • 67 min
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…
32: Naomi Oreskes on Climate Change and the Distortion of Scientific Facts
Feb 3 • 70 min
Naomi Oreskes is a distinguished historian of science who has become, half-reluctantly, the world’s expert on the origin of the climate-denialism movement in the United States. It turns out to be a fascinating story starting with just a handful of…
31: Brian Greene on the Multiverse, Inflation, and the String Theory Landscape
Jan 28 • 71 min
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, how it might imply the existence of a cosmological multiverse, and whether that’s a good or…
30: Derek Leben on Ethics for Robots and Artificial Intelligences
Jan 21 • 88 min
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…
29: Raychelle Burks on the Chemistry of Murder
Jan 14 • 75 min
Raychelle Burks is an analytical chemist at St. Edward’s University. Before becoming an academic, she worked in a crime lab using chemistry to help police, and now she does research on building detectors for use in forensic analyses. We talk about how the…
28: Roger Penrose on Spacetime, Consciousness, and the Universe
Jan 7 • 95 min
Sir Roger Penrose has contributed an enormous amount to our understanding of general relativity, perhaps more than anyone since Einstein himself. He has made important contributions to mathematics, and has also made bold conjectures in the notoriously…
Holiday Message 2018
Dec 24, 2018 • 44 min
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…
27: Janna Levin on Black Holes, Chaos, and the Narrative of Science
Dec 17, 2018 • 68 min
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,…
26: Ge Wang on Artful Design, Computers, and Music
Dec 10, 2018 • 70 min
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 aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. The study of…
25: David Chalmers on Consciousness, the Hard Problem, and Living in a Simulation
Dec 3, 2018 • 82 min
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” is the task of explaining our first-person experiences of the world. Today’s guest, David Chalmers, is…
24: Kip Thorne on Gravitational Waves, Time Travel, and Interstellar
Nov 26, 2018 • 79 min
After I hosted a talk on gravitational waves about 15 years ago, the mumblings in the audience after the talk were clear: “They’ll never make it.” Of course they did, and the 2016 announcement of the detection of gravitational waves led to a Nobel Prize…
23: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh on Embodied Cognition, Mirror Neurons, and Empathy
Nov 19, 2018 • 67 min
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. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh is a psychologist and neuroscientist who uses imaging technologies to…
22: Joe Walston on Conservation, Urbanization, and the Way We Live on Earth
Nov 12, 2018 • 88 min
Human activity is causing enormous changes on our planet’s environment, but perhaps there is the prospect of a new equilibrium, if we can manage to ameliorate our most destructive impulses. Wildlife conservationist Joe Walston argues that increasing…
21: Alex Rosenberg on Naturalism, History, and Theory of Mind
Nov 5, 2018 • 80 min
Philosopher Alex Rosenberg’s new book How History Gets Things Wrong claims that we should not trust the causal stories we tell ourselves abut history. It’s not that we get the facts wrong, it’s that we have wrong ideas about causality and how the human…
20: Scott Derrickson on Cinema, Blockbusters, Horror, and Mystery
Oct 29, 2018 • 83 min
Scott Derrickson is the director and co-writer of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Scott was gracious enough to take time from a very busy schedule to sit down for a chat about a wide number of topics. We go in some detail through the immensely complicated…
19: Tyler Cowen on Maximizing Growth and Thinking for the Future
Oct 22, 2018 • 59 min
Tyler Cowen will be well-known to many listeners for his long-running blog Marginal Revolution 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…
18: Clifford Johnson on What’s So Great About Superstring Theory
Oct 15, 2018 • 72 min
String theory is a speculative and technical proposal for uniting the known forces of nature, including gravity, under a single quantum-mechanical framework. To get to the bottom of why anyone would think that replacing particles with little loops of…
17: Annalee Newitz on Science, Fiction, Economics, and Neurosis
Oct 8, 2018 • 71 min
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. We talk about how science fiction…
16: Coleen Murphy on Aging, Biology, and the Future
Oct 1, 2018 • 64 min
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…
15: David Poeppel on Thought, Language, and How to Understand the Brain
Sep 7, 2018 • 84 min
Language manifests as a collection of sounds or marks on paper. On the other hand, it also conveys meaning. 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…
14: Alta Charo on Bioethics and the Law
Sep 7, 2018 • 68 min
To paraphrase Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, scientists tend to focus on whether they can do something, not whether they should. With the ongoing revolutions in biology, we can’t avoid facing up to some difficult should-questions. Alta Charo is a world…
13: Neha Narula on Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, and the Future of the Internet
Sep 7, 2018 • 66 min
For something of such obvious importance, money is kind of mysterious. 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…
12: Wynton Marsalis on Jazz, Time, and America
Sep 4, 2018 • 61 min
Jazz occupies a special place in the American cultural landscape. 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…
11: Mike Brown on Killing Pluto and Replacing It with Planet 9
Aug 27, 2018 • 77 min
Few events in recent astronomical history have had the worldwide emotional resonance as the 2006 announcement that Pluto was no longer considered a planet. No person deserves more credit/blame for forcing the astronomical community’s hand than Caltech…
10: Megan Rosenbloom on the Death Positive Movement
Aug 20, 2018 • 69 min
There is a tendency to not face up to the reality of death, and the Death Positive movement aims to change that. 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…
9: Solo — Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?
Aug 13, 2018 • 81 min
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…
8: Carl Zimmer on Heredity, DNA, and Editing Genes
Aug 6, 2018 • 91 min
Our understanding of heredity and genetics is improving at blinding speed. Carl Zimmer has been following these advances for years, and has recently written a comprehensive book about heredity: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh. We talk about how our…
7: Yascha Mounk on Threats to Liberal Democracy
Jul 30, 2018 • 65 min
Recent years have seen the rise of an authoritarian/populist political movement in many Western democracies. 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…
6: Liv Boeree on Poker, Aliens, and Thinking in Probabilities
Jul 23, 2018 • 70 min
Liv Boeree 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…
5: Geoffrey West on Networks, Scaling, and the Pace of Life
Jul 16, 2018 • 83 min
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…
4: Anthony Pinn on Humanism, Theology, and the Black Community
Jul 12, 2018 • 60 min
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…
3: Alice Dreger on Sexuality, Truth, and Justice
Jul 11, 2018 • 80 min
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…
2: Carlo Rovelli on Quantum Mechanics, Spacetime, and Reality
Jul 10, 2018 • 72 min
Sean talks with Carlo Rovelli, a pioneer of loop quantum gravity and the bestselling author of such books as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and the recent The Order of Time.
1: Carol Tavris on Mistakes, Justification, and Cognitive Dissonance
Jul 4, 2018 • 71 min
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…
Welcome to the Mindscape Podcast!
Jul 1, 2018 • 16 min
A short introduction to Sean Carroll’s upcoming podcast, Mindscape.