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

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

art19.com/shows/sean-carrolls-mindscape
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.


69 | Cory Doctorow on Technology, Monopoly, and the Future of the Internet
Oct 21 • 77 min
Introducing The Next Big Idea
Oct 15 • 8 min
Ideas are coming at you every day from all directions. How can you process it all? You can start with The Next Big Idea. Host Rufus Griscom and thought leaders Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Dan Pink, and Susan Cain, will be your personal “idea” curators.…
68 | Melanie Mitchell on Artificial Intelligence and the Challenge of Common Sense
Oct 14 • 82 min
I talk with computer scientist Melanie Mitchell about artificial intelligence, deep learning, and why computers struggle with common sense.
67 | Kate Jeffery on Entropy, Complexity, and Evolution
Oct 7 • 72 min
I talk with neuroscientist Kate Jeffery about the rise and fall of complexity in biology and cosmology.
66 | Will Wilkinson on Partisan Polarization and the Urban/Rural Divide
Sep 30 • 112 min
I talk with policy analyst Will Wilkinson about the increasing sorting of liberal voters into urban areas and conservatives into suburban/rural areas.
65 | Michael Mann on Why Our Climate Is Changing and How We Know
Sep 23 • 77 min
I talk with climate scientist Michael Mann on how we study the Earth’s temperature over time, and how it’s changing now.
64 | Ramez Naam on Renewable Energy and an Optimistic Future
Sep 16 • 76 min
I talk with technologist and author Ramez Naam about how renewable energy could help us save the environment.
63 | Solo — Finding Gravity Within Quantum Mechanics
Sep 9 • 110 min
A solo episode explaining the idea that we shouldn’t be trying to quantize gravity, we should be trying to find gravity within quantum mechanics.
62 | Michele Gelfand on Tight and Loose Societies and People
Sep 2 • 72 min
I talk with psychologist Michele Gelfand about the differences between tight and loose societies, and how to live within them.
61 | Quassim Cassam on Intellectual Vices and What to Do About Them
Aug 26 • 70 min
I talk with philosopher Quassim Cassam about intellectual vices — personal attributes that needlessly prevent us from being correct.
60 | Lynne Kelly on Memory Palaces, Ancient and Modern
Aug 19 • 75 min
I talk with memory expert Lynne Kelly about the use of memory palaces, both today and in prehistoric societies.
59 | Adam Becker on the Curious History of Quantum Mechanics
Aug 12 • 100 min
I talk with Adam Becker about how and why physicists in the 20th century abandoned the idea of trying to understand quantum mechanics.
58 | Seth MacFarlane on Using Science Fiction to Explore Humanity
Aug 5 • 72 min
I talk with Seth MacFarlane about his episodic science fiction show, The Orville, and its use of allegory to explore real-world situations.
57 | Astra Taylor on the Promise and Challenge of Democracy
Jul 29 • 83 min
A conversation with filmmaker, author, and activist Astra Taylor, on what democracy is and why it matters.
56 | Kate Adamala on Creating Synthetic Life
Jul 22 • 72 min
A conversation with synthetic biologist Kate Adamala on constructing artificial cells, and what that tells us about life on Earth and elsewhere.
55 | A Conversation with Rob Reid on Quantum Mechanics and Many Worlds
Jul 15 • 86 min
I am interviewed by Rob Reid about quantum mechanics and the Many-Worlds formulation.
54 | Indre Viskontas on Music and the Brain
Jul 8 • 75 min
It doesn’t mean much to say music affects your brain — everything that happens to you affects your brain. But music affects your brain in certain specific ways, from changing our mood to helping us learn. As both a neuroscientist and an opera singer,…
53 | Solo — On Morality and Rationality
Jul 1 • 125 min
What does it mean to be a good person? To act ethically and morally in the world? In the old days we might appeal to the instructions we get from God, but a modern naturalist has to look elsewhere. Today I do a rare solo podcast, where I talk both about…
52 | Frank Lantz on the Logic and Emotion of Games
Jun 24 • 64 min
Games play an important, and arguably increasing, role in human life. We play games on our computers and our phones, watch other people compete in games, and occasionally break out the cards or the Monopoly set. What is the origin of this human impulse,…
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, whether there was a period of inflation, the evolution of structure, and so on. But there are also even deeper questions, having to do with why there…
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. Where did that come from? Today’s guest, Patricia…
49 | Nicholas Christakis on Humanity, Biology, and What Makes Us Good
Jun 3 • 114 min
It’s easy to be cynical about humanity’s present state and future prospects. But we have made it this far, and in some ways we’re doing better than we used to be. Today’s guest, Nicholas Christakis, is an interdisciplinary researcher who studies human…
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 — and the vast majority of Mindscape listeners, I would imagine — 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…
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. We give them names, imagine that they have emotions and inner mental states, get mad at…
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. We don’t yet know the final answer, but the journey has taken us to some amazing places. A leader in this quest has…
44 | Antonio Damasio on Feelings, Thoughts, and the Evolution of Humanity
Apr 29 • 72 min
When we talk about the mind, we are constantly talking about consciousness and cognition. Antonio Damasio wants us to talk about our feelings. But it’s not in an effort to be more touchy-feely; Damasio, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, believes…
43 | Matthew Luczy on the Pleasures of Wine
Apr 22 • 106 min
Some people never drink wine; for others, it’s an indispensable part of an enjoyable meal. Whatever your personal feelings might be, wine seems to exhibit a degree of complexity and nuance that can be intimidating to the non-expert. Where does that…
42 | Natalya Bailey on Navigating Earth Orbit and Beyond
Apr 15 • 59 min
The space age officially began in 1957 with the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite. But 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…
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
The modern world is full of technology, and also with anxiety about technology. 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. It should probably…
39 | Malcolm MacIver on Sensing, Consciousness, and Imagination
Mar 25 • 79 min
Consciousness has many aspects, from experience to wakefulness to self-awareness. One aspect is imagination: our minds can conjure up multiple hypothetical futures to help us decide which choices we should make. Where did that ability come from? Today’s…
38 | Alan Lightman on Transcendence, Science, and a Naturalist’s Sense of Meaning
Mar 17 • 76 min
Let’s say, for sake of argument, that you don’t believe in God or the supernatural. Is there still a place for talking about transcendence, the sacred, and meaning in life? Some of the above, but not all? Today’s guest, Alan Lightman, brings a unique…
37 | Edward Watts on the End of the Roman Republic and Lessons for Democracy
Mar 11 • 91 min
When many of us think “Ancient Rome,” we think of the Empire and the Caesars. But the 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…
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. At the heart of the puzzle is the “measurement problem”: what actually happens when we observe a quantum…
35 | Jessica Yellin on The Changing Ways We Get Our News
Feb 25 • 68 min
Everything we think about the world outside our immediate senses is shaped by information brought to us by other sources. In the case of what’s currently happening to the human race, we call that information “the news.” There is no such thing as…
34 | Paul Bloom on Empathy, Rationality, Morality, and Cruelty
Feb 17 • 70 min
Within every person’s mind there is on ongoing battle between reason and emotion. It’s not always a battle, of course; very often the two can work together. But at other times, our emotions push us toward actions that our reason would counsel against.…
33 | James Ladyman on Reality, Metaphysics, and Complexity
Feb 10 • 67 min
Reality is a tricky thing. 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,”…
32 | Naomi Oreskes on Climate Change and the Distortion of Scientific Facts
Feb 3 • 70 min
Our climate is in the midst of dramatic changes, driven largely by human activity, with potentially enormous consequences for humanity and other species. That’s why science tells us, anyway. But there is an influential contingent, especially in the United…
31 | Brian Greene on the Multiverse, Inflation, and the String Theory Landscape
Jan 28 • 71 min
String theory was originally proposed as a relatively modest attempt to explain some features of strongly-interacting particles, but before too long developed into an ambitious attempt to unite all the forces of nature into a single theory. The great…
30 | Derek Leben on Ethics for Robots and Artificial Intelligences
Jan 21 • 88 min
It’s hardly news that computers are exerting ever more influence over our lives. And we’re beginning to see the first glimmers of some kind of artificial intelligence: computer programs have become much better than humans at well-defined jobs like playing…
29 | Raychelle Burks on the Chemistry of Murder
Jan 14 • 75 min
Sometimes science is asking esoteric questions about the fundamental nature of reality. Other times, it just wants to solve a murder. Today’s guest, Raychelle Burks, is an analytical chemist at St. Edward’s University in Texas. Before becoming a full-time…
28 | Roger Penrose on Spacetime, Consciousness, and the Universe
Jan 7 • 95 min
Sir Roger Penrose has had a remarkable life. He has contributed an enormous amount to our understanding of general relativity, perhaps more than anyone since Einstein himself — Penrose diagrams, singularity theorems, the Penrose process, cosmic…
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
It’s a big universe out there, full of an astonishing variety of questions and puzzles. 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…
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 emotionally or aesthetically pleasing as well as…
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,” on the other hand, is the task of explaining our individual, subjective, first-person experiences of…
24 | Kip Thorne on Gravitational Waves, Time Travel, and Interstellar
Nov 26, 2018 • 79 min
I remember vividly hosting a colloquium speaker, about fifteen years ago, who talked about the LIGO gravitational-wave observatory, which had just started taking data. Comparing where they were to where they needed to get to in terms of sensitivity, the…
23 | Lisa Aziz-Zadeh on Embodied Cognition, Mirror Neurons, and Empathy
Nov 19, 2018 • 66 min
Brains are important things; they’re where thinking happens. Or are they? 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. In some…
22 | Joe Walston on Conservation, Urbanization, and the Way We Live on Earth
Nov 12, 2018 • 88 min
There’s no question that human activity is causing enormous changes on our planet’s environment, from deforestation to mass extinction to climate change. But perhaps there is a tiny cause for optimism — or at least, the prospect of a new equilibrium, if…
21 | Alex Rosenberg on Naturalism, History, and Theory of Mind
Nov 5, 2018 • 80 min
We humans love to tell ourselves stories about why things happened the way they did; if the stories are sufficiently serious, we label this activity “history.” Part of getting history right is simply an accurate recounting of the facts, but part of it is…
20 | Scott Derrickson on Cinema, Blockbusters, Horror, and Mystery
Oct 29, 2018 • 83 min
Special Halloween edition? Scott Derrickson is a film-lover first and a director second, but he’s been quite successful at the latter — you may know him as the director and co-writer of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. (When I was younger, Doctor Strange was one…
19 | Tyler Cowen on Maximizing Growth and Thinking for the Future
Oct 22, 2018 • 59 min
Economics, like other sciences (social and otherwise), is about what the world does; but it’s natural for economists to occasionally wander out into the question of what we should do as we live in the world. A very good example of this is a new book by…
18 | Clifford Johnson on What’s So Great About Superstring Theory
Oct 15, 2018 • 72 min
String theory is a speculative and highly technical proposal for uniting the known forces of nature, including gravity, under a single quantum-mechanical framework. This doesn’t seem like a recipe for creating a lightning rod of controversy, but somehow…
17 | Annalee Newitz on Science, Fiction, Economics, and Neurosis
Oct 8, 2018 • 71 min
The job of science fiction isn’t to predict the future; it’s to tell interesting stories in an imaginative setting, exploring the implications of different ways the world could be different from our actual one. Annalee Newitz has carved out a unique…
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 comes naturally to us, but is also deeply mysterious. On the one hand, it manifests as a collection of sounds or marks on paper. On the other hand, it also conveys meaning – words and sentences refer to states of affairs in the outside world, or…
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. Questions of what we should do tend to wander away from the pristine beauty of science into the messy worlds of ethics and the…
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. It can, as Homer Simpson once memorably noted, be exchanged for goods and services. But who decides exactly how many goods/services a given unit of money can buy? And what maintains…
12 | Wynton Marsalis on Jazz, Time, and America
Sep 4, 2018 • 61 min
Jazz occupies a special place in the American cultural landscape. It’s played in elegant concert halls and run-down bars, and can feature esoteric harmonic experimentation or good old-fashioned foot-stomping swing. Nobody embodies the scope of modern jazz…
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, at least as far as the International Astronomical Union was concerned. The decision was a long time…
10 | Megan Rosenbloom on the Death Positive Movement
Aug 20, 2018 • 69 min
We’re all going to die. But while we are alive, it’s up to us how we understand and deal with that fact. In the United States especially, there is a tendency to not face up to the reality of death, and to assume that our goal should be to struggle at all…
9 | Solo — Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?
Aug 13, 2018 • 81 min
It’s fun to be in the exciting, chaotic, youthful days of the podcast, when anything goes and experimentation is the order of the day. So today’s show is something different: a solo effort, featuring just me talking without any guests to cramp my style.…
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. It was only in the year 2000 that scientists obtained the first rough map of the human genome: 3 billion base pairs of DNA with about 20,000 functional genes. Today, you can send a…
7 | Yascha Mounk on Threats to Liberal Democracy
Jul 30, 2018 • 65 min
Both words in the phrase “liberal democracy” carry meaning, and both concepts are under attack around the world. “Democracy” means that they people rule, while “liberal” (in this sense) means that the rights of individuals are protected, even if they’re…
6 | Liv Boeree on Poker, Aliens, and Thinking in Probabilities
Jul 23, 2018 • 70 min
Poker, like life, is a game of incomplete information. To do well in such a game, we have to think in terms of probabilities, unpredictable strategies, and Bayesian inference. These are ideas that play a central role in physics and rationality as well as…
5 | Geoffrey West on Networks, Scaling, and the Pace of Life
Jul 16, 2018 • 83 min
If you scale up an animal to twice its height, keeping everything else proportionate, its volume and weight become eight times as much. Such a scaling relation was used by J.B.S. Haldane in his famous essay, “On Being the Right Size,” to help explain…
4 | Anthony Pinn on Humanism, Theology, and the Black Community
Jul 12, 2018 • 60 min
According to atheism, God does not exist. But religions have traditionally done much more than simply proclaim God’s existence: they have provided communities, promoted the arts, handed down moral guidance, and so on. Can atheism, or perhaps humanism,…
3 | Alice Dreger on Sexuality, Truth, and Justice
Jul 11, 2018 • 80 min
The human mind loves nothing more than to build mental boxes — categories — and put things into them, then refuse to accept it when something doesn’t fit. Nowhere is this more clear than in the idea that there are men, and there are women, and that’s it.…
2 | Carlo Rovelli on Quantum Mechanics, Spacetime, and Reality
Jul 10, 2018 • 72 min
Quantum mechanics and general relativity are the two great triumphs of twentieth-century theoretical physics. Unfortunately, they don’t play well together — despite years of effort, we currently lack a completely successful quantum theory of gravity,…
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
I’ve decided to officially take the plunge into the world of podcasting. The new show will be called Mindscape, and will mostly consist of me talking to smart people about interesting ideas. (Occasionally it will be me talking by myself about ideas of…