Sunday, March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein: Why Plato (and Philosophy) Won’t Go Away.
Show for March 30, 2014

Rebecca Goldstein says some of her best friends are “philosophy jeerers,” convinced that anything philosophers can do, scientists can do better. She begs to differ, and offers the grandaddy of Western philosophy as exhibit A. 21st-century America has a surprising amount in common with Athens c. 400 BCE, Rebecca says, and Plato still has a thing or two to teach us moderns. She shows how well the 2,400-year-old-man has aged by transporting him to our own times in her new book Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t go Away. Rebecca and I talked about the world of the ancient Greeks, the death of Socrates, the relevance of Plato and what philosophy is good for. Also the difference between a toga and a chiton.

Plus a bonus segment: just how timely is Plato? Philosophical rapper Dr. Awkward makes the case in rhymes.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Show for Mr 23, 2014. Echoes of the Big Bang: Cosmologist Anthony Aguirre on the BICEP2 Experiment.

Big physics is on a roll. It seems like only yesterday we were applauding the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. And then this week came word that the BICEP2 microwave telescope at the South Pole had found evidence of gravitational waves from the inflationary epoch – a glimpse of the universe at the time of the Big Bang, or maybe even before. "Holy crap!" was my reaction, but I needed something more for a radio show, so I got in touch with Anthony Aguirre. Cosmic inflation is one of his specialties, and I thought he’d be a great person to explain the new findings. He was. And I stand by my initial assessment: holy crap!

For more background on inflation theory, our 2011 interview with Anthony is an excellent start.

 The BICEP2 was built specifically to detect evidence of gravity waves in the cosmic microwave background radiation. And whaddya know – it worked.

Click the Listen arrow above to hear the show, or download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose “Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Show for Mr 16, 2014. East-West Spirituality, the Recovery Movement and the Birth of the Psychedelic Age (Rerun).

From 2012: writer Don Lattin discussed the overlapping lives of British writer Aldous Huxley, new age trailblazer Gerald Heard and Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. Don, a former religion reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, also talked about his own addiction and recovery.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Show for Mr 9, 2014. Physicist Howard Haber on the Higgs Boson.

Among those popping the champagne when the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced in July 2012 was Howard Haber. And deservedly so. He’d been studying and theorizing about the Higgs for decades, long before it became headline fodder, and before a sales-minded book editor gave it its sensationalistic nickname. Howie wrote about the then-notional particle in his 1978 doctoral dissertation and co-authored a definitive text on how to find it, The Higgs Hunter’s Guide, in 1989. Though we’ve touched on the Higgs in previous shows, we’ve never gone into detail on the backstory and theoretical significance. I thought it was high time we did, especially as a new documentary film on the Higgs search – Particle Fever – was about to debut in our area (sponsored by the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, which Howie is affiliated with).


I lifted this slide from a presentation by Howard Haber; I hope he doesn’t mind.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Bonus audio: Howie discusses the nature of fields, including the Higgs field and quantum vacuum. Click to listen.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Pledge Drive Time

Our March 2, 2014 show fell during the radio station’s spring pledge drive, so we ran a selection of excerpts from past shows, all of which are on this site in their entirety. Thanks to everyone who contributed during the drive.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Show for Feb 23, 2014: John Beckman on American Fun.

Noah Webster, channeling the prejudices of his time, defined “fun” in his 1828 dictionary as “sport; vulgar merriment; a low word.” But John Beckman says vulgar (of the common people) and low are exactly the point. Home-grown, salt-of-the-earth American fun, John contends, is democracy at its best, a way the plebes and proles throw off their bonds, declare their humanity and épater the overseers, elites and killjoys (like Noah Webster). John traces the history of rebellious fun in America from the Massachusetts colony of Merry Mount in the 1620s to the Merry Pranksters of the 1960s, and from the Sons of Liberty to flappers and jazzmen, b-boys and punks in his new book American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt. 

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Show for Feb 16, 2014. Naturalist and Ophidophile Harry Greene.

Harry Greene is a much-admired natural historian and herpetologist with a soft spot for black-tailed rattlesnakes. He’s spent years in the field studying venomous serpents, when not in the classroom or lab (he’s currently a prof at Cornell; before that he was at UC Berkeley, where he both taught and curated the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology). Harry’s a very thoughtful guy and serious writer, as evidenced in his new memoir Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art. We talked about his career, about field biology vs. theory and experiment, about the wonders of snakedom and some of his favorite rattlers (like “Superfemale 21”), and life and death in the natural and human worlds. 


Two-fisted herpetologist Harry Greene.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Show for Feb 9, 2014. Felix Warneken and Robert Sapolsky on the Nicer Side of Primates (Rerun)

Originally broadcast in 2010: Science has done a lot to expose the darker side of human behavior, and that of our primate relatives, so we thought it was time to highlight some more encouraging studies. In part one of the show, developmental psychologist Felix Warneken looks for and finds evidence of instinctive altruism in young humans and chimps. In part two, neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky discovers that even baboons—long believed to be incorrigibly bellicose—can change their ways and make nice.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Show for Feb 2, 2014. Astronomer and Astrophysicist Sandra Faber.

Sandra Faber loves telescopes. It’s one of the reasons she became an astronomer. And if scopes could speak, I suspect they’d have some loving words for her. She’s helped bring major new telescopes into being, developed instruments that greatly enhance their power and saved one famous scope from an early demise. And she’s put them to good use, too, participating in major astronomical discoveries and contributing to leading cosmological theories, like the cold dark matter theory of galaxy formation.

The thing that pleases her most, though, is being part of the 13.7-billion-year-old cosmic story going back to the big bang. Sandy and I talked about her career and accomplishments, her sense of the universe and our place in space.


Sandra Faber getting the National Medal of Science and and some presidential schmoozing in 2013.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Show for Jan 26, 2014. Novelist Karen Joy Fowler on Our Animal Problem.

So we’re kin to our fellow creatures – cousins, we like to say, to chimpanzees and bonobos. But what sort of family obligations should follow from that, it seems we’re nowhere near to working out. Some people have taken the notion of primate kinship to literal lengths, attempting to raise chimps as children in psychological studies of the animal-human cognitive divide. With their often-sloppy science and often-sorry outcomes (see, for example, Project Nim), most such experiments have done less to limn the inter-species boundary than to highlight our dire confusions about it.

These studies also tell a larger tale of familial dreams and disappointments in general, a point brought achingly to life in Karen Joy Fowler’s latest novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s the saga of one chimped-up family and its inevitable dissolution. Karen and I talked about the troubled history of chimp cross-fostering experiments, about the splintering of families, of siblings and selves, and storytelling as a source of self-knowledge, real or illusory. We also shared a bit of our own stories, as kids of psychology profs with former lab rats – though thankfully not chimps – as pets.  

 

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Show for Jan 19, 2014. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Rick Walker.

Indomitable musical explorer Rick Walker pauses for a moment to retrace some of the ground he’s traversed in the last 35 years, from his early days as a punk/ska/new wave drummer to a serious student of world percussion traditions to electronica and looping to jazz. We surveyed his career while listening to a lot of musical examples and chatting about such things as:

  • His early involvement in the “world music” movement of the ’80s
  • Playing with the late guitarist Bob Brozman
  • A paternal blessing from Babatunde Olatunji
  • Falling in love with looping 
  • Rhythm, repetition and trance  
  • Singing and other really scary things

Rick and many of his musical collaborators past and present will be celebrating his work in a special concert Jan 23. More deets here.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Show for Jan 12, 2014. Race Manners columnist Jenée Desmond-Harris.

Even the most commonplace social interactions can get awfully dicey when race is involved. Enter Jenée Desmond-Harris, who writes the Race Manners advice column at theroot.com, helping readers sort through racially charged situations in everyday life. Jenée and I talked about her own background, the complexities of contemporary race relations and the predicaments we find ourselves in.

A small sampling of the topics we discussed:

  • Identity as a matter of choice
  • Being biracial in America
  • Talking to kids about race
  • Aestheticizing and sexualizing race
  • The racist uncle at the dinner table and what to do with him

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Show for Jan 5, 2014. Social Genomicist Steve Cole.

If you’ve bought into the simplified notion that genes are top-down bosses, issuing marching orders that your cells, body and brain merely obey, it’s time to rethink. Steve Cole first came to national attention with studies showing that HIV-positive gay men had lower survival rates if they were closeted. The real kicker: social stresses were depressing the mens’ viral resistance by affecting their genes. No, not the sequence of genes but their regulation – which genes are switched on and how much. In the succeeding years, Cole and fellow researchers have assembled an increasingly detailed portrait of our socially and psychologically responsive genome. Though scientists have long known that external inputs play a role in gene expression, the degree to which large numbers of genes are influenced on a moment-to-moment basis by our experiences – including our social life, our feelings and perceptions – is an important developing story.

Steve and I talked about this new understanding of the mind-body connection, genes as listeners and the emerging field he calls “social genomics.” After hearing this interview, you may never feel the same about your genome again.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Show for Dec 29, 2013. Award-Winning Musical Comedy Writers Do “Lunch”

A musical gets a second life as Cabrillo Stage rolls out a new version of Lunch: A Modern Musical Myth this week. I spoke to two members of the Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Golden Globe-nominated creative team: composer Steve Dorff and book writer Rick Hawkins. They told me why they felt the story of 11th-hour redemption was ripe for revival, and how they updated both script and songs. We also listened to some of the original music, recorded in 1994 with an all-star studio cast including Carol Burnett, Michael Rupert, Laurie Beechman and Davis Gaines. Lunch Reimagined premieres Jan 3 at Cabrillo Stage. More info here.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Show for Dec 22, 2013. Cognitive Scientist Paul Bloom on the Foundations of Morality.

I’ve spoken to Paul Bloom previously about the precocious moral awareness of infants and the ingenious experiments used to demonstrate it. Now Paul has synthesized those findings in a far-reaching exploration of our ethical capacities and shortcomings.

Topics covered in this interview include: 

  • Are we born with a sense of right and wrong?
  • Gut feelings vs. rational deliberation as a basis for ethical behavior
  • Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and why it still rocks
  • The roots of racism
  • Mafia morality
  • Modern sitcoms and moral uplift

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)