radiolab


I had been listening to radiolab (http://www.radiolab.org/series/podcasts/), a science podcast for more than 7 years, on and off. It is a show hosted not by scientists, but an odd combination of one guy interested in sound and music and a science correspondent – both radio hosts. They explain the subjects through a series of stories, choreographed using sounds. Subjects as varied as dreams, games, birds, ants, colors, gut bacteria, parallel universes, deception, neurological disorders, psychology, chimpanzees, bees, mosquitos, love, cosmology, translation, loops, memory – all handled in a delightful blend of stories, sound and music. Even if the subject seems as drab as sewage handling in New York City would be an interesting story in their hands. The youthful curiosity of Jad and playful good nature of Robert makes them such perfect hosts.

Listen to a couple of the shows till the end (I would recommend to start with any of these - Colors, Lost & Found, Space, Bliss, Emergence, The Good Show, Words, This is your brain on love, Stochasticity) – you might not regret and could get hooked to something interesting.

I used to listen mostly during commute, I had 1 hr commute on an average for last so many years – iPod, phone or CDs loaded with Radiolab shows. One thing recently I was thinking about was that I associate memories of bits and pieces of their shows with the place where I heard the show, place I was passing through when I heard that. A hook for the memory to be pegged was tied to the place, the moment in which I heard it. That was very interesting..

Like I heard a story which talked about the fact that you could tell that which numbers are forged, like in balance sheets etc – if more numbers start in 8s,9s, it could be suspect. It is called Benford’s law. I heard this show, Numbers, while I was driving through Route 202 in Pennsylvania, which was under construction for a long time when I was there.  

Or this about memory in an amnesia patient being pure since it was untouched and unmodified. That if you go on a vacation which was not so great, your memory of it could get modified to it was not so bad after some time. It was in a show about Memory and Forgetting. I was passing in front of a juvenile correctional home, in front of which sometimes kids would be playing basketball, a guard would stop the cars when they need to cross the road, next to a national park’s near abandoned block of woods.

Or one about us able to make antidotes or medicines for our own illnesses – placebo effect in which a sugary non medicine given by someone wearing a lab coat would cure an ailment if we believe what we are taking is actual medicine. It was in a show about Placebo Effect – chemical consequences of belief and imagination. When I heard this, I was passing through a road which had a stone bridge above, road narrows while entering this underpass and there is a traffic signal right after I pass through it.

Or one about the theory about a piece of rock, hurtling towards earth, that obliterated dinosaurs, with impact like so many nuclear bombs exploding – the day the dinosaurs died. They were talking about a dinosaur going about his day as usual and the impact, what happens afterwards, with such sound effects – I was in my rare morning walks in Kanakakkunnu Palace grounds, those winding paths in four layers. I remember there used to be a guy those days in AAP cap in a group of retirees who walk as a noisy, opinionated group – he wore that only for a few months.  

Another about lucid dreaming, someone dreaming about a robber coming in to attack, a recurring haunting dream which doesn’t get solved and eventually training himself to solve it. I was waiting for someone to come to clean the outgrowth of weeds and bush around the house after a long period of rain.

I was driving to office and entering the usual place where the traffic comes to standstill every day at that time of the day when I heard about someone unraveling during a period of sudden explosion of creativity, drawing obsessively, repeatedly until succumbing to a brain disease – it seems just before Frontotemporal dementia hits, language starts to become impaired and visual cortex becomes overactive due to freed up circuits.

I was in a plane when I heard this about Rabies – how it was a monstrous disease with 100% fatality and how a doctor raced against time to save someone.

I was passing through one of the quick shortcuts that bypasses just one signal when I heard about the voices that were recorded and sent out to space in Voyager expedition – about Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, their love story, she recounting it in her back yard – the explorer is still going and going to the edge of the galaxy it seems.

Remembered all this while stocking up on latest episodes after a long break.


I have similar memories about Neil de Grasse Tyson talking about how we are speck on a speck on a speck on a speck, Oliver Sacks’s face blindness, him curing people in coma for years, fireflies glowing in synchronous manner, grand war waged by Argentine Ants, why self-deception is the reason why we don’t get into depression etc etc. Hung up on pegs like hanging up laundry, drive through various roads, waiting in car service stations, airports - Thank you Radiolab for making all those times interesting! 

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